Guatemela overview


Over the last few years, numerous local protests and high profile events have created a challenging climate for mining operations in Guatemala. Some of these circumstances have had a direct impact on the reputations of large, well-established Canadian mining companies, such as Goldcorp and Hudbay.

In each case, there has been a number of diverse factors leading to unrest and subsequent hostile media scrutiny. These include stakeholders' contrasting views on land claims, and difficulties implementing effective consultation mechanisms for conflict resolution.

Community approval is the necessary social license for any successful mining project, as discussed in the World Bank's report, Large Mines and Local Communities: Forging Partnerships, Building Sustainability.

This section summarizes issues and references relating to human rights violations such as intimidation, harassment and killing of mining opponents by state and private security forces, allegations of mining companies' coercive land appropriation strategies, forced evictions and unjust taxation and royalty payments.

Also included are environmental and health impacts of industry players in the areas around the Marlin Mine and The Fenix Development.

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Land Claims

Guatemala's long civil war has had a large impact on land claims. The war resulted in the displacement of over 1 million people, as well as the disappearances and deaths of over 200,000 indigenous people. After the war, those who had been displaced often resettled on lands to which they do not hold title, even today, despite centuries of ancestral occupation.

Indigenous people's way of life is deeply rooted in their connection to the land.

In an attempt to strengthen their negotiating position with mining companies, indigenous communities have “seized the role of gatekeepers” by seeking official title for lands they presently occupy; however, the process has been slow and complicated by the fact that the state was, until recently and often through different ministries, simultaneously processing both indigenous land claim and subsoil concessions to mining companies relating to the same tracts.

The demarcations of ancestral lands are not yet defined by binding multilateral accord or treaty. The state's granting of mining licenses to foreign companies while land claims were being processed eventually drew the ire of the International Labour Organization (ILO).

The ILO may have influenced the present government's indefinite suspension of mining licenses.

Demands by protesting farmers and various rights groups echo the ILO's recommendations that the government speed up the process of "obtaining suitable instruments for consultation and participation" of affected communities, and develop and pass laws that would provide a framework for settling land disputes. This would allow farmers without land to settle on idle or government-owned lands.

The bill is awaiting congressional approval and the process is expected to be lengthy and bureaucratic.

For more information, see Oxfam's report, " Metals Mining and Sustainable Development in Central America: An Assessment of Benefits and Costs ."


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Unjust Land Appropriation Practices

Unjust Land Appropriation Practices Glamis, purchased by GoldCorp in 2006, bought tracts from individual landowners to establish the Marlin Mine. Company representatives emphasized paying well-above market value for the properties, and that all transactions were witnessed by municipal staff members. The company also states that no complaints were lodged at that time.

Many individuals who sold their properties have since complained of not receiving adequate information about of the scope and impact that the project would have on their community and territories.

Some CSOs have raised concerns about apparently state-sanctioned persecution and criminalization of leaders of organized and vocal resistance movements to mining projects.

Dissent towards state and corporate agendas is not new in Guatemala: during previous dictatorial governments, mining companies have been accused of being complicit in the kidnapping and disappearance of local leaders.

INCO was, in fact, proven to be involved in these activities. The use of private security forces by mining operations - forces that in many cases employ professional soldiers who had served in the military or state-sponsored death squads - needs to be seen against this backdrop.

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Community Relations & Accountability

The Amnesty report, Human Rights and Business Risk in the Infrastructure and Utilities Sectors, concludes by emphasizing the symbiotic relationship between a venture's survival and the rights of the host community's inhabitants. The lessons learned by the crippling of foreign-led, large-scale infrastructure projects and the subsequent tarnishing of company's reputations by organized and vocal dissent apply equally to the mining sector.

Regardless of whether a company has been complicit in any violations, media attention from mobilized pressure groups can effectively shut down or severely impede the profitability of mining operations. This increases tension between locals, company and government officials.

The report clearly states "the most effective way to combat this is to have appropriate human rights assurance mechanisms and practices in place which are both transparent and properly enforced."

The majority of indigenous residents affected by remote mining operations are subsistence farmers.

Being neither educated in bureaucratic process nor fluent in Spanish, they are excluded from fully and freely participating in the assessment and subsequent licensing process.

Some local advocates have also stated that information about licensing has been uncovered after the fact and from company representatives or their media releases rather than government sources.

Community approval has been cited by the World Bank as a necessary "social license" for any successful mining project; however, stakeholders find themselves in a legal vacuum in the country. Guatemala signed and ratified the ILO's Convention 169 during the peace accords, and the Guatemalan Constitutional Court in 2005 validated an indigenous community plebiscite that sought to oust mining operations from their territories; however, the court simultaneously ruled that "the state has no legally binding mechanisms for complying with the consultation requirements of ILO Convention 16".

Some companies have forfeited the pursuit of multilateral consensus, instead negotiating with individual parties that have shown more willingness to work with the company's agenda.

This strategy is seen by some as subverting the spirit of the ILO's recommendations that government and industry seek consensus with local communities rather than engaging in a "divide and conquer" strategy to achieve shorter-term goals.

The report, Breaching Indigenous Law: Canadian Mining in Guatemala, concludes by stating, "the risk of this approach is that it may be contrary to what some members of the municipality say they have collectively decided. Such practice emphasizes narrow group identities and divisions among groups rather than broader, common identities and connections. It can also undermine rather than enhance social cohesion and contribute to conflict escalation. In addition, sometimes problems cannot be solved using bilateral or unilateral strategies."


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Impact Assessments

Many environmental, community and farm worker rights groups have successfully challenged the validity of a number of commercial operator's independent environmental impact assessment studies.

Their actions have often halting or indefinitely suspending that particular phase of the company's operation. Past issues have included the impartiality of a company's choice of assessors and the criteria and scope of studies.

Numerous environmental and social rights activists have argued that the Guatemalan state did not have mechanisms in place to effectively monitor the activities of large mining operations.

Representatives and advocates of local indigenous populations have also contended that companies have often failed to properly engage local communities in the decision-making process at every step in the design and implementation of the assessments.

Furthermore, they argue that the government has not been less than transparent in its issuance of licenses and its disclosure of impact study findings.


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Community Health Concerns

Small-scale subsistence farmers make up the majority of those living near mining operations. Many live and work in semi-arid environments and rely heavily on regional water sources to grow crops.

Many farmers fear that these sources will either be contaminated by toxic waste discharges or that aquifers will dry out because of the large amounts of water required for cyanide filtering in open-pit mining.

In San Miguel Ixtahuacan, a settlement in the vicinity of the Marlin Mine, some residents have reported wells drying up and fruit trees dying from dehydration . There have also been reports of increased disease and mortality in livestock and increased incidence of miscarriages and skin disorders in the human population.

Although Goldcorp did not include information on these incidents in its 2008 sustainability report, the company did commission a Human Rights Assessment of Goldcorp's Marlin Mine which was prepared by On Common Ground consultants. Goldcorp plans to review the findings ahead of drawing up a response and "action plan" (May 2010).

Goldcorp affirms that water test results conducted on site by the company, two government ministries, and an "independent community-based environmental monitoring" organization all found the mine to have no adverse effects on the surrounding area.

In the same Goldcorp 2008 sustainability report, the company expresses pride in exceeding voluntary compliance goals in environmental stewardship areas, such as the International Cyanide Management Code Certification at its Marlin Mine operation.

An article from July 2009, "Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources issues new resolutions in Montana mining case " reports on Ministerio de Ambiente y Recursos Naturales' (MARN) decision to rescind the ban placed on Goldcorp subsidiary, Montana Explorada's importation of sodium cyanide, and the resolution the Ministry passed requiring a license each time the chemical is imported into the country.

It is unclear at this time whether this decision was the result of some infraction that the company had committed.


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