Goldcorp's Marlin mine in Guatemala attracts criticism ahead of Vancouver meeting
Melanie Schambach vividly remembers her body’s reaction when she came near a mine-tailings pond in the western highlands of Guatemala.
The Canadian visual artist was travelling in the country of her mother’s birth early this year to document the impact of the operations of Goldcorp, a Vancouver-based mining company that will hold its annual shareholders’ meeting at the Pan Pacific Hotel on Wednesday (May 18).
There were “mountains of white foam” on the edges of the “totally toxic” pond whose water was a bright blue hue, the Vancouver resident recalled in an interview at the Georgia Straight offices.
“We were standing at the top of a hill, and I feel like my eyes are totally burning,” Schambach said. “And the hairs of my nose are, like, piercing my skin.”
Operated by its wholly owned subsidiary, Montana Explorada de Guatemala S.A., Goldcorp’s Marlin mine in the municipalities of Sipacapa and San Miguel Ixtahuacán has been the focus of controversy since it was established in 2004.
In May 2010, the Washington, D.C.–based Inter-American Commission on Human Rights requested the Guatemalan government suspend operations at the open-pit and underground gold and silver mine because of its adverse environmental effects.
An autonomous organ of the Organization of American States, whose members include Canada and the U.S., the IACHR was responding to calls by 18 Mayan indigenous communities whose water sources have either dried up or become contaminated.
On July 7 of last year, according to Amnesty International, a female activist campaigning against the mine was shot and seriously wounded by unknown assailants inside her home in San Miguel Ixtahuacán.
The human-rights watchdog also reported that in the previous month of June, a female campaigner received anonymous threats after she spoke with a United Nations official who came to investigate the local situation.
On February 28 of this year, while Schambach was in San Miguel Ixtahuacán, several local opponents of the mine who held a protest calling for the implementation of the IACHR recommendation were beaten up by people supporting the mine.
The Marlin mine has also caught the attention of members of the U.S. Congress. In a letter dated March 20 to Guatemalan president Alvaro Colom, 15 American congressional representatives expressed “serious concerns” about the mine.
“We urge you to immediately suspend operations at the Marlin mine and address the ongoing human rights, health, and environmental concerns of the indigenous communities,” the legislators wrote.
Goldcorp shareholders will have a chance to have their say about the controversial Marlin mine on May 18. Two shareholders, Kathryn Anderson and Brenda Cooper, both from Nova Scotia, have filed a proposed resolution to stop operations.
A management information circular issued by the Goldcorp board argues that such a move is “not in the best interests” of the company.
Jeff Wilhoit, vice-president for investor relations, called the Straight from Spain, where he was attending a mining conference. Wilhoit is confident that the proposal by the two Nova Scotia shareholders will not succeed. “Most of our shareholders who understand our story and our track record of safe, responsible operations in Marlin understand as we do that the allegations upon which the proposal is built are without merit,” he said.
Goldcorp shareholders include the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, a federal Crown corporation.
Steve Stewart is a member of the Vancouver-based Café Justicia, a fair-trade coffee business and Latin America solidarity group. He is urging shareholders of Goldcorp and other Canadian mining companies to take a close look at how foreign operations are being conducted by these firms.
“If all they care about is returns, there could be large settlements that could cost them,” Stewart told the Straight in an interview.
On May 4 of this year, Goldcorp reported cash flows of US$586 million for the first quarter of 2011, based on gold production of 637,600 ounces at US$188 per ounce. Dividends paid amounted to US$75 million during this period. First-quarter gold production at the Marlin mine was 77,800 ounces.
A protest will be held outside the Goldcorp shareholders’ meeting. It will be part of a week of activities organized by the Mining Justice Alliance to highlight Canadian mining issues.