By Brenda Norrell
Sipakapa is not for sale, Mayan community turned down corporate mining cash
TUCSON, Ariz. – Gold and silver mining in the Mayan homelands in northern Guatemala, near the border with Chiapas, Mexico, is poisoning the water and explosives are destroying the homes in the rural farming community of Sipakapa, Guatemala.
“While the gold mine is there and operating, there is no solution. The only solution is to stop the mining,” said Mario Tema, Mayan from Sipakapa, during an interview at the Western Mining Action Network Conference in Tucson on Sept. 29.
Goldcorp (formerly Glamis Gold) is mining silver and gold at the open-pit Marlin Mine, between two Mayan communities, Sipakapa and San Miguel Ixtahuacan in the San Marcos highlands.
Speaking through a translator, Tema said, “There is a new mine in Guatemala. It is the first of its kind. It has created many problems in our community, especially social problems.
“The government is supporting the mine politically. It makes our organizing very difficult, because it means people are speaking out not just against the mine, but against the government.”
Tema said the mine has been in operation for two years and is causing impacts, both environmental and social impacts.
“We know there is acid mine drainage in the river. There are heavy metals in the river near one mine site. There are also social impacts from the explosives. People are living 500 meters from the explosives used at the mine and there are cracks in their houses. Now, their roofs are leaking. Seventy-two homes have been damaged. We’re talking about 72 families, with an average of six people in each family.”
“The mining company must take responsibility for helping them repair their homes.”
Tema points out there are 22 different Mayan languages in the region. The mine will not just harm the Sipakapense speaking Mayans in Sipakapa and Mam speaking Mayans in San Miguel, but will affect the entire western highlands region of Guatemala now targeted as a mining district.
MineWatch Canada reports that promoters of the mining industry -- the World Bank, Glamis Gold (now Goldcorp) and the governments of Guatemala, Canada and the United States -- promoted the Marlin mine as a "development" project. In reality, however, the mine is simply a business that enriches an international corporation at the expense of the good development of communities.
After the World Bank’s $45 million loan to Glamis, the government of Guatemala began militarization and repression. On January 11, 2005, the government sent more 1,200 soldiers and 400 police agents to Los Encuentros, Sololá, to protect the passage of a cylinder destined for the Marlin Mine. The State forces used tear gas and bullets against the Kaqchikel brothers and sisters who for weeks had been detaining the transportation of the cylinder in protest. Raúl Castro Bocel was murdered by State security forces and more than 20 were injured.
The gold mining company brought in an Israeli security company, which killed one of the people. In San Miguel Ixtahuacán, on March 23, 2005, an employee of the private Israeli security company hired by Glamis Gold, the Golan Group, shot and killed Alvaro Benigno Sánchez, leaving four children without their father.
In Tucson, Tema said the people in his community of Sipakapa have responded with consultation and an overwhelming “No” vote to mining.
“People are also in conflict with their local authorities. The opposition has taken the form of organizing community consultation. Community members were asked to respond, ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ on the issue of mining. The people said ‘No.’”
“But the mining companies try to divide the people. It is always generating more conflict in our community."
In Tema’s community, there are 15,000 people and 92 percent are Mayans, with 8 percent of mixed ancestry. There is no commercial industry and people survive from family farms. Some have cows, but no more than six.
In Tucson, Tema said the benefit of attending the Western Mining Action Network Conference came from sharing with other people impacted by mining and discovering how they are working to halt mining. He particularly learned a great deal from Western Shoshone Carrie Dann, leading the fight for Western Shoshone land rights as corporations seize Shoshone territory in Nevada for nuclear testing and gold mining.
Meanwhile, in Guatemala, elections have been underway. Tema said candidates from the civic committee, born out of resistance to mining, did well in municipal elections. The newly elected officials take office January 15, 2008, for a period of four years.
“We have municipal support. We can make decisions and continue to resist this mining project. We can start to make laws and regulations to protect our territories,” Tema said.
“We can engage in our strength in a legal and political way. We have public power in our hands. We have ‘people power’ to work for the benefit of the people in the community.”
Although activist Rigoberta Menchu did not receive enough votes to remain in the race for President of Guatemala, her effort was celebrated.
“For any Indigenous person to stand up and run for president, it is important. We need to pay attention to it,” Tema said.
“In the case of Rigoberta Menchu, it is an historic event. There has not been an Indigenous person running for president since the establishment of the national government in 1821. There has never been an Indigenous person running for President of Guatemala.”
Meanwhile, MiningWatch Canada reports that the Marlin silver-gold mine was discovered by Francisco Gold and developed by Glamis Gold, through its fully owned subsidiary Montana Exploradora de Guatemala. There has been serious and prolonged protest by Mayan villages in the San Miguel Ixtahuacan, which comprises 19 villages, and Sipacapa, which comprises 13 villages, in Guatemala’s highlands department of San Marcos.
Over the past two years, villages in San Miguel Ixtahuacan have been transformed into an open pit mine, which will eventually encompass five square kilometers. Eighty-five percent of the total expanse of the mine is in San Miguel Ixtahuacan and 15 percent is in Sipacapa.
The municipality of San Miguel Ixtahuacan has a population of 39,000, most of whom are Mam Maya farmers who depend on farming to survive. Before production at the mine began, there were numerous protests.
In 2006, Goldcorp predecessor Glamis paid for workers from its Marlin Mine to participate in pro-mining demonstrations.
Two years ago, when residents of Sipacapa heard about the mine, they organized a referendum (Consulta) using the International Labour Organization’s Convention 169, which affirms the right of Indigenous communities to be consulted in good faith before industrial activity take place on their lands. The people of Sipacapa voted overwhelming against the mine.
Montana Exploradora de Guatemala filed an unconstitutionality suit, as well as an appeal, against the Consulta in 2005. On May 8, 2007, the Guatemalan Constitutional Court ruled that the Consulta was unconstitutional.
In early 2007, the company offered the municipality a “gift,” of $150,000 CDN. It was refused.
--Goldcorp mining in Indigenous territories in the Americas
Goldcorp has gold mining interests in Indigenous territories, including mines in Canada (Red Lake Complex in northwestern Ontario; Musslewhite in Ontario and Porcupine in northeastern Ontario.)
Goldcorp mining interests include mines in Argentina (Bajo de la Alumbrera), Australia (Peak Gold Mine), Brazil (Amapari mine in the northern state of Anapa), Chile (La Coipa gold and silver mine) Guatemala (Marlin Mine and Cerro Blanco), Dominican Republic (Pueblo Viejo) and Honduras (San Martin Mine.)
In Mexico, Goldcorp’s interest include Los Filos/Bermejal and Nukay mines, both in the state of Guerrero, El Sauzal in Chihuahua in the northern state and Penasquito in Zacatecas.
In the United States, Goldcorp has 66.7 percent interest in the Glamis Marigold Mining Company in Humboldt County, Nevada. Goldcorp owns Wharf open pit gold mine in the Bald Mountain mining district of South Dakota.
The Imperial Project is a proposed open pit gold mining operation in the Imperial Valley in southern California. The Quechan Nation is battling Goldcorp/Glamis Gold over the proposed open pit cyanide leaching gold operation, which would violate their sacred Spirit Trail and a wilderness area.
Photo: Mario Tema with Carrie Dann, Western Shoshone. Photo Brenda Norrell
Please see first in series: "Peru’s Indigenous Peoples arise in defense of Earth from mining"