Maude Barlow to visit Goldcorp mine in Guatemala

September 6, 2011
Media Release

Tomorrow, Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow will be visiting the controversial Canadian-owned Marlin mine in the municipality of San Miguel Ixtahuacán, which is located about 300 kilometres north of Guatemala City.

“Community activists have risked their lives to protect their water from depletion and the discharge of toxic tailings,” says Maude Barlow.

Among the water-related concerns with the Marlin mine, Tech International, a US-based non-governmental organization, has expressed concern that tailings water from the mine is seeping into a downstream tributary. In 2009, a research team from the Pastoral Commission for Peace and Ecology confirmed the Marlin mine had contaminated local water supplies. And University of Ghent researchers believe the mine is depleting surface water causing arsenic-rich groundwater to be drawn into surface waters, and that arsenic may be the reason for skin problems being found among local residents.

“By allowing Goldcorp to operate this way in Guatemala, the Canadian government is violating the right to water of the local communities in the regional and river basin where the Marlin mine operates,” says Barlow, referring to the legally binding resolutions passed at the United Nations last year recognizing the right to water and sanitation.

“To Harper, the right to water in Guatemala, and other countries Canadian mining companies operate in, is simply a barrier to trade,” adds Barlow, noting the federal government is seeking a free trade agreement with Guatemala. “But you can’t trade away human rights.”

Barlow has previously met with members of the communities around the mine at a conference in Guatemala City, who have told her about human rights abuses, including physical violence and damage to property, of people speaking out against the mine. Many will be accompanying her on the visit.

In the first four months of 2011, the Unit for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders reported that the number of attacks against human rights defenders in the north-western province of San Marcos where the mine is located exceeded the number of attacks against human rights defenders in all other areas of Guatemala combined. The Inter-American commission on human rights had called for a suspension of the mine's operations in 2010 as a result of mounting evidence of human rights abuses. The Guatemalan government ignored this demand and the mining operations have continued.

Given Canadian investments (including through the Canada Pension Plan) and subsidies that have funded the mine's operations, the Canadian government and public have a responsibility here, notes Barlow. The Council of Canadians is calling for legislation in Canada that recognizes the right to water and ends the impunity Canadian mining companies currently enjoy abroad.

“With Guatemala’s federal election less than a week away, mining should be a central issue given its widespread impacts in Guatemalan society and environment,” says Barlow. “With the terrible international record of Canadian mining companies, it should be a central issue here too.”

This past May, the Council of Canadians, along with 200+ people, participated in a protest at Goldcorp's annual shareholders meeting in Vancouver. The protest demanded that Goldcorp suspend its operations at the Marlin mine.

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