A group of seven Guatemalans filed a civil lawsuit this week in Vancouver against Canadian mining company Tahoe Resources. The men claim that they were shot by security guards hired by Tahoe Resources as they peacefully protested Tahoe’s only asset, the Escobal silver mine in San Rafael las Flores, Santa Rosa.

“They shot me in the face from a few metres away and then they shot me two more times, all because I stood with my little brother and my father in front of the mine’s gates,” said plaintiff Luis Fernando García Monroy, who was 18 at the time. “I had multiple surgeries but I still have trouble breathing so I can’t work and I lost the ability to smell,” he added.

The lawsuit against Tahoe alleges that the shooting was a premeditated attempt by mine security personnel to eliminate resistance to the mine. The injured men claim that on April 27, 2013, Tahoe security personnel in riot gear emerged from the mine site and opened fire. Even as the men fled, the shooters pursued them down the public road and continued firing.


Residents vote on the El Escobal mine during a community referendum

Alberto Rotondo, Tahoe’s former head of security who allegedly ordered the shooting, was arrested in Guatemala in May of 2013 and faces criminal charges.

Similar lawsuits have been brought in the United States against companies for human rights abuses committed abroad. However, a 2013 decision by the Supreme Court in a claim brought by Nigerians against Royal Dutch Petroleum severely limited the possibility of trying such cases in the US.

Oscar Morales, a community leader involved in a local, ongoing resistance movement to the Escobal mine, visited DC in May on his way to Canada. With the public, partner organizations, and Congress, he spoke about the many abuses committed against anti-mine activists, including the shooting of the 7 protesters as well as the murder of 16 year-old anti-mine activist, Topacio Reynoso, who was shot along with her father.

Oscar also described a slew of social and environmental costs of the mine to the community: deafening noise from the hammer mill 24 hours a day, 20 springs which have gone dry, pools of water contaminated with heavy metal and cyanide just feet from peoples’ homes, and unfounded criminal charges brought to deter resistance to the project. The mine was rushed into production in January of 2014, while these and other community concerns went unaddressed.

Oscar’s visit brought the voices of those who oppose the mine to the US and Canada, and built support for the movement. Over 100,000 residents from towns around the mine have voted against it in community and municipal referendums, but their opinion has been ignored and the mine marches on.

The Vancouver lawsuit marks the first time a Canadian company has been sued in British Columbia for events that occurred outside of the country. It is the most recent in a series of efforts to hold Canadian mining companies accountable for abuses committed abroad.

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