December 10, 2010
By Grahame Russell,,

December 10th is celebrated by some as “international human rights day”.

For the global mining industry, we commemorate “international impunity day”.

Below, summaries of recent assassinations and attacks in El Salvador, Guatemala and Chiapas related to community struggles in resistance to environmental and health harms and other human rights violations caused by Canadian-American mining companies.

These are a few of many stories of repression that occur worldwide against people working in favour of community-controlled development and in protection of watersheds, health and the environment.

In early July 2009, the body of Marcelo Rivera, a teacher and community leader, was found dumped in a well.  He had been ‘disappeared’ on June 18.  Torture signs were found on his body, including burn marks; he was missing toe and finger nails.

On December 20, 2009, Ramiro Rivera Gomez and Felicíta Echeverría were killed.  On December 26, 2009, Dora “Alicia” Sorto Recinos (8 months pregnant) was murdered in the community of Trinidad.

These killings occurred in the department of Cabañas, bordering Honduras, where Pacific Rim Mining Corp., a Canadian-American company, wants gold.  For years, many Salvadorans have worked hard, at risk of repression, to prevent Pacific Rim from operating an open-pit, cyanide-laced gold mine.

In the 1970s, 80s and early 90s, El Salvador was one of the “disappearance” and torture capitals of the Americas.  While the political situation has changed in El Salvador, repression was used then, and still is now in certain cases, to crush people and organizations advocating for serious political, economic and legal reforms and changes.

Meanwhile, Pacific Rim is using a World Bank “mediation” procedure to sue the government of El Salvador for millions of dollars in “lost profits”.  The World Bank is a major investor in global mining companies!  This so-called “mediation” process is akin to the fox guarding the hen house.  Family members of the four people killed certainly can’t use this World Bank procedure to seek justice or remedy – it is only for corporations and investors.

In January 2007, then Skye Resources, now HudBay Minerals, participated in the forced evictions of a number of Mayan Qeqchi communities.  Hundreds of huts were burned to the ground or destroyed; personal property was destroyed or stolen; subsistence crops and animals were destroyed or stolen.

Hundreds of Mayan Qeqchi people – young, old, men, women – fled into the hills and forests, and survived for weeks, before returning to rebuild their huts and subsistence crops.  Some communities suffered numerous evictions … and still they came back, having no where else to go.  These are their ancestral lands since long before mining companies arrived in the 1950s claiming “ownership”.

In one community, Lote 8, 12 women villagers were gang-raped by private security guards, hired by then Skye Resources, now HudBay Minerals, and by soldiers and police.  This atrocity is only recently coming to light.

In the 1970s, 80s and early 90s, Guatemala was also a repression capital of the Americas.  “Disappearances”, killings, massacres and systematic raping of girls and women (often before killing them) were common.  As in El Salvador, repression was used then, as it is now, to crush people and organizations advocating for serious political, economic and legal reforms and changes.

On September 27, 2009, Adolfo Ich, a Mayan Qeqchi teacher and community leader in El Estor (department of Izabal), was captured by HudBay’s security guards, hacked with machetes and then shot.  Hours later, family members found him dead in the company building where HudBay’s security guards had detained him.

Adolfo Ich and Mayan-Qeqchi villagers have long been resisting the harms and forced evictions caused by mining companies.  The first wave of repression occurred in the 1970s, early 1980s, when INCO (International Nickel Company) was operating the mine.  Evictions and repression began again in 2006 (by then Skye Resources), through to today.

Mariano Abarca, a community leader from the state of Chiapas, was known for his work for community development and the environmental, opposing the health and environmental harms and human rights violations caused by barite mining.

On November 27, 2009, he was assassinated in the town of Chicomuselo, state of Chiapas.  The alleged assassins are employees of and/or linked to Blackfire Exploration Inc, a Canadian mining company … that denies any responsibility for the crimes.  Blackfire has threatened to use NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) procedures to sue the government of Chiapas for “lost profits”.  The Abarca family can not use this “free” trade agreement to seek justice and remedy for the murder of Mariano.

At 7pm, July 7, 2010, in the neighborhood of Sacmuj, village of Ágel, Diodora Hernández was shot in the head.  Two men entered her home asking her for a cup of coffee.  As Diodora was preparing coffee, they shot her in the right eye and ran off into the night.

Miraculously, she survived.  She is back in her community, with a prosthetic eye, opposing the expansion of Goldcorp’s open pit, cyanide leaching mine into her community.  Goldcorp acknowledged the men had worked in its harmful mine, but … denied any responsibility for the attempted assassination.

These are not exceptional cases.  They are snap-shots of repression, without detailing here the well documented environmental and health harms and other human rights violations that are common in communities (usually poor, often indigenous) where many mines operate.

Neither is the impunity exceptional.  Companies enjoy effective impunity from prosecution or accountability in many countries where they operate mines – like Guatemala, El Salvador, Mexico.  They operate with impunity in the sphere of international law.  And, they operate with impunity in Canada where many are headquartered, where the major corporate and investor decisions are taken.

In Canada, there are basically no criminal or civil laws to hold Canadian companies accountable for environmental and health harms or human rights violations that occur related to their business operations elsewhere.  The recently announced, and hopefully precedent-setting “Choc v. HudBay Minerals” case filed in Toronto – that seeks justice for the wrongful death of Adolfo Ich – is a possible crack in the all of impunity, and will need substantial political and financial support.

Over the past few years, there were efforts in Canada to pass legislation – Bill C-300 – that would have provided an administrative framework for government oversight and possible sanction (withdrawal of public funds a particular company might be receiving) in the case of mining company wrong-doing.

Bill C-300 would not have provided for criminal law sanctions in cases where crimes were committed; it would not have provided for civil law sanctions against companies, or for remedies to the victims of mining company harms and wrongs, if wrong-doings and harms were proven.  Even at that, Bill C-300 was strongly opposed by the mining industry and supporters in the Conservative and Liberal parties.  Bill C-300 was defeated in October, 2010.

This opposition to even basic laws, remedies and sanctions is self-serving and hypocritical.  I wager that all the mining company executives, investors and politicians who opposed the enactment of binding and enforceable legislation swear by the values and accountability mechanisms of democracy and the rule of law – just not when they would and should apply to their corporate and investment activities abroad.

I wager that were these company executives, investors and politicians and their families and home communities themselves the victims of environmental and health harms or other human rights violations, they would expect and demand nothing less than full political and legal accountability and sanctions for the harmful actions, and full remedy for the harms and losses.

Happy international impunity day to the global mining industry, investors and their political supporters.


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