For Life: Close the Marlin Mine. The Resistance of the Mayan People.
FOR LIFE: CLOSE THE MARLIN MINE. THE RESISTANCE OF THE MAYAN PEOPLE
by Mari Lince
(Translated for Rights Action by Rosalind Gill)
On March 12, representatives and lawyers for the People’s Council of Western Guatemala filed a lawsuit regarding the inconstitutionality of the 1997 Mining Law, on the grounds that it fails to guarantee prior and informed consent, as stipulated in Article 6 of ILO NO. 169 on Indigenous Peoples and that furthermore, it does not honour provisions laid out in Articles 44, 46, 66 and 149 of the Political Constitution of Guatemala.
Although the Constitution ratified ILO No.169 in 1997, immediately after signing, the ratification was thrown into the garbage. Other so-called “laws” regarding indigenous rights and rights in general have received the same treatment. […]
The lawsuit was filed by the Judicial Commission at the Constitutional Court of Guatemala. This legal action is supported by all the peoples of Western Guatemala, the area for which most mining licenses have been granted and where more than 50 community consultations have taken place, of which the huge majority said NO to mining. Neither the government nor Goldcorp respected the results of these consultations.
In 2007, the Constitutional Court of Guatemala declared that the referendum is not binding. In other words, it was all a big show – they never intended to respect the results.
The resistance of indigenous and campesino communities against transnationals and neoliberal policies can be seen in the case of the struggle of the people of San Miguel Ixtahuacán against Gold Corp Inc and the Marlin Mine in Guatemala.
DESTRUCTION OF HABITATS AND OF HUMAN LIFE
“The Marlin mine, owned by Montana Exploradora, S.A., (a local subsidiary of Goldcorp, a Canadian mining company), began extracting gold and silver in 2005, in an area located between Sipacapa and San Miguel Ixtahuacán, San Marcos. Rocks are pulverized for purposes of extracting metals in an area covering 142 hectars; this operation has caused 289 hectars of forest to disappear, and the waste it generates causes acid drainage that contaminates the Tzalá river basin. Local communities have made complaints to the Latin American Water Tribunal that their wells have dried up and that 10,000 people have been negatively affected by presence of the mine.”
But if you look at the global prices of gold and silver, as against the low production costs in the local area, you can see why the mine is very profitable for share holders in the company.
According to experts, no industrial activity is as destructive to the environment and its social and cultural ecology as open pit mining. Intense mining exploitation has left its mark in San Miguel Ixtahuacán and Sipacapa, San Marcos. People from the local communities of Agel, Nueva Esperanza and San José Ixcaniche still remember their beautiful mountain, so famous for its biodiversity and once home to a wide variety of birds and butterflies. All that remains of it today is an immense crater and contaminated mine debris.
Results of scientific analyses of the land and water verify that human beings, as well as other forms of life in the area of the mine, have been exposed to a high risk of contamination from concentrations of copper, aluminium, magnesium, arsenic and cyanide in surface and subterranean waters and from contaminated waste in the river that has caused illnesses in neighbouring communities.
The mine is more than half way through its operating life but, as yet, the company has contributed nothing to local indigenous communities and shown no interest whatsoever in doing so. The benefits of the mine go outside of Guatemala, to company executives and shareholders in Canada, Sweden and other Western countries. And of course, a token donation is thrown the government’s way for their support.
THE INTERAMERICAN COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS:
NOW I’M SPEAKING OUT, NOW I’M KEEPING QUIET
In 2010, the IACHR adopted precautionary measures and recommended that the Government of Guatemala suspend exploitation at the Marlin Mine because of harms to the health of 18 Mayan indigenous communities. This was a confirmation of what was already known and had been denounced since mine began – that Goldcorp did not carry out adequate consultation with the local communities, etc.
James Anaya, Special Rapporteur appointed by the UN to study the situation of indigenous peoples in the country, recommended that measures be taken to decontaminate the water sources of the 18 communities affected and insure that people have access to safe drinking water. He also recommended that measures be taken to deal with health problems caused by contamination. His report was issued in June, 2011.
However, the IACR recently lifted the precautionary measures that suspended the Marlin Mine operations, ordered water sources to be cleaned up and health problems dealt with. UN authorities that had voiced their concerns have gone silent. It would appear that money and power take precedence over human rights and the Constitution.
The dream that the mine would close continues to be a nightmare.