As tension rises in Guatemala, Tahoe Resources still has no resolution for the mining permit for the Escobal mine. The company said the country’s Constitutional Court held a press conference recently to explain why it reversed the Supreme Court’s decision to reinstate the Escobal mining license for Tahoe’s Guatemalan subsidiary, Minera San Rafael (MSR). The Escobal license will remain suspended until the Ministry of Energy and Mines (MEM) completes the ILO 169 consultation with the Xinka, which could take as long as 6 months.
A few days after Tahoe announced it would lay off an additional 200 miners at the operation, a dozen unarmed MSR security contract workers were attacked, kidnapped and held at gunpoint by the “Peaceful Resistance Group of Mataquescuintla.” The contractors were eventually released and escorted by the Guatemalan national police back to Jalapa where they were treated for their injuries. This group had previously installed an illegal blockade on a public road at the entrance of Mataquescuintla, which is about 5 km away from the Escobal mine. The blockade was stopping all vehicles on the route to be “inspected.”
Jim Voorhees, president and CEO of Tahoe, expressed sympathy and concern for the families of the abducted contractors. “Tahoe condemns violence of any kind in the strongest possible terms,” Voorhees said. “We are treating these developments with the utmost seriousness and we are taking appropriate measures to ensure the safety and security of all of our employees and contractors, their families, and local community members.”
Nearly 10 months have passed and the Guatemalan Constitutional Court has not issued a final decision, leaving the Escobal license in limbo. During this time, various violent actions have been carried out, not only against MSR workers and contractors, but also against residents and community members. The lack of legal certainty, according to the company, has allowed these attacks to occur more often where, on repeated occasions, there have been reported attacks on supplier vehicles and helicopters, threats to local community members and their families and even other kidnapping attempts.
Meanwhile in Peru, Tahoe reported that a group of as many as 100 people from the town of La Ramada, located about 3 km from the La Arena mine, trespassed illegally onto the company’s property. The people disrupted mining operations and were demanding compensation for the alleged impacts of dust and vibrations from blasting activities.
La Arena conducts extensive and regular monitoring of the impacts from the mine blasts and the community participates in these monitoring exercises. The result of the ongoing monitoring demonstrates clear compliance with the law and the Environmental Quality Standards set to protect the environment and communities, the company said.
To ensure the safety of its employees, contractors and members of the community, however, the company temporarily suspended mining operations and ordered all workers to remain at home. Leaching activities continued.
This follows an incident where La Arena miners discovered five significant holes cut into the top of a pregnant solution pipeline. Based on a preliminary investigation, the company believes that in an apparent theft attempt, holes were cut into the top of the pipeline to place bags of carbon inside the pipeline to absorb gold from the solution. One of the bags of carbon blocked the pipeline and about 600 m³ of pregnant solution may have sprayed from the pipeline into the storm water management system.
Upon identification of the discharge, Tahoe immediately initiated its emergency response protocols including conducting extensive inspections of the surrounding areas from the operation and assessing the potential impacts to the communities and environment downstream. The company reported the incident to regulators and the local authorities.
The impacted pipeline is a gravity-flow line and the holes are at the top of the pipeline. So, the company can maintain the flow through the pipeline and the damaged was expected to be repaired quickly. The company said a full internal investigation and review of security procedures will be conducted to avoid and prevent future incidents.