Alternativa Latinoamericana
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Alberta, Mayo/May 2009
ALTERNATIVA Latinoamericana
This last April 28
at the Halifax North
Memorial Library, Francois Guindon, from Rights
Action, and Carlos Amador, an educator from
Honduras,member of the Siria Valley
Environmental Committee, made a presentation
about the effects of gold mining in both
Guatemala and Honduras. The event was
sponsored by Rights Action, a non-governmental
organization with its main office in Guatemala
and offices in Canada and the US. Guindon and
Amador are touring the country and informing
Canadians about Canadian mining corporations
in Central America, particularly Goldcorp.
Importantly, we are partly responsible of the
ecological and human disaster as we are
financing Goldcorp with our pension funds.
Some of the monies we contribute to our
Canada Pension Plan are being invested in
Goldcorp, generating income at the cost of very
poor and vulnerable people in America, the
mining ventures are often located within
aboriginal lands. In 2007, CPP Investment Board
placed more than 290 million dollars in Goldcorp,
making us all somehow responsible for the
behaviour of the corporation. Funds from other
pension and retirement plans are also being
invested; for example, the BC Investment Board,
the Omers Administration Coorporation
(previously: Ontario Municipal Employees
Retirement Plan which includes CUPE
employees, fire fighters, nurses and other public
service employees), and the Ontario Teachers
Pension Plan Board have all invested in
Goldcorp. Together in 2007 their investments on
Goldcorp add up to more than a billion dollars
(Investing in Conflict,
Sustainable Development?
The mislabel began with Bill Clinton and
Frank Giustra, the Vancouver mining financer,
getting together and creating a 300 million fund
to promote "sustainable development" in mining
in Latin America. A move conveniently in sync
with the World Bank, International Monetary
Fund and Inter-American Development Bank
promoting mining for development. Ian Tefler,
Chairman of Goldcorp, pledged 3 million dollars,
seemingly the largest single donation of the
night. The initiative sold as aimed at eliminating
poverty and creating lasting business
opportunities for local residents in developing
areas, of the world where mining takes place,
was an efficient business move.
How can anybody ignore that mining gold
involves deforestation, erosion, water
contamination, water shortages and damages
people. Mining uses a lot of water, while a
person spends about 17.5 litres of water per
hour, mining uses 284.400 litres in the same time
(based on Marlin Mine and its use of
2.175.984.000 litres per year, as reported in
"Investing in Conflict"). But, mining gold has
always been about making money. The life of Ian
Telfer, chartered accountant and mining tycoon,
exemplifies this. Telfer, rich enough now to do
philantropy, donated 5 million to the University of
British Columbia and 25 million to the University
of Ottawa´s School of Management, that will
carry his name. But, how was his money been
Goldcorp Inc. owns mines all over America:
in Canada, Mexico and the US, and in
Guatemala, Honduras, Dominican Republic and
Argentina. They describe themselves in their
internet site, as the leading gold producers
having the "lowest cost and fastest growing"
mines throughout the Americas. When you listen
to Guindon and Amador or when you view the
video "All that Glitters isn't Gold" in the internet
) you come to
understand how Goldcorp does it. Goldcorp
produces gold at the "lowest cost" because it
externalizes many of its costs, cost that other
people are paying. For example, Goldcorp is not
paying for the loss in livelihoods in the area, like
ranching, but the people who live there are.
Goldcorp is not paying for the destruction of the
environment, animals, plants, water sources and
land, people there are doing it and will do it in
the future for many years to come. They are not
paying for people's health lost either. The effects
of mining in an area are long term.
During the late 19
century in Oklahoma,
US, the Tar Creek area was mined for lead and
zinc until 1960. After the closure of the mines the
ground water flooded the mines and the resulting
water had high concentration of sulphuric acid
polluting streams. It was the worst hazardous waste
site as designated by the US Environmental
Protection Association.
Marlin and San Martin:
Guatemala and Honduras
Rights Action, working in Canada since 1983,
manages and funds what could be called
community-controlled development focused on
being environmentally and human rights' sound
and attending to emergency-relief projects in
Central American countries (Guatemala, Honduras,
El Salvador) and in Mexico. Its focus on education
and activism includes working with North Americans
to address global exploitation, repression,
environmental destruction and racism.
Guindon and Amador brought attention to the
situation in two mines: (a) Marlin Mine, in
Guatemala, owned by Montana, a wholly owned
subsidiary of Goldcorp; and (b) San Martin mine, in
Siria Valley, Honduras, owned by Entre Mares, also
fully owned subsidiary of Goldcorp. Marlin uses a
combination of open pit and underground mining
for getting both gold and silver. It began production
in December 2005 and it produces about 250 000
ounces of gold and 4 million ounces of silver per
year. Marlin has been challenged in 2005 by the
MadreSelva Collective from Sipakapa, a community
San Martin, located about 90 kilometers of
Tegucigalpa, has been producing gold from a hot
spring-style gold deposit and it is currently closing.
It has been challenged by the Siria Valley
Environmental Committee, a community group
actively seeking international solidarity for their
struggle who managed to stop its expansion but it
is also concerned with making Goldcorp
accountable for the damages caused to the site
and the population. Interestingly, San Martin didn't
pay taxes until July 2006, prior to that it had been
legally recognized as a maquila.
Carlos Amador, teacher and member of the
Siria Valley Environmental Committee, explained
that his community wanted development and
initially welcome the operation because it
presented itself as "sustainable development."
They realized, however, that it was neither friendly
to the environment or to the community and it led to
destruction and death. "We can live without gold,"
Amador said, "but we cannot live without water."
People learned in practice about the
consequences of using cyanide in the process of
separating gold from rock, to allow for a high
recovery rate of gold. The process contaminates
water sources with cyanide as well as with other
heavy metals (arsenic, mercury, lead). People's
health has been affected in connection with
drinking water they believed was safe but it was
not. Both adults and children are afflicted by a
number of dermatological diseases -showing big
and scarring infections of the skin, and respiratory,
ophthalmologic, gastrointestinal and other
identified diseases. Although people want the mine
closed, they are concerned the corporation will
leave without taking responsibility for the
contamination of their water and environment, or
for the destruction of their living conditions and the
effects on their health.
Water contamination includes acid mine
drainage, a damaging and long lasting effect of
mining gold. Sulfides, normally attached to gold in
the form of pyrite, are released when exposed to
water and air creating sulphuric acid (or acid
drain). In turn the process liberates into the water
other heavy metals as well. All heavy metals are
damaging, mercury is particularly known in
connection with neurological and behavioural
diseases in humans, but there is arsenic, lead,
copper, zinc, selenium. Acid mine drain (AMD)
disrupts growth and reproduction of aquatic life
and causes acid corrosion of any present
infrastructure (such as wastewater pipes)
contaminating directly and indirectly the water
sources. Water turns reddish brown in color,
making it identifiable.
Staying away from the
Monsters: Not an easy task
Some countries, wisely, have tried to stay
away from "sustainable development" through
mining. El Salvador, for example, has delayed
permits to the Pacific Rim Mining corporation,
which is also Canadian, to mine east of Cabañas.
The corporation seems not wanting to
understand and is threatening with taking the
Salvadoran government to international
arbitration court, for alleged losses caused by
government inaction. The company has been
waiting for four years for final permits for an
underground gold mine that is opposed by many
environmentalist groups, church leaders and
even by government -Miami Herald, April 27,
Carolina Amaya, from the environmental
group Salvadoran Ecological Unity, describes
mining as a `'death sentence'' for El Salvador,
given its small size and that the mining project
would be near the country's main water source,
the Lempa River. Rodolfo Calles, of the Church-
funded organization Caritas, is also strongly
against it and the church has helped form the
National Board Against Metallic Mining which has
picked more than 10,000 signatures to lobby in
Congress to ban mining altogether.
Even the current President of El Salvador,
Tony Saca has expressed fearing mining
because of the danger of cyanide contamination
of water ­which happened in the 1950s at the El
Dorado mine, the same underground mine in the
eastern region of Cabañas which Pacific Rim
wants to reopen and expand: `'I won't give any
mining exploitation permits because mining is
definitively harmful.'' Furthermore, his successor ,
Mauricio Funes, who will officially take power in
June, is as much against it as Mr. Saca. It seems
the entire El Salvador is against this project,
thinking about community consultation, but Pacific
Rim Mining is not taking the hint and threatens
with court in view of the Central America Free
Trade Agreement.
Completing the Circle?
Atlantic Gold, an Australian mining
corporation, proposed the Moose River gold mine
project here in Nova Scotia, near Clam Beach
and the proposed Eastern Shore wilderness area.
Moose River is famous for the 1936 mine
disaster. The project was approved from the
Department of Environment in February 2008, but
there are concerns about environmental impacts
in connection with Ship Harbour Long Lake. The
Eastern Shore Forest Watch Association
(ESFWA), of which Barbara Markovits is co-chair,
campaigns against the mine, informing people
and keeping an eye on developments.
Barbara, also presented on April 28th and
mentioned that although there are differences
with the Guatemala or Honduras situation, in
dealing with mining projects much has to do with
finding and acting soon, involving the entire
community affected is crucial. When ESFWA
found out about this project their concern was
ensuring community consultation. They were told
by the corporation that it had taken place, but
looking closely showed that it had been limited
and biased -communities to be negatively
affected by the project (downstream and
downwind) had not been consulted while those
who were to benefit (jobs) were. When the entire
community was consulted the results changed.
People concerned about mining argue that the
promised economic benefits of these projects are
questionable -a few jobs in exchange for a toxic
legacy we all have to deal with. Tourism and
recreation can do much better for the area and
are environmentally sound. Atlantic Gold has not
responded to inquiries about the status of the
project; thus, Nova Scotians remain on guard.
Nora Fernández (Alternativa)
Ruling by Gold: Canadian Mining Giants
in Latin America
Mayan women charged
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