Monday, January 10, 2005, marks the fortieth day that platform trailers carrying milling cylinders for Glamis Gold's Marlin mine in the western department of San Marcos have been blocked from passing along the Panamerican Highway to the mine. Since December 3, 2004, the convoy - which cannot pass under a metal pedestrian crossing bridge 130 km northwest of Guatemala City - has been the object of a growing opposition to metal mining in the largely indigenous-populated highlands.
When the equipment reached the bridge, workmen from the transport company tried to cut away part of the bridge so that the trailer could pass. When the local population discovered that the equipment was for mining, they initially feared that it was to be used in their communities, 100 km from the mine, and organized to protect the bridge and prevent the mine equipment from passing further. On the first day of protest more than 2000 indigenous farmers and villagers gathered, and tried to dissuade the convoy from traveling further. When their demands were not met, one small vehicle carrying tools and fuel for the mine was set afire. The rest of the convoy retreated 2 km to a lookout point's parking area where it has remained since, guarded by private police under the vigilance of local villagers.
In the period since December 3, the local mayor has stated repeatedly his determination to respect his constituents' demand that the equipment not continue to San Marcos, where Glamis is constructing its Marlin mine. However, the Guatemalan Interior Ministry stated on January 8 that it is prepared to call in troops to escort the convoy past the bridge despite local opposition. Villagers have stated that they will push the equipment over a cliff where it is parked if the military intervenes.
The opposition to the mine arises from a mining license granted by the lame duck Portillo administration in late 2003 without conducting the obligatory consultation of the local indigenous communities, required by Convention 169 of the International Labour Organisation (ILO). Once the communities discovered the extent and possible impacts of the project, opposition formed around the violation of the rights of indigenous people and the environmental risks inherent to the cyanide heap-leach mining process. The situation is further aggravated by the World Bank's International Finance Corporation's lending $45 million to Glamis to develop the mine - despite written opposition to the mine project by local organizations - and the apparent non-compliance of the IFC to the Bank's own recommendations regarding investment in extractive industries requiring broad community support and a clear contribution to the alleviation of poverty.
Local organizations and villagers have organized across four departments (provinces) in support of the protest. They are demanding a government/company dialogue directly with the San Marcos communities affected by the mine project to reach an accord regarding the mine's future. As tensions rise and patience grows short, neither the company nor government show signs of engaging those opposed to the mine, and the World Bank, having been informed of these problems since early December, has demonstrated no leadership or ability to address the situation.
Asociación Estoreña Para el Desarrollo Integral, AEPDI
El Estor, Izabal, Guatemala