The infamous gold mine is owned by the Canadian gold mining giant Goldcorp. It was the first mining project in Guatemala after 36 years of civil war; an armed conflict over unequal landownership. This brutal war ended in defeat due to the genocidal techniques used by the army, and so the Guatemalans accepted a status quo in 1996. Barely a year later a new mining law was voted in. The royalties on the value of the bars of gold being exported dropped from 6% to 1%.
Foreign mining companies soon smelt the opportunities. Suddenly In 1998, you could bump into foreigners in San Miguel Ixtahuacán and Sipacapa, with a very keen interest in the poor quality land and especially the campesinos’ water resources. Rumours shot up; nobody had ever been interested in the highlands before. Where did this sudden interest come from? Without an answer to these questions, the grounds were quickly sold for double, triple the market value. Little did they know that the mining ministry had been handing out mining licences all over these highlands.
“Invest in development.” was a prominent message; there is never a shortage of grotesque advertising messages in the Guatemalan media. Not an hour passes without the Marlin mine being praised. There are many resources to protect the strategic interests of the excavating industry – but could this still really be called development?
There is no disputing that the mine guarantees financial benefits. Between 2006 and 2010 $1.5 billion came out of the Marlin mine. A recent study showed however that, due to taxes, wages and projects, 5% stays in San Miguel Ixtahuacán and Sipacapa, while the locals bear 100% of the environmental and health risks.
‘Mother Earth,’ a Holy term for the Mayans, is being sacrificed for a fraction of the profit. From the start of the mining project, Sipacapa decided to have an internal community referendum, 97% of the participants did not agree with the exploitation plans. The government ignored them and gave the go-ahead for the project.
In San Miguel Ixtahuacán there are also protests. However in this area, you are best not to speak out too much. There is a great risk you will get caught up in a legal struggle – just like seven campesinos that had blocked the entrance of the mine. After months of subpoenas, the campesinos stopped their protests. Today the community is still trying to stop eight housewives from being arrested – orders from Goldcorp.
There are also people in favour of the mining. It is understandable that a miner will fight for his or her job, as a means of income. Goldcorp doesn’t choose the privileged carefully however. Firstly, it’s about the people who have their say in the community; the political leaders. In this way the mine infiltrates the whole community very quickly. The absent role of the state, is happily filled in by Goldcorp,
If you would like your street to be repaved or if you wish to have a school built, you are not to talk about respecting ‘mother earth’, otherwise the money will go to the neighbouring village. The brochures of Goldcorp are filled with ‘charity’ propaganda and a reminder of the conflict shortly after the end of the civil war. Sometimes it gets out of hand: In 2010, Doña Diodora was shot in the eye. In the same week Don Miguel Angel’s house was riddled with gunfire. Both of them had spoken out against the mine. A teacher named Adilia was pestered to leave the school she worked at after she had testified about skin problems amongst her students.
Protesters have been kidnapped and receive death threats. With an inadequate justice system in San Miguel Ixtahuacán, those with power make the law.
The social damage can be measured by the sales in heavy liquor, the increasing domestic violence and the brothels that have suddenly popped up in San Miguel Ixtahuacán. Families are splitting up and brothers and sisters are often at opposite sides of the conflict.
The scenario of the Marlin mine serves as a clear warning for the rest of Guatemala. Today more than 59 community referendums have been organised over the whole country, in which more than a million people have spoken out against mining in their areas. While San Miguel has been left divided by the mining, the rest of the country is united in the protection of their natural resources.