For about ten years until about 2005 I used to attend all the Los Angeles opera productions. Placido Domingo was, and still is, in charge of the music. Occasionally he would sing in an opera—what a thrill to see and hear him live. I vaguely recall that in the program notes, there were news pieces about Domingo’s Dames, a group of women devoted to him and his role in opera. I cannot establish if this group still exists. I hope it does.
Today I got hit by the phrase Marlin Maidens. I know this group does not exist; at least formally. Yet I wonder. I read another of those seemingly endless pieces about well-intentioned maidens working against the Marlin Mine in Guatemala. Dare we call them the Marlin Maidens? Perish the days when the Valkyrie roamed the battle fields to bring fallen heroes to Valhalla. Now the pursuit is fallen miners whose souls will ne’er cross the Styx with Charon in command.
Enough of mixed mythology. Back to those who oppose Marlin. There are at least three groups I know of, namely the ladies of Environmental Law Alliance, of MiningWatch Canada, and of the geography group at the University of Northern British Columbia. Do they know each other? Do they cooperate or do they compete? Who is their Wotan or Zeus?
What follows is a collection of random writings about the Marlin Maidens. The sad thing is that they seem, in my opinion, to miss the point entirely and collectively. Shutting the mine will do no good to anyone. Making the local houses earthquake resistant will save many lives in the future. Getting the local a good education and political representation in the new Guatemalan government will do wonders. Why do they focus so on protest and so little on constructive action? If it just that it is so exciting to roam the battle field picking up the dead to carry them to glory? You decide on the basis of what follows?
Here are the staff of the Environmental Law Alliance who focus on the Marlin case.
- Mara Lorena Bocaletti
Abogada Ambientalista, con una Maestría en Políticas y Gestión Ambiental de la Universidad Carlos III de Madrid, España, Co-fundadora de la Alianza de Derecho Ambiental y Agua -ADA-, Catedrática Universitaria de Derecho Ambiental y Manejo Alternativo de Conflictos Socioambientales.
- Jeanette de Noack
Jeanette is the cofounder of the Alianza de Derecho Ambiental y Agua (ADA²) (Environmental Law Alliance and Water or ADA²) in Guatemala. Although ADA² is a new organization, Jeanette has been working as an environmental lawyer for over a decade, specializing in water law, in Guatemala and throughout Central America. She is an active member of the Mesoamerican Legal Strategy Group of ELAW - a regional coalition of lawyers working to protect the Mesoamerican Reef and coastal watersheds that affect the Reef. And, she worked with ELAW to publish an illustrated Guide to Public Participation to empower communities in Guatemala to get involved in protecting their natural assets.
- Lucia Xiloj
Lucia is a human rights lawyer at the Rigoberta Menchú Tum Foundation, founded by the Nobel Prize winner of the same name, who has dedicated her life to promoting indigenous rights in Guatemala. Lucia represents indigenous leaders in Guatemala who have challenged the polluting abuses of the Marlin mine (owned by Glamis Gold of Canada). These leaders have been wrongfully accused of crimes because of their defense of their community’s rights. Lucia also works with law students in their final year of study who are working to advance indigenous peoples’ rights, protect natural resources, reform mining practices, and expose crimes against humanity.
Here is a link to the most recent writings by Jennifer Moore of MiningWatch Canada on Marlin. What follows is from a posting on this blog that I wrote when the announcement came through that Jennifer Moore had been appointed to watch Marlin. The announcement red in part:
It is with great excitement that we announce that Jennifer Moore has been hired on as our new Latin America Program Coordinator. Jennifer’s excellent skills and extensive experience as a writer, researcher, organizer, and project coordinator will be assets to MiningWatch and to our allies and partners. She has been based in Ecuador for most of the last four years, but Jennifer also has significant experience in the rest of the hemisphere, including the Canadian context where much of our direct advocacy and education efforts are focused.
Jennifer is a freelance print and broadcast journalist with twelve years experience in social justice journalism, a third of which she has gained while living and working in Ecuador. While in South America from 2006 to 2010, she researched and wrote popular and academic articles about the struggles of indigenous and non-indigenous communities affected by Canadian-financed mining companies.
MiningWatch staff and Directors wish to thank all who expressed interest in this position. The selection process was made more difficult by a surfeit of excellent candidates. It is good to know that such capable and dedicated people are not only aware of our work but eager to join our team.
Jen’s work will be divided between the campaign to stop abuses at Goldcorp’s Marlin mine in Guatemala, and supporting communities, organizations, and networks struggling with mining issues throughout Latin America. Jamie’s involvement in the region will diminish as Jen takes up her new role, leaving him a little more time to focus on other areas like our Africa program and Canadian policy work.
I then wrote: We congratulate Jennifer on being picked for the job from a “surfeit of excellent candidates.” The salary offered with the job was high; no doubt it attracted many applicants.
Here then are some hopes and wishes about what she will do for those who live around the Marlin Mine in Guatemala. I have been privileged to have visited many of the houses around the mine. I have walked up long paths to small farms near the mine. I have struggled down valleys to see adobe structures perched besides long streams.
I was there at the invitation of the Guatemala government to inspect houses that some unprofessional engineers from a church in Colorado claimed were cracked because of the mine. Sadly the incompetence and venality of these Colorado engineers caused many unhappy home-owners, vexed politicians, and a bad rap for the mine. I trudged for days around the area and examine both the inside and outside of many houses. We did blast monitoring and traffic vibration monitoring. This piece is not about why the houses cracked, but it is about what Jennifer should do about the cracked houses. So let me offer her some suggestions.
Just to the west of the mine is a small town perched on the outcrop of a dike. The houses are built on cut and fill. The fill drapes far down the steep slopes of the ridge. Water from washing and toilets seeps into the fill. Many of the houses are cracked. One was so badly cracked and, in my opinion, so dangerous that I recommended it evacuation.
Jennifer: in the next big earthquake, many houses in this village will fall and many will die. This is a disaster of large proportions waiting to happen. Please do not sit in meetings surrounded by flowers and criticize the mine. Rather alert the people in these dangerous houses to their situation; get them to retrofit the houses against death; get them to move; get them educated so that they can help themselves and not just wallow in hate of those with good-paying jobs at the mine.
The mine cannot do this. You and your ilk have so poisoned the atmosphere that nobody in a house that will collapse and kill them will believe somebody from the mine. Now you and yours have to stand up and take responsibility for the distrust you have created and act to save lives yourselves. There is no need for more well-written emails on the evils of mining in Guatemala. There is a great need for engineering to improve people’s lives and their safety.
I have wondered around villages where the house is built in the path of emerging seeping groundwater. The ducks drink and shit in the water that then seeps to the adobe. The water wets the adobe, The wall falls and the child in the house gets sick.
Jennifer. Word will not keep this child well. Only action to get her away from water contaminated by duck shit will help. So please Jennifer, avoid the rhetoric of the anti-mining chorus. Rather let the mother know why her child is sick. It is not the mine over the hill—it is duck shit in the stagnant water in which the child plays. Now is perhaps a new opportunity for the truth and facts of hygiene to prevail.
Jennifer: I saw beautiful doors and windows in the houses I observed. These doors and windows are made by a local. The skill is of an artist. Encourage this artist to produce, maybe make more doors, maybe export them. Teach the artist that there is profit to be made in art as well as in mining. Neither is bad.
I have seen groundwater seep and wash away the topsoil. I was told this is the fault of the mine. I know enough of groundwater hydrology to know the seeping water and topsoil erosion has nothing to do with the mine. Jennifer: find someone to help the farmer who land is being destroyed to capture the water and improve his crops. A small dike, a small diversion structure and he can make money. Do not encourage him instead to wallow in hate against the distant mine as the land beneath his feet is washed away.
I have said enough. I have seen the villages around the mine. It is in essence no different from the mine I grew up on. The details are vastly different, but there is the same feel. I will write more about this one day. But right now the people do not need justice brought via the pen of yet another journalist—they need real-time engineering help, honest professionalism and technical learning. Otherwise, like Haiti they will die and they will once again fall back on blaming sickness on those who come to help.
Then we have Catherine Nolan of the University of Northern British Columbia. Here is how she describes herself;
I am interested in exploring the gendered, cultural, and social aspects of population dynamics resulting from immigration and forced migration. Specifically, my research interests focus on the social and cultural geography of Central American political violence and social reconstruction in post-war Guatemala with particular emphasis on the gendered experiences of state-sponsored violence. Additionally, I am interested in transnational migration to Canada, migrant insecurity at the Guatemala-Mexico border, social justice, indigenous rights, and transnational solidarity.
From what I can work out her field trip last year was to Peru, not Guatemala. She has visited the mine in previous years. Here is what I once wrote on this blog on her subsequent activities.
Rights Action reproduces letters sent by folk at the University of Northern British Columbia about the death of an infant and the beating of on innocent woman near the Marlin Mine in Guatemala earlier this year. Here is part of a letter from Catherine Nolan, a professor at the university:
Our understanding from news sent by our colleagues in San Miguel Ixtahuacán, Guatemala City, and other communities near the mine site, is that people from communities harmed and damaged, since 2004, by Goldcorp’s mine, gathered yesterday, peacefully, in a Permanent Assembly coordinated by FREDEMI (San Miguel Ixtahuacán Defense Front), trying to draw critical attention to the fact that the government of Guatemala had not complied with a May 2010 order from the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights to suspend Goldcorp’s mining operation. Two peaceful protesters were badly beaten and a bus load of others were threatened, attacked and illegally detained yesterday.
A PhD student at the university writes a letter that includes these statements:
I denounce the human rights violations and abuses committed against the peaceful protesters detained in San José Ixcaniche, Guatemala. As a PhD student at the University of Northern British Colombia (UNBC), Canada, I have had the opportunity to visit Goldcorp’s Marlin mine on two occasions (May 2008 and May 2010). During the two UNBC delegations, I met and spoke with several community members in the communities of Sipakapa, and the heavily impacted San Miguel Ixtahuacán, Guatemala, about the conditions in which they now live involving constant threats to their safety, wellbeing, rights, and environment. These community members have a right to gather and to express their perspectives regarding Goldcorp’s Marlin mine without being confronted, threatened, beaten, and detained. I am gravely concerned for the safety, welfare, and lives of Miguel Angel Bámaca, Aniseto López, and all other protesters detained this evening.
These are profound statements of concern. Unfortunately they ignore the facts of what happened, and we must wonder at the concept of academic independence and the search for the truth that as taxpayers we all fund.
Here is the link to a statement by Goldcorp on this nasty event. In addition this link provides a translation of an admission of guilt signed by the protestors, held out as innocent by those at the University of Northern British Columbia.
The Goldcorp statement notes:
It is important to highlight a few key facts from this document [that is the admission of guilt by the protestors]:
- The local Indigenous Mayan communities resolved this matter between themselves and the protestors;
- The communities suffered from the actions of the protestors and demanded reparations;
- The communities emphasize the importance of dialogue, as does Goldcorp and Montana Exploradora;
- Leaders of the protestors, specifically Aniceto Lopez of FREDEMI, recognize the negative impact of their actions, the misinformation that has been broadcasted by the radio station, and the death of the baby resulting from their blockade;
- The leader of FREDEMI agreed to pay compensation to the community members who were injured, including to the family whose baby died, and to stop broadcasting misinformation that leads to conflict.
If you understand Spanish better than I do, you can read the full text of the admission. Here, in my mind is the final statement:
…..also it is added that the problems were initiated because of the death of a female baby of six months.
It takes no great intellect to realize that the death of the baby upset the protest. It was not the actions of miners that upset the protest. Or led to harassment of “innocent” protestors. We do not need great imagination to recognize that the protestors, including Aniseto Lopez, probably panicked when a baby died due to their refusal to allow a mother and her sick daughter to proceed to a doctor. And then ensued a bus high-jacking, the beating of an old woman, and the intervention of wiser community leaders.
We have sought to discern the truth of what happened in this event. We are not aided by the inflammatory and biased statements put out by Canadian academics who are ultimately paid to seek the truth by the taxpayer. Dare we wonder if they are abusing a position of trust given them by the BC public?
We thank other honest members of the public who have sought out these facts and links. They do us all a service in the search for the facts of an ugly incident, exploited by the biased who seek only their own agenda. Now let us hope the academics come clean and tell us what they know. We have promised to reproduce, without edit, whatever they say.
And to those who are likely to accuse me of supporting the mining industry, let me say only this. I do not like untruth, propoganda, lies, and distortion. I grew up in South Africa where everybody indulged in those things in what they believed was their best interests and the best interests of their tribe. It did nobody any good, and it is not doing anybody any good now. I have seen politicians, mining companies, activists on the left and right, all of them distorting facts to their supposed benefit. It is terrible to behold; it is sad to see; and it must be dealt with by somebody lest evil prevail.
PS. Here are two comments I received on this matter:
- On Monday, February 28, 2010, a group of approximately 200 individuals reportedly led by Aniseto López of FREDEMI, ADISMI, and other opponents of the Marlin Mine blocked three public roads that provide access to the communities of Siete Platos and San Antonio as well as the Marlin Mine. The protestors, who were not members of the local communities, indicated that their purpose was to protest the Government of Guatemala’s failure to suspend operations of the Marlin Mine. As of this morning, the blockades are no longer in place and the public roads are fully accessible.
In a blog posting dated February 28, 2011, representatives of La Red de Solidaridad con el Pueblo de Guatemala, Collectif Guatemala, Breaking the Silence, and Rights Action asserted that the human rights of the protest leaders were being violated by their being detained. As explained in this message, this information is incorrect and the prompt posting of the blog strongly suggests that the actions in Guatemala and by these organizations were planned with the intent of generating conflict in the local communities. Goldcorp and Montana Exploradora reiterate their commitment to engage transparently and peacefully with all interested parties and respect the rights of all to voice their opinions peacefully.
How did the situation develop?
On Monday, February 28, 2011, a group of approximately 200 individuals reportedly led by Aniseto López of FREDEMI, and other opponents of the Marlin Mine blocked three public roads that provide access to the communities of Siete Platos and San Antonio as well as the Marlin Mine.
What did Marlin and Montana Exploradora do?
First, Montana Exploradora ensured that its local employees were able to return to their homes without risk to their safety. Second, Montana Exploradora made contact with the leaders of the local communities where the road blocks were established, the Municipalities of San Miguel Ixtahuacán and Sipacapa, the Human Rights Ombudsman office (PDH), and the Presidential Human Rights Commission (COPREDEH). Based on the information available, Montana Exploradora’s management decided to reduce employee transportation and limit operations at the Marlin Mine until the situation was resolved. At this time, the Marlin Mine is operating normally.
Did Marlin or Montana Exploradora contact the Police or Military?
Did Marlin or Montana Exploradora contact the protestors or intervene at the roadblocks?
No. The company did not engage with the protestors so as to avoid confrontation and provocation. The protestors at no time asked to communicate with the company.
How did the situation get resolved?
The first roadblock was lifted due to action taken by the community of Siete Platos. Members of this community objected to the restriction on their free passage on public roads and asked the protestors, who were not members of the local community, to leave their community. The second and larger roadblock in the community of San Antonio reportedly was lifted after tense discussions between local community leaders and the protestors, but without any violence.
Was anyone detained or injured?
Yes, in the community of San Antonio, Aniseto López and a group of protesters took by force a bus operated by a contractor that is used by the Marlin Mine and threatened the driver that if he did not take them to San José Ixcaniche they would burn the bus. When the bus arrived at San José Ixcaniche, the bus was stopped by the local community leaders. Upon exiting the bus, one of the protesters hit a woman and a physical confrontation ensued. The injured woman was treated at the Marlin Mine clinic. The local community leaders were able to control the situation and forced the protesters to leave the community. The local community leaders detained Aniseto López until he signed a document (an acta) in which he committed not to enter the community in the future and also to not cause further conflict in the area. Once the acta was signed, Sr. López was released.
In addition, Montana Exploradora understands that on February 28, the protestors prohibited a family with a seriously ill baby to pass the roadblock for medical assistance. The company understands that the baby died. It appears that Aniseto López, of FREDEMI, has paid Q4,000 ($USD500) to the family due to the death.
Goldcorp and Montana Exploradora have been and continue to be committed to open and transparent discussions with all members of the community. We respect the right of all interested parties to voice their opinions respectfully and engage in peaceful protest. The company has never taken action to impede such activity. Goldcorp is committed to continually improving how it operates and interacts with communities. For more information, please visit our website at http://www.goldcorp.com/corporate_responsibility/.