Gold brings little wealth to Guatemala

by Mary Ann McGivern

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I went to Guatemala last week for meetings with sisters there about several projects we work on together. The four of us from the U.S. attended a special presentation on Goldcorp Mining Company.

Goldcorp is mining gold (what else?) in the western mountains of Guatemala, in the San Marcos province. When the company bought the land, parcel by parcel, agents told the people a huge orchid farm would be established, offering jobs and the opportunity to work in beauty. The land is poor and people were glad to sell for modest prices – until one holdout was paid $40,000.

Additionally, Goldcorp held a series of good will dinners where they asked everyone to sign in. They used the sign-in sheets to claim to the government that they had the community approval for the mining project required by law. This was the first people heard that orchids were not to be grown there.

We saw pictures of the mountain-top removal, the huge cyanide-contaminated cisterns and ponds and sores on children’s legs and arms. The presenter told us Guatemala gets 1 percent of the profit, split between the national government and the two villages adjacent to the mine. But the people haven’t seen the books.

Last Wednesday, Sept. 21, Goldcorp was removed from the Dow Jones Sustainability Index for its damage to groundwater and lack of sufficient surety for environmental clean-up to restore the land and water when the mine is closed.

Goldcorp is a Canadian company, monitored by Mining Watch, The San Marcos diocese has supported community opposition to the Marlin Mine. Indeed, the parish priest was very much surprised to find his name on the list of community supporters of the mine.

During the meeting in Guatemala I remembered the Appalachian Bishops’ letter, “This Land Is Home to Me.” It is a beautiful pastoral that challenges the mining business to do better. It was written in 1975. You can read it here.

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