I Tell You the "Story" of the Marlin Mine: Guatemala

I Tell You the

By Luca Martinelli

The cases of human rights violations related to mining activity are numerous and, at the same time, there have been numerous demonstrations and actions by groups (peasants and indigenous people) affected by mining exploration and exploitation.

“Golden” Deaths I Tell You The ‘Story’ Of The Marlin Mine In Guatemala

The topic of mining exploration and exploitation in Mesoamerica has become more interesting in recent years. Due to a situation of rising prices in world markets (gold, + 19.1% between 2003 and 2004, from 363.44 to 433.15 USD per ounce; silver, + 59.7%, from 4.90 to 7.93; etc.); Due to the approval, in many countries of the region and throughout Latin America, of legislation that is "very open" to mining investments, however sponsored by the World Bank, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico (among other countries) have been granting several hundred concessions, mostly to US and Canadian transnational companies.

In the past month of August, The Day published a series of reports by Rosa Rojas on mining in Chiapas, which highlights the concession by the federal government, just in the last five years and in this state, of 357 thousand hectares for exploration and mining exploitation.

Cases of human rights violations related to mining activity are numerous and, at the same time, there have been numerous demonstrations and actions by groups (peasants and indigenous people) affected by mining exploration and exploitation. Among these, it is worth highlighting the case of the Marlin Project, a Mesoamerican story, like many others, of violence, repression and resistance to a government that sells (almost gives away) the assets of the Nation to foreign economic interests.

On September 8, the World Bank published a report on the Marlin Project made by the Compliance Advisor / Ombudsman Office. This office is located within the International Finance Corporation (IFC), an arm of the World Bank that grants loans to individuals and that had lent 45 million dollars to Glamis Gold, a Canadian transnational that — through its Guatemalan subsidiary Montana Exploradora de Guatemala — is carrying out the Marlin Project.

The report was made after receiving, in January 2005, "a formal complaint against the IFC that finances the open pit mining of metals granted to Montana Exploradora de Guatemala", a complaint addressed to the IFC by Magali Rey Rosa, of the Collective "Madre Selva", a Guatemalan civil organization, active against mining concessions (more than 550 in the country, which cover approximately 10% of the national territory). Said document recognizes that the project reports presented to the leaders of the indigenous communities do not adequately account for the possible negative impacts of the project, and criticizes the consultation that, supposedly, the WB should carry out, as its internal rules and laws mandate international (in particular, Convention No. 169 of the ILO, International Labor Organization). The report also casts doubt on whether the project can comply with the provisions of the World Bank's Social and Environmental Safeguard Policies documents.

Meanwhile, on June 18, the communities of the Municipality of Sipacapa spoke out through popular consultation against the presence in the municipal territory of the Marlin mine. Neither the company, nor much less the Guatemalan government, had expressed interest in the results of the consultation, in which 98% of the citizens participated, meeting in community assemblies to discuss the pro's and con's of the project. Twelve of the 13 communities in the municipality declared themselves against the Marlin mine.

The project has not yet started but has already claimed its first victims through the destruction and contamination of the environment.

Lost lives

Raúl Castro was 37 years old when, together with thousands of Guatemalan peasants from the Quiché and Sololá departments, he participated in the roadblock in The meetings. There they blocked the way to a cylinder, huge steel tube used in mining operations, owned by Montana Exploradora S. A., the Guatemalan subsidiary of Glamis Gold that exploited a gold mine, the Marlin Project, in the Department of San Marcos.

On January 9, 2005, dawn on the 40th day of the blockade, the government announced the intervention of the Army: “There is nothing more to discuss. We are already in dialogue with the authorities and we cannot continue allowing everyone to do what they want, ”Secretary Carlos Vielman told the Associated Press. Two days later, Raúl Castro died in The meetings, in clashes between the military and protesters.

On Sunday March 13, 2005, Alvaro Benigno, 23, was returning home after a concert by the San Miguel Ixtahuacán Choir, in the department of San Marcos. On his way he ran into Ludwin Waldemar Calderón and Guillermo Lanuza, hired gunmen of the Golan Group, in charge of the security of the Marlin Project. The two made way for Benigno and fired five or six shots at point-blank range.

The death of Alvaro Benigno, who leaves behind his wife and three-year-old daughter, was a message to the population of San Miguel and to all those who fight against the implementation of the project.

Investors Come First

While opposition to mining activity strengthens throughout Guatemala, coordinated by the National Front Against Mining and the Catholic Church, Guatemalan President Oscar Berger justifies himself: "We must defend the interests of investors." All the more so if it is the World Bank that participates in the project with a loan of 35 million dollars to Glamis Gold and a direct investment of 10 million by the IFC. With such interests, it is impossible to think that any government, whatever the sign, can make sovereign decisions in defense of its citizens. The financing from the World Bank represents for Glamis Gold something like a safe conduct, "with the aim of mitigating the political and social risks of the project."

According to social organizations that oppose the Marlin Project, "it is clear that IFC's participation turns out to be political insurance for Glamis," because, as Sandra Cuffe, an expert on problems related to the mining industry in Guatemala and Honduras, writes [in a report by the Canadian NGO Rights Action], foreign governments will not want to interfere with a World Bank project”.

The project is progressing rapidly and there is even talk of exploitation activities starting before the end of 2005, one year ahead of the planned date. Meanwhile, threats continue against all those who — not intimidated by the assassinations of Raúl Castro and Alvaro Benigno — continue to publicly oppose the new mine.

On April 5, a vehicle owned by the Maya Foundation (FUNDAMAYA), member organization of the National Front Against Mining. The message was addressed to Carlos Humberto Guarquez, Dominga Vásquez and her husband, Alfonso Guarquez. The first is an active member of FUNDAMAYA, Mrs. Vásquez is the mayor of the municipality of Sololá, who actively participated in the blockade that led to the death of Raúl Castro. Her husband, a journalist, had written articles exposing the reasons for the strikers. "This happens, Mr Carlos Humberto, for having participated in these blowjobs from [civil] society; tomorrow will be the day, for you, to leave this world; for each car comes its Saturday, also for the Ms Dominga and her husband Alfonso Guarquez, "read the writing — in an insecure Spanish full of grammatical errors — one of the five letters thrown next to the burned-out car.

A "Gold Mine"

The fate of the Marlin Project it is to become a true "gold mine" for the Canadian company. According to the environmental impact study, it will guarantee the company global profits of 707 million dollars in the ten years foreseen for the extractions. Only 1% of the profits will remain in Guatemala, for royalties paid by Glamis Gold in exchange for the concession and licenses. A pittance that will be shared between the federal and municipal governments, as established by the Mining Law approved in 1997 with the blessing of the World Bank and the transnational companies in the sector.

Glamis Gold estimates that the project will last for 13 years, during which time 2.1 million ounces of gold and 29.2 million ounces of silver will be subtracted (combining open-pit and underground activity). The actual cost of extracting the gold is $ 107 an ounce, and the world market price at the end of 2004 was $ 433.15 an ounce.

An analysis of February 2004 by independent researcher Robert E. Moran, based on the project's environmental impact study, in turn carried out by Glamis Gold based on a model developed by IFC for extractive activities, shows the social and economic unsustainability. environmental impact of these enormous profits, the effects of which will manifest themselves on the inhabitants of the municipalities of San Miguel Ixtahuacán and Sipacapa. The study, Moran concludes, lacks “a permanent water monitoring system, current data on the availability of water in the region, information on the chemical composition of the metalliferous vein, waste rocks and other residues. , and lastly, there is a lack of measures of the possible toxic effects on living organisms of said residues and waste rocks ”.

No benefit, in the end, for the commoners, they would be left with mountains of waste — 38 million pulverized rocks — and polluted soils, rivers, and foothills. All this in exchange for 1,400 jobs in the first year (of opening the mine), and 180 in the following ten years.

Strange Queries

The Q’echi ’Defense Office—An indigenous organization that works on the issue of human rights — states, “The granting of hundreds of authorizations by the Secretary of Energy and Mines constitutes a serious violation of the rights of thousands of indigenous Guatemalans, who have not been consulted or informed of the fact that the underground property rights to their lands had been granted to a mining company ”. Based on Agreement no. 169 of the ILO on the rights of indigenous and tribal peoples, ratified by Guatemala as part of the Peace Accords in 1996, the country's social movements claim the illegality of the Marlin Project.

Although Glamis declares to have consulted the indigenous populations ‘affected’ by the project, an independent investigation carried out by the Guatemalan newspaper Free Press in November 2004 it shows that 37.5% of those affected by the mine did not know anything about the mining concession. Others, according to a March 2005 document published by the Bank Information Center, “lamented the fact that the company spoke only about the benefits of the project, without reporting the risks to health and to the environment". 95% of the total of those interviewed by Free Press He manifested himself against the project, thus invalidating what was asserted by Glamis Gold. According to the company, the project had "long support from the communities."

Public opinion on Glamis will not improve due to the creation of the Foundation Sierra Madre, which, together with the loan granted by the IFC of the World Bank, are considered initiatives aimed at achieving a safe conduct to the Marlin Project. A community development process based on respect for the worldview of the Mayans of the communities of the Department of San Marcos, they argue, cannot be defined by a multinational exclusively interested in defending its own profits.

Companies Vs. Communities: Different Development Ideas

"The vision of development of indigenous communities, NGOs and activists fighting against poverty is different, in many ways, from the dominant one," says Rights Action, a Canadian organization that supports the fight against poverty. mining industry of the indigenous communities of Guatemala and Honduras. "Protesting against the interests of Canadian and American mining companies, local communities and organizations are fighting for an idea of ​​development that is controlled and defined based on the demands of the communities," concludes the Canadian NGO.

The statement of Glamis Gold is absurd, which considers that those who oppose its project are "a minority of anti-development activists." They are, according to the company, foreign agitators who come to mobilize the Guatemalan population, who apparently cannot by themselves realize the extraordinary benefits of mining activities, which represent “development”, that simple, at least in the thinking of the company.

In this regard, the World Bank thinks that: "The mining sector is an essential industry and not an immediate and important way to help the poor obtain some of the benefits of modern society."

Like, for example, the highway that will connect the communities of Concepción Tutuapa and San Miguel Ixtahuacán. Twenty kilometers of highways and an investment of 5 million dollars, which Glamis Gold announced on September 6, in the presence of the president of Guatemala, Oscar Berger, who thanked the company with moving words: “No one is going to lose; we are all going to win. San Miguel is going to win thanks to new jobs, economic activities and infrastructure… This is an exemplary project ”. All this was said just a few days before the publication of the report of the Compliance Advisor / Ombudsman office.

Despite this new road, the road to justice is still long for a people that has not recovered from the wounds of 36 years of civil war, which bled the country until 1996. Wounds that have reopened after the ratification, in March 2005, of the Central America Free Trade Agreement ( Central American Free Trade Agreement, CAFTA, for its acronym in English), which once again subjects Guatemala to the dominance of the United States. Like 50 years ago, when the government of "communist" president Jacobo Arbenz was defeated by a coup, prepared by the CIA, the Central Intelligence Agency of the US government.

* Mon ca Martinelli

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