Guatemala: pollutants found in rivers near Goldcorp mine

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR, or CIDH in Spanish) has withdrawn a 2010 order for the Guatemalan government to suspend operations at the controversial Marlin gold mine, according to a Dec. 19 press release from the Canadian mining company Goldcorp Inc. The action follows a petition by the Guatemalan government saying its monitors had determined that “no proof exists that there is any situation presenting a threat of serious or imminent harm to persons or that there is a probability that any damage will materialize, and therefore there does not exist a situation of extreme seriousness or urgency to avoid irreparable harm to persons as a result of operations at the Marlin mine.” (Goldcorp, Dec. 19, via the Wall Street Journal’s Market Watch)

The IACHR, the human rights arm of the Organization of American States (OAS), issued the 2010 order in response to a complaint filed by indigenous Mayan inhabitants of the communities of Sipacapa and San Miguel Ixtahuacán in the western department of San Marcos. The residents charged that the mine had caused significant damage to their health and to the local environment. The Guatemalan government and the mine’s owner, Goldcorp subsidiary Montana Exploradora de Guatemala, SA, have simply ignored the IACHR order ever since it was issued.

Shortly before the IACHR issued its decision to withdraw the suspension, the Pastoral Commission Peace and Ecology (Copae) of San Marcos diocese reported that the Tzalá and Quivichil rivers, which pass near the mine, have high concentrations of heavy metals, including cyanide, arsenic, copper, aluminum and manganese.

According to Copae’s Josué Navarro, the presence of cyanide and arsenic are evidence of contamination from the mine and pose a health threat to communities that drink water in the area. But Amílcar Ruiz Téllez, departmental delegate for the Environment Ministry, said the concentrations of metal in the water were within acceptable limits, based on a study by the Community Environmental Monitoring Association (Asociación de Monitoreo Ambiental Comunitario, AMAC). (Prensa Libre, Guatemala, Dec. 10)

According to an online fact sheet posted by Goldcorp, the AMAC is “an independent and community-based organization” that the company “helped established” (sic) in 2005.

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Dec. 25.

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

  1. Correction on Goldcorp in Guatemala
    Environment Ministry delegate Ruiz Téllez did not actually endorse the AMAC report’s conclusions; he simply cited them, adding: “we’ll have to wait for the repercussions, good or negative.”