Loretto nuns, allies lose shareholder vote involving Guatemalan mine

Loretto nuns, allies lose shareholder vote involving Guatemalan mine

Thursday, May 3, 2012
By Michael Swan Catholic News Service

TORONTO (CNS) — An American community of Loretto Sisters and its allies lost a shareholder vote that would have forced Canadian mining giant Goldcorp Inc. to set aside almost $50 million to pay for post-mining cleanup at a major gold mine in Guatemala.

Management at Goldcorp had opposed the Loretto Sisters’ motion at the company’s annual general meeting in South Porcupine, Ontario, April 26. The motion asked Goldcorp to revise its mine-closure plans in San Marcos, Guatemala, in light of an independent study that pegged mine closure costs at $49 million.

Indigenous, poor farmers in the region around the open-pit Marlin Mine have concerns about environmental costs of the mine, which produces about 400,000 ounces of gold per year from up to 6,000 tons of ore per day processed with cyanide.

Loretto Sister Natalie Wing, who spent a year living and working with peasants in the Diocese of San Marcos, knew the vote against the company was a long shot.

“It’s kind of like faith. You just do it because you know it’s right,” she told The Catholic Register in an interview from Kentucky, where she was preparing to take final vows.

The shareholder motion was brought at the behest of Mayan peasants who live near the mine, said Sister Wing.

“It’s done with the local people. It’s not being imposed from the top. It’s giving voice to the people who don’t have much exposure to media, who might be illiterate,” she said.

A Goldcorp official said the expert study on mine-closing costs, which fueled the shareholder motion, was inaccurate.

“We’re the ones who are operating the mine. I don’t think that anybody who wrote that study has ever been to the property,” said David Deisley, Goldcorp vice president of corporate affairs and general counsel.

The company currently estimates mine-closing costs at $27.6 million. When the mine opened, its owner at the time, Nevada-based Glamis Marigold Mining Co., posted a $1 million bond to cover cleanup costs even though the Guatemalan mining law did not require any bond to be posted.

If a new Guatemalan mining law or new environmental law asked Goldcorp for a larger bond to cover mine closure, the company would have no problem complying with the law, said Deisley.

Goldcorp’s current environmental management plan involves a new mining process that fills in the open pit as new areas are mined. A “thickened tailings deposition process” backfills the Marlin Mine pit.

“That not only provides a more useful landform post-mining, it addresses a lot of the closure issues as the mine is being operated,” Deisley said.

Though the mine currently has deposits that would carry it to a 2018 closure date, ongoing exploration and testing on the mine site suggest it may continue producing past that date. The Marlin Mine has estimated proven and probable reserves in excess of 1.5 million ounces of gold and more than 60 million ounces of silver.

Sister Wing said the fundamental issue is not so much the engineering of a mine-closure plan but the sense among Mayan indigenous that the mine was imposed on them and is degrading their traditional lands.

“The basic thing is we have an ethical sense, a moral sense that there is deprivation of the land and also of a people’s livelihood and their culture,” she said. “There’s an injustice and that’s where we stand.”

The Marlin Mine employs more than 1,300 indigenous people out of a workforce of 1,500.

“They are folks who have a job and there are benefits coming from this,” said Deisley. “It’s only through constructive engagement that you can make any progress. I don’t see what’s gained by shutting the mine down. It immediately harms a lot of people.”

Based on what happened in neighboring Honduras, people in Guatemala are right to be worried about mine closure plans, said Mary Durran, program officer with the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace.

Development and Peace, the British Catholic Agency for Overseas Development and others have been advocating for indigenous people who live near Goldcorp’s San Martin mine, where operations were suspended in 2008.

Hondurans near the mine have complained of respiratory, skin and gastrointestinal diseases, which some believe came from drinking polluted water, according to CAFOD. Scientists say that unless the byproducts of the mining process are properly disposed of, they can cause long-term contamination of groundwater with toxic heavy metals and cause the premature deaths of plants and animals for many years.

The San Martin open pit gold mine also dried up much of the population’s water supply, as the mining process uses so much water.

Mining laws in Honduras and Guatemala contain very weak protections for the environment and for local populations, said Durran.

“That’s very serious in Guatemala because the majority are indigenous,” she said.

For Canadian mining companies, the issue needs broader solutions than can be tackled in individual shareholder motions at annual general meetings, said Peter Chapman, executive director of Shareholder Association for Research and Education.

“A great deal of focus has been on the Marlin Mine, but this is an industrywide issue,” he said.

Copyright (c) 2012 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops




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