MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Opposition to Mining Activity in San Marcos

Published by MAC on 2004-11-04

Opposition to Mining Activity in San Marcos

Prensa Libre (Guatemala)

November 4, 2004

Inhabitants of two municipalities declare that mining exploitation will cause harm to the environment, by Alberto Ramírez.

People living near mining projects in San Miguel Ixtahuacán and Sipacapa, San Marcos, have expressed their opposition to extraction of gold in the area. The majority of those who participated in a survey carried out by Vox Latina were of the opinion that not only would mining exploitation not benefit the community, it would also harm the environment.

A total of 95.5% of those surveyed were against the implementation of the mining project in the Marquense municipalities. The project is presently in the installation phase, and could begin extracting gold next year. Only 4.5% support the project. 96% of the men surveyed are opposed to it, as well, 94% of women, 95% of indigenous peoples and 96% of ladinos said they opposed it.

Despite the Government's insistence that these communities will benefit from the mining project, the local population has a different view of the situation. 83.5 % of those surveyed believe that gold extraction will bring destruction to the area, while 8.75 believe that it will create prosperity in the area. 83.5% believe that mining will have a negative impact, 11.5% believe that it will benefit the community.

95.5% of those surveyed are of the opinion that it is the owners of the mining company who stand to gain from this transaction, only 2.5% believe that the local population will receive dividends. On the issue of whether they knew that the previous government had granted a gold extraction concession in Sipacapa and San Miguel Ixtahuacán, 62% said they were aware of this, while 37.75% were not.

As well, the community does not believe that the Executive Branch will attempt to control the mining activity: 84% believe that the Government is not concerned about the fact that mineral extraction may harm the health of the local population and as well, harm natural resources. Only 10.5% believe that the Government is in fact concerned about these issues.

CONCERN FOR THE ENVIRONMENT

In the community, there is a basic concern for the preservation of our natural resources: 81.75% of the sample said that protection of the environment is important for them, while 11.75% said that development of the economy and of the area is of more importance. As well, 54.75% responded that there are insufficient water supplies in the area while 45.25% said that there is enough water.

Environmental groups such as MadreSelva and Centro de Acción Ambiental share the local population's vision of the situation. These groups have pointed out that mining activity is responsible for the visual impact on the mountains, which have been undergone environmental damage. As well, they say that there is a risk of contaminating water sources through the use of cyanide to leach gold from other metals.

CREDIBILITY: THEY PLACE MORE TRUST IN THE CHURCH

The local population trusts the Catholic Church of San Marco more than the Government, given that the bishops are better informed on the effects of gold mining than President Óscar Berger. 73.5% of the population of San Miguel Iztahuacán and Sipacapa who participated in the survey were of the opinion that the Church knows more about the dangers of this mining activity than the Government. Only 13.75% believe that Berger is well informed. 12.75% chose not to participate in the survey.

One month ago, the Episcopal Conference, expressing fear of environmental damage, asked Berger to overturn the mining concession granted to the Marlin project (a Canadian company) in San Marcos. The Government responded by saying that the Church was poorly informed on the issue. This caused friction in the relationship between Cardinal Rodolfo Quezada Toruño and the Government. Later, Berger was forced to make amends.

79.29% of the community believes that the Catholic church of San Marcos knows the needs and problems of these communities better than the Government does. 11.5% believes that the Executive Branch is able to deal properly with these issues.

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