The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has urged the Guatemalan government to engage in talks with a local resistance movement following violent clashes last week that left at least 26 injured, including 13 police officers.
Since March 2012, hundreds of locals had peacefully blocked the entrance to US-based Kappes, Cassiday & Associates (KCA) El Tambor gold project, in the area of San Jose del Golfo. But last week the picketers attempts to block the delivery of mining equipment met tear gas-armed police, which proceeded to violently evict them.
The UN body criticized Guatemalan authorities’ handling of the protest (statement in Spanish), and called the company to resume talks with locals, offering to act as witness of honour.
Development of El Tambor has been disrupted by ongoing protests since early 2012. They argue the project’s development will shorten their already limited supplies of water and believe there was no appropriate consultation process previous to granting Canada’s Radius Gold and its partner KCA their licence.
While Radius walked out on the project, calling it a “problematic asset,” opponents quote that firm’s environmental impact assessment as evidence of what can go wrong. According to them, VICE News reports, the Vancouver-based company acknowledged the mine would have an impact on “air quality, flora, fauna, top soil, and the available quantity of water.”
Guatemala has seen a relatively major pickup in mineral investment over the past 15 years, but continues to offer a less than perfect investment climate characterized by regulatory uncertainty, community opposition and security problems.
Last year the government proposed a two-year moratorium on new licenses until an improved legal framework, which includes hiking royalties to support local development, could be implemented. While analysts have qualified the initiative as positive, they agree such process will take a long time due to a very inefficient congress.
* Images from Guatemala courtesy of James Rodríguez, an independent documentary photographer who publishes at MiMundo.org.