Since March 2012, community members of San José del Golfo and San Pedro Ayampuc have sustained a blockade of El Tambor gold mine in Guatemala. Known as “La Puya,” they have successfully blocked development of the mine despite repeated harassment, eviction attempts and even violence.
In May 2014, Guatemalan police officers laid siege to La Puya, standing guard as contractors of Kappes, Cassidy & Associates, the US company that currently holds the concession to the mine, brought in mining equipment.
Police officers reportedly used tear gas and even threw plastic chairs and logs at protesters to allow machinery through.
La Puya is known for its peaceful opposition to mining. Participants of the community roadblock have continuously prevented access to the mine site with their cars or by sitting in the path. Although they are committed to non-violent protest, they have endured steady harassment and violence. Notably, Yolanda Oquelí Veliz, a leader in the anti-mining movement, suffered an assassination attempt in 2012. Though the shooting has yet to be investigated, it is widely believed to be linked to her activism.
Despite this longstanding commitment to preventing the mine, the government and the KCA have not stepped back their efforts to continue. Both institutions have sought to portray the protestors as anti-development. The area’s main industry is agriculture, and increased mining and tailings in their water bodies would ultimately create unemployment and food insecurity.
US engineer and mining expert Rob Robinson analyzed the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for the Tambor gold mine and traveled to Guatemala in mid-February 2013 to present his findings to the Guatemalan government, the press, and affected communities. He stated, “The analysis is so bad that it can’t help us predict or prevent the negative effects of the mine.” “It gives no confidence that the mining company will protect the environment or the health of the communities,” he added. He suggested that “the government withdraw the mining license, at least until a better Environmental Impact Assessment can be prepared.”
Radius Gold, which sold the concession to KCA, calling it a “problematic asset”, previously owned the mine site.
The opposition to mining in La Puya underscores what happens when mining companies fail to adequately consult with communities from the earliest stages of a project. Increasingly, governments and international financial institutions are requiring that extractive industries must have the free, prior and informed consent of communities before proceeding with a project, and the world’s largest mining companies recently committed to this principle as well. Free, prior and informed community consent is a fundamental underpinning of a more responsible mining industry.