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For nearly a decade, Xinka people affected by the Escobal silver mine have been struggling to protect their land, water and way of life from mining. Their sustained opposition, and a court order suspending the mine, drove the original owner of the project, Tahoe Resources, out of business. For communities, this victory, coupled with the project’s legacy of violent repression, was evidence that the Escobal mine should be shuttered once and for all. 

Then, just over a year ago, Vancouver-based Pan American Silver picked up Tahoe Resources and its flagship Escobal mine at a fire sale price, pledging to do things differently than its predecessor. At the center of this pledge was a promise to listen to community concerns. PAS was put to the test at its shareholder meeting on Wednesday – and failed spectacularly. 

Company executives sped through a corporate presentation, abruptly ending the meeting after just 35 minutes. Their corporate presentation highlighted the three most controversial projects (Escobal, La Colorada, and Navidad) in its portfolio as “exciting” catalysts for boosting shareholder value. CEO Michael Steinmann spoke at length about the company’s mission to be sustainable and responsible, “encouraging open dialogue with communities and NGOs.” However, the company tightly controlled the question and answer period to ensure that difficult questions went unanswered. The meeting moderator failed to ask company executives to respond to any of the questions posed to them regarding lack of respect for communities’ right to self-determination including: 

  • Why would Pan American Silver, which has branded itself as a socially responsible company, buy a mine that clearly violated Xinka Indigenous rights in Guatemala from the start, and continues to violate their rights today? 
  • Why would Pan American Silver want to impose a mine in Guatemalan communities where tens of thousands have voted against the activity and where communities have spent almost three years maintaining 24-hour blockade of mine related traffic?
  • Why would a so-called responsible company invest for ten years in the Navidad project in an Argentine province where open-pit mining is prohibited by law?

In the lead up to the company’s shareholder meeting this week, Xinka and Mapuche Tehuelche Indigenous community members published videos demanding answers to these questions and more. 

In both places, Pan American seems to have a hard time accepting “no” for an answer.

Pan American’s support for a discriminatory consultation and its friend in the Guatemalan government 

It has been nearly two years since Guatemala’s highest court suspended the Escobal mine and ordered the government to carry out a consultation with the Xinka over the future of the Escobal mine. So far the process has been categorized as illegal and discriminatory by Guatemalan human right authorities and the Xinka Parliament. Representatives of the Xinka Parliament have made it clear that Pan American Silver has not been acting in good faith. The company has participated in two attempts to carry out pre-consultation meetings without Xinka participation. Additionally, the company’s General Director in Guatemala left his position in May of last year to move into the Vice President’s office as special secretary in January, joining a government administration that has vowed to get the Escobal mine up and running. 

International allies, including the Union of BC Indian Chiefs (UBCIC), are echoing Xinka communities concerns about PAS’ role in the consultation process, demanding respect for Xinka self-determination and their right to Free, Prior and Informed Consent. In February, the UBCIC Chiefs Council approved a resolution in support of the Xinka people’s fight, calling on Pan American Silver “to support the consultation process only once anomalies are resolved and the disrimination against the Xinka people ceases.”

“Pan American Silver must demand a meaningful consultation process, respecting the self-determination of the Xinka people as enshrined in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and in fulfilment of the sentence issued by Guatemala´s Constitutional Court,” said Kukpi7 Judy Wilson on behalf of the UBCIC.  

Additionally, over 7,000 emails were sent to Pan American Silver demanding the company listen to Guatemalan communities and 44 organizations signed on to a letter in solidarity with the Xinka people

The shareholder meeting is over, but your support is still needed. Email Pan American Silver’s executive team to demand they listen to Xinka communities. 

Written in collaboration with the Institute for Policy Studies – Global Economy Program and MiningWatch Canada.