PHOTO/DENNIS MYERS Guatemalans and Renoites gathered at the Reno arch to protest against Tahoe Resources Inc., a mining company. Others protested Columbus Day.

The mayor-elect of a Guatemalan town tried to deliver a letter of protest to a Nevada mining company in Reno this week, but was ordered off the property.

Mayor-elect Llan Carlos Davila of Santa Rosa de Lima represents one of eight towns in the Santa Rosa Department (province) of Guatemala that have voted to ban chemical mining. However, the mine operated in the region by Tahoe Resources Inc. of Reno is at neighboring San Rafael las Flores, and its officials have not allowed a similar vote, according to Carlos Davila. His town of Santa Rosa, population just under 6,000, is 17 kilometers or about 10 miles from the mine.

Carlos Davila, also representing the Catholic Diocese of Santa Rosa, began the day with a protest held by local supporters who joined him at the Reno arch, where he spoke and met with reporters.

“What we’re demanding is that the company respect our decisions, respect the results of the consultations that we’ve carried out, and we want people to know that this company is contaminating our water and our natural resources,” he said.

Material distributed at the protest said both police and the Guatemalan military have employed repression on the corporation’s behalf. Carlos Davila said both the National Police and the military are controlled by the central government, which is in turmoil at the moment with the resignation of the president, a vice president, and a presidential candidate. Following the Sept. 3 resignation and jailing of President Otto Perez Molina, Tahoe Resources president Kevin McArthur issued a statement saying the change “is not expected to affect our Guatemalan operations.”

In February, Norway’s central pension fund dropped Tahoe Resources from its portfolio after a report from its ethics committee found “an unacceptable risk of the company contributing to serious human rights violations.”

The region in Guatemala at issue is bucolic and picturesque, described by a British Broadcasting Corporation report as “Guatemala’s southern agricultural heartlands where most families eke out a living growing maize, beans, coffee, avocados, cabbage, bananas and peaches. The region’s distinct cheeses are produced from small herds of cattle seen dotted around the surrounding mountains where Tahoe also owns mining licenses. Here live thousands of Xincas, Guatemala’s non-Mayan indigenous people.”

On April 13, 2014, 16-year-old Topacio Reynoso—leader of a youth group organizing against the mine—was shot and killed in Mataquescuintla, one of the anti-Tahoe Resources communities. Her father was seriously injured. Numerous worker-oriented websites call the incident a murder, though Gostin told the Nation magazine, “We find it repugnant that anyone would try to align that tragic incident with anything to do with the mine. It is totally unconnected and unrelated, and we send our sympathies to the family.”

When the protestors arrived at the Tahoe Resources headquarters in an office building on Kietzke Lane, about 20 of them filed into the lobby of the corporation and asked to speak to someone in authority.

Thirteen weeks ago, some of these same local activists had protested nearby, at Hobby Lobby. That store’s managers welcomed them onto the property, chatted with them about their grievance—a Supreme Court ruling that exempted some corporations from provisions of the Affordable Care Act—accepted copies of their literature and sent bottled water out to them to help with the July heat.

The experience at Tahoe Resources was different. After they waited for a few moments, corporate vice president Ira Gostin—a former local Associated Press reporter—came out and said without preamble, “You have 30 seconds to leave the premises or you will be arrested. This is private property. You’re trespassing. I’m not going to tell you twice.”

GOSTIN

That kind of dried up the dialogue. But amid some crosstalk while the mayor-elect and his translator waited, local leader Bob Fulkerson and others tried to convince Gostin to engage with the group.

Unidentified person: “We wanted to come here and we want to tell you, do you know what is happening in Guatemala right now, sir?”

Gostin: “I asked you to leave. I asked you to leave. I didn’t ask to have a dialogue with you.”

Fulkerson: “We’d like to have a dialogue with you, though, about the fact of what Tahoe Resources does to the people and communities in Guatamala.”

Gostin: “Well, since you’re completely uninformed—” (Laughter in two languages.)

Fulkerson: “What is it that we’re uninformed about? We have the mayor of the community here and other members of the community who have told us first hand of the violence, of the water contamination, of the land contamination, that you and Tahoe Resources are doing.”

While Fulkerson spoke, Gostin walked to a telephone and called the police. Another member of the group then read a bill of particulars to which the receptionist listened while Gostin spoke to police, then the group departed with a chant of “We’ll be back.” A few minutes after they left, a Reno Police car drove through the parking lot.

Later, Gostin said, “Showing up in our lobby and disrupting our business is not the way to do it.” He said the mine employs 850 people and benefits another 3-5,000 Guatemalans indirectly. He said he was reluctant to go on the record against general accusations but said the Norwegion pension plan “maybe didn’t dig deep enough.”

Gostin said Guatemalan critics of the mine have been invited to tour it and declined and that he had invited Fulkerson on earlier occasions to meet with him without success.

The Tahoe Resources dispute is far from the only controversy surrounding corporations doing mining in Nevada. Their overseas operations are chronically under criticism for their treatment of local populations and ecologies, though those disputes seldom get news coverage in the state, and Nevada officials are reluctant to say anything that will rock the boat.

Last month, a row of dark blue Nevada suits including Brian Greenspun, Michael Roberson and Brian Sandoval lined up with Barrick Gold officials to laud the corporation’s opening of an office in Henderson—the day after Barrick admitted that it had vastly under-reported a toxic spill into the Potrerillos River at its Veladero mine in Argentina. The admission by Barrick came after a second prosecutor started looking into the incident and resulted in a judge ordering a halt to the mine operation. Barrick originally said the spill was about 224,000 liters, but it actually exceeded a million.

In April, Barrick agreed to pay compensation to 11 tribal women and girls who accused police and security guards at the company’s mine in Papua New Guinea of rape, the latest of payments previously made to 137 women.

In 2006, Denver-based Newmont Mining—another Nevada operator—paid a $30 million settlement for alleged mercury and arsenic dumping in Indonesia.

Like most U.S. mining corporations, Tahoe Resources was originally a Canadian entity. According to the Nevada Secretary of State’s office, Tahoe Resources Inc. has been incorporated in the state since Feb. 2, 2010. It first partnered in the Guatemala mine with Goldcorp Inc., but Goldcorp sold off its holdings in the venture in June.

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Dennis Myers

Dennis Myers was the news editor of the Reno News & Review. He was a journalist for more than four decades. In 1987-88 he was chief deputy secretary of state of Nevada. He was coauthor of Uniquely...