What Glitters isn’t Gold

In 2010, repeated recommendations came from the international community to suspend Goldcorp’s controversial Marlin Mine in the North-Western highlands of Guatemala. The open-pit mine however, continues to operate. Its presence in the indigenous municipalities of San Miguel Ixtahuacán and Sipacapa continues to generate allegations of serious human rights violations and fomenting social upheaval.

In February, the International Labour Organization (ILO) recommended that the Marlin Mine be suspended for having failed to ensure the right of communities to free, prior and informed consent, a stipulation of ILO Convention 169 and condition of the 1996 Guatemalan Peace Accords (see the ILO decision). Then on May 20th the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IAHRC) also demanded that the Guatemalan government suspend the operation so as to ensure the provision of human rights and environmental protection while a full investigation is conducted. On June 18th, the United Nations Special Rapporteur added that “according to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, projects that have a significant impact on the rights of indigenous peoples such as the Marlin mine, should not be implemented without the consent of the communities affected Indigenous Peoples.” And “if there is a substantial risk of injury to the health or physical well being of the people due to the mine, the Ministry of Energy and Mines must proceed with the suspension of activities…” (See Rapporteur’s Press Release) The Guatemalan government agreed, but has failed to enforce the order.
In the meantime, threats against activists have continued and reportedly increased, while concerns over the mine’s alleged contribution to local water contamination, dried wells, cracked homes, and increased incidents of skin disease persist.

The Marlin mine will generate an estimated 58 million tons of waste rock and tailings over its lifetime and according to The Commission for Peace and Ecology (COPAE), consumes an estimated 250,000 litres of water per hour or what a typical family in San Marcos would use in 22 years (see article in the NB Media Coop). Furthermore, studies by the University of Ghent, University of Michigan, and Physicians for Human Rights have found elevated levels of arsenic in nearby rivers and increased levels of heavy metals in the blood and urine of people living in close proximity to the mine.


The Marlin Mine
In September 2010, the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources made criminal allegations against Montana Exploradora demanding an investigation into the unauthorized discharge of residual waters from the tailings pond at the Marlin Mine raising concerns about possible contamination of the Quivichil River, which flows into the Cuilco river and onto Mexico (see article in La Prensa Libre).

It’s not surprising then that to date, forty-seven community referendums have been held across the country in which roughly 700,000 Guatemalans have declared themselves in opposition to metallic mining. Nevertheless, the Canadian Government and its embassy in Guatemala remain firmly in support of increased Canadian investment in the country’s extractive industries.

Curious to see for ourselves why Canadian diplomats were being met by cries of “Canada go home!” OGG began its weekend by joining Juan Martin, a friend of Rights Action, knowledgable guide and bad-ass driver for a very memorable micro ride to San Marcos, site of Marlin Mine. While navigating the steep switch-backs of San Marcos, however, a cattle truck came careening around the corner nearly ending OG Guatemala prematurely. But Juan’s evasive manoeuvres kept the crew on track and soon we were pulling past the gates of the Asociacion de Desarrollo Integral de San Miguel Ixtahaucan (ADISMI), our hosts in San Miguel Ixtahuacan. ADISMI is a development organisation based in the area which works on various issues including rights to land, water, freedom of expression, and cultural identity, as well as mining-related human rights issues. After a brief ¨buenas dias¨ we hopped back in the van continued on to the site of the Marlin Gold Mine, run by Montana Exploradora de Guatemala, S.A (Montana) a subsidiary of Canadian mining giant GoldCorp. Our climb onto the mines muddy flats where a mountain once stood immediately demonstrated the dramatic and destructive consequences of open-pit mining. As we walked to the front gates, passing gawking workers Juan explained the environmental consequences and community conflicts that mining had unearthed.

Where a mountain once stood now sits an open pit.
Allison described her experience that day:

We drove up to the Marlin Mine in San Marcos where Goldcorp is rapidly destroying the landscape and community in the area. We stopped at a woman’s house who came out and spoke to us about her experiences with the mine. It is right at her doorstep and she refuses to sell her home because it’s her right to keep it and she has nowhere else to go. Workers from the mine have threatened her verbally, have put a machete to her head, and at one point attempted to take her life by shooting her in the face. … Pretty much all of us were crying as she told us her story because there seems to be nothing we can do to help her and we are all partially responsible for what the mine has done because we support it indirectly by being Canadian citizens and having our tax dollars and pension plans support Goldcorp. Contamination from the mine reaches as far as Mexico and no one in the community is able to drink the green coloured water. It was definitely a heart breaking day, but there was a glimmer of hope, a local group called ADISMI along with the Canadian NGO Rights Action are working together to protect the rights of the communities affected by the mine. They have a local radio station and as we drove away we tuned in and they spent 5 minutes thanking us and wishing us well in our journey and just saying how much they appreciated us coming and listening to their stories. How awesome it that? Yes, Allie, it’s “wicked awesome.”

Dona Maria remains defiant.

ADISMI is also beginning to extend and expand their activities into the political realm with the establishment of the Comite Civico Miguelense (CCM). This independent civic committee is made up of Mayan Mam people from a number of communities in and around the Marlin Mine. They have come together in solidarity to contest the upcoming municipal elections in hopes of occupying the mayor’s office, and improving their ability to confront the number of outstanding issues in San Miguel Ixtahuacan, including the environmental and health harms and other human rights violations caused by Goldcorp’s mine. 

For more information on ADISMI and plight of San Miguel Ixtahuacan and Sipacapa and how to get involved please visit: www.rightsaction.org