Guatemala

Mapping the Reach of Canadian Mining

In Emilie Teresa Smith’s cover story "Oh, Canada!" (Sojourners, May 2015), she describes the results of Canadian mining practices around the world, which include murder, kidnapping, and the destruction of sacred lands. The map below shows just how widespread Canadian mining operations are. There have been moments of success—for instance, a Canadian court ruled that the company Hudbay could be held legally responsible for gang rapes and murders of members of the Indigenous Mayan Q'eqchi' population at its former mine in Guatemala. But the battle to end destructive mining is far from over, and there are many more battles ahead. 

Zoom into this interactive map to capture the scope of mining: More than 2,000 mining projects in 31 countries, generating more than 200 local conflicts. 

Where is the closest mine to you?

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Canada's Shameful Exports

CANADIAN MINING companies have left a trail of destruction around the world—mostly in places where people are poor and vulnerable.

The earliest conflicts caused by Canadian mining exploded in Guatemala in the early 1960s when the nickel company Inco dug into the northern mountainside of Guatemala’s largest freshwater lake, Lago Izabal. Almost 155 square miles of traditional Kekchi-Maya land was expropriated to create Inco’s Exmibal mine. As the region descended into bitter war, Guatemalan oligarchs and their military, with the support of Canadian-mining and U.S. geopolitical interests, exterminated all popular dissent. Dozens of Kekchi leaders were killed or disappeared; four prominent leaders who had published a report condemning the Inco-Exmibal deals were brutally assaulted and two of them assassinated. The Exmibal mine operated for three years before Inco abandoned it, never paying a nickel in royalties to Guatemala.

Meanwhile, in the Philippines, Vancouver-based Placer Dome arrived on Marinduque Island and sunk in a filthy copper mine. Over the next three decades, Placer Dome operated the Marcopper mine, devastating the local environment and its communities. From 1975 to 1991, Placer Dome dumped 200 metric tons of toxic waste into Calancan Bay, and in March 1996 a massive rupture from the tailings pond flooded 60 villages with toxic waste, permanently destroying community lands, rice fields, and shrimp marshes. The Boac River was declared dead, and the U.N. pronounced it a major environmental disaster. The entire Marcopper mine project was abandoned; no major attempt at clean-up ever took place. In 2006, Placer Dome was taken over by the giant, Toronto-based Barrick Gold, one of the world’s largest mining companies. In 2008, the provincial government of Marinduque began a lawsuit, but Barrick has fussed and delayed, dragging the court case on endlessly.

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Oh, Canada!

DOÑA DIODORA STANDS on the side of the mountain, shivering. She’s tending to her skinny cows. A simple adobe hut stands here on the edge of her land in the Guatemalan highlands—“so I can stay and look after the animals,” she says. “But I don’t know what I am going to do about water. They’ve taken away the water.”

Tears drip down out of her good eye. She dries them on a thin sleeve. The other eye socket, shattered where the bullet went through, seeps with yellow pus. “Me siento un poco triste—a little sad,” she explains in her halting, quiet Spanish. It is cold on the mountain, achingly so. And, mysteriously, the water has gone: Old streams and wells are dusty. The cows look ill.

Just down the crumbling mountain, the tailings pond from the Marlin mine glows a weird shade of neon green.

I first heard about the Marlin mine—operated by Vancouver’s Goldcorp—in 2005, before it opened. That year I was going to Guatemala with a youth group from my diocese, and we were warned: Don’t wear anything that identifies you as Canadians. What? Canadians? We’re supposed to be the good guys in the story. Well, not anymore.

The great global economic shift in the mid-1990s, a free-for-all (if you were already rich) of unbridled neo-liberal capitalism, unleashed an invigorated predatory wave of miners—from Canada—all around the planet to sniff out new places to dig. Canada is the place to raise venture mining capital—the heaps of cash needed to fund these monstrously expensive projects.

Canada has few laws or functioning regulations to control investments or protect human rights and the environment far from our shores. Thus it’s not surprising that 75 percent of international mining companies are registered in Canada and 60 percent are listed on Canadian stock exchanges. In Latin America alone there are around 1,500 mining projects, involving 230 Canadian companies.

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Guatemalans Gain Justice Over ‘Evangelical’ Dictator

Photo from humanrightsfilmfestival / Flickr.com.

Photo from humanrightsfilmfestival / Flickr.com.

Sunday afternoon, March 28, 1982. If you were an evangelical Christian living in Guatemala, watching TV, your heart would have been beating faster and tears of joy may have flowed down your cheeks.

A man was speaking so thoughtfully, with the Bible in hand. He was teaching the audience, “If there is no peace within the family, there would be no peace in the world. If we want peace, we need at first to be at peace in our hearts.” He went on, “Guatemala is the chosen people of the New Testament.”

That 55-year-old man was Guatemalan General Efrain Rios Montt, pastor of the Iglesia  Verbo (Church of the Word), who had recently become president of Guatemala through a military coup.

On May 10, 2013, a Guatemalan court sentenced Rios Montt to 80 years in prison after finding him responsible for deliberate killings by the armed forces of at least 1,771 members of the Maya Ixil population during his 1982-83 rule.

Justice Delayed

During the Central American wars of the 1980s, nearly 200,000 Guatemalans were killed or disappeared. The bloodiest period came during the presidential term of Gen. Efrain Rios Montt, when entire villages were burned and civilians, primarily indigenous people, were massacred.

Rios Montt was a graduate of the U.S. School of the Americas and received millions of dollars in military aid from the U.S. He was also an evangelical/Pentecostal minister and a darling of the Religious Right.

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