Guatemala situation real

Passionate response is called for when voluntary mining reforms fail, putting people’s lives and the reputation of our nation at stake.

Passionate response is called for when voluntary mining reforms fail, putting people’s lives and the reputation of our nation at stake.

I wish to respond to the letter by Dr. R.N. Hargreaves (Nelson Star, September 5, 2012) in which he criticizes the Reverend Emilie Smith’s recent presentation in Nelson about Canadian mining activity in Latin America.

Last week, Guatemalan authorities arrested the former chief of security of the Canadian company Skye Resources, a subsidiary of Hudbay Minerals, on charges of murder of community leader and school teacher Adolpho Ich, who opposed the company’s mine. While Dr. Hargreaves dismissed Reverend Smith’s call to ban Canadian mining in Latin America asserting the primacy of dialogue, it is crucial to recognize that such a call arises from the pain of witnessing pervasive human rights violations by Canadian mining companies over many years, none of which appear to be addressed by dialogue to date.

Some of the most egregious injustices that people opposed to Canadian companies such as Goldcorp, Pacific Rim, Hudbay Minerals, Blackfire Exploration, and Fortuna Silver have experienced in Central America and which have been documented include murder, the gang rape of women, and ongoing death threats to community leaders. I have personally witnessed significant social disruption, health harms (skin lesions, loss of hair, depression, community divisions), reduced potable water, noise pollution, poor air quality, and weakened adobe homes due to blasting while visiting villagers of San Miguel Ixtahuacan, home to Goldcorp’s Marlin mine as a nursing instructor with senior level nursing students since 2007.

All of this information is carefully documented and available through a number of reputable organizations including the United Church of Canada, the Canadian Catholic Organization of Development and Peace, the Mennonite Central Committee, Amnesty International Canada, and the Diocese of San Marcos in Guatemala. It has been documented on CTV’s W5 and on CBC’s The Current.

Substandard practices by some Canadian mining companies are generating concern in other parts of the world as well. In a precedent-setting decision, the government of Norway withdrew its pension plan funding from Barrick Gold’s Porgera mine in Papua New Guinea in 2009 due to “severe environmental damages as a direct result of its operations.” This and similar examples show that voluntary corporate social responsibility advocated by both the mining sector and federal government in response to civic pressure has failed.

I strongly believe that we can make a difference. The arrest of the Skye resources employee that I mentioned previously would never have occurred if the general public and our civic organizations had not brought this case to light, exerted pressure on Hudbay Minerals/Skye Resources, and brought legal proceedings against the company before the Canadian courts.

I urge everyone to continue to press for change. Investigate your ethical investment fund and pension plan portfolio — you may find that you are unwittingly investing in some of these companies—and push for tighter ethical standards.

Research Bill C-323, advanced by MP Peter Julian to address violations of voluntary corporate social responsibility by the mining sector. Speak to others about it, write letters and sign petitions calling for its approval.  Trust that such actions are not in vain; that while those who actually planned the murder of Adolfo Ich are not currently on trial, each action that we take to shed light on these injustices brings those people one step closer to answering for their actions in our judicial system.

Our lives of dignity which we rightfully value are inextricably bound to the lives of others whose natural resources enable us to have cars, cell phones, and pension plans that shape our retirement dreams.

Mary Ann Morris