Guatemala’s Constitutional Court (CC) has ordered that a three-week anthropological study be conducted on the Indigenous Xinka people in the municipality of San Rafael Las Flores, before moving forward with a suspended mining operation.
The national court is calling on several ministries and Guatemalan university researchers to produce - in 15 working days - various studies on how the two Tahoe Resources’ Escobal mines will affect the Xinka people who live near the border with El Salvador.
Kelvin Jimenez, attorney for the Xinka Parliament of the court’s mandate, said: "It is not up to the Constitutional Court to decide if we, the Xinka people, exist or not. That is not a disputed fact. According to jurisprudence set by the Inter-American Court, no court has the right to place in doubt how a people self-identifies. According to the same jurisprudence, we as Indigenous people, have the right to free, prior and informed consent over large projects, like the Escobal mine, that impact our lives and territory."
Jimenez went on to say: "We believe the Court already has sufficient information to make a decision," including an independent survey, that "confirmed that six thousand Xinka people live in San Rafael Las Flores, not to mention the thousands of Xinka in nearby municipalities that are also affected by the mine."
He added, "Nonetheless, we trust that the Constitutional Court will continue to carry out its work with transparency … and hope that the additional information will confirm what we already know to be true. We exist and we have the right to free, prior and informed consent."
Earthworks non-profit environmental organization says that local authorities have already conducted 18 municipal and village-level consultations processes in the affected areas where "tens of thousands" of Xinka and those in the Las Flores area have voted against any mining activity which the CC suspended last July.
Two municipalities have even refused royalties from the mining company since operations began in 2013. Three others did the same in 2015.
The Guatemalan Ministry of Energy and Mines (MEM) approved Tahoe’s mine on April 3, 2013, ignoring the 200 local residents, including Jimenez, who denounced the mine based on environmental and health concerns for the region.
Jimenez appealed the MEM’s move and in July 2013 a Guatemalan appeals court ruled the ministry had not followed due process. The court ordered the MEM to address Jimenez’s complaints and hold an administrative hearing. The ministry filed an appeal in the Constitutional Court, which upheld the original decision. In June 2016, MEM began the hearing process before it was suspended shortly after.
For the three-week study the Constitutional Court is also mandating:
Two national universities "to submit an opinion" regarding an environmental assessment conducted by the MEM, the Ministry of Environment (MARN) and the Ministry of Public Health and Social Assistance (MPHSA). The MEM has been ordered to report within 48 hours about how it approved exploration and exploitation licenses for the Tahoe mining concessions and licenses.