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Goldcorp’s Mining In San Miguel Ixtahuacán

“All of the damages that the experts warned us of, before the arrival of the mining project, have come true: deforestation, extreme dust, contamination of water sources, dry wells, competition for water usage, and accumulation of dangerous waste products from the mine .” –Association of the Integral Development of San Miguel (ADISMI) 1


Mining Overview

Argued by critics as the next wave of land theft and imperialism, foreign controlled mining activity in Guatemala has increased from practically nothing ten years ago to massive concessions—equaling 10 percent or more of the entire country—and nearly unlimited exploitative rights to the corporations. Companies pay only 1% royalties (tax on non-renewable resources) to Guatemala for the materials extracted from the country.

In the case of the Marlin gold mine, situated in the remote highland department of San Marcos, local inhabitants risk their lives by opposing the occupation and destruction of their land and communities. 5 Mayan (Mam) communities comprising 10,000 inhabitants are affected by the mine.

The Marlin mine is a project of Canadian mining giant Goldcorp, which is now the world’s 3 rd largest mining company (after merging with U.S.-owned Glamis Gold in 2006). Glamis began constructing the mine in 2004 with a $45 million loan from the World Bank. Commercial production began late in 2005. The mine is projected to be productive until 2015. 2

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Impacts on Health of the Community

Communities in the area have begun to suffer adverse consequences due to the open pit mining. According to local organizations such as ADISMI (The Association for Integral Development in San Miguel Ixtahuac á n) and the representative governing body of the communities, these effects include: 

  • lung problems and respiratory infections due to dust
  • water contamination and loss of water sources (over 40 wells have dried up)
  • Use of cyanide to separate gold from heavy metals, dumping cyanide and heavy metal residue into community drinking water at toxic levels
  • skin diseases, especially among children and the elderly
  • death of animals and an increase in miscarriages
  • large cracks in homes creating unsafe living conditions (in 90 homes)
  • increased militarization, the presence of private security, and social conflict between communities and armed guards
  • insufficient compensation for land sold to the company by community members as well as pressure, threats, and coercion by the company in the acquisition of this land.
  • labor violations of mine workers
  • radiation from high voltage cables suspended over homes

In addition to threatening the health and well being of surrounding communities, the mining company and the Guatemalan government have violated the legal rights of indigenous peoples, as declared in the International Labor Organization Covenant 169, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the Guatemalan Constitution, and Municipal Law. These statutes are meant to secure the rights of indigenous communities to grant or withhold their free, prior, and informed consent for any activity proposed on their lands.

According to many mine-affected citizens, this consultation was inadequate, full of lies and empty promises, and no consent was ever given to the company.

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Environmental Impacts of Mining

Water pollution is one of the most common negative effects of mining and can occur in any of the following forms: acid mine drainage, heavy metal contamination and leaching, processing chemical pollution, or erosion and sedimentation.

Mining requires enormous amounts of water: 250,000 liters per hour. The average family uses 60 liters of water per day. Mining companies, especially large-scale, open pit operations, such as the project going on in San Marcos, require huge amounts of water in order to separate minerals from the rock. The companies pay no utility fees for this water. As the water dries up, the resulting reduction in agricultural productivity forces people to migrate from their traditional villages. 3

Acid Mine Drainage (AMD) occurs when sulfides in rocks are exposed to air and water, resulting in the production of sulfuric acid. In addition to acid run-off, AMD causes further dissolving of heavy metals such as copper, lead, arsenic, zinc, selenium, or mercury into surface or ground water.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, AMD “disrupts growth and reproduction of aquatic plants and animals, diminishes valued recreational fish species, degrades outdoor recreation and tourism, contaminates surface and groundwater drinking supplies, and causes acid corrosion of infrastructure like wastewater pipes. 3

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Goldcorp’s “Evaluation of the Impact on Human Rights”

The negative impacts of the Marlin mine – both social and environmental – have not gone unnoticed or without protest. Indigenous towns surrounding the Marlin mine have put up consistent and strong opposition. In fact, Goldcorp was recently kicked off Canada’s Jantzi Social Index for ethical investment due to their failure to address community complaints. 4 Among the human rights violations in question were: the right to personal security, to water, to housing, and to land. In February of 2008 Goldcorp issued a request for proposals for an assessment of the impact of the mine on human rights. A group of shareholders asked Goldcorp to establish a process of transparent consultation to select an independent party to carry out the evaluation. The conditions set for the impact evaluation include the VP of Goldcorp as a participant on the Steering Committee, thus compromising the objectivity of the evaluation.

Stated Guidelines of the Human Rights Impact Assessment

The proposal calls for transparency; all information pertaining to the mechanisms of evaluation, phases, and processes will be available to the public. Information will include interactions between the evaluating team and the communities, and location and time of the meetings. The results will be published, and the recommendations as well as Goldcorp’s response will be available to the public. The assessment also calls for independence. No one from Goldcorp will be associated with the evaluation. However an executive committee will supervise the process of the evaluation. The committee will be under a peer review process by experts within Guatemala who will revise the evaluation before it is finalized. The final piece is inclusion. The evaluation will involve all parties impacted by Goldcorp in Guatemala. 5

San Miguel’s Community Response to the Evaluation

The community of San Miguel responded to Goldcorp with an open letter to shareholders. Though many were initially optimistic (about the serious assessment of the impact on human rights), they were quickly disappointed. The community refuted Goldcorp’s claims of transparency, independence, and inclusion. There was no transparency, they say, because many communities were not consulted or present during initial planning of the evaluation. So how then, could residents be involved or even aware of the guidelines? The study is also not independent, as one of the members of the committee is the Vice President of Goldcorp, Divid Diesley. Finally, there is no inclusion in this evaluation as there is no community presence on these committees and the majority of the members are foreigners. This was viewed by the community as “an act of racism and discrimination”. 6

Residents feel that their resources are being looted and destroyed without any consideration for the health, life, territory and other elements that have rights in these towns. The response stated, “We continue thinking that the humblest of the Guatemalans, the most exploited and marginalized, the sickest and ignorant, is worth more than all the wealth in the country, and their life is sacred and untouchable.” 6

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Personal Accounts

Emeterio Perez: “My land is what you saw in the pit today, and now I have nothing”. Emeterio is one of the original landowners forced to sell to Marlin four years ago. He says that a white man approached him at his home and gave a price—which was way below the market value—then told him that regardless if he agreed, they would get what they wanted. Out of fear, he sold to them. Since moving to their current home above the canyon, his wife has had a stroke and is developing a skin rash similar to others living in the vicinity. Coming out from the back room, she was hunched over and shaking, with tears running down her deeply weathered face. 7


Mario Tema Bautista, a community leader in Sipakapa who opposes the mine, has received indirect death threats, whereby he has been told that some mine workers from the community are planning attacks against him because of the rumored suspension of mining operations.  Community leaders and human rights defenders in San Miguel Ixtahuac á n have received direct threats from groups of employees of Montana Exploradora as well. 7


Manuel, a community organizer and leader in the resistance states, “How will we ever be able to recover this land?” he asks [the reporters]. “We have issues of water contamination, deforestation, and skin diseases appearing on our elderly and children. And where are the compensations for people living near the mine? We have displacement issues, poor campesinos tricked or forced into selling their land to the company.” 8


The people of the Parish of San Miguel Ixtahuac án joined together to write a letter signed “Communities in Resistance.” “When the company arrived in the communities, they said that they were going to do a field study and set up a project for the production of orchids in order to generate work for the communities. In this way, they tricked the communities into the sale of lands, even though the communities defended their rights and rejected the company’s plans. Faced with community resistance, the company used coercive force and death threats, and argued that even though the surface lands belonged to the communities, the subsurface belonged to the state and thus the communities were unable to defend themselves because they didn’t know their rights .” 9

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  • June 5 1996 : International Labor Organization Convention 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Ratified: An international law that states that proper consultation and consent from indigenous peoples must occur before resource extraction takes place within their territory.
  • December 2004/January 2005: There was road blockade of a huge piece of equipment destined for Goldcorp’s processing plant in San Marcos, and President Berger reacted by ordering 1000 anti-riot police and soldiers to break up the protest leaving 2 dead and 20 hospitalized.
  • 2005 : President Berger’s administration promised no new mining licenses to be distributed.
  • June 18 2005 : Goldcorp first obtained the concession of the land, and all the communities in Sipakapa came together and held a consultation. 11 out of 13 communities voted against mining. They were the first municipality in the region to do so.
  • July 2005 : A letter from the Department of Mines and Energy rejected the historic 2005 consultation and granting Goldcorp a license incorporating a staggering 11 municipalities in three departments and covering 500 square kilometers.
  • January 2007: 500 people successfully blocked roads leading into the mine, shutting operations for 13 days
  • January 2007: Goldcorp offered the municipality a “gift” of over $150,000 CDN. It was refused.
  • February 2007 : Hundreds of special police forces illegally and violently entered the homes of poor SMI farmers and detained 21 of them for participating in a peaceful protest against the mine.
  • May 8 2007 : Community consultation process is ruled legal but non-binding
  • December 2007: Guatemalan-American Chamber of Commerce awards a Special and Honorary mention to Goldcorp for their excellent community development program in San Marcos Deparment.
  • February 2008: Goldcorp creates a proposal to conduct an Evaluation on the Impact of Human Rights, promising Transparency, Independence, and Inclusion.
  • April 30 2008: Hundreds of Mayan Mam community leaders raised their hands in the municipal gym of San Miguel Ixtahuacan (SMI) to vote yes for a legally binding community consultation concerning whether or not to permit mining.
  • June 9 2008 : Public ruling was made by the Constitutional Court in Guatemala, which as found eight Articles of the Mining Law to be unconstitutional (full text of the ruling in pdf format). Among the Articles deemed unconstitutional are 19 and 20, which allow mining activities to start while the corresponding paperwork is still being processed, Articles 21, 24 and 27, which allow mining activity to take place to unlimited depths of the subsurface, Article 75, which allows mining companies to discharge water from their tailings pond directly into surface water, as well as Articles 81 and 86.
  • June 13 2008: A community member and mother of 6 blocked the electric line running through her property that presented a threat to the safety of her home and was arrested. This arrest sparked the arrest of 8 other community members were involved in the peaceful protest against Goldcorp. Also during the protest police shot tear gas at local children and used force against women.
  • July 2008: Community members have accepted an invitation from Goldcorp to dialogue under the condition that they suspend the nine arrest warrants and suspend the mining operations.
  • September 8 2008: The town of San Miguel Ixtahuac á n produces a community response to Goldcorp’s evaluation stating that it is null and void unless it includes the active participation and input from the communities themselves.
  • September 12 2008: The Latin American Water Tribunal (LAWT) found the Montana Exploradora Company (a subsidiary of Goldcorp) guilty of causing harm to the environment and to the people of San Miguel Ixtahuac á n and Sipacapa, San Marcos. Although this verdict is useful in exposing the company for harmful and destructive mining practices, the verdict was rejected by the National Mining Association in Guatemala.

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Suggestions for Further Reading:

Unease over Guatemalan gold rush, a report by Bill Law for BBC’s “Crossing Continents”

Investing in Conflict, a report by Dawn Paley for “Mining Watch and Rights Action.

  1. Interview with members of ADISMI. 19 Jul 2007.
  3. Paley, Dawn. “Investing in Conflict.” Mining Watch and Rights Action. 2008.
  4. Law, Bill. “Unease over Guatemalan Gold Rush.” BBC News. 21 Aug 08.
  5. “Request for Proposal (RFP) Human Rights Impact Assessment.” Canadian Business for Social Responibilities. Goldcorp. Feb 2008.
  6. Repuesta Comunitaria Con Relacion al Documento Llamado “Evaluacion del Impacto Sobre Los Derechos” Cometidos por la Transnacional Goldcorp Por Medio De Su Proyecto Marlin en San Miguel Ixtahuacan, San Marcos.” 04 Sept 2008.
  7. Einbinder, Nathan. “Guatemala: The Hope for an Endless Mine.” 1421/33/. 12 Aug 2008.
  8. “Crackdown on Opposers of Marlin Mine.” Urgent Action. NISGUA. .asp?id=3181. 16 Jul 2008.
  9. Communities in Resistance, Parish of San Miguel Ixtahuacan, Association Adismi. “Public Statement in Favour of Communities Affected by Open Pit Mining.” International Cry. 13 Jun 2008.

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