The mining company Tahoe Resources is currently being sued in a Vancouver court by seven Guatemalan men who allege they were shot and injured by Tahoe’s security personnel during a protest against the Escobal mine. If you go to 1055 West Georgia Street and ask for Tahoe Resources the security guard will give you a puzzled look. Tahoe lists that address as its Canadian headquarters. However, when I arrive no office can be found. Eventually I am directed to a hole in the wall mailbox operated by the company’s lawyers. The real office I am informed is in Reno, Nevada. Like many of the over 1400 mining companies listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange, Tahoe’s Canadian presence is a shell, taking advantage of the favourable tax giveaways our government gives to mining companies. It is like one of those glitzy new condos that line the Vancouver waterfront, with as many as one quarter being vacant. Both are illusions, promising the country and the city prosperity, but delivering nothing.
Well not exactly nothing, there is one effect of both mining and condos that is all too real: dispossession. Both industries move into communities promising development and growth, but first they must eliminate what came before. In the case of the Escobal mine, community protestors say threats to the local water supply due to mining will destroy the livelihoods of farmers, leading to widespread resistance to the mine. This resistance has been met with violence by private and state security forces. Across Latin America, Canadian mining companies have driven people off their land, undermined traditional livelihoods and caused environmental destruction. It is a process of dispossession in which the land is turned into a thing for profit and the rights of its original inhabitants to live there in health and safety are taken away.
This same process of dispossession has its mirror here in Vancouver, though here it goes by another name: gentrification. Valuable real estate in places like the Downtown Eastside is sold off to private developers (the same developers who donated thousands to our mayor’s campaigns). Long-term residents are driven out as prices rise and access to services decline. In the Downtown Eastside traditionally affordable single room occupancies have either been eliminated or priced above what most residents can afford. In the meantime, the number of large condo projects has increased.
Gentrification is colonialism on a micro scale, in which new areas are “discovered” and turned into things for profits for elites. And like the larger story of Canadian colonialism, those affected most are Indigenous peoples, who make up more than 10% of the Downtown Eastside population. Similarly many of the communities most affected by mining, whether in Canada or Latin America, are Indigenous. Dispossession, whether in Guatemala or Vancouver cannot be separated from a racist economic system, which holds some lives more valuable than others.
Yet these places are not just sites of violence and dispossession but of resistance. In San Rafael Las Flores, site of the Escobal mine, the community has voted overwhelmingly against the project and has set up resistance camps to block the mine, all in the face of widespread state violence. In Vancouver residents of the Downtown Eastside have similarly resisted gentrification through squats and occupations such as the one in 2014 at Oppenheimer Park.
It is important that we realize the connections between these movements. Though they are separated by many kilometers, both are sites of resistance against colonialism, neo-liberalism and dispossession. Vancouver is a global mining hub, with many large companies headquartered here. On March 28th starting at the Vancouver Art Gallery at 12noon, the Mining Justice Alliance, in collaboration with a number of environmental and social justice groups, will be holding its Toxic Tour of Vancouver, in which the city’s links to some of the world’s most exploitative mining companies will be exposed. We must remember our struggles are one. Whether mining or gentrification, resist dispossession here and everywhere!