Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of May 7, 2007
Guatemalans fight gold mine's ravages
Indigenous farmers watch as their land is stripped by Canadians
"We want to denounce the activities of the company and the way the government has turned against its own people."
By BILL GLEN
WCR Staff Writer
Ask Guatemalan farmers what they think of a Canadian mining company taking their gold pretty much for free, and they'll tell you it's happened before.
Not unlike what the Spanish did some five centuries ago, the indigenous farmers say. Foreigners take the gold and leave everything ruined.
The company that has begun entrenching itself into the largely Mayan farming community of Sipakapa is Goldcorp Inc., a Vancouver company whose quest for gold is voracious and leaves little behind for the Guatemalan people.
Only one per cent of all royalties must be returned to Guatemala. The people want upwards of 12 per cent because the 20 square km open pit mine, that was once home to more than 100 people, has stripped away their crops, their fruit trees, forest and a majority of their livelihood. And, of course, their gold.
Pressure was put on the families to sell their land, usually at a nominal rate.
Guatemalan human rights activist Mario Tema was in Edmonton April 27 speaking to a partisan crowd of some 70 people at the Stanley Milner Library to maintain that Goldcorp's operation in Guatemala is illegal.
An international labour agreement was ratified in 1996 by the Guatemalan government that, in part, protected the rights of indigenous and tribal peoples, making it necessary for the government to consult with them regarding major developments in their area. They are to be part of the planning process of proposed developments.
Speaking though his Spanish translator Dawn Paley in an interview, Tema said mining equipment arrived in the middle of the night.
"Following the peace agreement, the political method was advanced to encourage foreign investment which reformed the mining law. The royalty rate was lowered from six per cent to one per cent. The workers are underpaid as it is," Tema said. "It makes a bad thing worse."
Tema and Paley were in Edmonton at the request of the Guatemalan Solidarity Committee of Edmonton and the Change for Children Association. Their Western Canada speaking tour took them to Vancouver May 2 to coincide with Goldcorp's annual general meeting.
Tema said his group tried to get the government to raise the royalty rate.
"We sent a memorandum to the president in hopes he would nullify the concession that was originally granted. But he didn't revoke it. In fact, he defended it with all the force he had available to him."
Tema said the government should have consulted with the people to determine if they were in favour of the activity in their territory and should have informed them of its costs and benefits.
They weren't consulted, only told what benefits the mine would bring.
"The mine came without asking anybody," Tema said. "We were never told it was coming."
Troops escorted equipment
A highway blockade more than two years ago led to a migrant farmer's death when some 2,000 police and military troops were dispatched to escort a convoy of equipment headed for the mine, which was then owned by Glamis Gold.
Tema said he didn't take part in what was meant to be a peaceful expression of solidarity among the indigenous farmers in defence of the resources.
Tema wants the world to know of this exploitation because since the end of the 36-year civil war in Guatemala in 1996, the government has received some 480 applications to drill for minerals. The Goldcorp mine is the first to get going.
Tema is a teacher and former mayor in Sipakapa, San Marcos, Guatemala. Sipakapa is the central community of some 14 villages and about 16,000 people. He is co-founder of a local organization that educates and implements community development and environmental projects.
Tema was instrumental in developing a program that introduced secondary education in Sipakapa. At the time, there was little available in his community for young teens to continue their education, most of whom never continued beyond Grade 6.
Tema consults with San Marcos' Bishop Alvaro Ramazzini on a regular basis. Ramazzini is outspoken against mining operations.
"He is currently trying to organize environmental monitoring of the water. But he is under tremendous pressure. He supports us, but he has been calming down his activities to ensure there are no violent conflicts."
The audience was shown a short video clip of the documentary film Sipikapa is Not for Sale. The video illustrated the impact the mine is having on Sipikapa and the surrounding villages.
It begins with an idyllic portrayal of Central American life with everyone smiling while tending to luscious crops. The animals are healthy. Children are interviewed who express their displeasure of having the mine next door.
Adults at a local market describe how the mine is polluting their vegetables and fruit trees. They feel threatened and worry for their lives and their children. They depend on the earth for life, they say, and that life is being taken away. Nobody wants the mine.
A company representative disputes those claims, saying the mine poses no threat to the environment and that it is a benefit to the local economy.
The video shows a bleak picture of an open pit eyesore set into a forested hillside. There are heated confrontations with government and corporate officials.
Tema says the mine has brought nothing but destruction. It uses upwards of 250,000 litres of water per hour in a water-scarce area as well as cyanide to leach the gold from the ore.
He has filed an injunction with the constitutional court to have Goldcorp cease operations pending resolution of whether its activity is legal. If it is deemed illegal, Tema wants it shut down.
"Various people we have talked to have told us we are in the legal right and the law should protect us. But magistrates have political pressures so they have remained silent.
"We want to denounce the activities of the company and the way the government has turned against its own people, especially the indigenous people of Guatemala," Tema said.
"On an international stage, the government presents themselves as a democracy that respects human rights; that the peace accords have been signed and the internal conflict is over. But on an internal level, this is absolutely not true."
For more information, contact the Change for Children Association at 448-1505, or visit its website at www.changeforchildren.org. You can also visit www.rightsaction.org.
Letter to the Editor - 05/21/07