Mining in Guatemala – A Necessary Evil?
By Diana Pastor
There are many of us Guatemalans who don’t like the mining industry. But we also understand that certain elements of mining are needed to sustain lifestyles both inside & outside of this country, such as the extraction of key non-metallic minerals (e.g. limestone & clay), which are more widely available that the precious metals such as gold & silver that can also be found in Guatemala. The extraction processes for the latter are extremely harmful & dangerous, both for the environment and for local populations – as has been demonstrated through the experiences of the Montana Exploradora and the Marlin mines that are found in the San Marcos Department.
In San Miguel Ixtahuacán, where the Marlin Mine is installed, the levels of lead and mercury contamination have become excessive. Air pollution caused by opencast mining has had a shocking impact and the ensuing reduction of local flora and fauna has been inevitable. Moreover, the productive capacity of the soil in the surrounding area has decreased significantly. The deterioration of houses is another very common problem for the residents of San Miguel and water shortages have been brought about by the substantial amount of liquid that is drained for use at the mine.
All of this is not just mere coincidence. Marlin is just one of the mining companies that has taken advantage of the weak mining legislation in Guatemala, which provides processes for authorization, exploration and extraction but doesn’t stipulate anything for closure commitments.
Another case is that of el Tambor mine en San José del Golfo, which during the past few months has been involved in violent acts against the La Puya community, who have been staging a peaceful resistance movement against the mine for over two years in order to prevent the machinery from reaching the site and making it operational.
Faced with so much damage and chaos, the good news is that people have started to respond and organize. The community consultation process for mines has started to become more widespread since the Sipacapa mine in San Marcos, for which the entire municipality was consulted. The result of the consultation? 99% were in strong disagreement with the mine. By the end of 2008 there had been about 30 community consultations in municipalities in Huehuetenango, San Marcos, Quiché, Alta Verapaz and Zacapa, leading to over 96% of the local communities refusing to give their permission for mining activities. Thus, the only way forward is to continue pressing local authorities so that they respect such consultations, which constitute an essential right for local communities who must be permitted to make their own decisions about their land and their resources.