Department of San Marcos, Guatemala
June 18, 2007
Text: Saqrik / Photography, Translation and Captions: MiMundo.org
Peoples’ right to be consulted about industrial mega-projects is legally established by international agreements, built into national legislation and constitutions, and thrown about in the discourse of resource extraction companies the world over.
But when consultation takes place in a way that empowers communities, those same organizations and companies that purport to promote “consultation” too often react by charging that such processes are unconstitutional, manipulative and undemocratic.
The Consulta that took place on June 18, 2005 in Sipakapa, San Marcos, Guatemala offers an excellent example by which to understand such a process.
There is much material evidence, including a study by the World Bank’s own Compliance Advisory Ombudsman, showing that Glamis Gold (hereinafter Goldcorp) failed to consult in a meaningful way with the people of Sipakapa and San Miguel Ixtahuacán before bringing in the heavy equipment and beginning the set-up of the Marlin mine, Guatemala’s first major mining project since the signing of the Peace Accords in 1996.
The people of Sipakapa responded to the lack of consultation by organizing their own Consulta, a well-organized and transparent vote by which local residents could express their consent or non-consent with the mining project threatening to expand into their territory.
The Consulta was held with permission of the municipal authorities in Sipakapa, and designed to abide by the provisions of the International Labor Organization’s Convention 169 concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries, which Guatemala ratified on June 5, 1996.
Upon getting wind of the Consulta, representatives acting on behalf of Goldcorp filed a suit of unconstitutionality against the process with a lower court in San Marcos, and a second suit of unconstitutionality with the Constitutional Court, Guatemala’s highest legal body.
The suits were filed before the Consulta took place, even though in their literature, the company claimed that they had carried out their own consultation, and that the communities were supportive of their mining project.
If one is to believe Goldcorp’s statements professing community support for mining, it becomes difficult to understand their motivations for taking preemptive legal action to discredit a community driven process set up to ask people to vote “Yes” or “No” to mining activity in their territory.
In May, 2007, nearly two years after the suit was filed by Goldcorp, the Constitutional Court ruled on the legality and bindingness of the Consulta in Sipakapa. Their conclusion: the Consulta process is legal, but non-binding.
Investigative reports after the ruling indicated that “the sentence of the [Constitutional Court] could have been influenced by political, economic or even commercial interests.”1
The intolerable “No”
For Goldcorp, the problem of the Consulta has to do with one thing: people gave the “wrong” answer.
Eleven out of the 13 communities in Sipakapa voted unanimously against mining activities in their territory on June 18th, 2005. Since that time, the people of Sipakapa have remained vigilant, and mining activity has not expanded any further into their territory.
Regardless of the recent decision of the Constitutional Court, the mandate of the Consulta is clear.
Since the Consulta in Sipakapa, approximately 15 other municipalities in Guatemala whose territory has been concessioned for mining exploration have held similar Consultas. In every case, mining exploration, exploitation and expansion has been roundly rejected.
The ongoing struggle of the 14,000 mainly Mayan-Sipakapense people who live in Sipakapa has taken on global importance, not only for other communities attempting to salvage control of their territories, but also for the mining industry itself.
According to an article by David J. DesLauriers written for Resource Investor in 2005, just days before the Consulta was to take place, “Glamis’ success at PR on [the Marlin mine] is crucial. This is a must-win situation, and the reality is that the industry needs a coordinated response. The ramifications will be felt not just by the company, but by mining globally.”2
The “must-win” logic of the mining industry is backed up with expensive public relations campaigns, vast networks of connections to high-level officials, financial resources from banks and international finance institutions, and privileged access to the media.
The intolerable “no” voiced by the communities is what it reads. It is a rejection of mining activity by the people most likely to be directly affected by the potential consequences of the mining project itself. A rejection of “development” imposed from above.
More importantly, the intolerable “no” -to which the global mining industry has no retort- is a powerful, legal and democratic affirmation of life, earth, and community control.
1 Weatherborn, J. “Consultas populares pierden terreno ante la CC”. Inforpress. Retrieved May 30, 2007 from: www.albedrio.org/htm/articulos/jw-002.htm
2 DesLauriers, D. “Guatemalan Gold Mine Opponents Try to Tarnish Glamis in Debate”. Resource Investor. Retrieved June 20, 2007 from: www.resourceinvestor.com/pebble.asp?relid=10518.