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Report on Mining in Guatemala

Jamie Kneen Communications and Outreach Coordinator responsible for: strategic research, social media, and public engagement; our Africa program, environmental assessment, and uranium mining.

by Sandra Cuffe for Rights Action

In early December, a series of events focusing on mining were organized in Guatemala. Although the majority of the dozens and dozens of mining concessions, exploration and exploitation licences were granted under the previous government thanks to legislation passed in the prior period, the issue has only recently begun to be discussed. This is in large part due to the manner in which the legislation, concessions and licences were approved by national authorities without any consultation or even information.

Organized opposition is growing in response to the construction of the Marlin project, a gold mine owned by the Canadian/US company Glamis Gold. In order to assure the project’s success and the increase in foreign investment in the mining sector, the project has been financed by the World Bank Group, through a 45 million dollar loan from the International Finance Corporation directly to the company. The vast majority of the population in the affected municipalities in the department of San Marcos are indigenous Mam and Sipacapense, are opposed to the project and have not been properly consulted.

Regional opposition to this and other projects and the coordination of a National Front against mining has led to the necessity of a serious campaign to convince the population of Guatemala that mining indeed brings “development and progress”, and to convince companies that their investments (profits) will be safe in the country.

The Corporate, World Bank & Canadian Embassy Mining Forum

The Ministry of Energy and Mines, along with the World Bank, the Canadian Embassy -- or the spokesperson for mining company interests, as most organizations refer to it -- along with a few other institutions, sponsored and organized the first National Forum on Mining December 1-2, 2004. One of the stated objectives was to work towards creating a national consensus on mining; however, participation was by invitation only and the few community and organization representatives were easily overshadowed by representatives from government, international financial institutions and mining companies.

Indigenous peoples account for over half the population of Guatemala, and the majority of concessions and licenses fall within indigenous territory. However, their participation in the official forum was limited to approximately 1% of participants.

The Popular Mining Forum

In the face of the increasing threat of mining activities, and in response to the one-sided official forum, the Defensoria Q’eqchi’ and CONIC (partner groups of Rights Action) organized an event to discuss the issue with representatives of indigenous organizations and communities from around the country. The first of two days was devoted to a series of presentations about the history of mining and respective legislation in Latin America, impacts, indigenous rights and territory, and concrete experiences, such as in El Estor (nickel, INCO-EXMIBAL), San Marcos (gold, Glamis Gold, under construction) and a number of other mines visited in Honduras, Peru and Ecuador. As César Teni of the Defensoría Q’eqchi’ pointed out, “if we don’t have a grasp on the information, in a way we are blind.”

Indigenous rights and territory were discussed in relation to Convention 169 of the International Labour Organization (on the rights of Indigenous and Tribal Peoples), ratified but not respected by most governments, including Guatemala, Canada, Honduras. As Arnoldo Yat of CONIC pointed out, “It’s as if the government signs an agreement with its right hand and then promptly erases it with its left.”

Another participant asked, “Why doesn’t the government go negotiate the sale of its mother? Why always ours?” referring to the mountains and sacred sites. The participating organizations worked in groups on December 30th to elaborate a declaration in response to the official Forum. A translation is avalable.

FOR MORE INFORMATION, or to support indigenous and community-based organizations and movements struggling for their community development rights in the face of powerful Canadian and US mining companies in Guatemala and Honduras, contact Rights Action: info(at)rightsaction.org, (416) 654-2074, www.rightsaction.org.