Why Is There A State of Emergency In Guatemala? Protests Over Canadian-Owned Silver Mine Grow Increasingly Violent

Old Silver Mine
An old silver mine in Stockholm, Sweden Wikimedia Commons

The Guatemalan government declared a state of emergency in the southeastern part of the country on Thursday following protests over a silver mine that's owned by a Canadian company.

According to the BBC, public gatherings have been banned, and troops were reportedly sent to four towns near the silver mine at the center of the controvery. Residents are afraid the Escobal mine, owned by Tahoe Resources Inc. of Vancouver, British Columbia, will drain their water supplies.

The four communities -- Jalapa, Mataquescuinlta, Casillas and San Rafael Las Rosas -- have been placed under a 30-day state of siege by the administration of President Otto Perez Molina, according to an official public announcement from the government. Hundreds of police officers have been sent to quell the protest.

The government now has the right to seize weapons and arrest or detain citizens without having to appear before a judge, be read their rights or afforded an attorney, Bingbing.com wrote. Access to areas or people can also be denied or restricted.

Anti-mining rallies became more violent when the mine obtained an operating permit in April but have been ongoing for years. The mine, located in the district of San Rafael Las Flores, about 70 km (40 miles) east of Guatemala City, has not started operating.

Local media reported that a police officer was shot and killed on Monday and that six protesters were wounded by gunfire from security guards a day earlier.

According to La Hora newspaper, protesters captured 23 officers, who were eventually freed.

British Columbia's Tahoe Resources, who owns the Escobal mines, said security guards responded with tear gas and rubber bullets when protesters with machetes “turned hostile.”

The owners of the mine say the claims that it will affect the water are “totally unfounded.”

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