The Goldcorp Arts Centre in the Woodwards Building: Site of Displacement and Shame

BLOG POST posted on September 23, 2010 by dawn, Vancouver MediaCoop

Blog posts are the work of individual contributors, reflecting their thoughts, opinions and research.
A Mayan baby with a rash on his arm which his parents say is caused by Goldcorp's Marlin mine // Rights Action
A Mayan baby with a rash on his arm which his parents say is caused by Goldcorp’s Marlin mine // Rights Action

This morning, Vancouver based mining company Goldcorp announced that they would be donating $10 million to Simon Fraser University to fund the school’s arts centre in the already controversial Woodwards building in the Downtown East Side. The school will be known as the Goldcorp Centre for the Arts.

Goldcorp officials, of course, worked hard to spin the donation into yet another indication of their generosity and benevolence towards marginalized communities. After all, what could possibly be wrong with charity?

“Goldcorp is committed to making a positive difference here in Vancouver as well as those communities where we operate our mines,” said Goldcorp President and Chief Executive Officer Chuck Jeannes, in a press release this morning.

For anyone who has looked into Goldcorp’s operations, this statement smacks of the arrogance and impunity with which they build and operate mines, and leave behind toxic sites, displaced villages, and poisoned and impoverished communities.

In Honduras, Goldcorp’s San Martin mine poisoned community members in the Siria Valley, displaced an entire village from their lands, and affected the water supply to the extent that farming and ranching families were forced to migrate out of the area, either to Tegucigalpa or to the U.S.

In Guatemala, the company’s Marlin mine is located on what was previously communally held Indigenous Mayan Mam and Mayan Sipakapense lands. The project began amid bloody repression, as one person was killed by police at a roadblock preventing mine construction. Recently, the Inter American Human Rights Commission ruled that the Marlin mine must shut down, but the company has refused to abide by their ruling. Villagers in the surrounding area have lived through deep and sometimes violent conflicts related to the mine, which flared up recently when a company employee shot mine opponent Antonia Hernandez Cinto in the face. All around the mine site, people are contracting illnesses from suspected toxins in the water and in the air.

In Mexico, the company just opened the Peñasquito mine, the country’s biggest. Already, conflict around the mine is starting to simmer in the state of Zacatecas, as neighbors and communal land holders begin to understand the size of the project in a semi-arid area.

In Argentina, people have been organizing against the Bajo de la Alumbrera mine for years. They say the contamination of the mine, combined with electricity and water use, have made life in their villages unbearable.

In California, the company recently lost a Chapter 11 dispute under NAFTA. They claimed they had every right to bulldoze sacred Quechen Indigenous sites, and that the U.S. government should pay the company for forcing them to mitigate the damage done in sacred areas.

There are many more stories about how Goldcorp really treats the communities where it operates, a sample of which are contained in a booklet I worked on a couple of years ago called Investing in Conflict.

Something I realized after having done work on and off for a few years with Goldcorp-affected communities in Honduras and Guatemala was that companies really don’t care what community members think of their projects. I mean sure, they’ll try. They’ll try and convince people, to buy them off, to build them schools or churches (evangelical ones) or whatever.

But if the people are firm, and they stand their ground, any mining, oil, forestry, and you name it company will poison them, displace them, wound them, jail them, and even kill them to get to the resources that they, through deals made with illegitimate and corrupted states, consider to be theirs. When things get to this point, the company can lean on the state government (to which they are sometimes even the largest taxpayer) to get the local police and army to keep the locals in check.

The people that companies really care about convincing, at this point, are North Americans. You know, working people, Americans and especially Canadians who invest their pensions in Goldcorp. Honestly, they do a pretty good job up here in the city, far away from the hellholes they’ve dug: the Ethical Funds Company even says that Goldcorp shares are an ethical investment. Seen in that light, buying their name onto an arts school in Canada’s poorest off reserve postal code makes perfect sense.

Here’s Chuck Jeannes again, from today’s press release: “Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside has become one of Canada’s most depressed neighbourhoods, and we are optimistic that by working with Simon Fraser University, we will be able to reach out to its businesses and residents to help create a more sustainable future.”

Goldcorp isn’t a company that cares about human or social sustainability. They are, like every other transnational corporation out there, an organization that cares about their bottom line. SFU Arts should be ashamed of taking this money from Goldcorp, a company that values human life, communities and ecosystems far less than it does gold.


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