GOLDCORP "EXPORTS" TO HONDURAS AND GUATEMALA: An International, Judge-led Commission is Needed to Investigate Harms and Violations
I write this commentary in response to a recent article:
"Goldcorp looks to export relationship model in addition to gold from Eléonore project", by Alex Létourneau of Kitco News, published by Forbes: http://www.forbes.com/sites/kitconews/2012/03/19/goldcorp-looks-to-export-relationship-model-in-addition-to-gold-from-eleonore-project/
I write this as a cautionary note for communities in Canada - First Nations or otherwise - considering business dealings with Goldcorp.
(READ BELOW: A letter to the editor of Forbes.Com, that published the Kitco News article. The writers clarify under what conditions some members of the Cree Nation of Wemindji recently visited Goldcorp's mine, in Guatemala, and challenge the assertion that their visit was part of an effort to "export" a "relationship model".)
I write in lead up to Goldcorp's Annual Shareholder Meeting in Timmins, Ontario (April 26, 2012). And, most importantly, I write to repeat a call for the suspension of Goldcorp's mine in Guatemala - as initially ordered by the IACHR (Inter-American Commission on Human Rights) - and for the establishment of an international, judge-led commission to investigate allegations of environmental and health harms and other human rights violations caused by Goldcorp in Guatemala and Honduras.
This commission should determine what, if any, compensation and reparations Goldcorp must pay to mine-harmed people and communities in Guatemala and Honduras.
Support for the mine suspension and this commission can only come from Canada - politicians, investors, citizens, the media, and the mining industry itself. Such a commission would set a good precedent, might actually be a good "export".
TOO LATE TO "EXPORT RELATIONSHIP MODEL"
"Goldcorp looks to export relationship model" reads the title of the Kitco News article. Without commenting on the business model that Goldcorp is developing with the Cree community in Wemindji, Quebec, (please read the letter to the editor, below) it is too late for Goldcorp to export much of anything positive to the indigenous Mayan-Mam people of western Guatemala, or to the campesino (small farmer) communities of the Siria Valley in central Honduras.
Since 2000 in Honduras and since 2004 in Guatemala, Goldcorp has been operating open-pit / mountain-top removal, cyanide-leaching gold and silver mines in both countries that have caused environmental and health harms and other human rights violations.
On Goldcorp's homepage, one reads: "Goldcorp is the fastest-growing, lowest-cost senior gold producer, with operations and development projects in politically stable jurisdictions throughout the Americas." (http://www.goldcorp.com/)
Though I am no expert in mining, I understand open-pit / mountain-top removal, cyanide-leaching mining to be the cheapest and most destructive form of gold mining.
There are many reasons why Goldcorp is the "lowest-cost" producer of gold which translates directly and simply into more money for company directors, shareholders and investors.
Below, I summarize harms and violations in and around Goldcorp's mines in Honduras and Guatemala, that have been documented by local grassroots organizations, by national NGOs, by international solidarity and non-government organizations (like Rights Action), and by bodies of the United Nations (UN) and Organization of American States (OAS).
First, I clarify some points.
DENIAL AND IMPUNITY
Goldcorp denies any responsability for the environmental and health harms and human rights violations summarized below. Yet, the fundamental problem is not their denial - of course they are going to deny -, but rather the impunity with which they are allowed to act.
"POLITICALLY STABLE JURISDICTIONS"
Referring to Honduras and Guatemala as having "politically stable jurisdictions" wherein, one presumes, the rule of law and democratic institutions prevail, is a deeply misleading statement by Goldcorp.From UN and OAS human rights bodies through to virtually every international, national and local human rights group, it is widely known that Guatemala and Honduras are unequal, unjust and repressive countries, with some of the highest levels of violence in the world, wherein the democratic and legal institutions are weak, at best, and corrupted and manipulated by the powerful sectors, at worst.
In effect, there are no political or legal mechanisms of accountability in Honduras and Guatemala that can or would serve to address allegations of harms and violations, and hold wrong-doers accountable civilly or criminally.
Moreover, there are effectively no mechanisms of accountability internationally, nor in Canada, that can be used to hold Goldcorp to account civilly and/or criminally for alleged harms and violations.
"ANTI-MINING" versus ACCOUNTABILITY & COMPENSATION
This is not an anti-mining commentary. Glib reporters and other commentators often dismiss groups like Rights Action and villagers who criticize the negative impacts of Goldcorp's mining practices as "anti-mining". The mining-harmed communities we support and work with in Guatemala and Honduras are not "anti-mining"; Rights Action is not "anti-mining."
This commentary is about environmental and health harms and other human rights violations; it is about impunity and a lack of legal or political accountability; it is about the lack of remedy for people and communities who suffer the harms and violations.
"MARLIN" MINE IN GUATEMALA, "SAN MARTIN" MINE IN HONDURAS
Since 2003 in Honduras and 2004 in Guatemala, Rights Action has been supporting community based work and struggle related to harms and violations caused directly and indirectly by Goldcorp's open-pit / mountain-top removal, cyanide-leaching mines: the "San Martin" mine in Honduras, the "Marlin" mine in Guatemala.
(DOCUMENTARY FILMS: As you read through this summary, please consider watching the short documentary films listed below. Links are provided for most of the films referenced.)
(Photo 2009, by a local doctor. Near the "Marlin" mine in Guatemala, a Mayan Mam baby suffers recurring skin infections due most likely to blood poisoning caused by naturally occurring heavy metals - arsenic, lead, mercury - that are released in dangerous quantities into the air and water due to the mining operation.)
In both countries, the problems began with a complete lack of free, prior and informed consent from affected campesino and indigenous communities. While the governments of Canada, Honduras and Guatemala, Goldcorp itself and the World Bank (an early $45 million investor in Goldcorp's mine in Guatemala) use the rhetoric of democracy, rule of law and development, they know that Guatemala and Honduras are countries characterized by a long history of inequality, racism, exploitation, repression, a fundamental lack of democracy and justice, and impunity for the powerful sectors.
Goldcorp acquired its concessions in both countries in the 1990s, with no public consultation processes, unbeknownst to the majority of people, when both countries were barely coming out of decades of "cold war" militarism and repression.
This fundamental and historical lack of democracy, rule of law and justice, transparency and public participation is one of the crucial, underlying points to understand.
From this initial and dubious acquiring of mining licenses from fundamentally undemocratic regimes, with no public participation or local consent, there follows an equally dubious and untransparent process of land acquisition. This stage includes: not informing local communities about the mining prospects; undervaluing the land; forcing or pressuring people to sell their land; paying different prices to community members (thus creating divisions and tensions at the local level, between family and community members); etc.
(Diodora Hernandez with Javier de Leon, of ADISMI (Association for the Integral Development of San Miguel Ixtahuacan). On July 7, 2010, two men approached Diodora's home in the evening to ask for a cup of coffee. As she came out of her hut, one of the men shot her in the head. The bullet entered her right eye, and exited by her right ear. After emergency operations and a long recovery in hospital, Diodora survived, miraculously, with a prosthetic eye. She still does not want to sell her land to Goldcorp. In a letter to Rights Action and ADISMI, Goldcorp acknowledged that the two men who tried to kill her were local men, and current or ex-employees of their mine. There is no doubt that Diodora was attacked for her opposition to Goldcorp buying more land in her community. No justice has been done for this attempted assassination. The alleged attackers have not been arrested. Photo 2011, by Grahame Russell)
PREYING ON THE POVERTY OF THE POOR / SOWING DIVISIONS
A further way of sowing division in families and communities occurs when Goldcorp offers low-skilled, low-paid employment (approximately $200 per month) to poor, local men (and some women), benefiting from the historic lack of employment and, in the words of a long-time human rights activist, "preying on the poverty of the poor".
If there is one arguable "benefit" Goldcorp offers, it is these low-paid jobs to poor villagers. Yet, it is the very offering of these jobs that has also served as one of the most divisory tools, pitting husband against wife, brother against father, etc. Before 2 men tried to kill Diodora Hernandez (see above), she had been machete-attacked by a member of her community (life-long neighbor) for her refusal to sell her land. In numerous communities, people who are critical of mine-related harms and violations have been attacked by neighbors, ostracized, threatened, had their water sources cut off, etc.
DE-FORESTATION AND MOUNTAIN-TOP REMOVAL
After this acquiring of licenses and land, de-forestation ensues, through the clear-cutting of the land, before the massive use of explosives to blow up and remove, level by level, entire hills and mountain tops.
("Marlin" mine in Guatemala.)
WATER AND AIR
Initial air and water contamination occur due to the dust caused by the de-forestation and use of explosives and heavy machinery to break up the mountain-tops and rock.
Further contamination of surface and underground water sources occurs due to the release of naturally occurring heavy metals (mercury, arsenic, lead) in dangerous amounts due to the explosives and destruction of mountain-tops and, furthermore, to the use of huge amounts of cyanide and other chemicals used in the processing plant.
(Photo @ Honduran ElHeraldo newspaper, 2009. Two of the cows that died in the Siria Valley, near Goldcorp's "San Martin" mine in Honduras, after drinking contaminated water down stream from the mine site.)
(Photo @ ADISMI, 2010. Cow that died near Goldcorp's "Marlin" mine in Guatemala, after drinking contaminated water just below the mine.)
Contamination of surface and subsurface water sources also occurs through the release and leaking of waste products from the processing plant and tailings pond.
Beyond contamination of water sources, depletion of surface and underground water sources occurs due to use of huge quantities of water in the processing plant. This water depletion and contamination occurs in regions of the two countries where "subsistence economy" campesinos and indigenous communities barely survive the "dry" season, most years. There are no government water systems throughout some of these regions. People's survival depends in large part on local rivers and creeks, and their own wells.
Due to the use of explosives, hundreds of homes, in Guatemala and Honduras, have suffered various degrees of damage.
(December 2008. Structural cracks to a home in village of Salitre, due to explosives used at "Marlin" mine. Photo @ Grahame Russell, 2008)
For the record: Goldcorp has publicly said the destruction of peoples' homes is due to: playing music too loud during religious ceremonies; poor quality of workmanship; poor construction materials.
Health harms have and are occurring to local populations (from babies to the elderly, from villagers to mine workers), including: hair loss, skin rashes and diseases, blood contamination due to breathing in or consumption of dangerous levels of heavy metals, other more serious health problems (organ failure and complications) due to blood contaminants; eye irritations; respiratory complications.
(2009, near "San Martin" mine in Honduras. Common and widespread skin rashes. Photo @ Siria Valley Environmental Defense Committee)
(In a premature end to a childhood marked by the progressive deterioration of the musculature in her lower limbs, Lesly Yaritza died what appears to be a completely preventable death on September 25, 2010, in the Siria Valley, Honduras. Tests revealed that Lesly's blood contained dangerous levels of arsenic and lead, most likely attributable to Goldcorp's "San Martin" mine that blighted her community since before she was born into the community of Nueva Palo Ralo that, years before, had been forcibly relocated by Goldcorp. Photo @ Gwen Meyer, 2007)
(Former Goldcorp mine workers protest in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, in November 2011 - 3 years after the closure of the San Martin mine - for reparations and comprehensive medical attention due to the chronic health problems they suffer due to blood poisoning caused by exposure to chemicals and heavy metals. Photo @ Siria Valley Environmental Defense Committee.)
For the record: Goldcorp officials have said the skin and health problems are due to a lack of hygiene in the local populations.
In both countries, I have long heard, from folks in the mining harmed communities, that a good number of local men who work in the mines have become seriously ill; apparently, some have died from chemical poisoning. Yet, until this November 2011 protest in Honduras, few workers had ever publicly denounced the health harms they suffered, for fear of loss of job and income! I have been told, in some cases, the company made individual payments to families of men who died due to their work in the mines, on condition the families not talk publicly about it, nor pursue the company legally.
When villagers and community members organize to denounce and try and put a stop to the harms and violations, repression is used against villagers (including manipulated criminal charges, illegal detentions, threats and physical attacks, and shootings). The attempted killing of Diodora Hernandez, cited above, is but one example of repression.
IMPUNITY AND A LACK OF REMEDY
As set out above, the people suffering these harms and violations have no legal or political remedy or recourse in any legal system, neither in Guatemala and Honduras, nor at the international level, nor in Canada.
IACHR SUSPENSION ORDER
In May 2010, the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR) - based on its investigations of these harms and violations - ordered the government of Guatemala to suspend Goldcorp's mine in Guatemala.
Over the course of the next year, neither the government of Guatemala nor Goldcorp abided by this order. The government of Canada (a member of the Organization of American States) said nothing about Goldcorp abiding by this suspension order.
In 2011, after a year of non-compliance with the suspension order, the IACHR did an about face, and rescinded the suspension order.
UNSUSTAINABLE / NON-DEVELOPMENT
There is nothing sustainable, or mutually beneficial about their operations with respect to the real development needs and human rights of the harmed communities. The only thing "sustainable" has been the extraordinarily high profits flowing to North America company directors, shareholders and investors.
DENIAL, IMPUNITY AND UNJUST ENRICHMENT
To repeat, Goldcorp either denies that any of these harms and violations have actually occurred, or they deny any causal link to them.Because there is no legal or political forum whatsoever in which to have these allegations properly investigated, everything is reduced to a public relations game, a 'he said / she said' game, while the company keeps on mining and reaping extraordinary profits.
NEEDED: SUSPENSION OF MINE / INTERNATIONAL COMMISSION / COMPENSATION AND REPARATIONS
Referring again to the Kitco News / Forbes article ("Goldcorp looks to export relationship model in addition to gold from Eléonore project"), it is too late for Goldcorp to "export" some alleged positive relationship model to Guatemala or Honduras.
With pressure and support from across Canada - politicians, investors, citizens, the media, and the mining industry itself -, Goldcorp's mining operation in Guatemala should be suspended and an international judge-led investigation into these and other allegations of harms and violations should be publicly and impartially carried out; and then, a comprehensive reparations and compensation package should be exported to mine harmed people and communities in Guatemala.
Grahame Russell is a non-practicing Canadian lawyer, author, adjunct professor in the Geography Program, UNBC (University of Northern British Columbia), and, since 1995, co-director of Rights Action.
Originally founded in 1983, Rights Action is a not-for-profit organization with tax charitable status in the US and Canada. The Canadian Rights Action Foundation, founded in 1999, is independent from and works in conjunction with Rights Action (USA). Rights Action funds and works with community-based organizations implementing their own development, environmental and human rights projects. Rights Action educates about and is involved in activism aimed at critically understanding and changing unjust north-south, global economic, military and political relationships.
COMMENTS AND QUESTIONS WELCOME
Contact Grahame at: email@example.com / 860-751-4285
LETTER TO THE EDITOR OF FORBES.COM
From: Karine Vanthuyne <Karine.Vanthuyne@uOttawa.ca>
Subject: letter to the editor
To: "firstname.lastname@example.org" <email@example.com>
Cc: Kevin Gould <firstname.lastname@example.org>, Colin Scott <email@example.com>
Date: Sunday, April 22, 2012
Your magazine recently published an article, "Goldcorp Looks To Export Relationship Model In Addition To Gold From Éléonore Project." In it, the motives for a Cree trip to Goldcorp's Marlin mine in Guatemala, in which some of us were involved, are misleadingly portrayed. As participants and advisors on the Cree trip to Guatemala, we wish to set the record straight.
The Crees' visit to Guatemala, organized by Chief Rodney Mark of the Cree Nation of Wemindji, was not for the purpose expressed, according to the article, by Brent Bergeron, Goldcorp's Vice President of Corporate Affairs: "so that they could share stories and personal experiences with the benefits mining in their community could provide." Rather, Chief Mark asked Goldcorp to arrange a trip to the company's mine site in Guatemala out of growing concern in Cree communities about media reports of human rights and environmental abuses in connection with the Marlin mine. Chief Mark, in his own words, "wanted to see for myself, and see if we could help the affected Mayan people in Guatemala". This is why he, and Professor Colin Scott of McGill University at Chief Mark's invitation, sought first-hand knowledge of local circumstances. Chief Mark requested Goldcorp to arrange a visit of the Marlin mine, and of neighbouring communities.
Goldcorp introduced the Cree delegation to several municipal leaders and local community residents who spoke of benefits from the mine. Independent of Goldcorp, and through contacts provided by an NGO, Rights Action, Chief Mark and Professor Scott also visited other community members and leaders who reported damage to their lives, property and environment as a result of the Marlin mine, who declared their opposition to the way the company does business, and who say the benefits of mining have not been worth the human and environmental costs. We heard serious concerns from both mine supporters and mine resisters about the problems their communities may be left with when the mine closes.
It is difficult to see how the Crees' collaboration agreement with Goldcorp could be considered a model for Goldcorp's operations in San Miguel Ixtahuacan and Sipakapa. The 'models' followed with the two mines have been, in fact, very different. Development of the Éléonore mine proceeded by mutual consent of the parties, from the outset. Free and informed prior consent of local communities was not obtained in San Miguel and Sipakapa, from anything we have been able to understand about the history of the Marlin mine.
Regional leaders of the Grand Council of the Crees, aware of an Inter-American Commission on Human Rights order that the Marlin mine operations be suspended, decided not to participate in the delegation. According to information that we received from a member of its executive, the Grand Council were concerned that their participation could be misrepresented as condoning Goldcorp's actions vis-à-vis indigenous communities in the vicinity of the Marlin mine, especially in light of the work the Cree Nation has carried out internationally in support of Indigenous rights.
As Chief Mark is quoted to say in the Forbes article, the Cree's relationship with Goldcorp is "a work in progress". Shortly after the Cree delegation's return from Guatemala, it was reported in a Montreal daily newspaper that Les Mines Opinaca Ltd. (Goldcorp's Éléonore operation), under Quebec environmental laws, "was fined $400,000 for carrying out work without proper authorizations, releasing a contaminant into the environment and improperly storing hazardous waste at a gold mine 350km north of Chibougamau" (The Gazette, January 31, 2012).
Genuine collaborations require that partners in development put truth before 'spin,' and that responsibility for past mistakes and resulting harms be acknowledged and dealt with, while present good intentions are declared.
Kevin Gould, Assistant Professor, Concordia University
Colin Scott, Associate Professor, McGill University
Karine Vanthuyne, Assistant Professor, University of Ottawa
Rights Action (firstname.lastname@example.org)
KEEP ON WRITING
Please send copies of this information, and your own letters, to Canadian and American politicians and government officials. North American resource extraction companies are operating around the world with the full support of North American governments. Please send copies to pension funds across North America - like the Canada Pension Plan - that are invested in most North American resource extraction companies around the world, with no concern for environmental, health or human rights concerns.
- Please re-publish and re-post this article, citing author and source
- Donate to support: victim and survivor, founded human rights organizations, and indigenous and campesino organizations.
- Create your own email and mail lists and re-distribute our information.
for courageous community-based organizations in Honduras and Guatemala working and struggling for community controlled development, defense of the environment, justice and human rights, and resisting the harms and violations caused by global mining companies. Make check to "Rights Action" and mail to:
UNITED STATES: Box 50887, Washington DC, 20091-0887
CANADA: 552 - 351 Queen St. E, Toronto ON, M5A-1T8