Right on the deadline given by the Interamerican Commission of Human Rights (CIDH, in Spanish) for compliance, the Guatemalan government has responded positively to their request that mining activities at the Marlin mine be suspended. Earlier in the year the International Labour Organisation asked for a suspension, and following that the communities of Sipakapa and San Miguel Ixtahaucan appealed the CIDH for precautionary measures to be granted. As the CIDH explains, it asks for precautionary measures "to prevent irreparable damage" to people making the petition. In the case of these communities it asked for a series of five things, the suspension of mining and measures to decontaminate the environment, deal with health problems and safeguard members of the communities from attacks. It also asks for more information on legal actions taken against community leaders and about damage to dwellings.
The Guatemalan authorities did not respond within the first deadline given, so the CIDH granted an extension and it looked like that might pass unresponded too until the last minute announcement. Before we get too excited, the government statement dismisses the concerns about the health of the community members and the contamination of rivers as being unfounded but does claim it will grant protection to community members under threat, though such protection provided by the Ministerio Publico to others under threat has usually been only short term, until the spotlight goes elsewhere when it is withdrawn.
The Guatemalan government has been under some pressure recently about its mining and mineral policies, especially as they relate to the indigenous population. The UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and fundamental liberties of indigenous people, James Anaya, has just completed a fact finding visit, and was critical in his preliminary remarks of the way this is being handled. He warned that climate of instability and ungovernability isn’t doing anyone any good, and felt that at least all the various interested parties seemed to agree on that. He links this back to the long history of discrimination and dispossession suffered by the indigenous.
He makes a particular point about consultations, and the disputes as to their validity, whether they are binding and lack of clear framework in domestic legislation, even though international obligations Guatemala has signed up to require consultation to take place. This means that "consultation" can mean whatever anyone wants it to, from a company just making presentations about what they are doing all the way to a full negotation between all those who have a stake in a project. He pleads that the government must take a more active role in consultation, an obligation it already has, and also to try to bring consensus. He also dismisses any idea that the people are being duped and manipulated, saying that faced with the same situation of conflict, environmental damage and no improvement in life he would also say no to mining.
James Anaya’s focus was again on Marlin, and his comments reinforce the concerns expressed by the CIDH. This week Peace Brigades International have published an alert for another community affected by extractive industry, that of San Juan Sacatepequez. PBI have been accompanying there for a few years, protecting community leaders who have faced attacks for their opposition to a cement works. The recent threats and aggresion has reacheds sucha pitch that PBI felt it had to
issue the alert. Flyers, press articles and emails have appeared, alleging that the people are being manipulated and even that their
organisations are terrorists. The lack of full information and consultation is top of the list of items causing upset in the community.
It is clear that the political temperature around mining is getting too feverish, and some serious action needs to be taken to get it down to a healthy level. This cannot happen in a climate of threats, name calling and fear. Dialogue is the only answer, and without extraction projects continuing making the dialogue irrelevant. It is to be welcomed that Marlin activities have been suspended and further licences are not being granted. Let’s make the most of this opportunity for a clean start.