Gold mining and violence

Louis Magriel is a sociology and political science double major at the University of Nevada, Reno. Space will be provided to Daniel Kappes, if he wishes to reply.

A trustee of the University of Nevada, Reno Foundation is suing the Guatemalan government for $300 million dollars. It’s a backdoor move to force Guatemala to reopen a controversial gold mine owned by Reno-based mining corporation Kappes, Cassiday and Associates (KCA).

Nevadans learned about the overwhelming opposition to the mine when members of the La Puya peaceful resistance came to Reno in 2013 and 2016 to denounce UNR Foundation Trustee and KCA President and CEO Daniel W. Kappes for pushing ahead a project that puts their health and environment at risk.

Guatemalan courts ordered the mine suspended in 2016 because the government failed to consult with indigenous peoples before operations started—a clear legal violation. Kappes and KCA say this violated their rights as investors. Yet it is their gold mine, beset with myriad legal problems, that has been the focal point of numerous abuses against locals.

A Guatemalan court ruled that KCA’s subsidiary built the mine without obtaining a proper construction license. Kappes is under criminal investigation for continuing mining operations after the court ordered them suspended.

Meanwhile, Guatemalans who peacefully oppose the project have faced violence, repression and criminalization. In 2012, a La Puya leader was shot on her way home from the protest camp. In 2014, unarmed residents were violently evicted by riot police and tear gas.

Kappes should take responsibility for his company’s misbehavior. Instead he is trying to use the Dominican Republic-Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR) to sue Guatemala. This is a one-way street—under CAFTA-DR only companies can sue governments.

These CAFTA-DR “tribunals” should not be mistaken for a court of law. If admitted, KCA’s suit will be considered by a three-person panel of highly-paid corporate lawyers. The local communities most impacted have no say in this process. Arbitration can drag on for years and cost states millions of dollars to defend themselves. This type of arbitration rejects community self-determination and the role of government to make decisions that protect the best interests of their population.

If successful, KCA’s case would send the message that outsiders can invest in Guatemala and do whatever they want for profit. This situation also puts La Puya human rights defenders at increased risk of repression and violence from state authorities, who see the lawsuit as an opportunity to force KCA’s mine back into production.

Nevadans wouldn’t accept this treatment. Why should Guatemalans?

Rather than seeking profit at any cost, Kappes should drop his lawsuit and stop trying to reopen a gold mine that local communities have made abundantly clear is not wanted. The UNR Foundation should also stop being complicit in this ongoing abuse of corporate power that puts people’s lives at risk, and remove Kappes from its board.