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When Aniceto López looks out on the mine pit at the Marlin Mine, he sees what used to be there: forests and animals, an area he says was “full of life.” Now he says it is disgraceful what has happened to the area, as massive trucks take a steady supply of ore up and out of the pit gouged out of the side of the mountain.
López is the coordinator for FREDEMI, the Frented de Defensa Miguelense or San Miguel Defense Front. Members of FREDEMI, and of other groups in the area that are critical of the mine, are urging the government to suspend operations there. This is putting many of them at risk: People have been shot, beaten, arrested on dubious charges, and endured intimidation via death threats and near misses from gun fire. It’s a tense situation in all the areas around San Miguel Ixtahuacán in Western Guatemala.
Critics of the mine cite numerous problems related to the environment, such as water pollution and lack of access to clean water. There is also a basic incompatibility between the Mayan religion and its reverence for Mother Earth, and an activity that literally tears apart the land, and requires massive amounts of water.
The UN and the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights have investigated the social and environmental problems related to the mine and both recommended that mining operations be suspended while the government studies the situation. (See the IACHR’s Precautionary Measure PM 260-07.)
The government initially agreed to suspend mining at the site, but later reversed this commitment saying it did not have enough evidence of water pollution, public health problems, or human rights violations. The company running the mine, called Goldcorp, seems to have the government and local mine employees on its side. When López and other members of FREDEMI led a demonstration calling on the government to suspend mining in February 2011, he was taken to the office of the mayor and “allegedly” attacked and beaten, according to a report by Amnesty International (which does not specify who was responsible for the attack).
What does FREDEMI have on its side? “Our strength is that we are still here and working,” López says “None of us has ever said we are too scared to continue.”
Once a mine is established it is really hard to get it closed (even temporarily) but people in San Miguel Ixtahuacán have the determination and international support to make it happen. You can help them! Lend your support to their struggle by signing on to the electronic petition here. We’ve also just finished a short video about this case; please share it and ask others to sign on to the petition as well.