MAC: Mines and Communities

An enlightening report: Mining conflicts in Honduras

Published by MAC on 2015-06-11
Source: Nostromo Research

The following is a review of Nick Middeldorp's MSc thesis, on opposition to mining in Honduras, published in June 2014, based on six months fieldwork undertaken in 2013.

The thesis can be downloaded from:

Going beyond academic borders

Nick Middeldorp has produced a commendably well-researched and authoritative report that more than fulfils his intention to “make understandable the complexity that shapes anti-mining struggles in Honduras”.

Devoting six months to the task in collaboration with Honduran NGO, ASONOG and civil society platform MNIGR, his travels took him throughout the central American country. The resulting masters' thesis isn't only an evocative description of a large number of mining-centred battles over recent years - and there have been an extraordinary number for a country with a population roughly the size of of London's (just over 8 million).

He also manages to marry worthy philosophical insights (how many anthropology students quote Foucault or Gransci?) with a telling
analysis of the political and institutional forces that have been mobilised by the state against communities. Nor does he ignore the differing, and often nuanced, responses from within civil society to such relentless assaults, doing so with a passion, truly deserving of the best "actively--engaged research".

Says Nick Middeldorp:

"As an ethnographic researcher of anti-mining activism , it was both impossible and perhaps even irresponsible to remain indifferent towards the struggle I tried to make sense of. Regardless of my involvement, I try to stress in this work that anti-mining activism is a response to real damages done in the past."

First, he sets the picture, recording that in 2013: "Hundreds of mining concessions have been awarded and hundreds of concession requests await approval, totalling approximately 50% of Honduran national territory".

This is largely due to the military coup in 2008, followed by mining legislation framed six years later, that caused "a precarious human rights situation... in which activists of all kind are especially vulnerable". In the period of interim-governmen, and during the years following the military coup up to 2012, "[T]here were no fewer than 552 cases of aggressive suppression of demonstrations and 241 illegal detentions, 94 cases of torture, 58 political killings and more specifically 14 assassinations of journalists".

And the general reader is introduced to (or has their mind refreshed about) virtually all of the mining projects which have triggered civil resistance (and some successes) - such as those mounted against Greenstone Resources, Silver Crest, Yamana Gold - and in considerable detail, against Gold Corp at Valle de Siria, a mine which is now closed.

The author argues that: "[T]he anti-mining discourse entails more than what the mining industry calls ‘resource nationalism’ [or] protectionism over one’s ‘own’ resources that are taken away by a foreign company."

Instead, he maintains that "the anti-mining movement would not have arisen in the first place if the different perceptions...on what constitutes development were not incompatible between the industry and the government on the one hand, and Honduran communities and organisations on the other hand".

He concludes that this movement "...fits in the more encompassing frameworks of protection of communal resources and Environmental Justice [and] focuses predominantly on the frontier dynamics that affect the community level as the main stage of the Honduran mining conflic...but also seeks to contribute to a wider political ecological discussion about how conflicts surrounding land control take shape".

As such, his thesis takes us well beyond the borders of Honduras itself.

[Review by Nostromo Research]

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