A rock hitting a metal roof makes a certain sound.
When I heard it I was in a meeting in a small house in San Andres, Honduras, with a group of people who had been moved off their farms to make way for a large gold mine. They are now living in a tidy, well-laid out town built just for them.
When you talk to the people they say they are disappointed: “They gave us [building] plots, just three meters by 20 meters [about 10 feet by 66 feet], and there is no place to expand. We can’t have chickens or pigs, there’s just no room,” one man reluctant to give me his name said. “This is a place for middle class people, not poor people, it just does not work for us.”
About 50 people in the town blocked the road leading to the mine for 23 days in 2007. They shut down the operation and demanded proper compensation, more jobs. The company ignored them. When they townspeople finally gave up, the mine went back to work, plugging away at producing 70,000 ounces of gold each year.
When the rock hit the roof, many of the people in the room exchanged tense glances, their eyes darting back and forth. The leader of the town’s environmental committee jumped, then he laughed. He said it was probably some mine supporters trying to disrupt the meeting. I had heard kids playing outside and assumed it was one of them engaging in a little mischief, but the reaction in the room said otherwise.
What will be here in another 10, 20 years? The farmers worry about their children and they know that when the mine leaves, so will their prospects, like a rock sliding down the corrugated metal roof, and landing in the dirt with a thump.
There is an active debate in Central America right now about the costs and benefits of mining, and we have just published a report that calls into question whether industrialized mines are really worth the social and environmental problems they bring. You can also see some of the people I met on a recent trip to Central America and hear what they have to say about it in an audio slide show we just finished.
I’ve talked with people concerned about oil wells and mining operations in about seven countries now, and many of them say similar things, their words echo in my head like the metallic ring of that rock on the roof.