Guatemala: Goldcorp mine to be suspended?

On May 21 the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR, or CIDH in Spanish), a Washington, DC-based agency of the Organization of American States (OAS), ordered the Guatemalan government to suspend operations at the Marlin gold mine in the western department of San Marcos within 20 days and to take measures to protect the local environment. The indigenous inhabitants of the communities of Sipacapa and San Miguel Ixtahuacán have protested the mine—owned by Montana Exploradora de Guatemala, SA, subsidiary of the Canadian company Goldcorp—since it began operations in 2008.

The IACHR order came three days after the release on May 18 of a study by the University of Michigan revealing that tests conducted in August 2009 had found higher levels of mercury, copper, arsenic, zinc and lead in the blood and urine of area residents who lived near the Marlin mine. The study’s authors said the metals could have been acquired from water contaminated by the mine.

According to Rigoberto García, director of the Multicultural Center for Democracy, the Guatemalan government is required to comply with the order. If it doesn’t, García said, the Costa Rica-based Inter-American Court of Human Rights (also CIDH in Spanish) of the OAS will proceed to act on a complaint that led to the order; García and leaders of the indigenous communities filed the legal action in June 2009.

Carlos Meany, head of the Ministry of Energy and Mines (MEM), said the relevant government ministries would meet and decide on a response to the IACHR order. “There is no reason for us to suspend our project,” Montana Exploradora attorney Jorge Mario Sandoval said. “The government is the one that decides.” The Marlin mine produces 250,000 ounces of gold and 3.5 million ounces of silver a year. (EFE, May 21; Siglo Veintiuno, Guatemala, May 22; Univision, May 21)

The indigenous Mam in the communities around the Marlin mine have charged repeatedly that the mining operation is polluting the area. Five residents were arrested in the summer of 2009 in connection with a June 12 incident during which a pickup truck and an exploration drill rig were set on fire.

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, May 30.

See our last posts on Guatemala, Central America, and the mineral cartel‘s regional operations.