The Peaceful Resistance of La Puya fights for the right to water

The following article about the long-running resistance to the El Tambor gold mine in Guatemala is from May 2019, several months before its inclusion in this website. But given that we have included other articles in the website on La Puya and that gold mining in Central America is a major cause of conflict with local communities, we think that the timeline included in the article is helpful to those who use this website as a source of information and as a research tool. We are grateful to Brent Patterson and to RABBLE.co (a Canadian blog site) for their permission to include the article here.

Published: Friday, 03 May 2019

Brent Patterson – RABBLE

Brent Patterson is a political activist and writer.

Original article link: https://rabble.ca/blogs/bloggers/brent-patterson/2019/04/peaceful-resistance-la-puya-fights-right-water

Key words: La Puya, Guatemala; El Tambor gold mine; peaceful resistance; water scarcity; International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID); protective accompaniment; Peace Brigades International (PBI); free trade agreements.

Residents from the communities of San José del Golfo and San Pedro Ayampuc — an area known as La Puya — have been fighting against the Progreso VII Derivada-El Tambor gold mine located just north of Guatemala City since March 2010.

The Peaceful Resistance of La Puya, which is made up of members from these communities, has stated, “[The environmental impact assessment] shows that the gold and silver are contained in arsenopyrite rock, which contains high levels of arsenic. Levels of arsenic in the water increased considerably during the time the mine was in operation.”

They have also expressed concern about the massive amount of water the mine would use in their water-scarce region.

Their struggle to defend water has seen a blockade of the mine site, repression and criminalization, a win at the Guatemalan Supreme Court, and now a challenge at the Washington, D.C.–based World Bank Group’s International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes.

A timeline may be the clearest way to convey the narrative of this struggle:

2010 — Exploraciones Mineras de Guatemala S.A (Exmingua) presents its environmental impact assessment for the proposed mine to the Guatemalan government.

March 2, 2012 — Hundreds of community members set up the La Puya encampment, a peaceful blockade at the site of the mine.

June 2012 — An assassination attempt is made on resistance leader Yolanda Oquelí by unknown assailants on her way home from the roadblock.

August 2012 — Vancouver-based mining company Radius Gold sells its shares in Exmingua to the Reno, Nevada–based mining company Kappes, Cassiday & Associates (KCA). That said, the Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala (NISGUA) has noted, “The company’s 2013 audited financial statements state that three quarters of the cost of the sale transaction will be paid to Radius once gold shipments commence from the property and that Radius also anticipates quarterly payments from KCA based on gold production.”

November 2012 — Peace Brigades International-Guatemala Project begins providing protective accompaniment to the Peaceful Resistance of La Puya.

December 2012 — Security guards hired by Exmingua intimidate journalists at the roadblock.

May 22, 2014 — Hydrogeology expert Robert Moran states that the company’s environmental impact assessment on the mine was the worst he had seen in 42 years of experience.

May 23, 2014 — Hundreds of police used tear gas and flash bombs to remove the women who formed the front line of the resistance at the blockade. PBI-Guatemala Project has noted, “PBI observed a disproportionate use of force by the police during that eviction.”

May 2014 — Nine leaders of the resistance are accused of making threats and assaulting employees at the mine. They were cleared of those charges in March 2015.

July 1, 2014 — Two PBI-Guatemala Project field volunteers who had witnessed the police action are told by Guatemalan officials that they have to leave the country within 10 days.

May 26, 2015 — Two hundred riot police use excessive force to remove members of the resistance when they block vehicles from entering the mine to mark the one-year anniversary of their eviction and a lack of response to their request for a dialogue.

July 15, 2015 — A constitutional court rules against the mine and directs the company to hold community consultations with those who are impacted by the mine. The court orders that the mine stop its operations within 15 days, but the company continues its operations and appeals the ruling.

February 2016 — The Guatemalan Supreme Court rules to provisionally suspend the mining licence due to lack of prior consultation. Operations at the mine are suspended.

May 2018 — KCA submits its notice of intent to file arbitration under the Free Trade Agreement between the Dominican Republic, Central America and the United States (DR-CAFTA). The company cites the community protests and unjust treatment by the state.

December 11, 2018 — KCA files a $300 million claim with the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes, a World Bank arbitration mechanism.

February 1, 2019 — Ten organisations, including the Maritimes-Guatemala Breaking the Silence Network, the Mining Injustice Solidarity Network (MISN) and MiningWatch Canada, release a statement in solidarity with the resistance and in opposition to the investment challenge.

This community struggle continues and international solidarity remains an essential component in their fight to fully realize their right to water and respect for community consultation and consent as pre-conditions for investment, as well as the broader campaign against the corporate-friendly investor-rights provisions in ‘free trade’ agreements.

Nicaraguan environmental defenders harassed and criminalised – Mina la India

The CIEL (Centre for International Environmental Law based in Washington DC) has sent news about reprisals taken against environmental defenders who protest against the Santa Cruz de la India mine. This brief article occurs almost one year after the article about Mina la India from April 2019 listed above this one in the website. The more recent one supports doubts about the claims made for the environmental and social practices of the mine by the British owned Condor Gold mining company and the Nicaraguan government. This more recent report from CIEL suggests that the mine continues to be associated with a pattern of repression.

CIEL denounces reprisals aimed at Nicaraguan defenders for publicly noting IFC divestment from controversial mine project

January 2020

CIEL

Washington, DC — The Centre for International Environmental Law (CIEL) denounces an ongoing wave of intimidation, retaliation, and criminalisation targeting Nicaraguan environmental defenders and community leaders who have publicly opposed plans for a controversial gold mining project in Santa Cruz de la India, Nicaragua.

On December 18, 2019, a group of approximately 15 police in full riot gear raided the home of Olmán Salazar, a leader of the Community Movement of Santa Cruz de la India, which has organised in opposition to the La India gold mine project of UK-based company Condor Gold. The police handcuffed, interrogated, and physically and verbally assaulted Sr Salazar and family members present at his home.  Police also confiscated Sr Salazar’s computer, telephone, and other personal possessions, which they have retained to carry out an investigation. Sr Salazar fears additional criminalisation may result from this investigation.

Notably, this incident occurred just days after Sr Salazar presented a public statement regarding the 2019 divestment from Condor Gold by the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC) at a press conference held by the Movimiento Nacional Ambiental Frente a la Minería Industrial (MONAFMI). To CIEL’s knowledge, this statement issued to the Nicaraguan press represented the first public announcement made in Nicaragua about the IFC’s divestment.

For several years, defenders and community leaders had called for the IFC’s divestment from the mining project due to the project’s major impacts on water sources and the environment. They hail the IFC’s decision to divest as a victory for the movement.

The MONAFMI statement in Spanish, as well as an English translation, are available below:

CIEL has worked with affected community members and partners in Nicaragua to raise awareness about previous acts of police intimidation and harassment against community members for their opposition to the project.

CIEL:  www.ciel.org

Mina la India, Nicaragua, and the British Condor Gold Mining Company

Report by ENCA member James Watson

April 2019

Key words: Mina La India; Condor Gold; anti-mining activism;

The Nicaraguan mining project in the district of La India, a concession by the Nicaraguan government to the British Condor Gold mining company, covers some 313 km2, in a mixture of underground and opencast work.

The Nicaraguan government’s newsletter Informe Pastrán quotes Condor Gold’s Nicaraguan manager, engineer Aiser Sarria Sirias. He explains that this project will be an example for the modern mining industry, in full understanding and compliance with international standards in terms of environmental protection and sustainability, risk prevention and safety.

A report from the Communal Movement of Mina La India, however, refutes these claims. The Movement has filed a claim within the World Bank’s ombudsman system, stating that the project violates both national and international laws, with a resurgence of repression of local activists. Members of the community are concerned about the depletion of groundwater resources, access, impact on the ecosystem, possible seismic activity risk, and involuntary displacement.

They report that on November 15th (2018), Canta Cruz de la India was occupied by riot police to interfere with local opposition organising. Houses have been searched and anti-mining activists interrogated without legal grounds, they claim. Olmán Onel Salazar, a member of the community and the National Movement against Industrial Mining, MONFAMI, is currently in hiding from this persecution.

Nicaragua is regrettably no exception to the regional pattern of local communities fighting against the well-known impacts of mining, while the government and international mining industry try hard to suggest that their projects will be the exception and escape such downfalls – despite the enormity of their impact.

Human rights award for Hector Berrios in El Salvador

Key words: Human rights; mining harms; death threats; Pacific Rim/Oceana Gold; Hector Berrios; MUFRAS-32; National Roundtable Against Metal Mining.

For several years the two protagonists of The Violence of Development website, Martin Mowforth and Doug Specht, have worked with and supported the anti-mining group MUFRAS-32 based in the department of Cabañas in El Salvador. MUFRAS-32 is headed by Hector Berrios and his partner Zenayda Serrano, both of whom have worked tirelessly over the last decade to prevent the contamination of their environment and society by invading transnational mining companies, mostly from Canada and the USA.

Hector was the driving force behind the pressure exerted by the National Roundtable Against Metal Mining on the Salvadoran government to instigate and implement a ban on metal mining in the country. This was the first ban of its kind in the world.

But Hector’s work to show that metal mining can be constrained has come at a cost. He has received various death threats and threats of violence to his family, his partner Zenayda and their two daughters Maya and Kiara.

In December 2018 Hector was awarded the prize of Defender of Human Rights and the Culture of Peace by the country’s Human Rights Ombudsman. The prize is awarded for distinguished work in the promotion and defence of human rights. Hector dedicated the prize to all the women and men in the communities which accompany the efforts of MUFRAS-32.

The Canadian Pacific Rim mining company (which later was taken over by Oceana Gold) lost its lawsuit against the government of El Salvador at the International Court for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) as reported in various articles in this section of the website.

The government had withdrawn the company’s concession to exploit gold deposits in the area of Cabañas and it was the efforts of MUFRAS-32 which had done so much to expose the damage and contamination caused by the company’s exploration processes.

It is interesting to note, however, that the company (now Oceana Gold) kept open an office in the country in the hope that a change of government may bring about a change of approach to the mining industry. The government has just changed, and we are yet to see how the government of President Nayib Bukele will address the issue of metal mining.

We send our belated congratulations to Hector and will continue to support MUFRAS-32 in its efforts to bring together the different groupings in Cabañas to discuss the harms that mining causes and alternative activities to metal mining for the people of the area.

Supporting the implementation of the mining ban in El Salvador

A new organisation, International Allies Coalition Against Mining in El Salvador, often just referred to just as International Allies, has issued a statement in support of El Salvador’s mining ban.

Key words: Mining ban; Pacific Rim/Oceana Gold; ICSID (International Court for the Settlement of Investment Disputes); National Roundtable Against Metal Mining; National Alliance Against the Privatization of Water.

In October 2019, it will be three years since the government of El Salvador successfully defended itself against Pacific Rim/OceanaGold, a transnational mining company that sued the small nation under the ICSID [International Court for the Settlement of Investment Disputes] for a sum of US$250 million dollars for not granting a mining exploitation permit. The company had never met regulatory requirements to obtain a mining permit and ultimately lost the suit. This was an important turning point in a twelve-year struggle, led by a wide coalition of communities, social organisations, faith groups, academics and political parties that demanded a nationwide prohibition on all metal mining in the small country. In March 2017, El Salvador made history as its legislative assembly passed a unanimous law to prohibit mining. Our International Allies coalition played an important supporting role with Salvadoran mining-affected communities and local organisations to also challenge trade agreements and arbitration tribunals that facilitate the exploitation of people and natural resources, and give corporations powerful tools to impose their interests at great cost to people and the environment.

We have continued to support the activities of member organisations of the National Roundtable Against Metallic Mining, a grassroots coalition that led a local movement to prohibit mining in March 2017. Since the mining prohibition, local organisations have continued to advocate with government authorities measures to ensure a proper implementation of the prohibition laws. The environmental movement has now formed the National Alliance against the Privatization of Water to fight attempts by the Legislative Assembly to privatize the management and distribution of water resources as the new government of president Nayib Bukele moves the country towards a more business friendly environment. 

More information

Water is not for sale, we care for it and defend it

Accusations against the mining industry

This figure is referred to in the book as ‘The accusations’ (Page 86)

Accusations against the mining industry are given in Chapter 5 of the book under the sub-heading ‘The accusations’, but a summary table is also given here.

  • land appropriation – laws actually allow it
  • forced evictions – laws actually allow it
  • selling short on compensation
  • contamination of water – See the use of cyanide
  • contamination of land and air – See the use of cyanide
  • contamination of people – See the use of cyanide
  • disregard for national and local laws
  • disregard for human rights
  • (extreme) violence against opponents
  • bribery of local officials
  • lying

ICSID Tribunal Finds in Favour of Government of El Salvador in Arbitration Process

Reproduced by kind permission of CIELCentre for International Environmental Lawhttp://www.ciel.org

There are No Winners in Pacific Rim Mining Company vs El Salvador

Investor-State Arbitration Subverts Democracy

October 14, 2016

Cabañas, El Salvador / Washington DC / Ottawa / Melbourne

Civil society groups worldwide that have allied with Salvadoran communities and organisations working on mining and environmental issues reacted to today’s decision by the controversial International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) on the seven-year old case of Pac Rim Cayman vs. El Salvador, stating that “there are no winners” in this case.  On Friday, October 14, the tribunal announced their decision that Pac Rim’s lawsuit was without merit and hence that El Salvador will not have to pay the company the $250 million that it sought.

In 2009, Pac Rim Cayman LLC brought an “investor-state dispute settlement” (ISDS) case against El Salvador at the World Bank Group’s arbitration venue, ICSID.  The company, now a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Canadian-Australian company OceanaGold, sued El Salvador for alleged losses of potential profits as a result of not being granted a mining concession for a gold project. The government of El Salvador did not issue the concession because the company failed to meet key regulatory requirements.

“The fact that Pac Rim – now OceanaGold – could sue El Salvador when it has never had a license to operate, is an abuse of process,” says Manuel Pérez-Rocha of the Institute for Policy Studies. “That these suits take place far from any transparent, independent court system demonstrates why we are opposed to the Trans-Pacific Partnership and other so called free trade agreements.”

This case is part of what led the Government of El Salvador to decide not to issue new mining permits.  That decision has widespread support in El Salvador; a recent poll of the University of Central America (UCA) indicates that 79.5% of Salvadorans are against any gold mining.

The civil society groups from the four countries, which came together in 2009 as International Allies, praised the communities in El Salvador that have opposed the mining company and have rallied the Salvadoran public and government to oppose new mining projects despite heavy pressure from the mining company.  They expressed disgust that El Salvador had to pay over $12 million to fund its defense in a case where the mining company never fulfilled all the legal or environmental requirements for a mining license.

“Irrevocable damage has already been done to communities in El Salvador,” says the Salvadoran Roundtable against Metallic Mining (La Mesa).  “Pac Rim’s presence in El Salvador has fomented local conflict, which has led to threats, attacks, and assassinations. We want OceanaGold, and all the misery it has caused, out of El Salvador, and for the government to enact a prohibition on any metal mining.”

“By allowing transnational companies to blackmail governments to try to force them to adopt policies that favour corporations, investor-state arbitration undermines democracy in El Salvador and around the world,” says Marcos Orellana of the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL). “Regardless of the outcome, the arbitration has had a chilling effect on the development and implementation of public policy necessary to protect the environment and the human right to water.”

“This is one of now far too many examples of Canadian mining companies making use of international arbitration to bully governments when their mine projects lack community consent and have not met legal or regulatory requirements. In contrast, communities have no effective means to hold these same companies to account for the systematic and serious harms resulting from their operations”, says Jen Moore of MiningWatch Canada.

“What we have now is a clear example of what is wrong with investor-state-dispute-settlement clauses, whether they are inserted in domestic laws or bilateral or multilateral investment agreements. El Salvador’s experience confirms the threats to human rights and the environment that occur when corporations bring a suit to tribunals like ICSID,” explained Robin Broad, professor at the American University.

“A mining company that calls itself responsible should not be using mechanisms like ICSID to force governments to do its bidding.  Countries like El Salvador have a right to say no to mining without fear of a massive lawsuit”, said Keith Slack of Oxfam America.

“At a time of water scarcity, it is unconscionable for the global trade and investment regime to deny governments of water-stressed countries like El Salvador the policy space to protect local watersheds and ensure the realization of the human right to water,” says Maude Barlow, national chairperson of the Council of Canadians.

“It was morally reprehensible for Oceana Gold to demand $250 million USD from the Salvadoran people. This is a staggering amount for a cash-strapped country that could be much better used for education, health care, or other social services. This amount would fund the Ministry for the Environment and Natural Resources of El Salvador for more than one decade. The legal costs alone are enough to pay for over 2 years of adult literacy classes for 140,000 people,” says Emeritus Catholic Bishop Hilton Deakin of Melbourne, Australia.

“Let us be clear: El Salvador has lost a lot during all this arbitration. El Salvador had to pay more than $12 million,  just to defend itself. These legal costs are enough to pay for over 2 years of adult literacy classes for 140,000 people. At a minimum, OceanaGold should reimburse El Salvador for the costs of this suit, which never should have taken place. And it should also be responsible for the social and environmental damage left in its wake,” says Alexis Stoumbelis of CISPES.

“This is a yet another case of corporate power being exercised against a democratic Government decision. If Australia ratifies the TTP there will be more of this to come” said Ged Kearney President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions.

“ISDS is part of a trade model that puts the needs of corporations before the needs of workers and the planet. The Salvadoran government did what a responsive democratic system is supposed to do: it listened to the desires and priorities of its constituents and acted accordingly” said Cathy Feingold, International Director of the AFL-CIO.

-//-

Contacts:
Amanda Kistler, CIEL – akistler@ciel.org+1 202 742-5832
Jen Moore, MiningWatch Canada – jen@miningwatch.ca+1 613 569 3439
Manuel Perez Rocha, IPS – manuel@ips-dc.org+ 1 240 838 6623
Laura Rusu, Oxfam America, laura.rusu@oxfam.org +1 202 459 3739
Robin Broad, American University, rbroad@american.edu+ 1 202 885 1478
Kevin Bracken, Maritime Union of Australia – kevin.bracken57@gmail.com
Sean Cleary, Edmund Rice Centre – sendwine@gmail.com, +  07-3376-8448

The International Allies against Mining in El Salvador are made up of organisations from Australia, Canada and the United States that support the Salvadoran people as they demand sovereignty, the right to water, healthy communities and a clean environment. Each of the organisations that make up the Allies has a history of solidarity work with El Salvador. More information is available at: www.stopesmining.org

Watch: Press conference as El Salvador explains the verdict (in Spanish)

Since 1989, the Centre for International Environmental Law (CIEL) has used the power of law to protect the environment, promote human rights, and ensure a just and sustainable society.

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Marlin Mine closes 2017

Statement by FREDEMI and PLURIJUR

FREDEMI – San Miguel Ixtahuacán Defense Front

PLURIJUR – Pluricultural Justice Association of Guatemala
July 4, 2017

Government and company repression feared at community protest against harms and losses caused by Goldcorp’s “Marlin” mine, from 2004-2017

FREDEMI (San Miguel Ixtahuacán Defense Front), representing communities in resistance to Goldcorp’ Marlin mine, and PLURIJUR (Pluricultural Justice Association of Guatemala) denounce that Goldcorp has, after 13 years of operations, left a legacy of health and environmental harms, family and community divisions and violence, against the collective rights and well-being of the Mayan Mam people of San Miguel Ixtahuacán and Mayan Sipakapan people of Sipakapa.

One of the Goldcorp mine entrance blockades
Photo @ FREDEMI, July 1, 2017.

We are happy that as of May 30, 2017, mining operations ended, including the use of explosives that so harmed and terrified our communities and children.  Moreover, the explosives kept on causing structural damages to our homes and buildings.

But, since the suspension of mining, Goldcorp has refused to pay for harms and losses it has caused since 2005, as corroborated by a Verification Commission set up by the Mayor’s office.  In April of this year, we formally presented over 200 personal and community files, documenting the harms and losses.  Three times – April 5, May 11, June 4-5 – we had meetings, and each time Goldcorp refused to accept any responsibility. Thus, on June 26, 2017, we began a peaceful blockade of the entrances to the mine, demanding that the Guatemalan government and Goldcorp engage in serious discussions about how to repair the harms and losses they caused.

We have been subject to threats and acts of intimidation by private security hired by Goldcorp and the National Civilian Police, including an incident when a police officer put his pistol to the head of one of our community members.  We fear a violent reaction in any moment.
We call on national and international solidarity to support us as we protest peacefully in favour of the complete reparation of all harms and losses caused by Goldcorp, from 2004-2017.

More information

 

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La Puya: celebrating 5 years of peaceful resistance against a Kappes Cassiday & Associates subsidiary

By Amy Porter

July 2017

This article was written especially for the newsletter of the Environmental Network for Central America (ENCA) and appears in ENCA 70 (July 2017).

 Amy Porter has worked as Amnesty International UK’s Country Coordinator for Guatemala and recently with two NGOs in rural Guatemala. She has spent much time

accompanying the La Puya Peaceful Resistence.

 Key words: gold mining; Guatemala; peaceful resistance; Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI); female human rights defenders; police violence; arsenic in water.

 

On 5 March 2017, members of the Guatemalan community-led, anti-mining movement, Resistencia Pacífica La Puya (Peaceful Resistance of La Puya), celebrated five years of maintaining a 24-hour blockade at the entrance of the Progreso VII Derivada gold mine. The mine is operated by EXMINGUA, a subsidiary of the US-based company, Kappes Cassiday & Associates.

 

While extractive projects in Guatemala are as controversial as ever within the communities they affect, companies have complained of a moratorium on new licences. The number of licences granted has dropped drastically, from 51 new licences in 2007 (33 for exploration and 18 for extraction), to just five in 2015 (3 for exploration and 2 for extraction).[1] Although discussed by government, a moratorium was never officially adopted, and the current Morales administration declared its opposition to such a measure.[2]

 

In a report published in January 2017, the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) noted that there are currently 24 licences in place for exploration in Guatemala, and 274 for extraction, for mining, oil and natural gas projects. [3] The report mentions only once, in passing, the issue of indigenous community resistance to extractive projects, and blames the industry’s limited contribution to Guatemalan GDP for the lack of new licences.

 

Founded in 2002, the EITI is facing a crisis of legitimacy, having failed to lend sufficient weight to social and environmental issues.[4] Otto Haroldo Cu, president of the Observatorio Nacional de Transparencia (National Observatory for Transparency) and an advisory member of the EITI, stated in 2015: “the fact that extractives count for less than 2% of the country’s GDP should make us stop and think … 78% of municipalities with active mining licences registered were engaged in some kind of conflict in 2010. Is this an adequate trade-off? Is this the kind of development that we want for our country?”[5]

 

The EXMINGUA website boasts that the La Puya mine has brought “development, growth, jobs, progress and wellbeing for hundreds of families residing in San Pedro Ayampuc and San José del Golfo, the bordering municipalities”. [6] Members of the communities, however, feel differently. Responding to the lack of information offered by the local or national authorities, or the mining companies themselves, they established a peaceful blockade in 2012.

 

The movement’s five-year milestone is an opportunity to celebrate their achievements; in 2016, a judicial order brought mining at the site to a temporary halt. It is still in effect. However, it is also a stark reminder of the long and costly struggles that rural communities in Guatemala face to gain control over issues on which they have a legal right to be consulted. Members of the La Puya resistance are determined to maintain their blockade until the mine is closed, for good.

 

Many of the key activists who have kept the La Puya blockade running are women. Female human rights defenders face particularly great risks of intimidation, threats and harassment. Between 2012-2014, 1,688 attacks on female human rights defenders were reported in Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico.[7] In June 2012, Yolanda Oquelí, an activist at the La Puya site, survived a shooting. No-one has been arrested for the attack.

 

On 5 March, the 5-year celebrations at La Puya got underway with a protest march to the mine led by local youth. Cries of “Sí a la vida, no a la minería!” (Yes to life, no to mining!) rang out along the route. Over 300 people joined the day’s celebrations, which included a community lunch, running races, and speeches.

 

It was against this backdrop of community spirit and fierce resilience that ENCA member, Amy Porter, spoke with Felisa Muralles and Marta Catalán, two of the many women who have formed the backbone of the La Puya Peaceful Resistance movement. Muralles is from the community of San Pedro Ayampuc, and Catalán from San José del Golfo, the two villages which border the mine site. They reiterated their determination to see the mine closed, and shared how the peaceful resistance has been a source of both unison and division within the communities.

 

What was the objective of setting up the La Puya Peaceful Resistance movement?

FM: The intention was not to let the mining companies work here. We are fighting to get them off this land.

MC: The resistance started on 2 March 2012. For a short time, we had known that they wanted to put a mine here, close to the communities, and that’s when we started the protest site – because they hadn’t informed us about anything. And today we’re here celebrating 5 years. We were motivated to defend the water and the environment for future generations.

 

Were you surprised when you found out there was going to be a mine?

FM: In 2011, we didn’t know what it was going to be. There was no consultation, no information; they said it would be other things, never a mine. … They said they had bought the land to cultivate: pineapple, papaya, fruits. They started to build roads in and we still didn’t know it was going to be a mine. Until a group got organised and asked the Ministry [of Energy and Mines] whether there was a licence for extraction here, and finally they gave the information that yes, there was an authorised project here.

 

What do you feel you have achieved in the last 5 years?

FM: First, we’ve raised awareness with a lot of people, to recognise that mining is truly bad; we’ve shown them the proof. And we have learned how to better look after nature, the trees, the water.

MC: I think we’re the only resistance movement at the national level … which hasn’t had any deaths. We had some injuries when the [police] crackdowns happened, and we have had people get prison sentences. We have united to help each other. In the most difficult times, there’s always somebody at your side.

 

What have been the biggest obstacles?

FM: There have been so many obstacles. We’ve been victims of much criticism, and of police violence against us … they’ve used excessive violence to try to displace us. But they didn’t manage.

MC: At first … the mining company saw all the people here, and seeing all the women, they said that we had come here to prostitute ourselves, that we had abandoned our children, that we neglected them. A lot of things like that … They put around names of people, once they even put my Dad’s name, saying that he was seeing another woman; but of course he wasn’t, it was just to try and discredit the resistance movement. It didn’t stop us.

 

Has the gold that has been extracted here benefitted the local people?  

FM: Hardly at all, because the royalties are only 1%. For every Quetzal* that they give, 50 cents go to the central government and 50 go to the local authorities. Last year, they paid royalties of Q305,000 ($42,000 USD) for the entire year … In 2014, they only reported from September to December, and they only gave Q6,000 ($818) to the municipality for everything they extracted. The benefits for the communities are minimal, there’s just contamination, destruction and problems … even families fighting amongst themselves. They say this is development, that’s its improvement, but that’s completely false.

[* Guatemalan currency]

 

Is the community very worried about the water contamination?

MC: Yes, we’re very worried … The levels of arsenic are naturally high here, but in 2015 when [the mine] was working a lot, the levels increased greatly, from 0.052 milligrams to 0.099 milligrams per litre of water … The Ministry of Health accept that this is because of the [mining] works, and asked [the local authorities] to do something. Supposedly, in San José del Golfo they put in filters, but the contamination levels haven’t decreased.[8]

FM: The municipal authorities, at least in San Pedro Ayampuc have not done anything, they say they don’t have money. So, the authorities got sanctioned … then they pay the fine with money that belongs to the town … and we’re still drinking contaminated water.

 

I noticed that there’s a water park close by, up there on the hill?

MC: Yes, it’s the strangest thing … there’s always water up there. In my house, we have water every 48 hours. When there’s water, we have to fill up a lot of containers … It shouldn’t be like this. When these companies come, they use millions of litres of water and don’t pay for it; we pay to be given water when they want us to have it. This water is ours [it’s not for] companies who come to contaminate and destroy.

 

Could you tell me about the family divisions?

MC: There are many divisions between parents and children, brothers and sisters … even in mine, I have an aunt who doesn’t speak to me … because as the municipal authorities see us in a bad light, and one of her daughters works there, it bothers her and we don’t speak.

 

What do you want from the Guatemalan government?

FM: What we want is for them to remove the mining projects, that they stop testing for more projects, and that [the companies] go back to their own countries and destroy them, and let us in Guatemala live here in peace.

MC: Really, I don’t expect anything, but what we would like most … is that they would think about the harm it’s doing, and please not give out any more licences.

 

What types of alternative development would you like to see?

MC: I would like to see sources of employment come from within the community. Because we know … how to care for Mother Earth, which gives us food. I dream of a Guatemala without mines, monocultures or transnationals.

FM: Better development would perhaps be training us how to look after the land, cultivate organically, and make irrigation systems. That would be good development for these communities.

 

Do you feel that international solidarity is helpful?

MC: Yes, because we’re not the only people feeling this way, there are others outside of Guatemala. If it was only in Guatemala, I think the government would always do what they wanted. So when people from abroad come to know what is happening here, the government distances itself from these things. For us, it’s very helpful that people from outside come and take away the information.

FM: Yes, it helps a lot, because I understand that when people come here they take away the message and publicise it, so the companies see that we are not alone, that yes, [people] in other countries very far away have their eyes fixed on Guatemala, on our struggles. I think this helps a lot to raise awareness, and it spreads the news of what’s happening here.

 

 

 

[1] EITI, 30 December 2016, Informe EITI Guatemala, 2014-2015

[2] Central America Data, 9 February 2016, Good News for Mining Sector in Guatemala [accessed 17.05.2017]

[3] EITI, 30 December 2016, Informe EITI Guatemala, 2014-2015

[4] Oxfam, 23 February 2016, Oil, gas and mining transparency initiative facing crisis of relevance and legitimacy

[5] EITI, 17 July 2015, Falling extractives revenues in Guatemala amidst political turmoil [accessed 17.05.2017]

[6] http://exmingua.com/exmingua/corporativo/inversion-y-desarrollo/ [accessed 20.05.2017]

[7] http://www.ciel.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/Deadly_shade_of_green_English_Aug2016.pdf [accessed 20.05.2017]

[8]  According to the World Health Organisation, the maximum permissible level of arsenic in water should be 0.010 milligrams per litre.

Australian mining company Oceana Gold finally pays $8 million compensation to the state of El Salvador

Reported by Voz [1]

The Australian mining company Oceana Gold has finally paid compensation of $8 million to the state of El Salvador, complying with the ruling in favour of El Salvador by the World Bank’s International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID)

In October 2016, after seven years of a multi-million dollar dispute promoted by the mining company, ICSID adjudged in favour of El Salvador and ordered the company to compensate the country to the tune of $8 million for the costs incurred in the litigation.

Minerales Torogoz, an intermediary, gave notice that it had arrived at a “friendly settlement with the Republic of El Salvador” and paid “$8.97 million to the Republic’s Office of the Attorney General. This represents the full payment of the tribunal’s decision.”

Héctor Berríos

The mining company confirmed that the Attorney General’s Office was committed to “cease immediately all work associated with the execution of the tribunal’s decision. Additionally, the Attorney General is committed to reverse any actions carried out to date”, referring to recovery of payment actions undertaken by the Attorney General.

Oceana Gold also committed itself not to seek the annulment of the tribunal’s decision once the Attorney General’s Office had complied with its commitment. Moreover, it confirmed that it has no plans to continue with mining activity and the land in San Isidro may therefore be used for agricultural projects, other enterprises and for sustainable living.

In the department of Cabañas it is still demanded that the El Dorado Foundation and Minerales Torogoz withdraw from the lands of the affected communities, particularly from the Municipality of San Isidro. Héctor Berríos[2] (shown here) of MUFRAS-32 said that it seemed suspicious that after announcing the “friendly settlement” the Company also announced that it won’t be withdrawing from the territory where it had generated so many negative impacts such as rupturing the social fabric, drying up the sources of water that supply the communities with this vital liquid, etc..

According to Berríos, the anti-mining struggle must not let its guard down; he felt sure that this might be another of the company’s strategy. The social and environmental activist stated that the company could be killing time until the 2018 elections in the hope of a favourable outcome in the Legislative Assembly, in which a majority of right-wing legislators might be achieved; this could reverse the Law of Prohibition of Mining approved in March 2017.


Voz is an application that allows NGOs and social movements to publish reports, photos and videos on a geospatial database accessible at a global level. It is managed by Doug Specht who also manages this website.

[2]  Héctor Berríos is featured in the El Salvador interview section of this website.

La minera australiana Oceana Gold finalmente pagó la compensación de $8 millones al Estado salvadoreño

Reportado por Voz [1]

Recientemente la minera australiana Oceana Gold finalmente pagó la compensación de $8 millones al Estado salvadoreño, dando cumplimiento al fallo a favor de El Salvador, emitido por el Centro Internacional de Arreglo de Diferencias Relativas a Inversiones (CIADI), del Banco Mundial. En octubre de 2016, tras siete años de dirimir esta millonaria disputa promovida por la minera, el CIADI le dio la razón a El Salvador y ordenó a la compañía compensar al país con $8 millones por los gastos que incurrió en este litigio.

A través de un comunicado, Minerales Torogoz, informó que llegó “a un arreglo amistoso con la República de El Salvador” y pagó “$8 millones 97mil  a la Fiscalía General de la República. Esto representa el pago pleno y total del laudo arbitral.

La minera afirmó que la Fiscalia General de la República se comprometió a “cesar inmediatamente todos los esfuerzos destinados a la ejecución del mencionado laudo. Adicionalmente, la Fiscalía General se compromete a revertir cualesquiera acciones realizadas hasta la fecha”, refiriéndose a las acciones de cobro que emprendió la Fiscalía.

Héctor Berríos

OceanaGold también se comprometió a no solicitar la nulidad del laudo arbitral, una vez la FGR haya cumplido su parte. Además, aseguró que no tiene planes de continuar con las actividades mineras y el terreno en San Isidro se utilizará para proyectos agrícolas, de emprendimiento y vida sostenible. En el departamento de Cabañas se mantiene la exigencia para que la Fundación El Dorado y Minerales Torogoz se retiren de los territorios de las comunidades, particularmente del municipio de San Isidro.

Héctor Berríos[2] (en la foto) de MUFRAS-32, dijo que le parece sospechosa la actitud de la empresa que luego de anunciar un “arreglo amistoso” también anuncie que no se va a retirar de los territorios en donde ha generado afectaciones negativas como rompimiento al tejido social, secó fuentes de agua que abastecía a las comunidades del vital líquido, etc.

De acuerdo con Berríos, no se debe bajar la guardia en la lucha anti-minera; pues asegura que esta podría ser otra estrategia de la empresa. El activista social y ambiental afirma que la empresa pudiera estar haciendo tiempo, de cara a las elecciones del 2018, a la espera de correlación favorable en la Asamblea Legislativa, en donde si se logra mayoría de legisladores de derecha; se pudiera revertir la Ley que Prohíbe la Minera aprobada en marzo 2017.


[1]  VOZ es una aplicación mutliplataforma que permite a ONGs y movimientos sociales publicar informes, fotografías y videos en una base de datos geospacial accesible a nivel global. Se adminstra por Doug Specht que también administra este sitio web.

[2]  Héctor Berríos se aparece en la sub-sección ‘Entrevistas, El Salvador’ de este sitio web.