Human-rights activists are calling on two Vancouver-based mining companies to “publicly order an absolute halt to all violence” against people opposed to their operations in Guatemala and Mexico.
Melanie Schambach, Maryann Abbs, Alejandra López, and Sara Kendall made the demand in a letter they delivered on June 19 to the downtown offices of Radius Gold Inc. and Fortuna Silver Mines Inc.
The four activists were acting in the wake of recent attacks that targeted anti-mining protesters in Guatemala and Mexico.
One of these cases involved the shooting of Yolanda Oquely Veliz on June 13. The 33-year-old Veliz was shot by men on a motorcycle after she left a blockade near the entrance to Radius Gold’s mine in San José del Golfo, Guatemala. She survived the attack but remains in serious condition.
They also cited the shooting of Bertín Vásquez Ruiz and Guadalupe Vásquez Ruiz on June 16. The two opponents of Fortuna Silver’s operations in Mexico were wounded.
Schambach, Abbs, López, and Kendall were able to meet Simon Ridgway, chair of both Radius Gold and Fortuna Silver, and Ralph Rushton, president of Radius Gold, on June 19. Schambach said she was disappointed by what they heard from the two mining executives.
“They are saying that it’s just a small group of protestors [in Guatemala and Mexico], that the NGOs are lying, and…that they’re actually giving women opportunities of work,” Schambach told the Straight in a phone interview.
Rushton said that Radius Gold has heard about the shooting of Veliz. He described it as a “very unfortunate event”.
“We condemn any violence,” Rushton told the Straight in a phone interview. “It’s terrible. It’s not something that we support in any way shape or form.”
Rushton said that he could not speak for Fortuna Silver. Earlier this year, Fortuna Silver president Jorge Ganoza told CTV News that the company is not linked to the murder of anti-mining leader Bernardo Vasquez in Mexico on March 15.
In their letter to Radius Gold and Fortuna Silver, the four Vancouver activists expressed concern about the potential for further violence. “Those Latin American community members who are opposing your companies where they live are at grave risk,” they wrote. “From this moment forward, any violence suffered by people who criticize the mining projects will be obviously linked to the companies themselves.”
Oscar Morales of Guatemala was one of the guests who attended the recent annual general meeting of Amnesty International Canada at UBC.
In an interview on June 17, Morales said that he has a message for Canadians. “We’re trying to explain to Canadians that we’re peaceful communities and that our resistance isn’t against Canadian society,” Morales told the Straight. “It isn’t against the Canadian people. It’s against Canadian companies that try to operate mines in our country without consulting with us or respecting our lives.”