A Nevada lawmaker is asking the Trump administration to work with the Guatemalan government to reopen the world’s third-largest silver mine, which he says provides economic and social stability to an impoverished region of the country.
“The threat to the operation of the Escobal Mine is unacceptable and poses serious risks to Guatemala’s economy, security and to U.S. interests,” Republican Rep. Mark Amodei wrote to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross on Friday.
Amodei wrote the letter on behalf of the Reno-based mining company Tahoe Resources, which resides in his district. The Guatemalan Supreme Court forced the Tahoe’s Escobal Mine to cease operations in July, finding the government did not properly consult with indigenous tribes.
Amodei argued the mine’s permanent closure could destabilize the region, forcing more Guatemalans to turn to drugs and crime to make ends meet. Guatemala is a major thoroughfare for traffickers smuggling drugs into the U.S.
The State Department says drug cartels are “enabled by ineffective or non-existent law enforcement institutions, particularly in the border regions” of Guatemala. Mining represents one of the few high-wage opportunities for Guatemalans outside drug trafficking.
“A failure to re-open this important mine promptly would threaten short-term and long-term stability in this important region,” Amodei wrote to Ross.
The case was brought by a coalition of environmental groups called CALAS. The group argued Guatemalan officials failed to consult with Xinca tribal authorities before approving the mine.
Tahoe Resources only became party to the suit after the lower court’s decision. The company is appealing the ruling.
However, the government’s most recent census shows virtually no indigenous people living in the San Rafael community where the mine is located. The mine is also more than 13 miles downstream from Xinca lands. The Escobal Mine began commercial operations in 2014.
Anti-mining groups have been mobilizing opposition to the Escobal mine for years. Most recently, activists blocked access to the mine, claiming the mine was causing seismic activity and contaminating drinking and farm water.
“Anti-development NGOs funded from foreign sources have asserted similar challenges against other companies operating in Guatemala, discouraging foreign investment and disrupting businesses that contribute to Guatemala’s development and prosperity,” Amdoei wrote.
Tahoe Resources has invested $938 million in Escobal Mine operations since 2013, according to a company fact sheet, including taxes, wages and social investments. The mine employees 1,600 workers, mostly Guatemalans.
Tahoe Resources said a three-month suspension of their operating license could cost Guatemala $9 million in royalty payments and tax revenue. Tahoe will also defer a $12 million investment in mining operations.
“In sum, the challenge to the Escobal Mine’s license threatens to destabilize a region in which the mine is one of few substantial sources of economic development,” Amodei wrote.
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