Peaceful Resistance of La Puya expects ICSID ruling in June as consultation process on El Tambor mine set to start this summer
On Sunday May 7, PBI-Canada and PBI-Guatemala visited with the Peaceful Resistance of La Puya at a roadside site that it has maintained for more than ten years at the entrance to the “El Tambor” Progreso VII Derivada gold mine.
During our visit to the site a short drive outside Guatemala City, Felisa Muralles, better known as Doña Licha, told us that a ruling on the mining company’s investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) challenge against the state of Guatemala could come in June.
Nevada-based Kappes, Cassiday & Associates (KCA) is suing Guatemala for more than USD $400 million (in estimated lost future profits) via the Central America-Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) at the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), a branch of the World Bank, in Washington, DC.
The ICSID webpage on Case No. ARB/18/43 can be read here.
Notably, this story begins with Radius Gold (whose office is at Suite 650, 200 Burrard Street in Vancouver, British Columbia) securing an exploitation licence from the Guatemalan Ministry of Energy and Mines in 2011.
On March 2, 2012, area residents, who had not been consulted about this mine, set up a 24-hour a day blockade at the entrance to the mine site. Within weeks, on May 8, 2012, the women of the Peaceful Resistance of La Puya laid on the ground, sang and prayed to stop bulldozers from entering the mine.
Doña Licha has previously commented: “In 2012, when we saw the machines arriving at the mine and after being informed of the contamination of the water it was going to generate, we blocked the way. We are very united, but I must say that we are the women who have led this fight, although we receive threats and disqualifications continuously.”
A few months later, in August 2012, Radius Gold sold the mine to KCA. Significantly though, the Canadian company retained an economic interest in the mine, including quarterly royalty payments on the gold production from the mine.
More specifically, Radius Gold noted in its first quarter Financial Review in 2015: “KCA agreed to repay approximately US$400,000 owing to the Company (US$100,000 paid upon signing and approximately US$300,000 to be paid once KCA has commenced shipment of gold produced from the property). Also upon commercial production, KCA agreed to make quarterly payments to the Company based on the then price of gold and the number of ounces produced from the property.”
Shortly after the sale, then-Radius Gold president Ralph Rushton told La Hora: “Radius continues to feel optimistic that commercial production will be achieved at El Tambor and the company will be paid back for the investment it has made in the region since the discovery of gold in El Tambor in 2000.”
It’s unclear if Radius Gold could receive any of the USD $400 million if KCA wins its investor-state challenge at ICSID next month. However, it is clear, if the mine does proceed, the Vancouver-based company will profit from it.
Could the mine still proceed?
In February 2016, the Peaceful Resistance won a Guatemalan Supreme Court ruling to provisionally suspend the mine. By that point, the mine had operated for almost two years. On May 21, 2021, the court lifted that suspension, but the authorization for the mine to begin operation has not yet been granted.
That authorization is subject to a consultation process that is scheduled to begin in three months, so possibly around August of this year.
In February of this year, Peaceful Resistance member Álvaro Sandoval told Prensa Comunitaria journalist Regina Pérez that the Ministry of Energy and Mines is already beginning to exclude representatives from the areas of influence of the mine.
Doña Licha shared with us the concern that while the state of Guatemala has sought the assistance of the Peaceful Resistance with the ISDS challenge at ICSID, the state is also simultaneously pursuing an exclusionary consultation process that could open the way for the Progreso VII Derivada mine as well as 20 more mines in the immediate area.
There are Indigenous Xinka and Maya Kaqchikel on these lands who have opposed mining in this area since Radius Gold first established its mine.
May 23rd anniversary of violent eviction
In just a few days from now, on May 23, the Peaceful Resistance of La Puya will mark the 9th anniversary of the violent eviction of its blockade by the police.
Video of police attack, May 23, 2014.
Photo by Guatemala Human Rights Commission-USA.
Photo: Doña Licha shows a hematoma caused by a tear gas canister fired by riot police. (Reuters/Jorge Dan Lopez)
Photo by Prensa Comunitaria
Despite the removal of their blockade, the Peaceful Resistance has had the tenacity to maintain a presence on the road site all these years.
Their resistance to the mine remains firm.
They continue to maintain, as they did more than 10 years ago, that there is “extensive evidence” that the mine would lead to water depletion and contamination.
When we visited the Peaceful Resistance site, we walked up the road and saw one of three tailing ponds left by the Radius Gold/KCA mine. We were told about concerns about arsenic in the water (arsenic is found in arsenopyrite, the same rock in which gold is often embedded, and can be released during the mining process). We were also told that another of the tailing ponds had overflowed at one point.
As these key dates approach, we continue to follow the situation at La Puya.
For more on our time in Guatemala, please see Photo-journal of PBI-Canada visit with PBI-Guatemala accompanied organizations, defenders and communities.