New evidence supports suspension of Guatemalan mine


Oxfam America Press Release

Date of publication: 
11 August 2010

WASHINGTON, DC – International humanitarian organization Oxfam America cites three new independent studies as further evidence that Marlin gold mine in the San Marcos department of Guatemala should be suspended until community concerns are adequately addressed. The studies support the government’s recent announcement that it would suspend operations the mine, owned by the Canadian company Goldcorp, following environmental and human rights complaints.

“Together, these reports indicate that Marlin Mine has had serious social and environmental impacts on surrounding communities. It’s time for the government to take action to suspend mining operations to protect the health, safety, livelihoods, and most importantly, the rights of these communities,” said Raymond C. Offenheiser, president of Oxfam America.

On June 24, the government of Guatemala announced it would begin a process to suspend operations at Marlin Mine responding to a request from the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights on behalf of 18 communities citing water contamination and adverse health effects on members of the communities. The suspension is pending an investigation into these allegations by Guatemalan officials.

A report launched today by environmental research nonprofit E-Tech International raises concern about groundwater and surface water contamination around the mine. The report examined the accuracy of Marlin Mine’s Environmental and Social Impact Study, which claimed there would be no significant negative effects to water resources or aquatic life in the areas surrounding the mine. However, the E-tech report showed environmental impacts are already occurring, including increasing concentrations of arsenic and sulfate in groundwater, , decreasing health of aquatic life, and potential contamination downstream of the tailings dam. The report calls for more water-quality monitoring and improved communication of the results and their significance to local communities.

The 1997 mining law in Guatemala encouraged metal mine development and offered little protection of local land ownership. Marlin Mine was the first to open under the new law and the first to receive funding from the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation (partial owner of the mine until the load was repaid in 2006). Since the initial exploration phase of Marlin Mine, communities have lodged numerous complaints and protested against the mine.

“Marlin Mine was established – like so many mining projects in developing countries – without adequate consultation with the surrounding indigenous communities. Too often, these communities pay the price for the negative effects of mining, but rarely have a say in how the mining industry is developed or a fair share of the resulting profits,” said Offenheiser.

An additional study by Guatemala-based research organization Association for Social Research and Study, known by their Spanish acronym ASIES, found Marlin Mine does not comply with national and international laws protecting indigenous peoples, including Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization, which grants communities the right to Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) regarding mining operations.

The analysis showed threats to communities in mining areas – including the contamination of natural resources, damage to health and livelihoods, and with non-compliance with national and international consultation laws – have instigated social conflict and rejection of mining operations. Even further, evidence suggests that social conflict generated by mining operations, especially Marlin Mine, is growing worse in Guatemala and could eventually impact governability in these regions leading to substantial social and economic costs.

In a separate report, ASIES surveyed more than 700 people in communities surrounding mining activities. According to the findings, the majority of those interviewed:

  • are against mining in Guatemala;
  • believe that neither the government nor the mining companies respect the rights of communities on this issue;
  • identify the most important social cost of mining as the violation of the rights of indigenous peoples;
  • believe that mining companies do no respect the right of surrounding communities to be informed; and
  • view mining as incompatible with traditional means of livelihood, including agriculture and fishing.

“Time and time again, indigenous communities have spoken without being heard. Guatemala is not only facing irreparable land and water degradation in these areas – the country could face real challenges to peace and prosperity if the concerns of these communities are not addressed,” said Andres McKinley, program officer for Oxfam America’s extractive industries program in Central America. “The government must take a critical look at the benefits of mining in Guatemala versus the significant costs to communities that are eager to support their families and through traditional livelihoods like fishing and agriculture.”

Oxfam America is an international relief and development organization that creates lasting solutions to poverty, hunger, and injustice. Together with individuals and local groups in more than 100 countries, Oxfam saves lives, helps people overcome poverty, and fights for social justice. Oxfam America is an affiliate of the international confederation Oxfam.

For More Information:

Maura Hart, (202) 496-1196, (202) 476-0093 (m) or mhart [at] oxfamamerica [dot] org