(Ottawa/Montreal) On this International Women’s Day, as sixty women from the Siria Valley of Honduras gather in Tegucigalpa, we the women of Development and Peace and MiningWatch Canada are present in spirit, sisters in solidarity, accompanying them in their struggle for justice.
Since 2000, they have lived in close proximity of the San Martin open pit gold mine owned by the Vancouver-based company, Goldcorp. Today, thirteen years later, and only two years since the closure of the mine, they have learned that levels of heavy metals in their bodies, or those of their children, are unacceptably high and found a proliferation of skin and respiratory ailments in their communities.
As women, effectively responsible for most domestic work in the household, they and their children have been most in contact with and are most vulnerable to contaminants through the water supply or other means. High levels of heavy metals such as lead and arsenic can lead to a broad range of diseases, including certain cancers and nervous system disorders.
We deplore the fact that the Honduran government has had detailed knowledge of this situation since 2007, having carried out blood and urine tests that revealed lead in the blood of those tested. Yet, the government did not disclose the results of the blood tests that the Honduran Office for Forensic Medicine through its Criminal and Forensic Science Laboratory carried out with those involved until 2011 – not only failing to provide medical care, but effectively denying the women the right to seek treatment by their own means. Now, some six years later, the women are no closer to receiving the further information and medical care that they and their families and neighbours need.
We fully support the legitimate demand of the women of the Siria Valley and urge the Honduran government to assume its responsibility to carry out comprehensive epidemiological studies and new blood and urine exams. Once new testing has been done and the results determined, which should take place as quickly as possible, the Honduran government must immediately make the results available and ensure the appropriate medical treatment to the women and all those affected. This is an obligation of the Honduran government to ensure the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, set out by international treaties ratified by Honduras, and by the Honduran Constitution in which the state guarantees the right to a healthy environment.
We also urge a a full and impartial investigation into the source of the contamination in order to determine what responsibility Goldcorp’s San Martín operation might have and to then ensure adequate compensation for the families based on the results, as well as mitigation for damages in the communities, to their land and resources.
Such action is all the more urgent today in view of the new Mining Law, approved in the Honduran Congress in January 2013, with technical assistance paid for by the Canadian International Development Agency. With the imminent implementation of this legislation, hundreds of other new mining concessions, many granted to Canadian companies, will be open to mining activities, creating a state of insecurity for affected communities throughout Honduras based on environmental contamination and public health issues that have arisen in the Siria Valley and elsewhere in the country.
We support the urgent demand of the women of Siria Valley to overturn the mining law that has been adopted without consideration for the proposals from Honduran civil society that sought to guarantee communities a say over mining activities taking place in their communities before they begin, to guarantee them safe water supplies before prioritizing industrial use of water, and to prohibit open-pit mining, which they have seen seriously jeopardize the health of affected communities.
Dear sisters, women of the Siria Valley, today we salute your struggle and your bravery and determination to demand what is just. And we state our commitment to continue to stand by you, as you continue in this struggle.