World Bank Mining Project in Guatemala
Glamis Gold gets $45 million to
construct a mine
by Cyril Mychalejko
Z magazine, June 2005
On January 11, Guatemalan President Oscar
Berger spoke to a group of reporters in Guatemala City about ongoing
protests against a World Bank mining project in the northern part
of the country. He said that his government had to establish ([law
and order. "We have to protect investors," said Berger.
Hours later the Guatemalan military and
police forces armed in riot gear opened fire on protesters murdering
one person and leaving dozens injured. Berger's comments about
establishing law and order in Guatemala to protect investors,
and the ensuing violence and state repression, are not isolated
incidents. Rather they illustrate the violent forces employed
to secure the expansion of capitalist globalization.
Glamis Gold, a mining company incorporated
in Canada with headquarters in Reno, Nevada, was given a $45 million
loan from the World Bank to construct and operate a gold and silver
mine in San Marcos, Guatemala, 90 air miles from Guatemala City
in the country's western highlands. Two of the towns directly
affected by the project are San Miguel Ixtahuacán and Sipacapa,
whose populations are 98 percent and 77 percent indigenous.
The Guatemalan government ratified International
Labor Organization Convention 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples,
which ensures (at least on paper) indigenous people's land rights
and rights to self-determination. Articles in the Convention state
that indigenous communities must be consulted and allowed to participate
in decision-making processes in any matters concerning their land
The World Bank has similar procedural
"safeguards" to ensure only projects with "broad
community support" are approved. Unfortunately, the ambiguous
language coupled with lack of independent oversight and enforcement
mechanisms allows transnational corporations like Glamis and global
institutions like the World Bank to set their own standards.
According to Sandra Cuffe of Rights Action,
a human rights and community development organization, local community
members described consultations as presentations by Glamis where
local residents were asked to sign or mark a sign in sheet as
proof of the consultation. She is the author of a report on mining
and neoliberal reforms in the two countries titled, "A backwards,
upside-down kind of development: Global actors, mining and community-based
resistance in Honduras and Guatemala." Cuffe works in Honduras,
has traveled to Guatemala, and has monitored Glamis's mining operations
in both countries.
Graham Saul, International Program Coordinator
for Friends of the Earth Canada, has been monitoring the project
and agrees the "consultation" process is largely a charade.
"Consultation is more of a public relations exercise than
a meaningful legal process. It gives companies like Glamis and
the World Bank cover [where they can say]: 'Yes we consulted and
yes there is popular support'," said Saul.
Needless to say, both institutions claim
the project has broad support. But an article in the Guatemalan
newspaper Prensa Libre contradicts their claims. The article cites
a survey conducted by the Vox Latina Institute in which 95 percent
of people surveyed in San Miguel Ixtahuacán and Sipacapa
opposed the mining project. A majority of people believe that
mining would harm the environment and not benefit their communities.
The local communities sustain themselves
largely through farming and raising livestock. As a result of
the project, which is in its construction phase, many of the people
have been evicted and relocated from land they have lived on for
generations. "They don't have any say on whether they want
to be moved, where they are moved to, and what kind of housing
they will receive," said Cuffe.
There have also been reports that one
community, which was relocated, went weeks without access to drinking
But the human rights violations just begin
The mining project will bring long-term
social and environmental destruction. The open-pit mining operations
will consume vast amounts of water, which could make water used
for irrigation of farmland scarce. Glamis is not required to pay
for the use of water. Any water that is left for local communities
to use for farming and livestock and the immediate ecosystem can
also be expected to be contaminated by cyanide, which is used
for the extraction of gold and other harmful chemicals and debris
associated with open-pit mining. Alcohol, prostitution, sexual
assault, and rape are commonplace in mining camps in Latin America.
Glamis and the World Bank counter that
the project will bring employment for many locals, though most
of these jobs will be terminated after the construction phase.
Glamis is also building infrastructure that includes roads, new
homes, schools, and medical clinics. Guatemala will also receive
up to 3 percent in royalties.
Jamie Kneen, communications and outreach
coordinator of the Canadian NGO Miningwatch, calls this window
dressing. "If you're destroying productive farm land, dislocating
people, and destroying water supplies you're going to need more
than a school to compensate," said Kneen.
He added that in ten years the mine is
expected to be closed and Glamis is not obligated to fund the
maintenance and operating costs for the infrastructure projects
that the company touts as benefits. Whatever paltry royalties
the Guatemalan government will gain from the project can be expected
to be tied up repairing "unforeseen" environmental damages.
He said that the so called benefits Glamis are offering is nothing
more than an exercise in public relations.
"It's a lot easier to buy public
relations. When you add it up it amounts to very little money,"
said Kneen, "nothing compared to the value of the resources
extracted or reasonable royalties."
"Bread Today, Hunger Tomorrow"
0n December 3, more than 2,000 indigenous
farmers and villagers gathered to block a convoy traveling on
the Pan-American Highway carrying mining equipment from reaching
the Marlin site. This organized opposition resulted from what
many local people perceived as lack of consultation and access
to decision making along with the widespread belief that the project
would destroy their environment and way of life. Though the numbers
dwindled, the blockade lasted 40 days until January 11, when Guatemala's
Interior Ministry deployed the military and security forces to
The security forces used tear gas and
fired their AK-47s into the crowd. Raul Castro Bocel, a 37-year-old
campesino from Solola, was killed. The company issued a press
release stating, "Glamis is saddened that this criminal activity
may have resulted in injury and loss of life."
Glamis wasn't referring to the criminal
activity of the Guatemalan military and police forces, who, when
they fired into the demonstration, violated provisions of that
country's 1996 Peace Accord, which ended Guatemala's 36-year civil
war. Provisions in the Peace Accord were established to guard
against the state-sponsored violence that had resulted in a genocidal
campaign on the country's indigenous people.
Glamis blamed the confrontation on "anti-development
activists" and their "misinformation" rousing the
local population. Its press release went on to reconfirm that
"the project continues to be strongly supported by local
The World Bank also posted a statement
on its website in response to the murder and state repression.
It stated that the Bank was "in frequent contact with the
company and the government as concerted efforts were being made
to find a peaceful resolution."
Conspicuously missing was any mention
of the World Bank having any dialogue with the local protesters.
Then again, why would it change its practices at this point in
The Catholic Church in Guatemala has been
an outspoken critic of the mining project and has been heavily
involved with the organized resistance to it. It is also not immune
from the violence. The Guatemalan Human Rights Commission announced
that a former intelligence officer reported being offered $50,000
by an anonymous person to assassinate San Marcos Bishop Alvaro
Ramazzini. Berger responded by putting the bishop under government
protection. Ramazzini has been a vocal supporter of campesinos'
organizing efforts against mining.
Despite the atmosphere of intimidation,
local opposition to the mining project has not only sustained
itself but continues to grow. Reuters reported thousands of Mayan
Indians gathered for an anti-mine march organized by the Catholic
Church shouting, "Bread today, hunger tomorrow," to
express their belief about the benefits of the mining project.
"We don't want gold; what we want
is to defend our way of life and our water," peasant farmer
Timoteo Tujil told Reuters. It's not just the way of life that
needs to be defended. On March 13 Alvaro Benigno Sanchez, the
23-year-old son of an outspoken critic of the Marlin project was
shot and killed by an off-duty security guard working for a local
company hired by Glamis.
Protecting Free Trade
Bilateral and regional free trade agreements
are another mechanism used by transnational corporations and northern
governments to open new markets and protect the investors who
pillage them. Coincidentally, Glamis is no stranger to "free
Glamis is suing the U.S. government for
$50 million in lost profits under investor rights provisions contained
in Chapter 11 of the North American Free Trade Agreement due to
the decisions of the federal government and the state of California
to halt one of the company's open pit mining projects, which lie
on sacred Native American sites in the southern part of the state.
This has interesting implications for
Glamis's project in Guatemala. The Central American Free Trade
Agreement (CAFTA), which is essentially an extension of NAFTA,
contains similar investor rights provisions. This raises the question
as to whether Glamis could use the same arbitration process, which
includes no public access or oversight, should the growing resistance
to the Marlin mine succeed in ending the project.
Thousands of protesters, including indigenous
farmers, trade unionists, and students, converged on the country's
capital in early March when CAFTA was set to be voted on by lawmakers.
The vote on the free trade deal, which has little public support
outside of government officials and wealthy landowners, had to
be postponed due to the ongoing demonstrations. Protesters were
demanding a national referendum to let the people decide what
is best for them and their country. President Berger, never shy
to "protect investors," again sent in troops to quell
the protests. What ensued was the murder of two more countrypeople
and more violence. Amnesty International reported that two journalists
were threatened with death if they continued covering the anti-CAFTA
demonstrations. The Guatemalan Congress voted overwhelmingly in
favor of CAFTA and Berger ratified the agreement on March 15.
Bishop Ramazzini issued a statement articulating
why the demonstrators were opposed to the free trade agreement
at a press conference during the protests. "CAFTA was negotiated
behind people's backs and this is the reason that people today
are now protesting. It is based on the logic that favors profits
over human rights and sustainability," said Ramazzini. "It's
clearly intended to facilitate the accumulations of capital to
complement and lock into place the neoliberal reforms carried
out by the governments in the region."
CAFTA has also been ratified by the other
Central American countries in the region and awaits approval by
the U.S. government to finalize the deal. Despite widespread opposition
to CAFTA in the United States, largely due to the debilitating
effects NAFTA has had on the U.S. and economy, workers' lives,
as well as strong disagreement from the sugar industry, a vote
is expected in May. Some Republican lawmakers are breaking ranks
with the president on this issue but the Administration and free
trade lobbyists representing transnational capital are cashing
in favors and cutting deals as CAFTA is recognized as a stepping
stone to passing the Free Trade Area of the Americas.
Silence is Golden
The global response to the violence and
violations of international law in Guatemala has largely been
muted. The media's coverage in Canada (home of Glamis) has been
sparse at best. There have been no constructive responses by Northern
governments. Canadian Ambassador to Guatemala James Lambert wrote
an op-ed published in Prense Libre extolling the virtues of mining
as a tool for development by comparing mining projects affecting
indigenous populations in Canada to potential ones in Guatemala.
"Through sustainable development of our mining resources,
these communities are creating the economic, cultural and social
infrastructure necessary to secure their future and the future
of their children," wrote Lambert.
The claim that indigenous communities
have benefited is dubious at best, while the comparison of Canada
to Guatemala is completely inappropriate due to the gross economic,
social, and political disparities between those two countries.
The U.S. government in turn has rewarded
the Guatemalan government for its commitment to neoliberal reforms
by resuming military aid to the country for the first time in
15 years with a $3.2 million package; this in the wake of the
recent murders and violence and a State Department human rights
report released in February which criticized Guatemala's National
Civil Police to be the worst human rights violator in the country.
Global civil society must engage in solidarity
work with the people in Guatemala as the World Bank, Glamis Gold,
and the Guatemalan government have forced them to fight for their
lives and way of life. We must make it clear that the violence,
repression, exploitation, racism, and environmental destruction
inherent with the nature of capitalist globalization are unacceptable.
In the U.S., defeating CAFTA must be a priority because of both
the short term and long term implications in stopping this "backwards,
upside-down kind of development."
A spokesperson for transnational capital,
Jorge Arrizurietta, president of Florida FTAA, put it best when
he recently said, if the campaign to approve CAFTA "is not
successful, the FTAA is for the history books .... The free trade
movement will be stalled."
If we do our work right, stopping both
is within our reach.
Cyril Mychalejko is the communications
director of the Florida Fair Trade Coalition (www.flfairtrade.org).
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