Guatemala: is the Goldcorp mine still polluting?

Guatemala’s Environment Ministry filed a criminal complaint on Sept. 28 against Montana Exploradora de Guatemala, SA, for possible pollution of the Quivichil River at the controversial Marlin mine near the San Miguel Ixtahuac├ín community in the western department of San Marcos. According to the complaint, Montana, a subsidiary of the Canadian mining company Goldcorp Inc, acted without government authorization on Sept. 23 when it discharged water which might contain heavy metals used in the gold extraction process. The Environment Ministry also asked the Foreign Ministry to notify the Mexican government, since the Quivichil flows into Mexico.

Montana claimed in paid newspaper ads on Sept. 30 that the discharge was necessary because of heavy rains and that it was done “in a framework of transparency, during which public institutions conducted monitoring and had regulatory oversight.” But the Environment Ministry said it was a coincidence that government inspectors were present during the discharge; they had simply been in the area to get water samples. San Miguel Ixtahuac├ín residents said there had been a chemical smell around the river below the mine for two months, and they suspected the mine had discharged water at various times before Sept. 23. (Prensa Libre, Guatemala, Oct. 4; Comisi├│n Pastoral Paz y Ecolog├şa (COPAE), Guatemala, Oct. 8)

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR, or CIDH in Spanish), a Washington, DC-based agency of the Organization of American States (OAS), had ordered Guatemala in May to suspend operations at the Marlin mine. The government and Montana have apparently ignored the order, which was in response to a complaint from area residents. On July 7 two men shot a resident, Diodora Antonia Hernández Cinto, in the head, leaving her blind in one eye. Hernández Cinto has been active in resistance to the mine; according to the North American nonprofit group Rights Action, one of the two men was a former Marlin employee and the other was a current employee. (Friends of the Earth action alert, undated; Rights Action alert, Sept. 22)

Montana has reportedly received three permits to explore for gold, silver, copper and zinc in the mountains of Cabric├ín municipality in the neighboring department of Quetzaltenango, where many residents are indigenous Mam. On Oct. 20 the Mam Council and a local group, the Environment and Territory Defense Committee, held a referendum in 34 communities in Cabric├ín, with observers from outside organizations, including the Presidential Human Rights Commission (Copredeh). According to the organizers, 5,265 registered voters participated, along with 2,657 adult residents without voter cards and 5,849 minors under voting age. Only 73 people voted to allow mining in the area, and 130 cancelled their ballots; the rest voted against the mining project. Angel Vicente, Cabric├ín’s parish priest, said the results would be sent to President Alvaro Colom and the Ministry of Energy and Mines. (Prensa Libre, Oct. 22)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Nov. 7.

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

    1. No evidence of Goldcorp polluting?
      There’s never really been any doubt that Goldcorp pollutes, at least in the broader sense of dumping unwanted wastes into the environment. The dispute has been over whether the toxicity level of the wastes has been high enough to cause harm to local residents. And there’s more than “a shred of evidence” of this.

      Last May we reported on a preliminary study by University of Michigan scientists indicating that there were higher levels of mercury, copper, arsenic, zinc and lead in the blood and urine of people who lived near the Marlin mine. The scientists called for a more thorough study of the situation. There have also been repeated claims of environmental problems from both the mineworkers and the local residents. Or does the testimony of poor people of color not count as “evidence”–is “evidence” only what appears in the slick PR campaigns of profitable North American corporations?

      Interestingly enough, Goldcorp seems to have similar problems wherever it goes: see the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Mexico.