MAC: Mines and Communities

International rights body calls for suspension of Goldcorp mine

Published by MAC on 2010-05-29
Source: MiningWatch Canada and others

Not long after campaigning pressure highlighted the issues around Goldcorp's Marlin mine in Guatemala (see, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has called for the suspension of mining activities in order to safeguard the health of host communities.

Another of the articles below highlights both the specific impacts of the mine on the women of those communities, and stresses the roles they have played in the resistance to the mining project.



OAS Human Rights Commission Urges Suspension of Mining Activity at Goldcorp's Marlin Mine in Guatemala

Center for International Environmental Law - MiningWatch Canada - Breaking the Silence- Joint News Release

24 May 2010

The Organization of American States' Human Rights Commission, the region's most respected human rights body, calls on the Guatemalan government and Goldcorp to halt mining

(Washington, D.C.) As evidence mounts of human rights violations and health impacts at Goldcorp's Marlin mine in the western highlands of Guatemala, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), an independent body of the Organization of American States (OAS), has called on the government of Guatemala to suspend mining activity at the Marlin mine and take steps to protect the health of the surrounding indigenous communities.

The Marlin gold mine has been plagued by controversy ever since it began operating in 2005. The Mayan communities affected by the mine have asserted that they never gave their consent to the mine, a right protected under international law. The IACHR's decision comes as concerns over the mine's health impacts have intensified. A study released last week by Physicians for Human Rights and scientists at the University of Michigan found that a sample of residents living near the mine have higher levels of mercury, copper, arsenic and zinc in their urine, and of lead in their blood, than a sample of persons living seven kilometres away.

"We think the ruling of the Inter-American Commission is important for the defence of our rights as the people of San Miguel Ixtahuacán," said Maudilia Lopez, coordinator of the Front for the Defence of San Miguel Ixtahuacan (FREDEMI), a coalition of local organizations and communities affected by the Marlin mine. "The IACHR's decision, the recently released Physicians for Human Rights study, and the recommendations of the ILO to suspend mining operations all support our efforts to defend the rights of our communities. Usually the Guatemalan government turns a deaf ear to us, but we hope that they will finally act under all this pressure and attention."

The decision by the IACHR echoes the finding of the International Labour Organization (ILO), which earlier this year called for suspension of mining activities at the Marlin mine until the consultation and studies required by ILO Convention No. 169 are conducted.

Goldcorp's own Human Rights Impact Assessment (HRIA) released a week ago recommended that Goldcorp "[h]alt all land acquisition, exploration activities, mine expansion projects, or conversion of exploration to exploitation licences." The HRIA, which was conducted without the support or participation of the communities affected by the Marlin mine, found widespread human rights abuses at the mine, including the right to consultation, right to property, right to freedom of association and collective bargaining, and failure to create effective grievance mechanisms for its employees and community members.

Goldcorp came under intense criticism at its annual shareholders meeting last week from representatives of communities affected by its mines throughout Latin America. One of the representatives, Javier de Leon, expressed concern regarding the mine's negative health impacts on the surrounding communities. Goldcorp CEO Charles Jeannes responded that it was a "physically impossible" for the mine to be contaminating the surrounding community.

The decision of the IACHR was in response to a petition submitted in 2007 by the communities affected by the Marlin mine. The Commission recommends suspension of mining activities until it issues a decision on the merits of the petition.

Similar concerns were raised in a complaint to the Canadian National Contact Point, submitted by community members in December 2009. The complaint was submitted under the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. Although the National Contact Point has determined that the complaint merits further examination, it has not yet issued its final statement on whether Goldcorp violated the Guidelines.

"We welcome the IACHR's bold opinion and urge the Government of Guatemala and Goldcorp to comply with it," said Kris Genovese, senior attorney at the Center for International Environmental Law. "It is far past time when indigenous rights take precedent over corporate profit."


Alanna Sobel, (202) 789-7751,
Jamie Kneen, MiningWatch Canada, (613) 761-2273
Kathryn Anderson, Breaking the Silence, (902) 657-0474

Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) is committed to strengthening and using international law and institutions to protect the environment, promote human health, and ensure a just and sustainable society. CIEL is a non-profit organization dedicated to advocacy in the global public interest, including through legal counsel, policy research, analysis, education, training and capacity building.

MiningWatch Canada is a pan-Canadian initiative supported by environmental, social justice, Aboriginal and labour organisations from across the country. It addresses the urgent need for a co-ordinated public interest response to the threats to public health, water and air quality, fish and wildlife habitat and community interests posed by irresponsible mineral policies and practices in Canada and around the world.

Breaking the Silence (BTS) is a voluntary network of people in the Maritimes who began to organize in 1988 to support the efforts of Guatemalans struggling for political, social, and economic justice. We recognize that injustice is connected to structural inequalities both within and between countries, and BTS is committed to supporting structural transformation both in Guatemala and in Canada.

A motherlode of debate

Should the church sell its stock in controversial mining firms, or press for change from within?

By Mike Milne

United Church Observer

May 2010

An open-pit mine is never a pretty sight. But in contrast to the lush green hills that surround it, the Marlin Mine in San Miguel Ixtahuacán, Guatemala, looks like five square kilometres of dusty moonscape.

The Marlin Mine produces more than $300 million a year in silver and gold for its parent company, Vancouver-based Goldcorp Inc. For investors, low royalties and cheap labour make the mine a thing of financial beauty.

However, some of the company's shareholders - including The United Church of Canada's pension plan - are now weighing the attractiveness of Goldcorp's proven profitability against human rights and environmental issues at the Marlin Mine. Some church leaders argue the plan should sell all its shares in the company. Others say it's easier to exert pressure for change on a company like Goldcorp if you remain invested in it.

The focus on Goldcorp is part of a growing emphasis on mining in church justice networks. About three-quarters of the world's mining companies are based in Canada, and they find themselves under more and more scrutiny by investors concerned about their ethical track records. Mining is "the key issue for many of our partners now, not just in Asia but Latin America and Africa, too," says Bern Jagunos, the General Council staffperson for justice programs in Asia. "Goldcorp is just one of the manifestations."

Concerns about Goldcorp's Marlin Mine first came to the attention of a Nova Scotia-based Guatemala human rights solidarity network called Breaking the Silence in 2004. United Church members of the network went on to form a group called Mining the Connections that is part of the Church in Action committee of Maritime Conference. When it learned early last year that the United Church pension fund holds shares in Goldcorp, Mining the Connections sent a proposal on the issue to General Council.

Its motion, adopted at last summer's meeting in Kelowna, B.C., asks the church's Pension Board to consider avoiding investments in any company that "has ignored or failed to take into account the needs, interests and rights of Aboriginal communities affected by its operations." In an even more pointed reference to the Pension Board's holdings in Goldcorp, the motion asks the board "to engage with affected Mayan communities" and to "undertake shareholder advocacy" where its investments have raised concerns about "environmental, social and human rights impacts."

The United Church Pension Board's policies already prohibit investments in gambling, tobacco, weapons and pornography. At last fall's meeting of the Executive of General Council, Pension Board chair Charles Black reported that ethical investment advisers had already flagged problems with Goldcorp. But instead of selling its 120,000 shares, said Black, the volunteer board hired an advocacy group called SHARE (Shareholder Association for Research and Education) "to engage the management of Goldcorp" over concerns at the Marlin Mine.

Worth about $5 million, the pension plan's Goldcorp shares are a small fraction of its billion-dollar holdings. But Black says his board's priority is to provide a good return for pension plan members. Unless an equally profitable alternative in gold mining could be found, it "would be in violation of our fiduciary duty to the plan members to sell these shares."

The Marlin mine was established in 2004 by Canadian mining company Glamis Gold. Built with the help of a $45-million World Bank loan, it began production in 2005. Goldcorp took over Glamis Gold in 2006 and has since paid off the construction loan.

The chief complaint about the Marlin Mine, from the mainly Mayan people living around it, is that it was established without proper prior consultation or their consent. The mine provides jobs for about 350 locals, but votes taken since then have shown that most of the 53,000 people in the vicinity oppose it.

Community groups say mine operators have coerced local people, most of whom are subsistence farmers, into selling their land; damaged area homes through blasting and trucking operations; curtailed local water supplies; and released pollutants into local rivers. Gold and silver are extracted from the ore using cyanide in a leaching process that can use up to 250,000 litres per hour of water. A pond holding mine waste is a current threat to local water supplies and will need to be managed long after the end of the mine's 10- to 20-year lifespan.

The killing of at least one local man opposed to the Marlin operation has been linked to mine security workers; another man died and others were injured in mine-related protests.

Mining the Connections is campaigning hard to raise awareness about the Marlin Mine. As well as keeping in touch with Guatemalans affected by the mine through visits to San Miguel Ixtahuacán and hosting return delegations to Canada, the group has created a resource kit on mining, backed a speaking tour and co-hosted a two-day forum on mining and ethics.

SHARE, the advocacy group hired by the United Church Pension Board, reported minimal progress in its efforts to persuade Goldcorp to improve its track record on community relations. Peter Chapman, SHARE's executive director, says Goldcorp has responded to environmental concerns by moving toward international standards in managing cyanide.

In response to earlier shareholder pressure, Goldcorp hired consultants to conduct a human rights impact assessment at the Marlin mine site. Two years in the making, the report from British Columbia-based On Common Ground is expected this spring.

Meanwhile, another human rights impact assessment is under way, this one from the University of Notre Dame's Center for Civil and Human Rights in Indiana. The request for the assessment came from Cardinal Quezada Toruño, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Guatemala City. Two years in the making, the Notre Dame study is expected in draft form this spring and will likely address accusations of heavy metal contamination of water.

Doug Cassel, a lawyer and director of Notre Dame's human rights centre, is leading the project. He says the church connection helped researchers gain the trust of most communities around the mine and hopes the report will outline "the lessons of the Marlin Mine for other mines in Guatemala." The report will look not only at the human rights responsibilities of the company and the government of Guatemala, but also at those of the government of Canada, he says.

The United Church Pension Board is awaiting its own report. In late March, Mining the Connections chair Kathryn Anderson and two General Council Office staff members travelled to Guatemala to get a first-hand look at the mine and meet with locals and mine officials.

Before leaving Canada, Anderson said she was pleased that Allan Hall, the General Council's head of human resources and a member of the Pension Board, was part of the group. "We have seen slow movement on this up to now," she noted.

Hall said he would report his findings to the Pension Board on his return but was unlikely to make specific recommendations around the Goldcorp investment, saying he could "only offer my best opinion and advice."

Whether the reports or visits sway the church's Pension Board remains to be seen. For now, Black is committed to the strategy of shareholder engagement, and says selling the Goldcorp shares "doesn't accomplish a hill of beans, really, aside from making a few people feel better."

The church's most recent and perhaps most dramatic use of divestment was in 1986, when it divested all church and pension fund shares in companies with direct investments in South Africa, as a protest against apartheid. That move - strongly opposed by church financial staff, who favoured shareholder engagement - affected shares worth $28 million, at a time when church and pension fund investments totalled $400 million. A worldwide campaign of divestment is credited with helping to bring down apartheid.

The Canadian government will soon consider its own investments in mining companies. Bill C-300, a private member's bill currently before Parliament, would link government-related funding for mining companies to a clean environmental and human rights record. It has come under heavy fire from mining lobbyists, says Ian Thomson, of the ecumenical justice coalition KAIROS. But even if it fails to pass, the bill will force Canadians to wrestle with their responsibility for mining operations around the world.

"If there's any country that's going to take the initiative on mining and corporate responsibility," says Thomson, "it has to be us."

"You are just a woman"

Tracy Glynn

Media Coop

27 May 2010

San Miguel Ixtahuacán, Department of San Marcos, Guatemala - Carmen Mejía walks two hours to work everyday. She works for an organization currently under attack for its support of indigenous communities affected by the Canadian-owned Goldcorp Marlin gold and silver open-pit mine located in the Western Guatemalan highlands.

The 25 year old daughter of campesinos and mother of a five year old learned about the dangers of mining from a friend when she was studying to be secretary. Today, she passes along this knowledge but she says, "we are not heard because we are women, we are indigenous and we are campesinas." She says women are never consulted and in some cases it is their inherited land that is being sold by their husbands for the mine.

The San Marcos highlands like the rest of the country of Guatemala are almost entirely covered by mineral claims and concessions. According to the Commission for Peace and Ecology (COPAE) of the Diocese of San Marcos, the Marlin mine, which opened in 2005, uses 250,000 litres of water per hour, which is equivalent to what a Guatemalan family uses in 22 years. Goldcorp is required to pay only 1% in royalties for the minerals they extract in an area where 97% of the people live in poverty and 79% live in extreme poverty.

Mejía's work with the Association for the Integral Development of San Miguel Ixtahuacán (ADISMI) has made her a target for persecution.

This past Earth Day, April 22, 10,000 people marched in Guatemala City while more marched in communities facing mega projects such as mining and hydroelectric dams across Guatemala. Stops during the marches included the gates of the Marlin mine and the Canadian Embassy in Guatemala City. The Maya Mam and Maya Sipakapan people, mostly peasant farmers, living near the mine are concerned that the mine is depleting and contaminating their water supplies, deforesting their land and destroying the natural world that is fundamental to the Maya worldview.

Mejía and several others were charged on Earth Day in an incident following a peaceful demonstration at the mine's gates. A man in favour of the mine provoked some demonstrators taking shelter from the rain, which resulted in rocks being thrown. The man later laid charges against five people including Mejía.

"If the mine would leave, it would leave us in peace and we would live as before, happily. No more women would be persecuted and criminalized," says Mejía.

In 2008, eight indigenous women known as the Goldcorp 8, were charged with "obstructing the mine's operations." The most serious outstanding charges are against Gregoria Crisanta Perez, who is alleged to have damaged a power line to the mine that was placed on her property. She initially agreed to allow poles on her property but she maintains that she did not agree to the amount of damage that was done to her property with the power installations.

The trumped-up charges against community leaders are seen as a strategy to burn out the community resistance. Seven men were charged in 2007 following a demonstration at the mine's gates. Five of the seven men were acquitted while two were convicted. The two men are currently appealing the sentence. Goldcorp laid charges against five people after mining machinery was burned in July 2009. This action was taken after mining machinery was moved onto the community's land without their permission.

One woman living near the mine was told in early May 2010 by a man from CONRED, Guatemala's emergency prevention and disaster team, that her house could fall in at anytime and that they would relocate her and the other eight dwellers in the household immediately. There are large cracks in her home and the back of the house is sinking and could slide down a mountain at anytime. She says, "we do not know where they want to put us. We don't want to leave. We can fix our house but we still want the company to leave so we can have peace in our house."

Goldcorp and the authorities deny assertions that at least 100 houses are damaged by the explosions at the nearby mine. They blame rain, poor construction and loud music from the churches.

One of the Goldcorp 8, in tears, speaks of verbal abuse and the mine's toll on her family. "The day before yesterday, my brother was drinking and he threatened to kill me if the mine ever left. He said 'you are just a woman and you shouldn't be doing this.' He said if you keep doing this and the mine leaves, I will find people and we will kill you." Many say the mine has pitted wives against husbands, mothers against sons, and brothers against sisters. The women live in the small community of Agel, where many local labourers at the mine live.

Adelia Macaria Mejía, a teacher, says that she and the principal at her school were fired for raising concerns over peculiar skins rashes they were observing on children. Her family have moved because of cracks in her house. She refused to sell her land for the mine but the company has taken over the land around it and now she cannot access her land. She has gone to Congress to try to stop drilling on her land. She says people are afraid to get their blood tested for fear of appearing to be critical of the mine.

On May 18th, 2010, scientists from the University of Michigan announced the results of blood and urine samples taken in people near the mine. They found higher levels of potentially toxic metals in the people living near the Marlin mine than in people living further away from the mine. "Little is known about the cumulative and combined health impacts on humans especially children following chronic exposure to complex, real-world mixtures," said Dr. Howard Hu of the Univerity of Michigan's School of Public Health and co-author of the environmental health study. The scientists recommend epidemiological and ecological follow-up studies be done.

Women raising concerns with the Goldcorp mine say San Marcos was a peaceful place before mining and now the community is full of fear and tension. At least two violent deaths are linked to the mine. There has been a noticeable increase in public drinking and the number of bars, prostitution with the opening of a brothel, and the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Many organizations have joined forces as the San Miguel Ixtahuacán Defence Front to organize consultas - community referenda on the subject of mining in their communities. About one million people have already participated in 44 such consultas and said no to mining. With more consultas about to happen, will the government of Guatemala and Goldcorp respect the results?

Searching for gold at the end of the Guatemalan rainbow

W5 investigates: Are Canadian mining companies giving us a bad reputation abroad?

Paula Todd


17 April 2010

W5 Executive Producer Anton Koschany issued a caution as he sent his four-person crew into Central America to investigate questions about Canadian mining companies operating overseas. ‘It's dangerous there, stay safe.' The first confirmation comes from the American I meet on the plane en route to the little country squeezed between El Salvador, Honduras and Mexico. "What are you? Suicidal?" A former police officer, crew-cut and hard-muscled, he is returning to his job there as a private and "very well-paid" armed security guard -- a popular career in skittish Guatemala City.

Uniformed security squads dominate the scenery in the airport, on the streets, ringing the wealthy and the powerful. In the smaller towns, local men in t-shirts and khakis lean against storefronts or pace bank entrances with automatic weapons slung across their chests. Everybody's alert in a country roiling with murder, drug trafficking, theft, kidnapping and a long-running dispute between those who want to develop Guatemala and ancient Indigenous cultures with mystic ties to the past.

Enter Canadian mining companies, who are spending billions to churn up the mountains in eastern and western Guatemala to uncover valuable gold, silver and nickel. At the Marlin Mine alone, Canadian mining companies, including the current Vancouver-based GoldCorp, have blasted through almost seven million tons of rock since 2005, producing nearly a million ounces of gold.

But it costs more than money to send profits back to shareholders. Local residents, including Mayans clinging proudly to their traditional way of life, alternate between anger and despair. Some claim the massive mining projects leave little value behind while sucking up their water supply, polluting what's left of it and leaving them ill. They point to skin rashes on their children and huge cracks in the plaster walls of their homes as proof. GoldCorp officials argue the mine is not the source of these problems.

W5 spent almost two weeks bumping along mountain roads, climbing up into the jungle, and touring mine sites and interviewing residents, corporate officials and rights workers. Producer Anne Hainsworth, cameraman Paul Freer and soundman Michael Kennedy and I are accustomed to seeing a difference of opinion; in fact, that's what we look for as we try to tell a balanced story. But the contrast in Guatemala is particularly marked: both sides insisting they are telling the truth, everyone certain they know how to best protect a country that is as conflicted as it is beautiful.

Pro- and anti-mine sentiments divide communities and families, too, as locals who welcome the mine and its money, align against those who want the land left alone. Tension runs as high as the stakes.

Inside the Marlin Mine compound

In dusty towns outside of Guatemala City, poverty is everywhere: tiny children, often covered in more filth than clothing, play with stones on the sidewalks. Packs of wild dogs scavenge. Homes are cobbled together from old wood and boxes; worn curtains flap on outdoor bathrooms, sometimes nothing more than a hole in the ground. In this country, you carry your own toilet paper, if you are lucky enough to afford it. Sun-crinkled farmers cling to the side of a mountain to harvest a meager onion crop.

Life inside the GoldCorp Marlin Mine compound in San Marcos is so different, it's almost surreal. If you get past the armed guards at the gate, you'll see shiny trucks and sparkling buildings, including tidy homes where some employees live while running the mine. Massive mills rumble as the mountain tumbles through them, breaking down the ore before it is soaked in cyanide to leach out the silver and gold. Everywhere there is order and yellow construction helmets.

GoldCorp's Vice-President for Latin America, Eduardo Villacorta Haddad, says he's proud of what his company is doing -- employing some 1,200 people from surrounding villages, paying good wages, building roads and schools. He shows us an on-site green house where they're growing trees to refurbish the mountain when they leave. In the modern cafeteria, he cheerfully serves strawberries grown on the mine property and points to the generous meals his employees are fed. He says Canadians can be proud of the way GoldCorp is operating.

Yet, we meet three young Canadian human rights workers here who are anything but proud. Karen Spring and Jackie McVicar from Ontario, and Francois Guindon from Quebec have all stayed in Guatemala longer than they ever planned and have become vocal activists because they are worried about the "damage" they believe mining companies are doing to the people, the land, the Guatemalan culture. It has become an embarrassment, they claim, to admit you are a Canadian in Central America.

Spring came as a University of Toronto student to study health problems, estimating she'd stay a few months, but a couple years later, she is still here, fluent in Spanish, and determined to continue her work for a social justice organization called ‘Rights Action.' Like Guindon, who's known as "Pancho" and works with the ‘Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala,' Spring is determined to help local people get their message out. Together, they lend their language skills, their connections and their conviction that Canadian mining companies are not being properly held to account.

The young activists introduce W5 to Guatemalans, some of whom confide they are afraid for their lives now that they've dared to protest against the Canadian mines. They report ominous phone calls and death threats. We meet a tiny woman with seven children, who says she didn't agree to huge poles which support the power lines supplying the mine being built on her property. No longer able to plant or enjoy her home, she says she threw a rope over one of the power lines and knocked out a key source of electricity to the mine. There is a warrant out for her arrest and she has since gone into hiding, emerging only to speak with us.

Guatemalans divided over the mining issue

Activist Jackie McVicar, who works for Nova Scotia-based human rights organization ‘Breaking the Silence,' has interviewed many local people who insist their lives have been ruined by either the mining companies' takeover of their land, or the violence that has accompanied development as Guatemalans split into pro- and anti-mining camps.

In El Estor, another Canadian mining company named HudBay Minerals is refurbishing the Fenix Project -- a moth-balled nickel smelter and mine. But anger is still raw over forced evictions that took place in 2007 when the mine was owned by Canadian company Skye Resources (since acquired by HudBay). A Canadian filmmaker, Steven Schnoor, documented homes being burned and knocked down by police and the military, while McVicar reports widespread allegations that women were sexually abused and raped during the melee -- accusations that are strongly denied by HudBay officials.

One evening, the W5 team witnesses a widow in a ramshackle graveyard weep for her dead husband, a popular teacher, who she claims was killed last year by security guarding the same HudBay mine -- all, she believes, because he fought the "progress" they don't want. HudBay officials deny the allegations and any involvement in his death.

In many countries, local and national governments might mediate more. But Guatemala is barely back on its feet after 36 years of violent conflict and civil war. Assassination, frequent rape and murder of women, powerful drug gangs, and government corruption keep the country teetering. There are neighborhoods in Guatemala City so violent and gang-controlled, we could find no one willing to enter.

Meanwhile, key police officials have been arrested for allegedly passing tips to criminals about pending drug raids, while Guatemala's national police chief is facing charges for drug theft and co-operating with a violent drug gang. Other police and anti-drug officials have also been arrested for allegedly stealing drug money or taking bribes.

Protesters, particularly poor Mayans who are unable to speak English or enlist legal help, say they are vulnerable in the face of powerful North American corporations, especially because the Guatemalan government welcomes the foreign investment and revenues mining produces.

In the end, Indigenous people with a profound connection to the earth are pitted against Canadian mining companies who, with government backing, are digging up the country for profit, with a promise to leave it better than they found it. Along the way they are also affecting how some of our Latin American neighbours see Canadians.

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