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 Law

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.


Amanda Kistler, CIEL – 202 742-5832
Jen Moore, MiningWatch Canada – 613 569 3439
Manuel Perez Rocha, IPS – 1 240 838 6623
Laura Rusu, Oxfam America, +1 202 459 3739
Robin Broad, American University, 1 202 885 1478
Kevin Bracken, Maritime Union of Australia –
Sean Cleary, Edmund Rice Centre –, +  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:

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)
1350 Connecticut Avenue, NW Suite #1100
Washington DC, 20036
Phone: (202) 785-8700
Fax: (202) 785-8701

CIEL (Geneva Office)
15 Rue Des Savoises, 1205
Geneva, Switzerland
Phone: 41-22-789-0500
Fax: 41-22-789-0739

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

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


Copyright © 2017 Rights Action, All rights reserved.
Our mailing address is:

Rights Action

Box 50887


Washington, DC 0


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:

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”:
  • 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.

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 use of cyanide in gold mining

This figure is refereed to in the book as X.XX (Page XX)

In recent years the use of cyanide in gold mining has become the dominant means by which gold is extracted from a body of ore. The mercury amalgamation process had previously been used but recovered only about 60 per cent of an ore body’s gold. In contrast, leaching finely ground ore with cyanide can recover up to 97 per cent of the ore body’s gold.

The process involves:

  1. Removal of all topsoil from the area to be mined.
  2. Large open pits, up to a mile wide, created to extract the ore.
  3. Transport of raw ore in large trucks to crushing machines.
  4. Crushed material built into heaps over which cyanide is sprayed.
  5. The cyanide trickles down through the ore and bonds with microscopic specks of gold. A pad underlying the heap channels the solution into a holding pond.
  6. The gold laden cyanide solution flows over activated carbon; the carbon bonds to the gold while the cyanide is drawn off for re-use on the heap.
  7. Other chemicals are used to separate the gold from the carbon.
  8. The gold is then purified.

Mining companies state that under sunlight cyanide in water rapidly breaks down into largely harmless substances such as carbon dioxide and nitrate. It also tends to react readily with many other chemical elements, however, and is known to form hundreds of different compounds. While generally less toxic than the original cyanide, many of these compounds are known to be toxic to aquatic organisms, to persist in the environment for long periods and can be accumulated in plant and fish tissues.

People’s health is endangered when cyanide-laden waste is released into water used for drinking and bathing. People who live in close proximity to cyanide heap leaching pads also report increased respiratory and skin diseases.

Centre for Economic and Social Rights (2001) ‘Report of a fact-finding mission (CESR-FFM) to Honduras in March/April 2001’, New York, pp.1-2, 10-11.

The Marlin Mine, Guatemala

This topic is refereed to in the book in Chapter 5 (Page 88)

The Marlin Mine, Guatemala, is given in the book as a case study in Chapter 5. The following text boxes add supplementary detail to the case study given there, and the reader is also referred to the Guatemala sub-section of the Interviews page of the website for further testimony from local people affected by the mine.

Collecting orchids and conning the locals

The following are extracts from testimony taken in San José Ixcaniche, San Marcos department, Guatemala, in July 2009. The testimony relates to the introduction of gold mining activities to the area around the Marlin Mine which is owned and run by Montana Exploradora de Guatemala S.A., a wholly owned subsidiary of Canada’s Goldcorp.

“When the company came into San Miguel, all their personnel who arrived had the idea that they had to work smoothly with the people who live here. … Also they did many things such as making meals for the people to get them on their side. They also started games of football, buying the balls and getting all the neighbours around for lunch. They also held raffles for bicycles, radios and many other things to attract people. …

They said they were going to generate some work here collecting orchids from the trees. … A little more than a year later, they came and it wasn’t for collecting orchids, but for exploring, to collect samples of rock; but they didn’t say anything about gold or silver, only that we are going to do some work here. … Then suddenly there was something about minerals. …

This was 1996 when they came. A year after that they began to collect rocks. They talked to the locals about selling a part of the land. The local people were certainly excited by the money. Then more people started arriving, including gringos, and then the machinery. Seventeen people met to talk about if they could sell their land or not. They agreed that it would be better not to sell the land. It would be better to go first to the Mayor of San Miguel to make an agreement which would prevent the sale of the land. But the Mayor said ‘you are free to sell your land; if you want to sell, you can sell. Better to have a good job there [at the mine] and a source of work. …

The Mayor was going to get together with this group to value their land, but he didn’t turn up. So from that time the group got a bit downhearted, and each took their own decisions about giving up their land or not. Of the seventeen people, one by one they gave up their land.”

Testimony taken from Don Pedro (a pseudonym), a former worker in the Marlin Mine in San José Ixcaniche, San Marcos department, Guatemala, 24.07.09

Testimony against the Marlin Mine, Guatemala

The following testimony was given in interview by:

[1] A number of residents of Agel, a small village very close to the Marlin Mine in the municipality of San Miguel Ixtahuacán, department of San Marcos, Guatemala, 24 July 2009 – identities protected;

[2] Several residents of a number of other villages attending a meeting in The People’s House, San Miguel Ixtahuacán, 24 July 2009 – identities protected;

[3] Gregoria Crisanta Pérez, a single mother also from Agel who is the subject of an arrest order along with seven other local women, interviewed by James Rodríguez, 22 May 2009 – published in NACLA Report, vol.42, no.5, Sept/Oct 2009, pp.16-17.

[Sources identified as 1, 2 or 3, as above.]

On land purchase

[3] Montana is buying more land, extending its territory. … If these people [from the mining company] continue buying up our lands, where are we to go? As indigenous peoples, we live here. … We ask the government to please listen to our demands, because we are the legitimate owners of those territories. We are indigenous people, we were born there, and we should die there.

On water sources

[1] There are problems with the drying of the wells. There are eight wells that have dried up.

[2] They had installed the machinery close to the well, around 4 metres from the well. The water that they were using to wash the gold that they were extracting, they were dumping it near the well. There were two children who went to take water from the well … the workers told them, and the operator of the machine said, “you mustn’t carry water from this place because it’s contaminated.” … From where are the people going to drink water?

[2] One woman chatted to us; she has young sons who were bathing in that river, and now they are covered in spots, their hair is falling out.

On health problems

[2] … animals have died, cattle. I had a friend who lived here on this side; about two months ago he died. He worked for the company. They say that he was taken to the doctor [of the mining company] and the doctor told him ‘you don’t have anything wrong with you, you are fine’. So he turned to another private doctor, and they told him that he had a damaged liver and had only a few days left to live, that there was no cure, nothing. And he gave a testimony … where he spoke about how he had been contaminated by the mine; and he died.

[1] Also the problem with the skin – the people that live near the tailing pond, there we have seen children that have red swellings on the skin.

[2] … the presence of heavy metals in the blood is strong. If it is not treated in time, the person can die, because the heavy metals accumulate in the blood.

[2] Two years ago my nephew died at the age of 18. It just started with a cough, and he died. Four months ago my cousin died; he also worked there in the tailing pond. He vomited blood. His mother told me, ‘tell your husband not to carry on working there, because he’s going to die; you’re going to lose him’.

[3] … many people suffer from skin diseases, particularly welts, and some of the people who have worked for the company have died mysteriously.

On the state of their houses

[2] And all the houses, like 120 houses, are cracked. There’s one house, my daughter’s, which is totally cracked. It’s only three years old. When the explosions start, you feel the movement of the earth.

[3] Dozens of homes have large fissures along the walls due to the explosions from the mine.

On divisions within the communities

[3] Montana is a very big company and has paid off many community leaders, as well as local auxiliary mayors. Also, there are the few who work for the company; obviously they and their families support the company. Lately, Montana has also been paying off some key neighbours in order to divide us. In my community of Agel, I know for a fact that the company has paid them 35,000 quetzals [about $4,300] in exchange for supporting the company’s operations.

[2] We are few, not many, because in the community of Agel, nearly everyone is working for the company. We are divided. … But we are not here for the work. We are here to defend our life, our health, and the health of our children and our grandchildren.

[1] The people who work for the company say nothing because the company would then fire them. … they say that the company is going well, but this makes us very concerned.

[2] Here in San Miguel Ixtahuacán, that monster [the company] has been buying up good will; it’s been keeping the leaders of some communities quiet.

[2] More than ten communities have already carried out their consultation and gave a very round ‘No’ to mining.

Assassinations and other human rights violations of anti-mining activists

June 2009 Marcelo Rivera tortured and murdered
June 2009 Radio Victoria received death threats
July 2009 Father Luis Quintanilla (after speaking on Radio Victoria) kidnapped but escaped
August 2009 Ramiro Rivera shot 8 times; survived
December 2009 Ramiro Rivera murdered
December 2009 Felícita Echeverría murdered
December 2009 Dora Alicia Sorto Recinos murdered
December 2010 1 youth involved in the murder of Marcelo Rivera was himself killed.
July 2010 CEICOM employees kidnapped, robbed and left tied up in Guatemala
January 2011 Abrego León, a witness in the trial of the murderers of Marcelo Rivera, killed
January 2011 Radio Victoria receives more death threats
January 2011 Hector Berrios receives death threats
June 2011 Juan Francisco Durán Ayala killed

Testimony regarding Montana’s persecution of former employees

Testimony collected in the village of San José Ixcaniche, 24 July 2009. Names have been deliberately omitted.

In 2003, I was a worker in the campo. One day we went to repair the road, the one which they are now surfacing with asphalt; and an engineer said to me, “I’ve got eight days of work for you; come with me.” Well, I certainly need work. …

At the same time as I started work there, a Costa Rican man arrived. He was looking for people who could read and write and who were very active. They chose me to go as his personal assistant.

What was the work that they gave me? It was the job of providing information to the local people. I didn’t know what it was that I was supposed to do, but they taught me about it and told me that I had to tell people what was going to happen here, namely that they were going to extract gold and silver. That’s when I first discovered that gold and silver were going to be extracted. Before that, they hadn’t talked about that at all.

I worked for two and a half years when suddenly they wanted me to tell them what the people outside were saying. … I realised that they were using me as a tool. … I wanted to say things about what we were suffering, but every time that there were meetings all they wanted to talk about was the development of the local area. …

We began to have contacts with many people about what the company was doing, although they gave me a payment so that I would keep quiet about the company with the people. … they suspected that I had contacts with many local people, so they controlled my work much more tightly.

In 2007, people tried to form a union … Out of respect for our people I could not be in this work. It was when they took advantage of me for respecting the people that they started obstructing me. It was then when they could take the opportunity of throwing me out of work. … They accused me of committing an offence, of coercion, of threatening behaviour … It took us a lot to get out of that, but they made a mess of my life, although it wasn’t just me. There were seven other people charged although those people were leaders of the group of five communities which had got themselves organised. …

The company tries to provoke the people. … We saw that the authorities give more consideration to those people who have money, and if the campesinos die, well they die. We saw that clearly.

For almost a year we were in this issue. The company tried to plead again, but the issue would be better reconciled with us so that it doesn’t continue as a problem. … If they could declare us guilty they would even be able to get us put in jail. If we say please forgive us, then that would mean we were guilty of all the damage. …

That’s my case. But there is another case. There is another group of women who were affected in Ajel, also for claiming their rights because of all the driving activity that was crossing their lands. They [the company] did what they liked and they installed whatever they liked on their lands. These eight women faced an arrest warrant. …

They sent two people here and what they wanted from me was a testimony in favour of the company. “We want you to talk with us here confidentially, not about individuals.” … despite all the bad things I had seen of the company, they wanted me to speak in favour of the company. But no way could I give testimony in favour of them because I knew what they had already done to me. But it’s the courage of all the communities that is with me now. But right now there is a serious problem in the community. There are divisions, there are pressures on the committees. Yesterday a certificate in favour of the company was promoted. The company insisted, obliged the people and the workers and even those who aren’t workers to sign the certificate.

Testimony taken by Martin Mowforth, Alice Klein, and Karis McLaughlin, 24 July 2009.

Testimony regarding health problems caused by and property rights abused by the Marlin Mine

Testimony taken 24 July 2009 in San José Ixcaniche, close to the Marlin Mine, from Doña Marcela (a pseudonym), wife of a worker at the mine.

My husband … is ill because he works for the Montana company. He works with the chemicals and the heavy metals and we have written proof which states that he has contaminated blood. Now we want to get another examination done by an external authority to see if it coincides with the company’s readings.

Also, she [points to her daughter] is very ill because my husband was working with the company when she was born. Every fortnight I have to take her to a doctor. Three days ago I saw a child specialist who told me that it’s really very serious. She doesn’t have much of a defence system, probably because of the heavy metals.

Right now we are suffering – my husband is ill; she’s ill; and I’ve got problems with Montana because they invaded my property in San José Nueva Esperanza, over there, and fenced it off, and now I can’t get into my own land. … I have documents to show that I am the owner. They don’t even ask my permission. They pass by on a road right through the middle of my land without asking permission – there’s no consultation.

Two years ago I made a claim against Montana. They came to surface the road which had been built through the middle of my land. They felled the pines. They caused a landslide in the land because they moved so much earth. They also drilled into the ground.

I believe this is unfair – what they are doing is an injustice. Many people are in favour of them, but I don’t know why because the reality is that the company is causing great damage. …Many of them do it for the money; many do it because they have a business, and so they tend to support Montana. I think that you shouldn’t behave like this for the sake of a business. You should do it for the sake of your life, for your children and for their children. I don’t want to let my child die just because of the mine.