Westerners applaud the actions of the Trump administration to end the war on the West waged by the Obama administration, including: President Trump’s efforts to revitalize energy production from federal lands — oil and gas and coal; his dispatch of the Environmental Protection Agency’s land-grabbing “waters of the United States” rule; and his order to revoke, roll back or revise the national monument decrees with which President Obama placed millions of acres of federal lands off-limits to economic and recreational uses.
Now comes word that Trump officials are at work to protect the rights of a Westerner victimized abroad by lawlessness, international intrigue and radical groups. The result could mean a first step in ending the war on Western Civilization and the prosperity and freedom it has brought the world.
Tahoe Resources, Inc., a Reno, Nevada-based mining company, is a rarity among its ilk in the international community. It is a U.S. company whose leadership boasts decades of mining experience in the American West. In 2010, Tahoe acquired the rights to the Escobal underground mine in Guatemala, a rich silver-gold vein deposit. Located in southeastern Guatemala east-southeast of Guatemala City and east of San Rafael Las Flores, a town of 3,500 Ladinos (non-indigenous Hispanics), the mine is 44 miles by paved road from the capital.
Escobal is the world’s third-largest silver mine. In 2016, its third year of full production after an investment of more than $1 billion, it yielded a record 21 million ounces, employed 1,600 workers and permanent contractors (97 percent of whom are Guatemalan), was responsible for 6,000 indirect jobs, paid $20 million in wages and benefits, contributed $35 million in royalties and taxes to governments and local communities, and provided free, clean, drinking water from its dewatering operations along with its support of local nutrition, education and agriculture programs. Meanwhile, the mine is an environmental showpiece, given Tahoe’s commitment to “the highest standards of environmental stewardship.”
Enter the Center for Environmental, Legal, and Social Action (CALAS), a self-described “human rights” nongovernmental organization (NGO) in Guatemala City. It is funded by wealthy Marxist Europeans, whose founder, Yuri Melini, boasts backing by actor Martin Sheen. The organization declared war on Tahoe and its mine. After weeks of blocking the mine gate with recruited and trained “protesters,” CALAS created an international incident when protesters armed with “rocks, sticks and machetes” provoked private security into using tear gas and rubber bullets.
In July, CALAS sued Guatemala’s Ministry of Energy and Mines in the Guatemala Supreme Court, alleging a violation of the Xinca indigenous people’s right of consultation prior to issuance of the Escobal mining license to Tahoe’s Guatemalan subsidiary, Minera San Rafael. No Xinca representative or community was party to the suit nor was Tahoe a named defendant. Nonetheless, the Supreme Court issued a provisional decision suspending the license pending court review.
In September, the Supreme Court reinstated the Escobal mining license but ordered the ministry to perform a consultation over the next 12 months under the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention of 1989, which the United States has not ratified. It specifically named the Xinca indigenous communities in a defined geographic area. Tahoe maintains that the ministry fully complied with the convention, but supports its ongoing efforts. CALAS quickly appealed to the Constitutional Court, which conducted a hearing in late October; a decision is pending and may come any week now. Still, the court of law was not sufficient for the radicals at CALAS, who erected a roadblock 10 miles from the mine, forcing Tahoe to deliver supplies by helicopter. One flight in October took rifle fire from the protesters.
Meanwhile, members of the Nevada congressional delegation rose to the defense of their constituent. In August, Rep. Mark Amodei, a Republican, wrote Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, and fellow Nevada Republican Sen. Dean Heller wrote Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Mr. Ross’ response “assured that the Department of Commerce, and more broadly, the U.S. Government, share your concerns [and] have raised this issue with the appropriate Guatemalan authorities on multiple occasions.”
Just in time it would appear, President Trump’s ambassador to Guatemala, Luis E. Arreaga, arrived in Guatemala City in October. To call him a “breath of fresh air” is an understatement. A recent scholarly study by Dr. J. Michael Waller concluded that Mr. Obama’s ambassador to Guatemala “used the might of the American Embassy to promote the anti-mining NGOs’ themes, and compel Guatemalan lawmakers to make a radical change in the nation’s judiciary to suit the interests of the anti-mining movement [due to a belief] that the State Department’s role is to follow the lead of international NGOs for the benefit of the ‘international community.’ “
If President Trump is successful in bringing strategic change in U.S. diplomacy through his “America first” foreign policy” in Guatemala, the beneficiary will not just be Tahoe and its Western mining leaders, but also the people of Guatemala, who suffer from extreme poverty, lack of financial opportunity, drug-running and violent gangs as they watch their country slide into political chaos akin to that of nearby Venezuela.
• William Perry Pendley, a lawyer, is president of Mountain States Legal Foundation in Denver and author of Sagebrush Rebel: Reagan’s Battle with Environmental Extremists and Why It Matters Today (Regnery, 2013).