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.

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.

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 Honduran government’s General Mining Law

The law provides for the following:

There is one form of legal title called a ‘mining concession’

Opposition to the granting of a mining concession must be made within 15 days of the publication of the application for a mining concession.

The rights of the mining concession holders include:

  • The free use of unproductive state lands
  • The right to ask permission to use third parties’ lands
  • Use of water both inside and outside of the area of the mining concession
  • To have legal petitions answered by the mining authority within a specified time or else they will be considered automatically approved
  • The right to petition the state to forcibly remove people from their land where their presence makes the use of the mining concession impossible.

The obligations of the concession holders are:

  • To produce at least $500 per hectare (ha) p.a. until the 8th year after the granting of the concession
  • To pay a territorial tax of between $0.25 per ha. p.a. for a new concession and $3 per ha. p.a. for concessions older than eight years.
  • To pay a penalty amount if minimum production is not reached.
  • To act subject to applicable safety, hygiene and environmental norms
  • To pay a tax on rent, sales (does not apply to exports) and a municipal tax (1 per cent of crude worth of sales)

Requirements for an Environmental Impact Study (EIS) include:

  • The Department for Evaluation and Environmental Monitoring (DECA) inspects an area where a company is proposing to mine and decides whether it should be a Category 1or a Category 2 mine
  • An EIS is not required for Category 1 mines
  • Category 2 mines are generally more environmentally sensitive or very large.
  • DECA provides the terms of reference for the EIS which is conducted by a company selected by the mining company from a government-approved list
  • The mining company pays for the EIS
  • After review of the EIS, a formal opinion is released and includes a list of measures to be complied with in order for the mining license to be granted
  • Inspection of mining operations is carried out by DECA and DEFOMIN (Department for the Promotion of Mining)
  • The law refers to the relocation of people and use of water according to the law, but there are no established laws that relate to these matters.

Making a denunciation of an environmental offence is relatively easy and accessible, although no legal assistance is available.

Enforcing constitutional rights is highly problematic as no judges specialize in constitutional law which is rarely if ever used by the community or civil society.


Major source
Centre for Economic and Social Rights (CESR) (2001) Report of a fact-finding mission (CESR-FFM) to Honduras in March/April 2001. New York. (Pp.1-10)


Please note that the current post-coup Honduran government – sometimes referred to as ‘coup-2’ –enacted a new mining law in January 2013 after revision by advisors funded by the Canadian government. Miriam Miranda, General Coordinator of OFRANEH, said “Right now [resources] are up for grabs and there’s an unparalleled exploitation of that by transnational and foreign capital. There’s no respect for international laws and international jurisprudence on the rights of indigenous peoples.”

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.

Mining sector socio-ecological conflicts in Guatemala, 2005 – 2013

A paper published in the journal of The Extractive Industries and Society analyses ecological distribution conflicts (EDCs) related to the mining industry in Guatemala. The paper was written by Bernardo Aguilar-Gónzalez, Grettel Navas, Carole Brun, Andrea Aguilar-Umaña and Paloma Cerdán for the Fundación Neotrópica in San José, Costa Rica – (www.neotropica.org) – and is generally cited as: Aguilar-González, B. et al ‘The Extractive Industries and Society’ (2018).

The paper presents results of a UNDP research programme in Guatemala that analyses EDCs generated by the mining industry between 2005 and 2013. First it places the Guatemalan conflict situation in the context of Central America. The analysis that follows this introduction covers the main social and ecological consequences of these conflicts, the role of the State and the effectiveness of actions taken by extractive companies through corporate social responsibility (CSR) programmes. 

Rather than include the whole paper in this website (where we try to make issues as short and accessible as possible), Bernardo Aguilar-González, the Executive Director of the Fundación Neotrópica, has kindly given us permission to use selected extracts and diagrams from the paper, for which we are very grateful. These extracts follow. The whole paper can be found at: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.exis.2018.02.002

Key words: ecological distribution conflicts (EDCs); Guatemalan mining industry; Environmental Justice Atlas (EJAtlas); Marlin Mine; Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programmes; community consultations of good faith; role of the State.

The paper follows the line of research on EDCs that has been led by the Autonomous University of Barcelona through the Environmental Justice Atlas (EJAtlas – http://ejatlas.org). The EJAtlas documents EDCs and this documentation has allowed a statistical political ecology analysis to be made by the researchers. Figures 1 and 2 for instance make use of the EJAtlas documentation.

 

Of all Central American conflicts documented up to 2015 (Figure 1), the majority are registered in Guatemala with 27.5% of the 80 conflicts included until then, followed by Panama (18.8%) and Honduras (17.5%).

Figure 2 shows us the registry of 80 conflicts up until 2015 in Central America. From these, 29% were conflicts related to mining activities – more than a third of them appear in Guatemala. Conflicts related to water management are 24% of the total. These include conflicts related to hydroelectric projects. Those categories that relate to the appropriation of biomass and physical space, mostly by plantation activities and for biodiversity conservation, are 25% of the total. Conflicts that relate to tourism are 9% of the total, mostly concentrated in Costa Rica. Fossil fuel energy shows 9% of all conflicts while the record also shows conflicts from logistical infrastructure development (related to the Panama Canal and to projects such as Nicaragua’s Grand Canal); and real estate development (5%) (Navas, 2016).

EDCs in Central America have been increasing in numbers in the last decades, coinciding with the increase in neo-extractive activities. Data from the EJAtlas shows this trend with peaks in 2006-2007 and 2011-2013.

The EJAtlas also shows a trend which is basic to understanding the diverse roles that the State plays in Central America. Costa Rica and El Salvador show the highest rates of what the Atlas calls environmental justice successes – see Table 1. These are cases where projects have been stopped from happening. In these countries courts have declared mining projects illegal and both have banned open pit mining largely due to the action of civil society organisations.

Table 1  Environmental Justice Successes as of 2015 relative to number of conflicts according to the EJAtlas

Guatemalan mining has evolved historically in parallel with the transformation of its social metabolism and the unfair appropriation of environmental space by the Spanish, ladino oligarchies, and later by transnational-local economic groups which concentrate power and wealth. ….

In 2003 an exploitation license for gold, silver, zinc, lead, iron, copper and mercury was granted to the transnational Glamis Gold Ltd in the department of San Marcos as ‘Proyecto Mina Marlin’. Glamis Gold is the owner of the Guatemalan subsidiary Montana Exploradora Guatemalteca S.A.. The inhabitants of Sipakapa and San Miguel Ixtahuacán (largely Maya-Quiche, Sipakapense and Maya Mam peoples) and environmental organisations manifested their rejection of the mine. They were concerned about the environmental impact, the lack of popular participation from the communities that surround the project and the violation of indigenous territories of collective property already protected by international legislation. In the spirit of the International Labour Organisation’s Convention 169 (ratified by Guatemala in 1996), on June 18th 2005, the first self-organised community consultation about the acceptance or rejection of the mining project in their lands took place in Sipakapa. Thirteen communities participated. The results were 2,448 votes against the mine, 35 in favour, 8 null and one left blank (van de Sandt, 2009; Yagenova and García, 2009; Laplante and Nolin, 2014).

The beginning of the operation of the Marlin Mine in 2005, marked another fundamental change in the scale of production of metallic mining in Guatemala. The mine evolved to produce 96% of all mining sales in the country between 2005 and 2011. The operation of this project also generated an increase in the intensity and radicalization of the opposition by indigenous communities and civil society organisations to mining projects in Guatemala (Yagenova and García, 2009; Nolin and Stephens, 2010; Laplante and Nolin, 2014). ….

[Readers of The Violence of Development website will be aware of numerous other articles relating to the operations of the Marlin Mine in Chapter 5 of the website.]

At a macro level, the overall contribution of the mining and quarries sector to the Guatemalan economy is expressed in the contribution to the GDP. ICEFI (Instituto Centroamericano de Estudios Fiscales) criticises this contribution as very low. During the period studied it went from 0.61% in 2005 to 0.85% in 2014 (ICEFI, 2014). ….

At the local level, the informants in this study representing the industry stated that many positive economic, social and environmental impacts come through Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programmes. They include help to schools, investments in infrastructure, etc.. Some informants criticise these actions as generating dependence on the companies and a privatisation of public services that should be offered by the State or local governments. These actions are used to justify the occupation of environmental space. Additionally, CSR actions are criticised as granting the power to foreign companies to disproportionately influence decision-making at the local level and to cover up human rights violations (ICEFI, 2014; Laplante and Nolin, 2014; Aguilar-González et al, 2015). ….

The criminalization of social protest was also identified as a social impact. Along the same lines, threats, murder attempts and murders of those who oppose mining projects. This type of impact is currently a constant in Latin America being reported by OCMAL (Observatory for Mining Projects in Latin America) and by Global Witness. ….

Another social impact documented in conflicts with greater intensity is the forced displacement by the State with the help of the Guatemalan army, police and companies’ security forces, leading to high indices of violence, violations of human rights ….

Also the competition for territory includes vital elements like potable water. The pollution through chemicals and toxins like cyanide and mercury lead to the contamination of subterranean and superficial water sources. ….

The pollution of water, air, soil, deforestation, etc., were clearly identified environmental impacts ….

Governments … have claimed that mining activities have a strong positive impact in the economy of the country, generating economic and social development on a local as well as a national level. Studies by technical institutions such as ICEFI have shown that there is no evidence to substantiate this claim (Molina, 2015). ….

Sectors of civil society also condemn the role of a State that has been a promoter of extractive industries and not a regulator, by favouring and promoting the interests of this business sector (national and transnational companies), through the creation and adoption of laws. ….

The Mining Law does not require that the indigenous people be consulted before the approval of exploration or exploitation licenses for mining projects. …. there are no existing mechanisms in the current national legislation to guarantee the participation of the communities and the effective implementation of Convention 169 in mining activities and others. Therefore, especially the indigenous communities have developed their own processes to express their position about the projects that affect them. These are known as ‘community consultations of good faith’, ….


References

Aguilar-González, B., Navas, G., Brun, C. (2015) Estudio sobre la conflictividad generado por proyectos de extracción minera en Guatemala. PNUD, Guatemala.

ICEFI (2014) La minera en Guatemala: realidad y desafíos frente a la democracia y el desarrollo. Instituto Centroamericano de Estudios Fiscales, Guatemala.

Laplante, J. Nolin, C. (2014) Consultas and socially responsible investing in Guatemala: a case study examining maya perspectives on the indigenous right to free, prior and informed consent. Soc. Nat. Resour.: Int. J. 27 (3), 231-248.

Molina, L. (2015) Economist Researcher ICEFI (Instituto Centroamericano de Estudios Fiscales). Interview 25 March 2015.

Navas, G. (2016) Caracterización de la Conflictividad Socio-ambiental en América Central según el Atlas Mundial de Justicia Ambiental del proyecto EJOLT. Fundación Neotrópica Project Report, San José, Costa Rica.

Nolin, C., Stephens, J. (2010) “We have to protect the investors”: ‘development’ and Canadian mining companies in Guatemala. J. Rural Commun. Dev. 5 (3), 37-70.

van de Sandt, J. (2009) Conflictos Mineros y Pueblos Indígenas en Guatemala. Universidad de Amsterdam, CORDAID, Amsterdam, Holanda.

Yagenova, S., García, R. (2009) Guatemala: el pueblo de Sipakapa versus la empresa minera Goldcorp. OSAL 10 (25), 65-77.

Chapter 5: Mining

Of all the civil conflicts which concern single issues within Central America, probably those that have led to most environmental and social disturbance and contamination and to most violence are those relating to the extraction of mineral ores. The headlines of two 1997 articles from the English language weekly ‘The Tico Times’ illustrate the point that the potential for conflict over mining operations are not new. The first states that “Peace in Central America Threatens the Environment”[i] alluding to the fact that very little mining took place during the period of US-inspired wars in the 1970s and 1980s. The second – “Regional Opposition to Mining Grows”[ii] – makes clear that the battles currently raging over mining operations (during the years from 2008), although of greater intensity than those of the previous decade, are hardly new.

Key words: Open-pit mining | Land appropriation | Forced eviction | Consultation | Water contamination | Atmospheric contamination | Human health | Social divisions | Cyanide heap leaching | Human rights abuses | Assassinations of anti-mining activists | Precautionary measures | Mining suspension orders | ‘Green mining’ | Artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM)


[i]  The Tico Times, 12.06.97
[ii]  The Tico Times, 5.09.97