PBI-Guatemala accompanied Peaceful Resistance of La Puya seeks to be heard as World Bank arbitration process on mine unfolds

Published by Brent Patterson on

Photo: The Peace Brigades International-Guatemala Project observed the eviction against the La Puya camp on May 23, 2014 that involved a disproportionate use of force by the police who were providing protection to the mining company.

In March 2012 residents from San José del Golfo and San Pedro Ayampuc – an area known as La Puya, just north of Guatemala City – set up a peaceful, 24-hour a day blockade at the entrance of the Vancouver-based Radius Gold Inc. El Tambor mine.

By August 2012, the Canadian company sold El Tambor to US-based Kappes, Cassiday & Associates, but retained an economic interest in the mine (including quarterly royalty payments on the gold production from the mine).

By February 2016, the Peaceful Resistance of La Puya won a Guatemalan Supreme Court ruling that provisionally suspended the mining licence because there had not been prior consultation with affected communities, as is required under Guatemalan and international law, in particular the International Labour Organization’s Convention 169.

In response, Kappes, Cassiday & Associates filed a $300 million claim with the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes, a World Bank arbitration mechanism, claiming its investor rights under the Dominican Republic–Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR) had been violated.

In its latest Bulletin (pages 10-13), the Peace Brigades International-Guatemala Project notes in reference to the World Bank arbitration:

“The Peaceful Resistance La Puya is forming legal alliances and solidarity across national and international organizations and groups.

According to the Resistance itself, their objective is to make their voices heard in this exclusionary procedure and to create an antecedent that favors, not only the Resistance itself, but many other community processes that defend land, territory and water against projects which exploit natural resources.

In this way they seek to prevent supranational arbitration processes from becoming the Trojan horse of mining and extractive companies.”

The PBI-Guatemala article also provides the context that:

“’ISDS [investor-state dispute settlement] claims … have been widely condemned for privileging corporate interests to the detriment of local communities and the environment.’

[To comply with these free trade agreements], States must advance legislative and regulatory changes that privilege foreign investment in an economic model that would contravene the self-determination and way of life of populations affected by these projects.

In January 2019, the then President Jimmy Morales … indicated that the State of Guatemala had received a demand requesting arbitration regarding the decisions of the high courts to suspend mining activities and indicated that it would be years before all Guatemalans could pay these indemnities to foreign companies.

This was interpreted by different analysts as a warning message addressed to the various existing resistances in Guatemala.”

In contrast, Michel Forst, when he was the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, recommended: “Trade agreements with countries where environmental defenders are under threat should contemplate measures to prevent, investigate and remedy violations against activists.”

Eight years after the defenders with the Peaceful Resistance of La Puya began their blockade of the then Canadian-owned El Tambor mine, they must now continue to seek justice as the World Bank arbitration process on the investor-state dispute settlement challenge enabled by a free trade agreement unfolds.

While Canada does not currently have a free trade agreement with Guatemala, its agreements with Colombia, Honduras and Mexico include investor-state provisions.

To read the full PBI-Guatemala article, please see: International Arbitration against the Guatemalan State: The El Tambor Mine Case (pages 10-13 in Bulletin No. 43).

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