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.

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.

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

By Amy Porter

July 2017

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

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

accompanying the La Puya Peaceful Resistence.

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

What have been the biggest obstacles?

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

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

 

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

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

[* Guatemalan currency]

 

Is the community very worried about the water contamination?

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

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

 

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

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

 

Could you tell me about the family divisions?

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

 

What do you want from the Guatemalan government?

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

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

 

What types of alternative development would you like to see?

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

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

 

Do you feel that international solidarity is helpful?

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Petaquilla Mine, Panama, and opposition to it

The controversial Petaquilla mining concession is located in the Donoso district in the north-central provinces of Coclé and Colón, covering an area of 13,600 hectares.

In 1997 the Panamanian government granted a concession for gold and copper mining to the company Minera Petaquilla, S.A. Two separate mining projects are being developed with Panamanian and Canadian investment – an open-pit gold mine, and one of the largest open-pit copper mines in the world.

The fierce opposition to the Petaquilla mining project from civil society groups and local communities stands in stark contrast to the company’s declarations of self-praise – see Below. The benefits in terms of a limited number of low-paid jobs seem scant, when compared to the environmental costs, including the contamination of their water supply, and the loss of land and forest cover. The anti-mining movement in Panama has been gaining momentum and there have been numerous protests against the Petaquilla mines. Protests in May 2009 blocked access to both mines for two weeks.

Conservationists point to the devastating and irreversible environmental impacts on the region, which is part of the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor. Concerns include the building of access roads in a remote area of high biodiversity, destruction of primary forest, and siltation and pollution of rivers.

In August 2008, the NGO Sustainable Harvest International declined funding from Petaquilla Copper Ltd to undertake sustainable development programs with communities in the region. The proposed collaboration was deemed irreconcilable with their commitment to conservation. Their president Florence Reed stated:

Even if Petaquilla were truly committed to full mitigation and remediation, this mining venture will result in a legacy of environmental and social disruption because of the immense area that will be deforested and the number of local indigenous communities that will be displaced.[1]


Sources:
MiningWatch Canada, November 2008, ‘Important information about the Petaquilla mining project in Panama’, http://www.miningwatch.ca/updir/Petaquilla_background.pdf (Accessed 5 August 2009).
MiningWatch Canada, January 2009, ‘Panamanian rainforest communities threatened by mining’, http://www.miningwatch.ca/index.php?/Panama/Petaquilla_alert (Accessed 5 August 2009).
[1] Sustainable Harvest International, August 2008 http://www.sustainableharvest.org/PR82008.cfm (accessed 5 August 2009)

Petaquilla Minerals’ own version of its mining operations

According to Petaquilla Minerals, the Canadian company undertaking the gold extraction, “the Petaquilla mine, the biggest gold-mining project in Central America, has proven, in less than a year of social work, to be the most successful model of sustainable mining in existence”.[1] The corporate social responsibility (CSR) page of its website describes its social programmes as main production modules which serve as:

mechanisms to foster community productivity by promoting a more varied economy and sustainability. This is achieved by assisting people with ventures that will provide for a livelihood beyond subsistence farming, identifying more effective and efficient manners of production, and transferring the use of new technology.[2]

It should be noted that, apart from these very few small-scale programmes, the CSR page of the company’s website says nothing of the many other aspects of responsibility – pollution, pollution clear-up, forced evictions, land clearances, deforestation, the lack of compensation payments, and more.

At the crux of the purportedly ‘sustainable’ mining model is the notion of social and environmental compensation. Another of Petaquilla Minerals’ websites states “we are committed to being aware of the environmental impact the working of a mine can cause, but above all we are sufficiently capable of counteracting this impact with our actions”[3] Underlying this notion of sustainability is the acknowledgment that the mining will cause significant damage, and thus counterbalancing measures must be taken to enable the project to pass necessary government legislation and to gain support of the local communities. Such measures include reforestation, development of infrastructure, and education and social projects.


[1] Gold Exploration in Panama, Petaquilla Minerals Ltd, www.goldexplorationinpanama.com/mineria.htm (accessed 5 August 2009)
[2] www.petaquilla.com/petaquilla_corp_soc_res.aspx?IdCsr=3 (Accessed 14 December 2010)
[3] Desarrollo Petaquilla, Petaquilla Minerals Ltd, www.desarrollopetaquilla.com/mineria%20sostenible%2001%20ingles.htm (accessed 5 August 2009)

Presidential approval of mining damage

The following extracts are taken from: Eric Jackson (13 December 2008) ‘ANAM approves Petaquilla gold mine, people downstream are flooded out’, The Panama News, www.thepanamanews.com/pn/v_14/issue_23/economy_05.html

On November 26, about a dozen families in Nueva Lucha de Petaquilla, a Ngobe village down the Petaquilla River from Richard Fifer’s Molejon strip mine, were coping as best they could, on their own since the village was flooded out three days over when the Petaquilla River overflowed its banks. These people moved into harm’s way when men from Richard Fifer’s Petaquilla Minerals came and burned their old houses on higher ground, and help became more remote when this same company destroyed the roads and trails of traditional access to the riverside village and put up a gate to exclude environmentalists, reporters and Liberation Theology religious folks from a vast section of northern Cocle and western Colon provinces.

When Nueva Lucha was flooded, the community sent Merardo Morales and Martín Rodríguez out on foot to summon help. Two days later, after fording several dangerously swollen streams, Morales reached Coclesito and Rodríguez arrived at La Pintada.

There would be no presidential visits, there was no Panamanian government request for US military help … President Torrijos has for years, even when Fifer was a fugitive from embezzlement charges, even when Fifer was openly defying the nation’s environmental laws, supported Fifer’s gold mine project. …

Meanwhile in Panama City, as the people of Nueva Lucha awaited help, … and a week after the National Environmental Authority (ANAM) had fined Fifer’s Petaquilla Gold $1 million for starting the Molejon gold mine without an environmental permit and assessed it $934,694 in damages for the deforestation caused by its road and strip mine site, ANAM director Ligia Castro had a political statement to make. She approved an environmental permit for the gold mine. …

The permit granted by ANAM’s acceptance of Petaquilla Gold’s environmental impact statement requires the company to post two bonds, in the amount of $14,374,000 to cover future environmental damage. It doesn’t appear that driving people in western Colon province from their homes, either directly by sending in goons to burn their houses or slightly less directly by ruining water supplies or fisheries upon which they depend or by increasing the risk of flooding by destroying the ability of ecosystems to retain water, are among the damages that the Torrijos administration would have the company cover.

Case study: The San Martín Mine, Siria Valley, Honduras

Another notorious Central American example of gangster-like behaviour on behalf of transnational mining companies comes from the Valle de Siria in Honduras which is featured in the items below. Carlos Danilo Amador, the General Secretary of the Regional Environmental Committee of the Valle de Siria, refers to Goldcorp, operators of the San Martín mine in the Valle de Siria as “these environmental assassins”[1]. In an interview with Todd Gordon and Jeffery R. Webber, two Canadian writers for The Bullet, Amador also supports this idea that the mining companies enter new areas with sweeteners and lies for the local population:

These companies create a false image of what they want to do in our territories – hiding the fact that they disrespect the dignity of our peoples, disrespect our human rights, impose cultures that are not ours, and rob our natural resources.[2]


[1] Carlos Danilo Amador, email communication with the author, 4 June 2009.
[2] Todd Gordon and Jeffery R. Webber (2010) ‘Canadian Mining and Popular Resistance in Honduras’, The Bullet, E-bulletin no.301, 29 January 2010.

The San Martín Mine, Siria Valley, Honduras

Goldcorp Staff Face Criminal Charges Over Mine Pollution After CAFOD Investigation

Monday, 16 August 2010

Authorities in Honduras last week filed criminal charges against senior officials of Entremares – a wholly-owned subsidiary of mining giant Goldcorp – based on evidence from aid agency CAFOD of severe water contamination.

The data gathered at the San Martin gold mine in the Siria Valley area of Honduras revealed dangerously high acidity and metal concentrations in water flowing into a local stream. The information was part of an official water monitoring report at the mine but was not disclosed or acted upon by the Honduran Government’s department for mineral resources or Goldcorp.

CAFOD Policy Analyst Sonya Maldar said: “We welcome the news that action has finally been taken against Goldcorp on the basis of CAFOD’s evidence and local community concerns. Given that Entremares is applying for new mining permits in Honduras, it is essential to get to the bottom of events at San Martin and ensure that the people of Honduras don’t pay the price of pollution in the long term.”

Charges have been filed against two executives from Entremares for contaminating water and damage to the environment, contravening Article 181 of the Honduran criminal code. If convicted, they could face imprisonment of up to six years. Gustavo Adolfo Torres Garay, a former senior official within DEFOMIN (the Honduran Department for the Administration of Mineral Resources) has been charged with breach of official duties for failing to act on evidence of pollution in contravention of Article 349 of the Honduran criminal code with a punishment of up to three years and disqualification from office.

Goldcorp is one of the world’s largest gold mining companies and has consistently denied that the San Martin mine has caused environmental damage. On top of the undisclosed water monitoring report, Newcastle University experts also gathered visual evidence of acid mine drainage close to the mine site. The Newcastle study was carried out in 2009 in response to a request for technical support from the Honduran authorities. During a visit to Honduras in November 2008, Paul Younger, Professor of Hydrogeochemical Engineering at Newcastle University and a renowned expert on mine water management, noted signs of acidic mine drainage close to the mine site.

Professor Younger said: “Goldcorp’s denial of pollution at San Martin has done the company no favours. If Goldcorp had been open about the problems, they could have avoided this action by the Honduran Environmental Prosecutor. The effects of acid mine drainage can continue for long after a mine has closed so the company must publicly commit to long term monitoring and maintenance at the site to prevent a recurrence of such pollution in the future.”

During a subsequent visit, Dr Adam Jarvis and Dr Jaime Amezaga, also of Newcastle University, saw unequivocal evidence that highly acidic and metal-rich water had discharged from one part of the mine (the Tajo Palo Alto) to a local stream, on at least one occasion. This evidence was in the form of an analytical report of water samples collected by DEFOMIN (the Honduran Department for the Administration of Mineral Resources), the government body responsible for promoting mining in Honduras, granting concessions and monitoring environmental impact.

Drs Jarvis and Amezaga’s report of their visit, which was released by CAFOD in December 2009, reveals that acidity of the water at two sites reached levels of a pH between 2.5 and 3, and showed high levels of cadmium, copper and iron.

This is consistent with a complaint presented by a local community group, the Siria Valley Environmental Committee, to Honduras’ Environmental Prosecutor about discolouration of the water flowing from streams originating from within the mine’s perimeter on 24 September 2008. Community members reported that the water was a “reddish colour (…) and emanated a strong smell of sulphur”. This indicates that contaminated water from the mine’s perimeter had entered streams used by people in the Siria Valley for domestic and agricultural purposes.

Pedro Landa of the Honduran Centre for Community Promotion and Development said: “The case against Entremares (Goldcorp) finally acknowledges the damage caused by this company which has had such a profound effect on the local population and the whole country. It is disappointing that an international company like Goldcorp refuses to take responsibility for its actions. We will stay vigilant so that the authorities apply the full weight of the law and do not allow Entremares to abandon the mine without taking responsibility for the damage it has caused to the local community and environment.”

San Martin was the largest open cast mine in Central America before it ceased production in 2008. Since then, Canadian mining company Goldcorp has been carrying out the final stages of mine closure. The mine has caused controversy from the start, with local people claiming they were not fully consulted about the project.


NOTES:

In 2007, the Honduran Secretariat of Natural Resources and Environment (SERNA) fined Goldcorp one million lempiras, equivalent in value to about £26,000 (at the time) for pollution and damage to the environment. The company has consistently disputed these tests and appealed against the fine.

In 2007, the Latin America Water Tribunal ruled on a complaint filed by members of the Siria Valley communities, finding Goldcorp accountable for damage to the environment and unreasonable use of water in the Siria Valley.

Acid mine drainage is a process whereby sulphides in the rock are exposed to oxygen and water and react to produce sulphuric acid. It can have devastating impacts on the environment, contaminating groundwater with toxic heavy metals and killing plants and animals for years after the mine has closed. Professor Younger’s observations included unequivocal signs of discoloration of streams indicating that metal-rich, and likely acidic, waters have discharged from the mine perimeter.

Communities in the Siria Valley have also complained of health problems, including respiratory, skin and gastro-intestinal diseases, which they believe are a result of drinking water polluted by the mine. A study carried out by the Honduran Department for the Environment in 2008, found high levels of heavy metals, such as arsenic, lead and mercury in blood samples taken from villagers living close to the mine. The study has yet to be published by the government. Goldcorp denies that the health problems are a result of their operations.

CAFOD has attempted to raise concerns about pollution at the San Martin mine with Goldcorp on numerous occasions via letter and in person for several years. The Newcastle University report was presented to Goldcorp’s senior management in 2009 but the company has still refused to admit that the site had ever caused water contamination. Without open disclosure of how serious the water contamination was, it is difficult for independent specialists to be sure that the remedial measures now proposed by the mine will be sufficient to protect the communities from long term environmental hazards.


Taken from:
http://indigenouspeoplesissues.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=6301:goldcorp-staff-face-criminal-charges-over-mine-pollution-after-cafod-investigation&catid=60:central-american-and-caribbean-indigenous-peoples&Itemid=82 (accessed 29.07.11)

When mining firms sue

John Perry 15 September 2014 [Reproduced by kind permission]

Last week a fracking company was refused permission to drill in the South Downs National Park. Celtique Energie is considering an appeal to Eric Pickles to overrule the decision. He might be reluctant to cause a furore in West Sussex, but would he feel the same if aggrieved companies could sue the government for lost profits? This can happen if foreign firms have access to an investor-state dispute settlement, as provided for in the new trade agreements being finalised by the EU with Canada and the US. Ministers reassure us that the provisions are nothing new, without mentioning that US companies are the world leaders in making ISDS claims. The two main ISDS tribunals, run by the World Bank and the UN, operate behind closed doors, with private attorneys who rotate between being judges and advocates, and have no appeals mechanisms.

North American mining companies appear to find making claims against foreign states almost as profitable as prospecting for minerals. Lone Pine Resources, registered in Delaware, is using an ISDS to bring a $250 million suit against Canada for not allowing it to frack under the St Lawrence River. Big money is already being made by suing poor countries in Latin America that have signed trade agreements with ISDS clauses and struggle to meet the legal bills (typically $8 million per case). Peru is being sued for $800 million by Renco for ordering a pollution clean-up that allegedly forced the company into bankruptcy; Costa Rica for $94 million by Infinito Gold. In October 2012, in the biggest ever ISDS award, Occidental Petroleum was granted $1.7 billion (plus interest) for a terminated contract in Ecuador.

Pacific Rim is suing the El Salvador government for $301 million for refusing a gold mining permit. To make the original claim in 2009, it shifted its HQ from the Cayman Islands to benefit from the ISDS clause in a US trade agreement. When this was rejected, it moved the claim to the World Bank’s tribunal, which begins its secret hearing of the case today. According to El Salvador’s rejoinder, Pacific Rim never complied with the requirements for a mining permit in the first place, preferring to rely on lobbying of government ministers. It didn’t own all the land involved or have permission from landowners. Activists have been threatened or killed and water supplies polluted during exploration.

Canadian mining firms are looking forward to the ‘remarkable agreement’ that could soon be signed between the EU and Canada. Like the TTIP between the EU and US, the CETA hasn’t been published, but both agreements are believed to include sweeping ISDS clauses. France’s moratorium on fracking since 2011, defended twice in domestic courts, could be especially vulnerable to ISDS claims from the US or Canada. In Britain, where George Osborne thinks there is a broad consensus in favour of fracking, local prohibitions or regulations to control it could be threatened under the treaties. Fortunately, Germany seems to be having last-minute doubts about signing them.

In 2008 El Salvador imposed a moratorium on all new mining operations. Pacific Rim’s suit is the first challenge against it, and defending it cost the government $5 million before the case even went to court. If the claim succeeds in full, El Salvador will have to pay the mining company the equivalent of half its national health budget. Today is El Salvador’s independence day. As the country celebrates 193 years of freedom from Spanish rule, its sovereignty is under threat from a private company, pressing its claim behind closed doors at the World Bank.

[John Perry lives in Masaya, Nicaragua, where, perplexingly, he writes and edits books on British housing and social policy. The London Review of Books has stood up for the tradition of the literary and intellectual essay in English since 1979.]