The Valley of Despair

In April this year [2018] Rights Action published an article entitled ‘Goldcorp’s Valley of Death in Honduras’. The article was written by Martin Calix under the heading ‘The Valley of Despair’ for ContraCorriente, a digital media for journalism in Honduras producing in-depth articles on the reality of life in Honduras and in the region. The original article in Spanish can be accessed at: https://contracorriente.red/2017/10/05/el-valle-de-la-esperanza/

Martin Calix is a Honduran writer and author of several books such as ‘Partiendo a la locura’ (2011), ‘45’ (2013), ‘Lecciones para monstruos’ (2014) and ‘El año del armadillo’ (2016).

For Rights Action the article was translated by Lori Berenson.

The article relates to the legacy of Goldcorp’s mining in the Siria Valley, Honduras. For myself and ‘The Violence of Development’ website, the article brought back memories of a short interview I conducted in 2009 with Purificación Hernández of ASONOG about changes to the Law of Mining in Honduras at that time. This has relevance to the contamination caused by Goldcorp’s mining activities in the Siria Valley of Honduras which is the subject of the article, but for some reason it had not been uploaded onto the website at an earlier date. So, this month’s additions to the website include the Spanish version of the 2009 interview and the English translation – rather belatedly.

The much more recent article by Martin Calix follows. I am grateful to ContraCorriente for permission to reproduce the article here.


The Valley of Despair

By Martin Calix, Published 4 April 2018

Acid rain is not a myth. The inhabitants of the Valley of Syria, located about 120 kilometers from Tegucigalpa, know it well. The communities of Cedros, El Porvenir, and San Ignacio – three municipalities in the easternmost part of the Francisco Morazán department – were affected by the Canadian mining company Goldcorp Inc.’s open pit mining, another variant of the extractivist model. With the contamination of the waters of their rivers, the rain had to fall at some point, like a biblical prophecy.

The voraciousness of an extractivist model that is causing poverty and sickness for generations has led to an imminent moral collapse. The idea that mining companies are merciful and bring economic development is as easily demystified as a straight line of domino pieces must fall.

Cristi lives here. She is eighteen months old. She doesn’t know that she is sick, she doesn’t know that her hair is falling out. She is completely unaware that a future filled with uncertainty awaits her.

Aneli is Cristi’s mother. At 18 years of age, she is also losing her hair. Their health problems began at birth. Both were born ill, they were born with the brand of mining companies within their bodies, a brand that came to the valley at the beginning of 2000 and installed itself in the waters of the rivers and water sources that the valley communities have always used. They used the waters from these rivers well before Goldcorp Inc. arrived. They used the water during the eight years of mining exploitation at Goldcorp’s San Martin Mine, and they continue to use it during the seven years following the mine’s closure.

This closure was regarded as highly irregular by many human rights organisations such as OXFAM, the Honduran Centre for the Promotion of Community Development (CEHPRODEC) and the Institute of Environmental Rights of Honduras – and by affected communities.

In 2002, the “Minerales Entre Mares de Honduras” mining company (subsidiary of Goldcorp Inc.) extracted 129,435 ounces of gold which meant the removal of approximately 2.5 million tons of earth in just 12 months. Multiply this by their 8 years of operations.

Taking into account that in 2002, the price of one ounce of gold was 310 dollars – it is presently more than $1,200 –, the company’s income in that year (2002) is estimated in 40.1 million dollars, with a payroll that covered fewer than 200 employees.

According to Honduras’s Mining Law, mining companies only pay 6% of their total exports in taxes, an amount that does not suffice to repair the environmental damages caused by this activity.

The Goldcorp mining company, which also has projects in Mexico, Guatemala, Argentina, Dominican Republic, Canada and the United States, exploited fourteen thousand one hundred hectares in the Siria Valley area, and although the company declared the closure of the San Martin mine in 2008, they have other concessions approved for exploitation for a total of four thousand four hundred hectares in the municipalities of Mapulaca, Lempira (1,700), Distrito Central, Francisco Morazán (1,400), and Marcovia, Choluteca (1,300), according to information revealed by the Observatory of Natural Assets and Human Rights.

–Have you taken her to the doctor?

–No, and she stops speaking. Aneli doesn’t talk much, just one syllable responses. She says “no” and returns to her self-absorbed state – perhaps provoked by the camera, or perhaps provoked by having to respond to an outsider – and her loving gaze focuses on her daughter’s face.

Oneida, the mother of Aneli and grandmother of Cristi, might be sick too. She doesn’t say so, there’s no need. Her children were born sick because she consumed the water that had been contaminated by heavy metals. She seems to be more interested in understanding my family origins, where my last name is from, since there are people in her home town, Pedernal, with the last name Cálix. She hides from my questions and the camera. I don’t try harder. I know that I have invaded the fragile daily lives for her and her family.

The women from the Siria valley were always invisible. They were never included in any statistical charts, none, except maybe for the electoral census. Women like Oneida, or Aneli, have been relegated to fulfilling their eternal roles: caring for children, doing housework, being devoted housewives who take care of their husbands. Their husbands and sons, campesinos transformed in workers-miners with the advent of mining in the area, became the fundamental building block of a company that would convert their communities into lands inhabited by desolation.

The exact same thing happened in San Ignacio. Other women would say the same thing. That the only things that multiplied in their lives were severe illnesses. In San Ignacio, the case of five women affected by contamination has been documented. Some of these women had been involved in cleaning and cooking for the company, and others doing the same in their homes. Five women who had to face surgery to have their uteruses removed. It was that or death.

–What did they tell you?

–Nothing. They just removed it.

Sulay is 52 years old. She has a deep gaze and an evasive smile. She is one of the five. Her body was contaminated by lead, arsenic and thallium she says, because she washes the clothes of her husband who used to work in the mine. Miguel, her husband, arrives on horseback. It’s a good day – he was able to ride “Clown”, a white horse that is a cross between a Spanish horse and a Peruvian mare – after having spent four months unable to do so, due to a problem in his spinal column. “Clown” dances, follows him wherever he goes, and pretends to sleep. The horse seems to enjoy this relationship as much as Miguel does, which I observe but fail to understand from afar.

Miguel is one of the thirty-five former Goldcorp Inc. (Entre Mares) workers who joined together in 2009, after the San Martin mine closed its operations. They came together to ask for compensation from the Honduran government for their health problems, since Goldcorp failed to give it to them. Now they are suffering illnesses that have deteriorated their bodies due to exposure to contamination during the gold and silver extraction process. Spinal columns with arthritis or displaced discs, and different types of cancer are part of the general clinical picture narrated by these former miners, who also report that others have already died.

It is hard to calculate the number of cases of women who had miscarriages due to contamination – said the former miners and their partners. They say they were seen by the Honduran Social Security Institution but they lost their files there. They were then seen in the Viera Clinics, where their records were changed, to make it seem that they were healthy. Other analyses were done by an Italian scientist they told me about, but they do not show me any medical results, as if it were enough to give an oral version in a country where we only believe what we see – and what we see is a deep abyss.

Miguel had operated heavy machinery, those huge dump-trucks and back loaders that you see in magazines, in National Geographic programmes and on the Internet. And he shows me one of his fellow workers in a photo he found through google on his cell phone. They laugh, and it’s not clear why they laugh. They don’t know it, but in some ways, they had learned to be miners. They liked it. It gave them dreams. It gave them the hope of getting their families out of poverty.

Rolando puts away the cellphone with the pictures of the dump truck. He says that almost the same thing is happening to him. His spinal column has weakened with time, and at 47, there are days in which his body does not function, and he must stay in bed.

– My blood pressure is always at the point of giving me a heart attack, and he inhales his cigarette and answers a phone call that distances him from the conversation.

Marilu is Rolando’s wife and she is also ill. She has headaches and her back hurts. She explains that her daughters have respiratory illnesses that can’t be cured. They say that these are the types of illnesses that the doctors don’t explain much of anything about.

In the community of San José de Palo Ralo, a few kilometers from the urban center of San Ignacio – although “urbanity” is more of a euphemism to describe a couple of paved streets — is where two women, two sisters live: Maritza who is 28 and Maria who is 41. Both are single mothers. While pregnant, both consumed contaminated water from a well built by the mining company with the authorization of the Secretary of Natural Resources, on the property where their entire extended family lives, a family with many women and small children. There are older men, and some young people, but most have decided to put their bets on the American dream, and they have left already, years ago they started to leave.

Maritza and Maria are the mothers of children who were born sick. Jefferson, Maritza’s son, has respiratory problems. Maria’s son Anthony has a growth problem, a problem speaking – I don’t understand it well but his mother gets lost in a labyrinth trying to understand his speech—and he was also born with physical disabilities that don’t allow him to walk, although Maria is hopeful that it can be resolved with an operation.

Anthony and Jefferson –both age six—stopped going to the doctor. They lost access to their doctors’ appointments because their mothers couldn’t handle the cost of traveling to Tegucigalpa from their community in a small hamlet of San Ignacio. Maritza couldn’t keep paying the one thousand two hundred Lempiras ($50) in transportation costs so that her son could be cared for in the Teaching Hospital.

–The Valley means life for us, but for some organisations it means coming, taking some pictures, because that’s the possibility of justifying some budgets. People are tired – someone tells me, explaining that I can put on paper what they said but not give names. I promise that person, that I won’t tell, but by their expression I understand that they don’t believe me.

The women in the Siria Valley were always invisible. They were never included on any statistical chart. Goldcorp Inc. only hired a few of them to take care of domestic chores for the company’s foreign executives. To wash their clothes. To cook for them. To maintain clean the lodging house that has now been transformed in the San Martin Tourism Centre, that costs forty five dollars a night, and no guest, for any reason, can bring a camera to take photos or videos.

–It is prohibited to take pictures.

–And what is fun about the place?

–I don’t know. I just know that they don’t let you take pictures.

  • Goldcorp video (3 minutes): “Goldcorp’s San Martin Mine Reclamation in Honduras”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M633xeOOvlI&feature=youtu.be
  • Rights Action comment: Please watch this corporate propaganda film that contrasts grotesquely with the reality on the ground, as documented in this article, film, and elsewhere.

At some point, because nobody remembers dates well in a shared history with much greater implications than the notion of time, the Environmental Committee of Siria Valley denounced water contamination in the rivers that cross through the valley, justifying the accusation in testing done on the water.

In 2009, the Catholic Agency for Oversees Development (CAFOD) carried out two investigations, under the responsibility of Dr. Adam Jarvis and Dr. Jaime Amezega, of the University of Newcastle, about the levels of acidity in the tributaries in the valley area. The studies showed that the water had a pH of 2.5 to 3 as well as high levels of cadmium, copper and iron. These results are included in the document “Records of Negative Effects of Mining in Central America: San Martin” published by CEICOM.

Environmentalists explained that Goldcorp Inc. responded by putting up Tilapia nurseries. They said that the waters weren’t contaminated, however later they had to hire workers with machinery from the San Ignacio municipality so that they could do them the favour of burying the fish, to hide all remains.

Prior to Goldcorp’s arrival the valley’s economy was principally agriculture. But livestock started to die. The corn wouldn’t grow anymore. Now they grow cane as pasture for the livestock. The only thing you can see down the long dirt roads that link together the valley’s communities are starving animals, living on large extensions of infertile land where even weeds have a hard time growing. There is an imposing, looming wall that the heap leach mining left behind. There are rivers whose waters are suspected to drag down gold, but also the metals that have sickened the life of the communities.

The banners of political parties that are now in electoral campaign wave on the electrical posts of the new local energy system. They show the smiling faces of candidates who offer the same promises they’ve been incapable of fulfilling for more than 20 years. A bridge – or more exactly, the idea of one – destroyed by the growth of the ferocious river over which it lays, and whose official approximate cost was close to the rash amount of six million lempiras. Small whitewashed mud houses are a home to numerous, anonymous families, that resist the idea of dying or leaving, because life in the valley is the only thing they know of, even though the valley doesn’t have much to offer its inhabitants.

–Young people are a lost case. They only know how to drink and take drugs –says the motorcycle-taxi driver who transported me.

–What drugs?

–Marijuana, cocaine…

–And where do they get it from?

–This is now a drug corridor. And those who don’t take the drugs go to the United States.

–But the boys have other options, they play sports, play soccer -and the girls?

–They get pregnant, take care of the house, drink and take drugs. Here there are thirteen year-old girls who are pregnant.

This thirty-two year old has been in the United States six times, and has spent several years driving a motorcycle taxi to feed his family. He has three children, with different women, he tells me. The first one he fathered when he was thirteen and then he wasn’t prepared, he didn’t know what to do. Now he is thinking of trying to go north again. There is no work. There is no health. And as usually occurs when misfortune comes as a package, educational opportunities are also scarce.

The person with a good understanding of educational problems in the valley is Teacher Jesus. She has worked as a teacher since 1987. She teaches 21 boys and girls in first grade in the José Trinidad Cabañas school. The school has a population of approximately 350 boys and girls from the El Pedernal community in the municipality of El Porvenir.

Teacher Jesus is fifty-three years old and suffers from dermatological problems since 2009, the year in which Goldcorp Inc. said they closed down their operations. But she no longer treats the allergy and lacerations that grow during the hot season; nobody knows what time of the year this season will occur because the climate has changed drastically in the valley area. She and her students are sick. She knows it. But she also knows that there is little to be done now. Although her gaze is firm, her eyes get watery when she says things that I barely understand. Perhaps the sadness of knowing she lives in a community that barely stands a chance.

The current new challenge facing the valley’s communities is that of avoiding the increased advance of the extractivist model that threatens the only water sources that remain uncontaminated: its thermal waters. To install a thermal energy generating company, eight thousand hectares of the valley have been given in concession to the “12 tribe” company and whose concessionary company is the Israeli Ormat Technologies.

After going to the valley, I realize that these people have given me a lot by telling me their stories, and I haven’t left them anything, just this text that will be published digitally, therefore the possibility that they’ll read it is remote. However, the truth that weighs more than all of the gold and silver of the mines that surround the valley is that the Honduran government has an enormous, even unpayable debt in moral reparations to these Siria Valley communities. Here, where the motto of “better life” is just an empty box.

The notion of ‘green mining’

A section entitled ‘The notion of green mining’ appears in the book, but this section is included here as it is slightly fuller than the edited version in the book.

Salvadorans had never heard the term ‘green mining’ before 2007, but towards the end of the year they found themselves exposed to the idea through a series of radio and television advertisements. Essentially ‘green mining’ presents the mining of minerals “as a source of development without any secondary adverse effects on the environment or on peoples’ health.”[1]

Green mining is a notion that was developed by a group of companies which were looking to expand their operations in El Salvador and which called themselves the National Roundtable for Green Mining.[2] As the organisation Crispaz (Christians for Peace in El Salvador) explains, “El Salvador’s radio stations [were] bombarded by anonymous Minería Verde or Green Mining propaganda for a year.”[3]

The Roundtable does not have a website and the people responsible for “the millionaire publicity crusade” which “flooded the majority of Salvadoran radio stations and TV channels”[4] prefer to remain anonymous. It is widely believed, especially within the membership of the opposing roundtable, the National Roundtable Against Metal Mining in El Salvador, that having failed to persuade the government, and especially the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (MARN), to grant it permits for mining, Pacific Rim changed its strategy from the lobbying of government to an aggressive publicity campaign about ‘green mining’.

As Izote News reported, for this campaign, Pacific Rim … hired as activists for the mining companies the economist Manuel Enrique Hinds, the lawyer Fidel Chávez Mena and an ex-employee of the MARN Luis Trejo. … Hinds made a ‘study’ which emphasised the economic ‘benefits’ of mining focusing on the growth in GDP and exports. Chávez Mena wrote a draft for a new mining law, attempting to overcome the ‘obstacles’ which Pacific Rim had encountered with the current Law of Mining. And Trejo came up with the phrase ‘green mining’, which existed nowhere in the scientific world.[5]

Coincidentally with the publicity campaign, Pacific Rim took a group of about 40 people from the department of Santa Ana in the west of the country to the department of Cabañas where the company was trying to get permits for a number of gold mines including the El Dorado mine. Their specific purpose was to talk to the people of the communities affected in Cabañas about the benefits of mining. As one blogger on the Hunnapuh site said, “all this propaganda is nothing more than a publicity stunt by the Pacific Rim company”; and as another on the same site stated, “it is important to expose the propaganda in favour of green mining.” [6]

It has to be added that such blog sites also include comments in favour of mining. One blogger (Carlos) on the same Hunnapuh site talks of the way in which environmentalists – specifically he mentions Greenpeace – are cheating the people of Third World countries by persuading them that they should not develop in the same way as have the First World countries. He says that cyanide is used in many industries and that in mining it does less harm and is more tightly regulated than in other activities. He ends with an appeal to local people to “Wake up, you are being deceived by the permanent campaign of capitalist countries to prevent development in the Third World.”[7]

This debate has clearly polarised the country, involving all sectors of society in the debate. The Episcopal Conference of El Salvador (CEDES by its Spanish initials), composed of Catholic Bishops in the country, is forthright in its opposition to mining operations in the country on the grounds that it puts “human life at risk.”[8] A group called Movement Pro Green Mining protested outside the cathedral in San Salvador against the anti-mining stance of CEDES and Archbishop Monsignor Sáenz Lacalle. Whilst accepting their right to protest, the Archbishop pointed out that they were paid a salary to protest in favour of mining and that green mining is nothing more than a concept of propaganda.[9]

Following the green mining campaign in El Salvador, Infinito Gold S.A. in Costa Rica began to deploy the same tactic in response to the increasingly prominent public profile of and public support for opponents of the Las Crucitas mine in 2009 and 2010. The company promoted a publicity campaign for green mining which was shown every few minutes on the passenger advertisement screens of the many buses which have screens in the capital city San José. To anybody who has seen the minute-long film it could not appear as anything other than biased propaganda, but its drip-drip effect is likely to have some effect over time.

Perhaps the final word on green mining should be given to Juan Marco Álvarez, former director of Salvanatura, a Salvadoran conservation and environmental organisation which depends heavily for its funding on sponsorship from transnational companies. Like the organisation which he used to head, he is a positive and dynamic environmentalist, but unlike most environmentalists he is supportive of rather than critical of transnational companies and the neoliberal economic development which they pursue and promote. Despite that, Álvarez has declared that “there is no such thing as green mining. … the term green mining is used to whitewash the image of the industry.”[10] He recognises that mining has a high environmental impact and that “all mining pollutes to a greater or lesser degree.” He also suggests that it should not be possible that the mining companies leave only 2 per cent of their earnings in El Salvador, and that the law should be changed to rectify this. But he also believes that with appropriate planning, environmental conditions and a framework of full participation (“not just the mayors and town halls, but also community leaders”) and transparency, it could be possible for mining to function.[11]


[1] Salvadoran Ministry of Education publicly accessible miPortal website: www.miportal.edu.sv/sitios/operacionred2008/OR08052739/ (accessed 26.02.10).
[2] Joel Díaz (2008) ‘Minería verde, una polémica discusión’, ComUnica en Linea, Año 5, No. 7, May 16, available at: http://168.243.1.4/virtual/comunica/archivo/may162008/notas/nota18.htm (accessed 28.02.10).
[3] Crispaz (2008) ‘Mining in El Salvador: At What Price?’, Crispaz, available at: www.crispaz.org/news/list/2008/0611.html (accessed 26.02.10).
[4] Izote News (2008) ‘¿Quiénes están detrás de la “minería verde”?’, Izote News, 28.05.08, available at: http://izotenews.blogspot.com/2008/05/quines-estn-detrs-de-la-minera-verde.html (accessed 28.02.10).
[5] Ibid..
[6] Hunnapuh (2007) ‘La minería verde “NO EXISTE”’, Hunnapuh – Comentarios, 27 August 2007, available at: http://hunnapuh.blogcindario.com/2007/08/01965-la-mineria-verde-no-existe.html (accessed 26.02.10).
[7] Ibid..
[8] Crispaz (2008) ‘Mining in El Salvador: At What Price?’, Crispaz, available at: www.crispaz.org/news/list/2008/0611.html (accessed 26.02.10).
[9] Ibid..
[10] Rodrigo Baires, Daniel Valencia, Diego Murcia y Mauro Arias (2008) ‘Pláticas en la Ventana: entrevista con Juan Marco Álvarez’, El Faro, 2 June 2008, available at: http://archivo.elfaro.net/Secciones/platicas/20080602/Platicas1_20080602.asp (accessed 01.03.10).
[11] Ibid..

Mining company takes advantage of the crisis in Nicaragua

Written by Alfredo Carias
Published 15 August 2018 by ACAFREMIN (Central American Alliance Against Mining) – http://www.acafremin.org/
We are grateful to Alfredo Carias for permission to reproduce this article here.

In the midst of the socio-political crisis which hit Nicaragua in 2018, the mining company Cóndor Gold took advantage of its influence and various legal spaces to obtain an environmental authorisation to continue exploiting the natural resources of the Santa Cruz de La India community.

The people of the Mina La India community did not recognise the dubious public hearing process carried out by Cóndor Gold which it claims validates the opening of an opencast cleft of approximately 600 meters in the zone. This would put the security of the families who live in the area at risk. “Once again the people of Santa Cruz de La India are not giving in and are not selling themselves. So we say: Get out Cóndor Gold; our awareness is stronger than your false promises”, explained Olmán Varela, a representative of the National Environmentalist Movement Against Industrial Mining (MONAFMI).

Despite the community’s rejection of the mining project, the company has received the environmental permit from the Nicaraguan authorities for the construction and operation of a processing plant that will have the capacity of 2,800 tonnes a day, an authorisation not considered transparent by the community.

Heizel Torres, a mining expert of the Centro Humboldt, complained that the government of Nicaragua modified the environmental regulations to the benefit of the mining companies by eliminating the environmental impact studies, as was evident in the Mina La India case. This arbitrary act by the government violates due process which should be the right of a community – the right to establish a free, prior and informed consultation seeking the consent or not of the community before the start of an extractive project which may affect health and ecosystems in the area.

As a consequence, the population of Santa Cruz de La India rejected the approval of the environmental authorisation granted to the Cóndor Gold mining company and in a public statement demanded the immediate departure of the company from the community.

The resistence of the Mina La India community dates from 2015, when the company entered the area and provoked a social conflict between the people and the company, leading to confrontations with peaceful protests and huge marches and even the persecution and criminalisation of environmental defenders by local authorities acting under the company’s orders.

The social and environmental conflict rose to an international level due to MONAFMI’s complaint to the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights (CIDH), in which it was revealed that they had suffered threats and harassments for defending their communities. Their statement was made due to the lack of an internal resolution to the problem on the part of the Nicaraguan state.

Accusations against the mining industry

This figure is refereed 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

The reality of death threats to anti-mining activists in El Salvador

Letter from Hector Berríos, 24 January 2011

Dear Colleagues,

By this media I wish to inform you and to denounce the death threats that I received today by telephone. From Saturday 22nd January 2011 we began to receive telephone calls at the house from 10 pm, calls made to both the fixed line at the house and to my cell phone. As soon as I answered, they hung up. And that was the same on Sunday 23rd January until 20 minutes past noon, when the number of the house fixed line rang again. On answering the caller asked for Hector, and when I replied by asking who was calling him, he replied “Ricardo, a friend of his.” On asking where he was calling from, he said Mejicanos [a large suburb of San Salvador]. On asking what he wanted to talk about, he said to me, “You are Hector.” I told him no, and he asked where Hector is. I told him that he wasn’t living here any longer, but if he wanted he could leave a message which I could give to him. Then he told me to give him his cell phone number, but I replied that he had said he was a friend of Hector’s and so he must have his cell phone number and can call him. Less than a minute had passed before my cell phone rang. When I replied, this was the conversation:

HB: Hello.

Caller: Hello Hector, Ricardo here.

HB: How can I help you?

Caller: I’m talking about something that is happening.

HB: OK, I’m listening.

Caller: I’ve been paid a lot of money to kill you.

HB: Tell me who has paid you to assassinate me.

Caller: It’s a man and a woman who asked us to assassinate you – that’s you or one of your family – and we’ve been observing you in San Isidro and Mejicanos. We’re close to you. Look, we know you work for the people and we get bad vibes about killing you, so I want to talk with you so that we can reach some agreement.

HB: OK, we can talk. Just give me a name and we’ll carry on talking.

Caller: We need to get some arrangement/agreement; we’ll give you the name and you look out for your people, and you’ll withdraw [from your activities].

HB: Tell me a name or we stop talking this shit.

Caller: They’ve already paid us for you. We don’t give a shit.

HB: So, because you’re not doing it, I’m not going to make an arrangement with people I don’t know.

 

Then the telephone line went dead.

I want to tell you that this January I’ve been denouncing a series of assassinations which have been carried out in Cabañas. There have been assassinations of youths who took part into the assassination of Marcelo Rivera. One was of a crucial witness and another was of a young person who had been identified as the direct author of the assassination. Likewise, I denounced the attempted homicide of Mr William Iraheta who lives in San Isidro, Cabañas, who was shot. Nine bullets hit him as he was entering his house. In his denunciation he gave the name and surname [of his assassins] because it was the second time that they had tried to assassinate him after he had broken off relations with the Mayor of San Isidro.

Likewise, I have warned different institutions at both the national and international levels about a series of threats to environmentalists in the last week. The lack of will of these institutions, like the FGR and the PNC, concerns me. They see these violent deeds in the Department of Cabañas and reduce it all to “common delinquency”. In reality, there exists the possibility that it is indeed gang members who are hired to do these things, but they are only the ones who are the material perpetrators. I see no will to try to expose who hires them, who provides the money or the weapons, whose cell phones they use. The simple deed of stating that the leadership of these institutions has the will means nothing when you can’t see any concrete actions that will enable them to guarantee the security and physical integrity of people.

In the first place, that happens by assigning the logistical resources and technical personnel who can investigate the different hypotheses which explain the phenomenon of violence against human rights defenders in Cabañas. The will [to investigate these things genuinely] manifests itself in assigning a group of investigators and attorneys who can determine the causes of this violence, who are allocated vehicles and arms, because victims and witnesses are not given vehicles or arms appropriate for the rural zone where we have to work. For the latest acts of violence, we asked the victims if they had been interviewed or if any inspections had been carried out of the crime scenes, and they replied that they had not been interviewed and they had not been given any information about who might have been responsible for the attacks against them.

In my case, as in the cases of other colleagues, there are supposed to be measures of protection as ordered by the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights (CIDH) which urged the Salvadoran state to adopt our necessary cautionary measures to guarantee the life and physical integrity. On behalf of the victims, I demand that those institutions charged with carrying out and monitoring the CIDH resolution, comply with the order without further delay. Indeed, I hold these same people responsible if they allow any violent act against my life or my physical integrity or that of my family to take place.

Hector Berríos

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.

CIEL (Headquarters)
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Phone: (202) 785-8700
Fax: (202) 785-8701
E-mail: info@ciel.org

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Phone: 41-22-789-0500
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E-mail: geneva@ciel.org

©2015 Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), All Rights Reserved. Site by Rootid.in

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.