Four Communities On The Verge Of Disappearance Because Of Open Pit MiningPublished by MAC on 2006-04-09
Four Communities on the Verge of Disappearance Because of Open Pit Mining
By Xiomara Orellana, Honduras
9th April 2006
The residents of Nueva San Andrés, San Miguel, Plantanares and Azacualpa are being evicted one-by-one from their villages in order to make way for the mines: 1997 changed life forever in this region, when the open-pit mining arrived, obliging many to move and all to change their way of life. Many families were relocated and now subsist from work in the mining company; others have struggle to scratch out a living, jobs are very scarce; if one doesn't work for the company, there is not much else, and the agriculture that supported the majority in this zone before has been forgotten. The situation is the same in San Miguel and Platanares, everyone fears that these towns will disappear.
The president of the Council of San Andrés, Quintín Miranda, states that if offered 52 parcels of land in exchange for giving up the hills which they surround, they would not accept. "We are surrounded by the company and our towns are stagnant, the natural resources are running out, people are afraid to say what is happening, but there will be nothing here when the mining company leaves, the law does not protect us," he said. And there many promises made between the company and the people which the company has not fulfilled: In the community of San Miguel they have not carried out the drinking water project, the sewage program, land for a boat building facility, the development of small businesses with investment for business activities, and neither have the streets been improved.
If mining activities expand, to the residents, there is no sense in continuing with their economic projects. The disappearance of the towns appears imminent and according to residents, the company is not providing relocation, just their removal. "The company wants us to emigrate, they want the zone cleansed," asserts councilmember Erasmo Fuentes.
One warning issued by the Council of the zone points to failures and breaches in the lixiviation pools that have not been corrected by the company Yamana Gold (http://www.yamana.com). The same problems were identified and the company was notified by the Executive Commission of Mining Development (DEFORMIN), who ordered the company to suspend operations until the faults were corrected.
The company - formerly known as Minosa, now Yamana Gold - promised to carry out the recommendations, but the Council members say that the recommendations were never carried out, and "in an irresponsible manner they have continued to pile materials in the same pools, conscious of the consequences of their actions." The residents have asked help of the Attorney General of the Environment, to inspect the area and verify the faults, but there has been no response, only a nongovermental organization ASONOG has lent support throughout this process.
Since the initiation of gold extraction in the zone in 1999, local residents have signed agreements with the company. Over the seven years of operations there have been tense moments and confrontations, repairs, relocations, and in some cases damages to the environment: the disaster most remembered occurred in January of 2003 when there was a spill of 400 gallons of cyanide into the Río Lara, causing the deaths of hundreds of fish, frogs, crabs and dragonflies. The accidental opening of a valve made a drainage canal overflow and the toxic solution made its way to the Río Higuito and to many towns, including Santa Rosa de Copán. The goverment fined the mining company U$54,000.
This case was carried by Council members to the Central American Water Court in Costa Rica in March 2004, and the Tribunal ordered Minosa to cease operations until it could guarantee that mining would not affect the hydric systems and public health of the region. The international court also urged the the Honduran government to make reforms in mining legislation and not to permit the expansion of mining operations into the mountains of Twin Hil, Cortés, Azacualpa, because this would entail the relocation of people from San Andrés, a community which was already relocated and whose original infrastructure was already destroyed. "We don't want the company to advance any more. They haven't consulted with us, and the negative experience so far makes us have to fight for what is ours," affirmed the ex-president of the Council of San Miguel, Luciano Rodríguez.
There are aspects of the process of mining operations that both benefit and impact negatively the population. In these past years, the company has created jobs, pays school teachers and nurses in the communities, donates schoolbooks and school materials to the students of the educative centers, scholarships, transport, some infrastructure works, electrification, improvements in the sewage systems, the reforestation of one of the areas mined, and now, according to their administrative director Roberto Dala, will award residents 52 parcels of land for agricultural use. "We cannot deny the support that we give to the community, we respect our commitments."
Between the cost and the benefits, the majority of the residents urge the government to review the mining permits, as they fear that the mining concessions will destroy their sources of water, forests and even their lives.
History of Mining in Honduras
Environmentals say that for Honduras, the current Mining Law sets the country back to the 19th century in legal, tax and environmental terms. In the period 1870-1910, gold and silver were the principal materials exported by the country, exploited primarily by foreign companies. Among the most well known mines are San Juancito (see on MAC "San Juancito: From Mining Emporium to Ghost Town" http://www.minesandcommunities.org/Action/press961.htm), Opoteca and Clavo Rico. On the economic front, a small group of business leaders from the interior of the country profited considerably from the mining activities and some of these people later founded the first commercial bank in the country, the Bank of Honduras. Almost all of the foreign mining companies left the country once the mineral was exhausted.
At the beginning of the 1990's, new mining companies returned. The new Mining Law gives them great advantages. Since then, the legal rights given to miners by the new law have "tied the hands" of various governmental entities who are trying to correct or halt negative effects of the foreign companies who have begun mining operations under the shelter of this new legislation.