Activists square off against Vancouver-based mining firms

Activists square off against Vancouver-based mining firms

By Derrick Penner, Vancouver Sun May 18, 2011

Activists are bringing their claims of environmental damage and rights violations against two Canadian mining companies operating in Latin America directly to the firms’ annual general meetings this week in Vancouver.

Calling themselves the Mining Justice Alliance, they will be seeking the attention of Goldcorp Inc. and First Majestic Silver Corp. shareholders to address their concerns.

At Goldcorp’s AGM today in particular, activists have succeeded in putting a special resolution to shareholders asking them to suspend operations at the company’s Marlin mine in Guatemala, as was recommended by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, a branch of the Organization of American States.

In 2010, the commission recommended that Marlin’s operations be suspended so the merits of complaints against the company related to damage to homes around the mine site, contamination of water and negative health effects could be investigated.

“These states like Guatemala are weak and respond to economic interests, and not to the interests of their citizens,” said Benito Morales, humanrights coordinator and lawyer for a group called the Rigoberta Menchu Foundation that represents indigenous communities, speaking through a translator.

Morales, at a press conference in the office of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs in Vancouver, said Guatemala’s government has undertaken to promote mining activity, which he claimed as left communities around the Marlin mine divided.

Goldcorp did not respond to The Sun’s request for an interview Tuesday, but in its latest quarterly report repeated its position that there is no evidence of pollution or ill health effects from the mine, and it continues to engage with the communities.

The company, in its first-quarter news release, said the initiatives the Guatemalan government has undertaken include the creation of a roundtable discussion with municipalities in the region and a proposed regulation to implement a consultation process with indigenous people.

“The company expects that normal operations at the Marlin mine will continue as the government continues to engage with the IACHR,” Goldcorp said in its news release.

Vancouver-based First Majestic Silver is being targeted over its Real de Catorce concession in central Mexico, which the Huicholes indigenous people claim contains sites that are sacred to their culture.

Jesus Lara Chivarra, a representative of the Huicholes, said that in 2008 four state governors and President Jose Calderon vowed to protect the first nation’s sacred lands, and development of a mine would violate that promise.

Through a translator, Chivarra said the Huicholes are “willing to go into an endless battle to be able to save the most sacred places.”

First Majestic, however, said it hasn’t entered into Mexico’s permitting process for permission to build a mine yet and the Huicholes’ sacred sites are at a distance from the areas it is interested in mining.

“They’re about five kilometres away from where any activity is going to take place,” Keith Neumeyer, First Majestic’s CEO said in an interview.

“We’ve told the local community we will donate that part to the community if they wish to have it.”

Neumeyer said opposition to the Real de Catorce proposal seems to be being fuelled by activists outside of Mexico

“that are just against mining.”

“It’s unfortunate because these regions lack employment,” Neumeyer added.

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

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