MAC/20: Mines and Communities

GUATEMALA

Published by MAC on 2007-04-16

GUATEMALA

San Pedro Necta Rejects Mining and Opts for Sustainable Projects with Less Environmental Risks

By Mike Castillo, Guatemala

16th April 2007

www.prensalibre.com

San Pedro Necta /. Although no large-scale mining projects are underway in this municipality, residents of San Pedro Necta en Huehuetenango, Guatemala have united to oppose mining as a factor in their development and have declared themselves against open-pit mining. In recent popular consultations carried out in 48 of the 53 communities of the municipality, the residents rejected the supposed benefits and pronounced themselves in favor of the defense of their environment. "Over 17,000 persons participated, and all opposed mining practices," said Francisco Rocael Mateo Morales, a movement organizer.

For the residents, benefits produced by mining are fleeting and only for a select few. Upon the end of the bonanza, the mining firms disappear and people remain with the same poverty and with the ecosystems destroyed. "The mountains that they exploit and destroy belong to the environment in which we live, and this is why we reject mining," he stated.

San Pedro Necta is the seventh Huehuetengo municipality in the last 18 months to decide against open-pit mining, mainly for the threat of impact and destruction on water sources, as water is utilized in huge quantities in the leaching process. Currently the Ministry of Mining and Energy has received about fifty requests for mining exploration and operations in the municipality.

Marta Julia Gabriel Morales, another of the organizers, said that they know of two firms that have been granted authorizations without any consultation in the communities, one in the township of Chichimes and the other in El Boquerón. "This was what caused us to organize and express our disapproval. The indigenous people are the owners of our riches and we are not going to permit them to carry them off to another country," they manifested.

Another of the fears that the population has is the risk entailed in the use of cyanide, which is a reactive chemical used to dissolve the gold with water. One type of catastrophe occurred in Honduras in 2002, when the mining firm Minerales de Occidente spilled 300 gallons of cyanide solution into the Lara river. In the first day after the spill alone some 18,000 fish were poisoned, along some 4.5 kilometers.

Despite the claims of mining firms that they are sustainable and the favors awarded to their employees, the communities have rejected mining as a motor of development, and prefer to place their bets in ecotourism and other activities which will not cause ecological disasters.

Six municipalities in Huehuetenango carried out popular consultations in 2006 and opposed mining. These were: Colotenango, Santiago Chimaltenango, San Juan Atitán, Concepción Huista, Todos Santos Cuchumatán y Santa Eulalia. They are demanding the implementation of legal reforms in mining legislation which were passed during the Alvaro Alzú administration.

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