MAC: Mines and Communities

Conference statement: Natural resources and the Mission of the Church in Latin America

Published by MAC on 2011-07-25
Source: Catholic News Service

Catholic Church bishops are taking on an activist role in extractive industry conflicts, as evidenced by a recent symposium in the Peruvian capital Lima.

The Latin American Episcopal Council (CELAM) conference "committed the church to playing a role in informing communities about the benefits and disadvantages of extractive industries, using church radios and other media."

Latin American bishops consider hazards of mining

Seminar on extractive industries spotlights environemental risks

By Mary Durran

Catholic News Service

14 July 2011

LIMA, Peru -- When Archbishop Pedro Barreto Jimeno of Huancayo first considered the high lead levels in the blood of children living in the Peruvian highland city of La Oroya, he asked himself, "What would Jesus do?"

Five years ago, the U.S.-owned mining company Doe Run was running a minerals smelter complex that was mainly responsible for the poor air quality in the fifth-most polluted city in the world, the archbishop told delegates at an international Latin American bishops' council seminar on extractive industries. The archbishop told delegates he answered his own question by beginning an ultimately successful campaign to close the complex.

Now, as the new president of the Latin American bishops' council department of justice and solidarity, Archbishop Barreto has a four-year mandate to encourage the Latin American church to consider and act on the question at the root of his ministry.

During the three-day seminar sponsored by the council, known by its acronym CELAM, 80 church representatives from Latin America said they would seek dialogue with U.S., Canadian and European bishops on extractive industries and the mission of the church and strengthen links with the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. They also called on northern countries to value the rich Latin American biodiversity that is threatened by extractive industries.

The seminar's final statement noted an accelerated expansion of extractive industries fed by "a fossil-fuel energy model, the pursuit of profit at any cost and a surge of materialistic greed."

Jose de Echave, a Peruvian analyst attending the conference, said that, with an average profit margin of 37 percent, the extractive industries are the most profitable in the world and that 27 percent of world mining, oil and gas investments are in Latin America.

The Lima seminar focused on the environmental impact of this rush on the continent's natural resources, the erosion of fragile democratic institutions by corrupt practices introduced by some foreign companies and social conflicts, and the violation of the right of communities to resist extractive projects on their territories. It acknowledged that mining provides jobs but stated that these are usually few and short-term and that taxes paid by international mining companies in Latin America are often very low.

The final statement called on the governments of Latin America to adequately regulate extractive industries, inform affected communities and provide independent environmental impact assessments prior to the launch of projects.

Bishop Jose Rauda Gutierrez traveled to Lima from his diocese of San Vicente, El Salvador. Canadian-based Pacific Rim Mining has sued the government of El Salvador for US$77 million after it canceled the widely contested open-pit gold mine concession in his diocese.

While he was in Lima, Bishop Rauda and San Salvador Auxiliary Bishop Gregorio Rosa Chavez received, solemn-faced, news that the body of an anti-mining activist had been found on an isolated rural road in the Salvadoran department of Cabanas. The murder of Juan Francisco Duran Ayala was the fourth in two years of anti-mining activists in El Salvador.

The CELAM conference statement said the bishops' council will seek to strengthen links with human rights defenders who are threatened or persecuted.

"Extractive activities are mainly carried out by private transnational companies and, in the face of their economic might, national governments and their sovereignty are weakened, especially at local government levels," said the CELAM statement, noting an "increase in corruption and a weakening of governance, as well as the judicial system."

For Pedro Landa of the Honduran Center for Alternative Development, it is difficult to find a better example than Honduras of this trend.

"International mining companies have fed corruption in Honduras," Landa told the seminar. "They have bought off judicial officials and corrupt politicians to get what they want."

Landa referred to his organization's work to document environmental contamination caused by the Goldcorp-owned San Martin mine and a subsequent lawsuit against two representatives of the Honduran subsidiary Entre Mares and two government officials. All were acquitted of environmental charges, in a ruling that did not respect Honduran law, Landa said.

The San Martin open pit gold mine in Honduras, now closing down, also dried up much of the population's water supply, as the mining process uses so much water.

Another issue raised is that of free, prior and informed consent of indigenous communities, a right set out in Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization, ratified by most Latin American governments.

"The church calls on states, prior to authorizing the launch of any extractive activity, to guarantee a previous consultation, as well as an environmental impact study ... and to inform the population adequately about the results of such studies," said the CELAM document.

Oblate Father Edgar Nolasco spoke to the conference of the consequences of the Peruvian government's failure to consult with the indigenous population in the Napo area of the Peruvian Amazon about a French transnational oil project. In 2009, the government authorized Perenco, a French transnational, to drill 14 oil wells in the middle of a heavily populated area, without any prior consultation with the population.

In opposition, Kichwa communities blocked the Napo River.

The CELAM conference committed the church to playing a role in informing communities about the benefits and disadvantages of extractive industries, using church radios and other media.

"In this way, the church wishes to contribute to the population being informed and taking a well-founded and critical decision, offering alternative proposals to defend its rights via arguments and dialogue," the document said.

Editor's note: Durran, a former CNS correspondent, attended the CELAM conference as a staffer at Development and Peace, the Canadian Catholic aid organization.

Extractive Industries (Mining and Hydrocarbons), the issue of non-renewable natural resources in Latin America and the Mission of the Church

14-16 July 2011

Concluding Document

Lima - The church recognizes the importance of the extractives industries, the service they can provide to mankind and the economies of the world, and the progress they contribute to society as a whole.

We commend the responsibility of the different actors (industry, government officials, professional engineers and technicians) who strive to go beyond mere legal compliance to protect the health and integrity of workers, the local communities, indigenous populations and the environment. The Church values these responsible practices that promote peoples’ well-being based on law and democratic practices.

1. The Church finds that, in the majority of Latin American and Carribean countries, there is an accelerated expansion of both the formal and informal extractives industries, whose activities often have negative impacts on the lives of surrounding populations. As stated in the Aparecida document, “...there is an irrational exploitation that leaves a trail of destruction, even death, in all of our region” (DA1 43).

2. The Church cannot be indifferent to the fear, anxiety, and misery of mankind, above all those of the poor and afflicted. Therefore, the Latin American Episcopal Council (CELAM) with the support of the German Catholic Bishops’ Organisation for Development Cooperation (MISEREOR), organized a conference on “the extractive industries and the mission of the Church” on the 14th through 16th of June, 2011, in Chaclacayo, Peru. Participants included archbishops, bishops, priests, religious and social leaders, professionals and academics from 17 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, North America and Europe

3. The purpose of the meeting was to analyze the social, political, economic, and ecological consequences of extractive activities and to develop pastoral guidelines.

4. Previous conferences took place in Quito (August 3-9, 2009), Manaus (October 1-4, 2009), Buenos Aires (August 20-25, 2010), and Rome (October 1-2, 2010) at which the Church reflected on diverse topics related to Caring for Creation and the global common good.

5. We began our reflections with an analysis of the current situation which was enriched by a reading of the Gospel and of the Social Doctrine of the Church to determine the most appropriate pastoral lines of action. Because “there are three stages which should normally be followed in the reduction of social principles into practice… expressed in the three terms: look, judge, act”.

The Wounded Planet

6. In addition to the growth of the extractives industries to a global level, we note a change in the flow of investments, motivated by the recovery of the prices of minerals. New actors on the scene such as Brazil, India, and China contribute to the increase in demand.  This significantly affects the increase in prices for metals. Thus, there is an increasing demand for raw materials both by emerging countries and industrialized countries. Some of the latter have even developed medium- and long-term strategies to guarantee their supply, leading them to declare the supply of raw materials a matter of national security.

7. At the meeting, we analyzed testimonials about conflicts between mining-affected populations, the government, and private companies that occur in many Latin American Countries. These testimonials reflect grave social and environmental problems.

8. In some cases, we found that transnational companies exhibited irresponsible behavior when, in the development of their business activities, they failed to conform to internationally recognized social and environmental standards.  Meanwhile, many national governments remain indifferent or passive to these malpractices.

9. Industrial activities for the exploration and exploitation of minerals and hydrocarbons generates the expulsion, dispersion, and deposition of chemical products and wastes of various kinds, such as sodium cyanide, lead, arsenic, uranium, mercury and other heavy metals that contaminate, either directly or through filtration, the water supply (glaciers, lakes, rivers, and underground water), the air and the soil. In some cases, the contamination lasts for thousands of years, causing grave illnesses and genetic mutations. This fact, coupled with the destruction of soil (leaching) and landscapes—which for many indigenous populations are considered sacred—significantly impairs the quality of life of people, animals, and plants.  One can observe the emergence and rise of diseases among the locals and surrounding communities affected by informal mining activities and in some cases by formal activities. In the majority of cases, the workers and communities are abandoned to their own fate.

10. Generally, extractive industries that improperly manage water resources negatively impact the production of goods and services, as well as impede the basic human right to water as a public good. This causes migration, converting entire communities into “environmental refugees.” They become victims of informal mining activities and in some cases of the neoliberal formal activities heavily reliant on extractives and the sale of raw materials in the global market. This results in the breakdown of communities’ invaluable ways of life.

11. One can observe both an increase in the concentration property rights and in the official use of land at the hands of transnational companies that, in many cases, also exercise strong social control over vast territories. 

12. Extractives companies, especially mining, employ methods that rely heavily on technology and utilize little manual labor. It is true that they generate jobs, but they are for limited periods of time, and in many cases, part of subcontracted labor or “services” that ignore the rights of workers. In the case of informal mining, once can observe an increase in work-related deaths. However, it is important to recognize that, in the formal mining sector, the number of work-related deaths caused by noncompliance with safety regulations has considerably decreased.

13. Tax contributions of mining companies substantially increase state revenues. However, there are exemptions and commercial, environmental, or tax agreements that minimize these revenues. In the case of Central America, there are widespread policies of tax exemptions that have reduced companies’ tax obligations to a range of only 5%. This has sparked a debate over the taxation of mining profits in countries throughout the region whose companies have seen a dramatic increase in profits thanks to the high price of metals.

14. We also note with concern that in many Latin American countries, informal mining is causing grave harm to the health and the environment, damaging all life forms wherever it takes place.


15. Extractives activities are mostly undertaken by private transnational companies. These companies’ large amounts of economic power weaken national governments and their sovereignty over all levels of local government. Often, national governments do not satisfactorily complete their function to create and enforce national environmental protection laws, allowing more flexible regulatory frameworks and using loopholes for companies instead of defending and protecting the rights of the population, which is the fundamental responsibility of every state.

16. We note an increase in corruption and a weakening of the governance and justice systems. The documents governing the relationship between the State and the mining companies are not available, including concession contracts, impact studies, and socio-environmental monitoring reports. In many Latin American and Caribbean countries, open access to up-to-date mining contracts is not guaranteed.

17. Many socio-environmental conflicts occur because, “in the decisions over biodiversity and nature, traditional populations have been virtually excluded” (Aparecida Document, 84). Mechanisms for dialogue have not been established for when conflicts arise, and social protests are often criminalized.

National or private security forces frequently trample on the rights of communities. Armed guerilla or paramilitary groups are sometimes involved in the exploitation of raw materials, and in other cases they use violence to prevent extractives activities. 

The State often does not hold prior consultations with indigenous communities who could be affected by projects. Prior consultation must be executed by the State as is required by the ILO 169 convention, article 6.2 and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, article 19. In particular, governments are frequently inefficient in conducting Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA), approving environmental certifications, and monitoring the environmental impacts of projects. This creates contexts that are conducive to corruption and inappropriate relationships between state officials and the private sector. At minimum, the government should guarantee freedom, access to information, and the demonstration of good faith with a goal of achieving free and informed consent of the communities involved.

In that light, the State should observe the other aspects of the aforementioned ILO 169 convention and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It also highlights the lack of effective mechanisms to rebuke and sanction multinational corporations when they violate nationally and internationally recognized guidelines.

The Church

18. We are experiencing an increase in socio-environmental conflicts on the continent. We view with growing concern the pastors, social leaders, defenders of human rights, environmental protectionists and conservationists who are being threatened and persecuted. However, Jesus gives them strength by affirming: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are they who are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:9).  Our communities desire a development model that is humane, comprehensive, inclusive, and sustainable (DA 474c).

19. We want to highlight the support and involvement of the Church in the capacity-building, training and awareness of communities. The presence of the Church among the population has be decisive in facilitating dialogue and avoiding violence, coordinating and unifying the work of civil society at an international scale, as well as fomenting alliances between unions, businesses, and other organizations with affected communities. It is vital to understand, document, and systemize these lessons and experiences in order to affectively interact with extractives companies and public authorities.

Encouraging Signs

20. Even though a neoliberal economic model based on extractivism prevails in many countries, we note an emergence of new, comprehensive approaches to development that incorporate social, cultural and environmental dimensions.

21. Community groups have developed various strategies in addition to those executed by new organizations that have emerged in response to the conflict. They have built capacity to acquire knowledge and develop proposals. They have also created alliances with other social groups, hoping to impact public policies. With their newly acquired knowledge, they are able to create alternative solutions to uncontrolled extractive activities.

22. In high income, industrialized countries, important citizens’ movements have emerged that question the consumerist way of life and allies support with southern communities. These groups monitor corporate behavior as well as the impact of public policy in southern countries. Also, interesting international certification mechanisms and fair trade goods have developed which allow consumers in rich countries to purchase products from southern countries that were produced with minimal negative socio-environmental impacts on the ecosystems and residents who live there. 

23. Examples of extractive activities demonstrate that projects can be rational and responsible, can coexist with agriculture, can be developed in accordance with international standards, can keep in mind sustainability, and can result in the least possible amount of environmental affects. It is important to know and understand the social, cultural, and political frameworks that resulted in these examples in order replicate them in other places. 

Earth, Home, and Church

24. According to the Christian Faith, our earth is a creation of God. Therefore, we should treat it with respect. God created mankind in his own image (Gen 1:26), mankind is called upon to be responsible stewards of the goods of creation. We do not have the right to exploit earth’s resources, “irrationally demolishing sources of life” (DA 471). God created life in its great diversity (Gen 1,11-12.20). Our Latin American Continent holds one of the greatest biodiversities on the planet. This is a free and fragile heritage “that we receive to protect” (DA 471).

25. A substantial foundation for the care of the goods of creation is the covenant between the Creator and all living things (Gen 9:17). The Social Doctrine of the Church emphasizes that “a correct understanding of the environment prevents the utilitarian reduction of nature to a mere object to be manipulated and exploited”. Human intervention in nature should be governed by respect for other people and their rights, as well as respect for other living creatures. This also implies a greater responsibility so that future generations can inherit a habitable earth. 

26. We reaffirm the need to preserve the earth as the “common home” for all living things. The Blessed Pope John Paul II advised us of the risks that come with considering the earth an unending source of economic resources: “[…]the environment as “resource” risks threatening the environment as “home”. For this reason, the long-term environmental costs of extractives activities must be evaluated, just as they should be for legal activities such as  livestock, agriculture, aquaculture, and for illegal activities such as coca or poppy harvesting for drug trafficking.

27. Jesus declared through His words and actions that God is the God of life. Following the Gospel obliges us to see life as a gift from God. The integral and interdependent nature of all that is created commits mankind to a collective responsibility.

28. A close link exists between following Jesus and the mission. The mission should serve the communities in Latin America. This is particularly highlighted in the Concluding Document of the Aparecida conference where they say: “the mission of evangelization cannot proceed separated from solidarity with the poor and the promotion of their comprehensive development” (DA 545). “The living conditions of many of those who are abandoned, excluded, and ignored in their poverty and pain stand in contradiction to this project of the Father and chal‐lenge believers to greater commitment to the culture of life. The Kingdom of life that Christ came to bring is incompatible with such inhuman situations. If we try to close our eyes to these realities we are not advocates of the life of the Kingdom and we place ourselves on the path of death” (DA 358).

29. In order to live according to the spirit of Jesus, we reaffirm a pro-poor approach. The poor, destined for the Kingdom of Heaven, are often the first victims of the negative effects of the current socio-economic model and of natural disasters caused by climate change.

30. In the search for a comprehensive and communal development solution, we are inspired by the spirituality of indigenous communities and Afro-descendents who have felt a part of “mother nature” and who relate to her as “the source of all life.” In indigenous cultures, there is a spirit that recognizes the wisdom and power of God in creation which encourages them to practice the concept of 'Buen Vivir’. Recognizing this, the world’s countries met in April of 2009 at the General Assembly of the United Nations, and unanimously approved a resolution that designates the 24th of April as the International day of Mother Earth.

31. In regards to the activities of the extractives industries and the use of non-renewable natural resources, one must remember the principle of the universal destination of goods, especially for resources of vital importance such as water, air, and earth.  This is a fundamental principle in the whole ethical-social order.

32. The current economic model is sustained by combustible fossil fuel energy. The pursuit of profit at any costs coupled with unlimited consumption results in the overexploitation and increasing scarcity of non-renewable natural resources. It also leads to global warming caused by the emission of greenhouse gasses (GHG), and aggravates the global climate change phenomenon.  The accelerated melting of the poles and tropical Andean glaciers and deforestation in the Amazon are some examples, among others, of the non-sustainability of the current economic model. This model promotes inequality and individualism and puts the survival of the planet at risk. Faced with this, the concluding document of the fifth General Conference of the Bishops of Latin America challenges us to “pursue an alternative development model; one that is comprehensive and communal” (DA 474c).

33. The Principle of the common good is another fundamental principle of the Social Doctrine that guides the Church in its commitment to promote a comprehensive and sustainable development model. “To desire the common good and strive towards it is a requirement of justice and charity”. Pope Benedict XVI affirms that, in the construction of the order of social justice, the Church “cannot and must not replace the State. Yet at the same time she cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice. She has to play her part through rational argument and she has to reawaken the spiritual energy without which justice, which always demands sacrifice, cannot prevail and prosper. A just society must be the achievement of politics, not of the Church. Yet the promotion of justice through efforts to bring about openness of mind and will to the demands of the common good is something which concerns the Church deeply.”

34. It is important to remember that “the Church has a responsibility towards creation, and she considers it her duty to exercise that responsibility in public life, in order to protect earth, water and air as gifts of God the Creator meant for everyone, and above all to save mankind”

35. In this sense, we emphasize once again the huge significance of the rich biodiversity on our continent, which is essential for healthy life on earth. This fact should be valued by northern countries.

Use the Goods of Creation with Careful Responsibility

36. Together with other actors in society, the Church works to strengthen the ethical dimension in politics and the economy. The Church “wishes to help form consciences in political life and to stimulate greater insight into the authentic requirements of justice as well as greater readiness to act accordingly, even when this might involve conflict with situations of personal interest”. It is not possible to achieve comprehensive, communal, and sustainable development without an ethical dimension.

37. Fulfilling its mission to work towards reconciliation and unity, to respect all people’s dignity, and to work for the common good (cfr. LG1), the Church continues to promote an open and transparent dialogue among the different actors of society that are involved in socio-environmental conflicts. In all cases, the Church wishes to halt the escalation of conflicts in order to avoid violent outcomes, and to find just and sustainable solutions.

38. The Church implores governments to establish a legal and political framework that regulates extractive activities according to international socio-cultural and environmental standards, protects the rights of surrounding communities, and ensures compliance with established contracts for companies.

39. At the same time, the Church encourages the State to guarantee prior consultation and an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) before authorizing the start of any extractive activity. Legal regulations in the majority of Latin American countries require that an EIA be conducted by the company before beginning an extractive project, as part of the conditions for approval. The EIAs are, for the most part, a document for stakeholders. For this reason, it is necessary that the state responsibility of revising the EIAs be executed with impartiality and according to internationally established scientific criteria. Also, the Church urges the State to adequately inform the public on the results of the study.

40. In that same light, we ask the State to implement, apply and perform consultations, facilitating the participation of representatives from mining-affected indigenous communities in decision-making and approval of those projects.

41. The Church reminds the State and mining companies that it “is urgently necessary to succeed in combining technology with a strong ethical dimension” and that they must incentivize “the research and exploitation of clean energy sources that preserve the heritage of creation and are harmless to humans,” which we remind them should be political and economic priorities.

42. The Church urges mining companies to act with social and environmental responsibility, to respect established contracts, to ensure the safety and health of workers, and to pay them fair wages. The government has the fundamental responsibility to confirm that companies are operating accordingly, a function to be performed with impartiality, technical rigor and transparency.

43. It also feels a duty to promote an ethic throughout the industry based on the principles of the Social Doctrine of the Church.

44. Concerning prior consultation, the Church reaffirms its commitment to full and complete dissemination of information regarding the complex extractives industry, as well as the benefits and risks it entails, through its radio and media network. In doing this, the Church hopes that the public can be informed and make well-founded and critical decisions, as well as develop alternative proposals and defend their rights through dialogue.

45. The Church is committed to “redouble our efforts toward enacting government policies and citizen involvement, to assure the protection, conservation and restoration of nature” (DA 474d). “In this task, concrete actions should be designed with pastoral creativity to influence governments to enact social and economic policies to deal with the varied needs of the population and lead toward sustainable development” (DA 403). It will continue its support of civil society to “decide on measures for social monitoring and control over the application of international environmental standards in our countries” (DA 474e).

46. The Church received the call from Pope Benedict XVI that “a change in mentality" is necessary in order to "quickly arrive at a global lifestyle that respects the covenant between humanity and nature, without which the human family risks disappearing.” 17 The Church vows to decidedly contribute to this change in mentality and practice.

47. The Church affirms its commitment that, “as disciples and missionaries in the service of life, we accompany the indigenous and native peoples in strengthening their identities and their own organizations, the defense of their territory, bilingual intercultural education, and the defense of their rights. We also pledge to create awareness in society about the situation of the indigenous and their values, through the media and other areas of opinion” (DA 530).
CELAM will strive to promote dialogue with the Episcopal Conferences of the US, Canada, and Europe about the extractives industries and the mission of the Church. It will promote the coordination of the respective pastoral efforts already underway in the Latin American Church, and work to strengthen ties with pastoral agents, social leaders, environmentalists, and human rights champions who are being threatened and persecuted. At the same time, it will intensify links with the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. 

The Latin American Episcopal Council (CELAM) promises to follow-up on the issues and commitments made at the conference, and to reflect on other dimensions of the issue from the standpoint of the Church’s Social Doctrine.

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