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THE SCENE WAS ABSURD: four activists, each with a bundle of 75 black and gold helium-filled balloons, riding an escalator. As we reached the top, we clipped our banner to the bundles and let go, watching our work rise slowly toward the hundred-foot ceiling of the lobby of a downtown Toronto office tower. Suddenly there were security guards rushing toward us. One of them jumped to make a grab for the bottom edge of the banner. We held our breath. He missed by mere inches and groaned. And then for just a moment, everyone in the lobby was standing still, staring up, as our huge painted banner rose until the balloons bumped and jostled against the ceiling. The bold red letters made our message clear: “HUDBAY MINERALS, CORPORATE CRIMINALS.”
The banner announcing “Hudbay Minerals, Corporate Criminals” stayed up in the lobby of the building where Hudbay’s shareholders were meeting for two hours until the company was able to remove it.
Outside on King Street, we joined the group of protesters who had already been standing in the pouring rain for more than two hours. A banner just like the one we had raised inside was stretched out, soaked, between two elders from the Mathias Colomb Cree Nation. They had traveled from northern Manitoba to confront Hudbay at this shareholder meeting where important decisions were being made by people who may have a financial stake but whose lives will never be directly impacted by the actual workings of any of the company’s mines.
Hudbay Minerals is one of several Canadian-owned mining companies censured by environmental activists, human rights organizations and more recently by mainstream media for carrying out violent forced evictions, murdering a community leader who resisted one of their mines, robbing Indigenous peoples of their lands, supporting brutal police and security operations and criminalizing anyone who has tried to resist their mining projects around the world and here in Canada. Hudbay has gained increasing attention recently because they are the first Canadian company to be tried in Canadian courts for crimes committed at mines overseas.
I [Rachel] have been directly involved in supporting communities resisting Hudbay’s mines since 2010, when I traveled to Guatemala as part of a human rights delegation and had the chance to meet people in a Mayan Q’eqchi’ community impacted by a mine formerly operated by the company. One of those people was Angelica Choc, who is now at the centre of Choc vs. Hudbay, the groundbreaking lawsuit currently being heard by Canadian courts. Angelica’s journey through the Canadian justice system began with the murder of her husband in 2009. Her community’s struggle against Canadian-owned mining companies goes back decades and is interwoven with armed conflict, genocide, government corruption, and Canada’s international development policy.
The history of the Fenix nickel mine, on the shores of Lake Izabal in western Guatemala, began in the 1960s when it was started by Inco, a Canadian company with a deep involvement in the Guatemalan government’s efforts to wipe out opposition. The Canadian government provided significant financial support to Inco’s Guatemalan subsidiary while people who protested or organized against the mine were killed, kidnapped, threatened, and whole communities were forcibly evicted from lands that had been their traditional territory for generations. Inco shut down mining operations in the 1980s, and the Fenix mine site was purchased by two Canadian companies – first Skye Resources in 2004 and then Hudbay in 2008. Shortly after the announcement of a lawsuit against Hudbay for negligence concerning violent acts committed by its employees and subsidiaries, Hudbay sold the Fenix mine to Russian company Solway Group at a $290 million loss.
The banner lift I organized in Toronto in the spring of 2013 was staged for the annual Hudbay shareholder meeting. It was an opportunity for organizations like the Mining Injustice Solidarity Network to counter the company’s media spin and to make evident – if only for the few hours that the crowds assembled outside and the banner floated near the 100 foot high lobby ceiling – that there was a bigger story at play than the record growth investment and corporate social responsibility initiatives that Hudbay was announcing inside. It was one small part of a series of actions and events that tied together Angelica’s quest for justice and that of the Mathias Colomb Cree Nation (MCCN) in Manitoba.
Leahjane Robinson with 300 balloons, moments before packing them into a uhaul to drive downtown to Hudbay’s shareholder meeting. Photo by Ashling Ligate.
MCCN has never been consulted by Hudbay or the province of Manitoba regarding the company’s mining operations on their territory. In an effort to assert their claim to the land and prevent Hudbay from carrying out their operations without permission, Chief Arlen Dumas formally issued stop work orders against the company in January and March of 2013, and band members organized peaceful gatherings at the mine site where they held drumming and singing ceremonies.
Hudbay responded by obtaining injunctions against the community and by launching a multi-million dollar lawsuit against Chief Dumas. The result of the company’s retaliatory actions is that MCCN people, who live off the land, have been instantly criminalized and held in contempt of court for trying to maintain their livelihood. Because of a mining operation they don’t want and never agreed to, they can no longer legally hunt and fish on their own land. MCCN has since delivered formal eviction notices to Hudbay and the Province of Manitoba.
Clayton Thomas-Muller, a member of the Pukatawagan Cree Nation and campaigner with Idle No More & Defenders of the Land, also came into town to stand with protesters outside Hudbay’s Toronto meeting. He addressed the crowd: “Investing in disputed Indigenous Lands, not respecting our nations’ right to Free, Prior and Informed Consent, trying to use the courts to suppress our Cree Nations’ sovereign right to protect our lands and water, are all signalers that the board and CEO of Hudbay are negligent, uninformed and morally bankrupt.” The community of Pukatawagan is located less than a hundred kilometres from the mine site.
Hudbay’s actions against MCCN, first ignoring the community’s right to determine what happens on their land, and later responding to resistance with significant legal threats, is heavy-handed and repressive, but less overtly violent than the threats faced by Angelica Choc’s community and those nearby. In 2007, Mayan farmers near the Fenix mine site were forced from their lands by hundreds of armed men from police, military, and private security forces who then burned down their homes.
In a village called Lote Ocho, eleven women were gang raped by the police, army, and security forces hired by Hudbay during an attempted eviction. The Canadian Ambassador to Guatemala attempted to discredit documentary film evidence of these violent evictions, claiming that the scenes were staged, or were filmed during the country’s armed conflict decades earlier. A Canadian court later found him guilty of slander, and ordered both the Ambassador and the Canadian Government to pay almost $10,000 in damages and costs to the filmmaker.
Angelica Choc addresses the supporters gathered outside of the courthouse where the trial began to hold Canadian company Hudbay accountable for the death of her husband. Also pictured: Grahame Russell fromRights Action. Photo by Veronica Díaz.
Two years later, in the face of another round of possible evictions, Angelica Choc’s husband Adolfo Ich Chamán, a community leader and outspoken critic of the mining company’s operations, was shot and killed by security forces. On the same day, German Chub was shot and permanently injured. These incidents, along with the brutal gang-rapes in Lote Ocho, are part ofthe case against Hudbay currently being heard in the Superior Court of Ontario. There are currently three lawsuits against the company, all for negligence resulting in death or significant harm.
Angelica’s message to Hudbay, which she shared with those who came to support her during a Toronto court appearance, is unflinching. “You made a mistake with me because I did not remain silent with my arms crossed…I demand justice.” She is a powerful speakerher words and her emotions impacted the crowd deeply as they heard about the brutality her community, like many others, has experienced in their efforts to resist violations of land and human rights.
“They need to pay for all the damage caused to my family and our communities. What Hudbay has done is deplorable. Even now they hide behind walls, refusing to accept the damages caused in Guatemala. I call upon everyone, and even more so, my Indigenous peoples, who are here [gathered in Toronto] right now, to remember who we are, where we come from and where we are going. I know this is not only the case in Guatemala, and I am not working, I am not fighting, only for Guatemala. This struggle is for the whole world, to defend the earth.”
On the day of her court appearance, in solidarity with Angelica and the other claimants, local Idle No More organizers led a round dance outside the courtroom. Members of the Mining Injustice Solidarity Network hung up t-shirts and sweaters on a clothesline as a way of “airing Hudbay’s dirty laundry”. Each piece of clothing had been painted by someone in Canada with messages about Hudbay’s activities, including a shirt painted by Angelica the night before. Photographs of this clothesline have since appeared in numerous media stories about the court case and the status of Hudbay’s corporate reputation.
A few of the pieces created to express solidarity with the plaintiffs and to air Hudbay’s dirty laundry. Photo by Leahjane Robinson.
Although the progress of the Choc vs. Hudbay case through the Canadian courts is a legal victory for the claimants and the lawyers representing them, back in the communities surrounding the Fenix mine repressive threats have intensified. Communities and families have been deliberately divided by offers of money and by campaigns of misinformation spread by mine officials and the government.
As disturbing as it is that these claimants are experiencing threats, it comes as little surprise to those of us who have worked on mining resistance. Unfortunately, Canadian mining companies regularly act illegally and with impunity in repressing resistance. This is especially easy to do in Guatemala, a country with one of the highest rates of impunity in the world. It is also a country where human rights activists and those organizing around the defense of land are routinely targets of violent attacks and murders.
Angelica Choc holds up the shirt she created for the laundry line. Photo by Monica Gutierrez.
Angelica knows that it will take the voices and commitment of many Canadians to make a change in the actions of Canadian-owned companies operating in her country. Surprisingly few Canadians realize that the majority of mines around the world are owned by companies based here, or the magnitude of the impact these mines are having.
To many Mayan peoples in Guatemala, the abuses carried out by Canadian companies on their land, across Central America, and globally are understood to be simply one part of a long and violent history of colonization, which they have been fighting against for hundreds of years.
Increasingly, settlers (non-Native people) in Canada are realizing what Indigenous peoples have been saying for a long time – these aren’t accidents, or the story of a few bad apples. If we’re going to change the way these companies act, we’ll need to challenge complex systems with a multitude of players that serve to concentrate power and resources in the hands of a few, often at the expense of Indigenous peoples.
And we need to acknowledge that, knowingly or not, we are all complicit in these harms, whether through the investments of our pension plans, the actions of our elected officials, the jewelry or electronics we buy, or by our tacit acceptance of systematic racism, colonialism and other oppressive, violent forces. It will be a long struggle to reverse these patterns.
The last time Angelica was in Toronto, she and I ate an early breakfast of pupusas in my kitchen before she left for the airport. We didn’t speak about much, but there was a weight to our conversation. We both knew just how dangerous it had been for her to come to Canada, and the risks she faced as she headed back to her community. We both knew that there is a very real threat of more evictions now that the mine has new owners. There was little I could say except to feebly send her off with a hug and a “please take care”.
Rachel and Joanne are spending February and March visiting with mining-impacted communities in Guatemala. For more info on mining in Guatemala, and for writing from their trip, see Under-Mining Guate. Visit the Mining Injustice Solidarity Network for updates on related issues, campaigns and actions. You can also read more about Canadian mining injustices abroad in A\J‘s Resource Wars issue.
Canadian company Goldcorp Incorporated has a history of controversial mining operations in both Guatemala and Honduras. Although many would believe that the atrocities committed to native or indigenous peoples are a thing of the past; companies like Goldcorp provide evidence to the contrary.
Canada is home to the largest number of mining companies in the world with projects in more than 120 countries around the globe. The Canadian government allows mining companies to adopt voluntary policies, a move that some say is to blame for the violations of law committed by companies like Goldcorp.
Goldcorp is a gold mining company based out of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Their main operations involve extraction, exploration, reclamation, and processing precious metals. The company currently has five mines in Canada and the U.S., three mines in Mexico, and two in Central and South America.
Despite, or perhaps because of, Goldcorp’s experience as an international mining company there have been a number of blights on their record. Ranging from water contamination to murder, the Crimes of Goldcorp must not go unnoticed.
A Goldcorp subsidiary has been operating gold and silver mines in Honduras since 2000. Entre Mares’ San Martin mine in the Siria Valley of Honduras has been surrounded by controversy since at least 2004 when independent studies showed the mine to be a source of contamination for the environment and the bodies of local residents.
Goldcorp was first fined in 2007 by the Honduran Secretariat of Natural Resources and Environment (SERNA) for pollution and environmental damage. Also in 2007 the Latin America Water Tribunal found the company guilty of damaging the water and environment in the Siria Valley. The tribunal is an autonomous, independent environmental justice organization, They found Entre Mares to be “guilty and must take responsibility for inappropriate use and contamination of water sources in the [Siria Valley] region and for causing harm and risk to the ecosystem and to human health.” (Source)
In 2010 the Catholic Aid For Overseas Development (CAFOD) uncovered a previously unreleasedwater monitoring report detailing dangers to the water and environment surrounding the mining operations. The report was carried out in 2009 by experts from Newcastle University at the request of the Honduran government. The report showed visual evidence of damage from acid drainage located close to the mine site. Paul Younger, a Newcastle university hydro-geochemical engineering professor, stated that when the sulphuric acid is released into the air it can have devastating effects on animals and plants. (Source)
In 2011 Dr. Juan Almendarez wrote about his participation in a forensic report commissioned by the Honduran government. The report analyzed blood and urine samples from 61 people of the community of El Pedernal, and one person from the community of Nueva Palo Ralo, in the Siria Valley. The report was commissioned in 2007 but, once again, was not released until 4 years later.(Source)
The report found serious lead poisoning from the people of Pedernal. Dr. Almendarez, former Dean of the Faculty of Medical Sciences and former Vice-President of the National Autonomous University of Honduras, also stated:
The Government’s failure to carry out blood sample analysis of mercury, arsenic and other metals and semi-metals is incomprehensible and appears to be intentional negligence – it is urgent that these studies be carried out.
The Government of Honduras and Goldcorp are socially, judicially and ethically responsible for concealing information for almost four years from people who were subjects of laboratory examinations. (Source)
Guatemala and the Marlin Mine
The Marlin mine located in San Miguel and Sipacapa, Guatemala first went into production under Glamis gold in 2005. A year later Glamis was purchased by Goldcorp. It didn’t take for Goldcorp’s familiar policies to show up.
The documentary Sipacapa Is Not For Sale documents the Mayan Sipacapan peoples rejecting of Goldcorp’s mine in their territory. The Sipacapa signed a legally binding community consultationdeclaring their opposition. Since 2008 human rights reports have declared that the mine was acquired with the “free, prior and informed consent” of affected communities. In 2010 a study by Physicians for Human Rights found that “some residents living near the mine have relatively high levels of lead in their blood and arsenic in their urine.”
Beyond the dangers to the environment there have been a number of violations of human rights. Amnesty International reported that activists protesting the Marlin mine were attacked in 2010 and 2011. There have also been confirmed reports of attempted assassinations of those who speak out against Goldcorp attempting to seize their land. As recently as last month troops were ordered into Sipakapa by Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina. The troops were sent on behalf of Goldcorp as the communities begin to rise up.
On January 14th thousands of farmers from Sipacapa, San Miguel and 5 other municipalities came to the village of Pie de la Cuesta, Sipacapa to resist the Goldcorp mining operations. During the gathering a representative from Goldcorp signed a public agreement with Sipacapan community members agreeing to suspend work and withdraw from the “Los Chocoyos” site in the village. The community gave Goldcorp two days to remove their equipment from the area.
The Impact on Local Health
In July 2012 the first ever People’s Health Tribunal was held in San Miguel, Guatemala. The Tribunal’s twelve judges included human rights defenders and ecologists, health specialists, and scientists from five different countries. The judges heard from residents affected by the Marlin mine, Goldcorp’s Los Filos mine in Mexico, and the San Martin mine in Honduras.
The PHT hoped to look at the holistic health impacts of open-pit mining in the area. They looked at the environmental health, physical health as well as emotional psychological health of the communities. The judges found some common health related issues in all three Goldcorp mines including respiratory disease, skin disease, rise in cancer, premature births, birth defects and assassinations.
REBUILD AND RESIST
These horrible crimes against humanity and the environment have not gone completely unchallenged. As recently as January 8th a lawsuit was filed against the mayor of San Miguel on behalf of five communities which have dealt with water shortage and contamination since Goldcorp began mining in 2005.
While some challenge Goldcorp and the Guatemalan and Honduran governments in the courtroom, others seek to vote them out through binding community consultations. Since 2005 the majority of all consultas held voted “No” to development of community lands. The Guatemalan government is now seeking to ignore these agreements, stating that they are not legally binding.
When communities tire of the political and legal routes they often take to the streets to assemble and resist the efforts of multinational companies. They are often met with force and violence. A confrontation at the Marlin mine in 2004 brought 1,200 soldiers, 400 police officers, tear gas, bullets, and one dead protester. (Source)
Despite the number of studies released and suppressed, the reported violence and damage to the environment, Goldcorp seems unscathed and unremorseful. In May 2011 Goldcorp CEO Chuck Jeannes responded to the allegations by stating, “The No. 1 and most important factor is that we are operating the mine to international standards from the very beginning.”
While it may be easier for a CEO of a billion dollar business to remain ignorant of the damage caused by his company’s actions, the people of San Miguel and Sipacapa, Guatemala, and the Siria Valley of Honduras have a more difficult time ignoring the destruction of their homelands and the poisoning of their people. Goldcorp, and the industry they represent, seem to be indicative of disregard for those affected by their policies and operations.
We have to ask ourselves whether the energy sources, and devices we use are worth the complete excavation of the planet and the cultures that helped shape its history. Are there are other more sustainable methods we could make use of that don’t require gold? Could better communication lend itself to an agreement among the people living in resource-rich areas and the companies hoping to make use of the land?
Only with respect for this planet and the life on it will we create solutions that can allow all life to advance forward without the loss of cultural identity or environments. Please continue to do your work exposing corrupt corporations such as Goldcorp and stand in solidarity with all those resisting them with their very lives.
Sources / more information:
- The history of Goldcorp’s “Marlin” mining operation, the harms and violations caused, and the resistance of the Mayan Mam people, is documented in Gold Fever(www.goldfevermovie.com).
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Derrick Broze is an investigative journalist, community activist, gardener and promoter from Houston, Texas. He is the co-founder of The Houston Free Thinkers, and co-host of Free Thinker Radio. Broze also hosts and produces a weekly podcast under the name the Conscious Resistance Live. His writing can be found on TheConsciousResistance.com, The Liberty Beat, the Anti-Media, Intellihub, Activist Post, and other independent media sources.
- Guatemala: state of siege declared as Army, police crack down after protests against Canadian-owned mine – Boing Boing (boingboing.net)
- Guatemala cracks down on anti-mine protests (foxnews.com)
- Guatemala declares state of emergency over anti-mining riots (mining.com)
- Guatemala in state of emergency over mine protest (euronews.com)