Where did the mining companies' ethics go?

This past Thursday, August 10, 2006, 1000 people demonstrated in favour of mining in a march in the historic centre of Guatemala City. This activity, organized by the Guild of Mines, Quarries and Processors, had as its objective to emphasize the great benefits that mining will supposedly bring for thousands of Guatemalans. The marchers were mainly from the communities of Izabal and Alta Verapaz, places where preparations are being made for mining various metals, as well as workers of the Marlin mine of San Miguel Ixtahuacán. What was not mentioned in the mass media was the immense cost that the mining companies invested to transport so many people to the capital, much less the pressure on the part of Montana Exploration (owner of the Marlin mine and a subsidiary of Glamis Gold) on its workers to participate in the event.

The demonstrators from the Verapaz and Izabal regions were brought to Guatemala City in eleven small planes and a larger number of buses. The cost of this operation was assumed by the Guatemalan Nickel Company (CGN, a subsidiary of Skye Resources). The transport of the Marlin mine workers, the great majority from San Miguel Ixtahuacán (San Marcos), was organized by Montana Exploration, which paid for twelve light trucks to make the trip. The company also offered 500 Quetzals (about $75 Canadian) to each participant, while those not participating could lose their jobs. Another interesting detail was the presence in the march of a group of 200 people, recognizable in blue t-shirts, that were designated to speak in favour of mining. The task of the people from the communities was reduced to directing members of the press and other interested parties towards the people who obviously had the responsibility of promoting mining.

On the part of the Front for Life (Aj'chmol, Peasant Workers' Movement (MTC), and Pastoral la Tierra) we observe the mining companies' support for the organization of the march with great concern. There can be no doubt that the activity was organized with the intention of influencing public opinion and the decisions of the Commission on Mining Law Reform. With this attitude the mining companies are violating the ethical standards they claim to maintain as socially responsible companies.

In its paid advertisement of Monday, August 14, the Mines Guild, part of the Guatemalan Chamber of Industry, once again presents the mining industry as "a source of investment and income that allows it to look out for the common good." They mention that the mining industry provides a source of income and work for more than 350,000 Guatemalans. What the Mines Guild does not mention is that the present opposition is focused on the metal mining industry, a branch of mining that does not produce many jobs and that causes serious environmental damages. It is worth mentioning the example of the Entre Mares gold mine in Honduras, where, after six years of operation, the rivers have dried up and the inhabitants suffer different types from diseases.

The same Monday, August 14, the road between the Pan-American Highway and the Marlin mine site was blockaded. According to sources in Sipacapa and San Miguel Ixtahuacán, the blockades were set up in the municipality of La Cal, Malacancito, Huehuetenango, by people from that municipality and neighbouring municipalities. This action was motivated by Montana Exploration's breach promises made when it initiated its mining activities a year and a half ago to create jobs for local people and to pave the highway between the mine and the Pan-American Highway, which would benefit many nearby communities.

Seeing that the company invested a great amount of money in sending its employees to Guatemala City to promote mining activities while continuing to ignore its commitments to its neighbors in the region, it is quite understandable that people take action to demand the fulfillment of agreements between Montana and the communities. We still think, however, that at the end of the day these commitments are the responsibility of the Guatemalan State and not of a private company, much less a foreign company, that takes advantage of the lack of interest and financial investment on the part of the state agencies responsible for the matter.

San Marcos, Guatemala, 14 August 2006.

Peasant Workers Movement (Movimiento de Trabajadores Campesinos - MTC)
San Marcos, Guatemala