Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of April 21, 2008
Bishop speaks against Canadian mining firm
Death threat follows
By BRENDAN KOLBAY
Catholic News Service
While a Franciscan nun was walking along a road leading to the main highway in Tajumulco, Guatemala, she was approached by a masked man in a car with dark sunglasses. He pressed a gun into her side.
The man told the nun, who works in the Diocese of San Marcos, "Tell that good-for-nothing bishop - Ramazzini - that his days are numbered and that he should stop getting involved in things that are none of his business."
He was referring to Bishop Alvaro Ramazzini Imeri of San Marcos, an outspoken critic of environmentally harmful mining practices in his rural Diocese of San Marcos and a defender of human rights.
After the incident, the man sped off down the road. The nun, whose identity is being withheld for her protection, was not hurt.
When asked who he thought issued the death threat, Ramazzini declined to speculate.
"This could have come from any number of people who may not be happy with me," he told Catholic News Service April 8.
The bishop is perhaps best known in Guatemala and abroad as a staunch critic of the practices of the Canadian owned gold-mining company, GoldCorp, which operates in his diocese.
The bishop also often denounces - both from the pulpit of the San Marcos cathedral and on his own daily radio program - local drug traffickers who operate with impunity throughout his diocese.
Guatemala is a major transit point for drugs destined for the United States.
In mid-March, the bishop met with Guatemalan legislators to press for reform of the country's mining laws based on a study of the negative environmental and social impact of mining practices.
The study claims that royalties from mining total a mere one per cent of profits earned and that under-regulated mining practices do serious harm to the environment.
In 2007, GoldCorp lodged a formal complaint with the Guatemalan government saying that an independent environmental impact study presented by Ramazzini had "false results."
Speaking specifically of GoldCorp, Ramazzini told CNS, "I've always insisted this mine is not good business for Guatemala and that the country is losing much more than it gains."
GoldCorp "is earning millions and millions of dollars and none of it is helping the people of San Marcos," said the bishop.
Asked why the Church should be involved in environmental issues, Ramazzini said: "As a bishop and as a Christian, I can't remain indifferent about these issues, because it's my responsibility to look out not only for the spiritual welfare but also the physical well-being of the people of my diocese. . . .
"So this is my responsibility, toward my diocese, before God, before the Church and before my country," he said, "to speak out about these things, even if I have to die for it."
Receiving death threats is not a new experience for the 60-year-old prelate.
In 2006, a man confessed that he had been offered $50,000 to assassinate him. The government immediately provided the bishop with a 24-hour security detail.
The Church in Guatemala often has suffered because of its defence of human rights.
In 1998, Auxiliary Bishop Juan Gerardi Conedera of Guatemala City, head of the Archbishop's Human Rights Office, was bludgeoned to death in the garage of his residence just two days after he released a comprehensive report on the atrocities committed during Guatemala's 36-year civil war.