A month ago, the defenders of human and indigenous rights and local organizations in defense of their territory like FREDEMI (Miguelense Defense Front), member of CPO (Council of Peoples of the West) applauded Guatemala’s government's decision to suspend the Marlin mine. However, the same organizations refrained from making celebratory statements. The CPO urged the government to expedite the administrative process, for the suspension to take effect without further delay, so its commitment would go beyond mere speech. A month later we see why the CPO was concerned, up to this day, the mine's neighbors have not seen any sign of precautionary measures, while the government is looking for any argument to deny the allegations, supporting the mining company Goldcorp.
On June 23rd , we learned of the decision of the government of Alvaro Colom to suspend the Marlin mine, operated by the Canadian transnational Golcorp. The decision is part of a longer commitment to abide by the five precautionary measures, ordered by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). (Read more) The IACHR granted these measures to protect the human rights of the neighbors of the Marlin mine in the municipality of San Miguel community, and to prevent further contamination in the environment and health damage. Among these precautionary measures: the decontamination of water sources, to address health problems, protect the lives of neighbors and implement these measures with their participation.
The government's decision to abide by the precautionary measures surprised many. It was not the first time that an international institution with high authority has made similar statements about mining in San Miguel Ixtahuacán. This year, first the CERD, Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination of the UN condemned the Guatemalan state for authorizing a dispossession of indigenous lands, then the Committee of Experts of the ILO, International Labour Organization of the UN, requested Guatemala's government to suspend the same Marlin mine. In neither of these cases the government took any action to implement these measures granted to restore justice and protect its population.
But this time, the government's response was different. In its reply to the Commission it affirms its commitment to comply with precautionary measures. However, in the same document the government denies the legitimacy of any of these measures. According to the government of Guatemala, there is no violation of human rights, there is no contamination of water, and there are no security problems in the municipality of San Miguel Ixtahuacán. The question: is how this government will reconcile its commitment to suspend the Marlin mine and its support for the company? Or are they bit by bit backpedaling from giving effect to the suspension?
The science-based claims against the Marlin mine aren’t new. This year, international experts from the University of Michigan presented the results of a preliminary health study, which can serve as a baseline for future studies in San Miguel. Although it was a small scale study, the methodology was based on the highest standards. The experts concluded that there are reasons for concern about the health situation of the population of San Miguel. Although the mine was only five years old when the investigation took place, it found higher levels of certain metals in the blood and urine of people living near the mine than people living far away. As for the rivers, they found the same results as the monitoring of the COPAE, that says that the water from the rivers below the mine have higher levels of metals associated with mining than the water above the mine. Experts announced that, based on scientific forecasts, further contamination is expected in the coming years, as the Marlin mine is relatively new and pollution of long term. The same researchers did another call to the government of Guatemala to take its responsibility to take steps to protect the lives of its people. (Read more)
In its immediate response, the Environment Minister Luis Ferrate stated that the results of the study of the University of Michigan do not correspond with a study by the University of Texas, concluding that there is no contamination in the rivers around the Marlin mine. (Source) However, when the deputy Hector Nuila asked for more information about this study, the environment minister had to admit that the University of Texas didn’t do the study, but rather a private laboratory, called Ana-Lab Corporation, did. The truth is that the laboratory is located in the state of Texas. Furthermore, this study is based on a single sample and therefore can also be considered a preliminary study. In conclusion, Environment Minister Ferrate is satisfied by the fact that a study by a private laboratory says there is no pollution, and so there is no reason to worry. On the other hand international experts are screaming to take action, because we are at risk of further contamination.
Another key problem is the damage that the Marlin mine is causing by explosions and heavy transport to the structures of the houses around mine. Neighbors of the mine were drawing our attention, denouncing the formation of large cracks in their houses, which had never been seen before. A team of qualified engineers of the UUSC (Unitarian Universalist Service Committee) came to the call of these communities, monitoring the houses of the region for two years. The study included homes that are near, and those that are far from the mine as reference points. In its conclusion, the engineers ruled out that the cracks were caused by landslides, earthquakes, subsidence, surface water or groundwater, as well as swelling of clay soils, so that, by elimination, the causes found are the explosions and heavy transport of the Marlin mine. (Read more)
On July 9th, shortly after the suspension decision, the ministries of Communications, Energy and Mines and Environment presented the report of their study on the cracks in the residences near the Marlin mine. In the study, the researchers only observed the cracks presented in the houses nearby, and not those that are far from the mine. In addition, the observations were made for a period of only five months. In its findings, this study presents the exact opposite of what the engineers of UUSC had. That is, the official report says that the causes are the poor quality of construction and seismic activity. In her Prensa Libre column, Magali Rey Rosa asks, "Why aren’t all the houses in San Marcos cracked, but only those near the mine? Maybe it has to do with the fact that, according to a report by Oxfam, in impoverished countries that increase their dependence on resource extraction (oil, minerals and timber) for export, the rates of government corruption and violence rise. " (Source)
When we talk about the precautionary measures of the IACHR, we can’t treat them one by one, but rather we should see them as a whole. For example, when the government announces the suspension of the mine in a town where everyone knows that practices of intimidation and feelings of insecurity are ubiquitous, one should expect an increase of conflicts and violence. No wonder the IACHR granted not only the suspension, but also called for the provision of security measures for lifes and physical integrity of the neighbors. Not surprisingly, in recent weeks we have had to report an increase of conflict and violence, with two alarming cases of armed attacks towards resistance leaders. (Read more) According to the residents, there hasn’t been any measure of protection.
Meanwhile, the company Goldcorp appears not to be worrying a lot. The Executive Director for Guatemala, Mario Marroquín, said in an interview that in his view, the Government hasn´t suspended operations, rather the only thing it committed itself to is to do an assessment to see whether or not to implement the suspension. So operations continue as before. (Source)
It turns out that there are enough reasons to be worried about the government pulling out of its commitment. Therefore, on July 21, the legal committee of the CPO, formed by the COPAE, Rigoberta Menchu Foundation, ODHAG, leaders from San Miguel, together with Bishop Alvaro Ramazzini and Nobel Laureate Rigoberta Menchu filed an injunction against the government, for a judge to compel the government to implement protective measures.
It’s important to distinguish two things very clearly. Although the government is less and less convinced of the need to protect the human rights of the people, it still has the obligation to comply with precautionary measures which it already committed itself to.