The Goldcorp Marlin Mine in Guatemala is a fascinating case history in the ups and downs of mining, of the license-to-mine, of community relations, of so-called sustainable development, and the role of law in a just system. Then there is the fascinating aspect of a government that may not be entirely competent or uncorrupt; and which is beset by social and religious fights, and the need for money to balance the budget. Although I have met a number of government officials and they all seemed honest and earnest to me. They struck me as ordinary, decent people trying to do the right thing in a situation beset by violence, racialism, and poverty-related turmoil. Not to mention the pernicious influence of drug trafficking and rival religious groups. They were moreover beset by trying to deal with the terrible influence of meddling groups of internationalists seeking personal exposure and gain.
Even the Huffington Post, whose liberal reporting usually fascinates me, is posting long articles on the mine. Here is the link to the most recent. A key paragraph from this link reads as follows:
Residents complain of strange rashes on their children’s skins and other symptoms, of cracks in the walls of houses near the mine, and of repression from local authorities when they dare to speak out against the mine. A recent study by University of Michigan physicians showed elevated levels of heavy metals in the blood of residents living near the mine, but said they were uncertain whether those levels constituted a risk.
This reminds me of the observation that journalists are trained and paid to emphasize the spectacular, not probe for the truth. I have examined many of the houses purportedly cracked as a result of the mine. None of the cracks that I observed can conceivably be ascribed to the mine. Cracks are the result of poor foundations, failure to control surface water, improper construction details, and the high level of seismic activity in the area. I have seen houses badly cracked because they are too close to steep slopes rendered unstable by failure to control surface water; these houses and their inhabitants are at risk of certain death in the future, earthquakes or no earthquakes. Yet the church, community leaders, and reporters continue to blame the mine. Instead they should fact reality, face facts, and warn the resident of endangered houses that they face death in an earthquake–or in the future as slope failures grow. For what it is worth there is a church building in Agel that will one day slide down the slope taking the alter with it. Has anybody seen fit to tell the priest?
These irresponsible people who fail to probe or tell the truth are agents of death, not redemption. Their stupidity and intransigence in the face of reality is criminal. They should be hauled before a court of truth and forced to prepare maps showing the perils of the geotechnical and structural conditions that threaten the people in the houses in the villages around the mine. Or maybe Goldcorp should do this in the face of opposition and lies from colorful merchants of death and denial.
I have seen systems that provide water to residents of villages. Plastic pipes carry water from distant sources to the houses. The water is tapped groundwater, none ostensible and possibly affected by the mine. Keep in mind that the natural soils and rocks of the area are of volcanic and every other origin. The groundwater itself may be contaminated with constituents that could affect people’s health. Nowhere have I seen any attempt to correlate the source and/or quality of drinking water with the blood levels so spectacularly reported by gullible reporters. Maybe the merchants of death should be hauled before a court of truth and be forced to do a decent and standard study linking source, pathway, and impact. Maybe they should be forced to tell the whole story rather than peddling half-truth and lies that do nothing to address the real issue: a supply of clean water to residents. Maybe Gorldcorp should do this in the face of lies and opposition.
I have been into houses where the filth and unhygienic living and cooking condition are appalling. How can humans remain healthy living and cooking in such conditions? They share quarters and conditions with animals in ways that I would not have conceived of. We see pictures of clean locals in bright clothes sitting around flowers. We are never shown the pictures of people living in squalour and dirt, failing to wash floors, playing around chickens and pigs, and generally living in a most unhealthy way. We never see pictures of houses so badly built and maintained that water is seeping into the living room; water recent shat in by ducks. Maybe, just maybe, the rashes are the result of the unswept floor, playing with the pigs, or inadequate cleaning and cooking of food. No point in praying when you fail to implement basic hygiene.
Here is a heavily edited version of a comment I received in my e-mail on the situation. It highlights the double role of the government and the issue of the rule of law:
The Guatemalan government is playing both sides of the coin. They told the opposition not to worry that they were shutting down the mine. They told Goldcorp not to worry because they were only starting an “administrative process” to shut down the mine. You can imagine the confusion. To date there has been no order to shut down. The opposition claims that the mine is still operating, therefore disobeying the government (even though the government did not actually issue the order.) Thus they are inciting road blocks to the mine to protest Goldcorp’s “disobedience” of the shut down order.By trying to play both sides the government has made things worse in my opinion. Nobody knows or can predict what is going to happen next.The government has now decided to blame this all on a bad mining law which of course is the fault of some previous administration. Their plan appear to be to say that they will make a new mining law (much higher royalties of course), and then they will tell the opposition that all is well now that the brilliant administration has fixed the bad mining law. Then they will let Godlcorp keep mining.Regarding metals in blood, if one read the report carefully it actually says heavy metals found in blood, but not above standards set by the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta. The press left out that last part of the sentence. The report also says that mine workers were healthier, and that no correlation could be made between occupation, distance to the mine, and metals levels in the blood. If one reads the headlines it sounds bad, if one actually reads the study it is a total non-issue. Incidentally, Notre Dame University funded the study done by Physicians for Human Rights on the matter.Guatemala is about half Catholic and half Evangelical and is the only country in Latin America that is not majority Catholic, evidently the Catholic Church is freaked out about this little fact.
- What is the role of the mine in substituting for inadequate government?
- How do you equitably distribute the fruits of mining to shareholders, local residents, and people who seek to do an honest days work?
- How do you ensure that international agencies and universities tell the truth, or at least do a competent job?
- How do you influence uneducated and impressionable journalists?
- What does sustainable mining mean if the locals want it all now?
- What to do when the Church is failing but seeking to prop up its venality by misdirecting responsibility?
- Accept that the big guy just has to do better than the small guys.
- Acknowledge that the big company has to act proactively to help local communities.
- Shareholders must face the fact that more money has to go to the locals and less to dividends.
- The mine must engage reputable scientists and engineers to prepare comprehensive studies to quantify every aspect of the local environment and the interact thereof with the mine. This must include groundwater, surface water, air quality, geology, and the like and its interaction with people who live around the mine.
- The government and the mine must tell people that they are living in dangerous houses badly affected by steep slopes, unstable ground conditions, poor foundations, and inadequate construction. The mine must tell local inhabitants that in a future earthquake many will die unless houses are retrofitted. Imagine the news stories when an earthquake occurs and many around the mine die in collapsing houses.