IFC-backed mine violates Guatemalan law

2 February 2005

One person was killed and ten were injured when the Guatemalan police and military took action to disperse protesters blocking a convoy of mining equipment destined for an IFC-funded gold mine. Local and national opposition to the mine by indigenous, human rights, religious and environmental organisations is strong. Opponents accuse the Guatemalan government of violating national law in respect of indigenous peoples’ rights, and the IFC of violating the Bank’s response to the extractive industries review (EIR) (See Update 41)

The Marlin mine, in the San Marcos department, is being developed by Montana Exploradora de Guatemala, a subsidiary of Canadian mining company Glamis Gold. In June 2004, the IFC’s board agreed to lend $45 million to Glamis to develop the project.

Protests began in Los Encuentros, Sololá, 3 December, when locals set up road blocks to stop a convoy of trailers carrying mining equipment. Workmen hired by the mining firm planned to dismantle a footbridge in order to allow the convoy to pass. The footbridge had been built by local villagers to allow them to cross the highway. On 11 January police and military arrived to escort the equipment through. Tear gas was reportedly used to disperse protestors. When local villagers opposed the workmen dismantling the footbridge, accompanying police shot and killed one man, critically injuring others.

the IFC has violated the Bank's response to the EIR

Bad faith consultations

In 1996 Guatemala ratified ILO convention 169 on the rights of indigenous and tribal peoples, which includes the right to prior consultation where resource development is to take place on indigenous lands. However, more recent legislation passed by the previous government allowed the granting of mining concessions to foreign mining companies. Many of these were approved by national authorities without even consulting affected indigenous communities. Local and indigenous organisations, such as the National Council of Indigenous Peoples, argue that these licenses are illegal, given that they were approved after the ratification of ILO convention 169.

In financing the mine, the IFC has violated the Bank’s response to the EIR which promises that “free prior and informed consultation should take place with indigenous peoples’ communities leading to their broad support”. In a letter to UK executive director to the Bank, NGO Indigenous Peoples Links stated that “some of the people, who are on lists provided by the company to the IFC of those supposedly consulted did not believe they had been consulted. They conceded that maybe they had been informed about mining in general, or mine- related tree farm projects, etc, but had not entered into any kind of good faith informative or meaningful consultation”. The IFC argues that the Marlin mine enjoys broad community support and Glamis Gold states that its Marlin project is “strongly supported by local residents as well as municipal and federal government officials”. Such claims are questionable given that the government chose to bring in the military in order to resolve a confrontation with communities.

In May 2004 Guatemalan organisations called on the IFC to delay approval of the mine in order to allow time for outstanding issues to be resolved. The groups argued that more consultation was necessary and that large segments of the local population did not support the project. Regardless of such calls, the project was approved on schedule in June 2004 (see Update 41). Since project approval, local groups have repeatedly raised their concerns with the Bank but have not received a satisfactory response. This includes groups in the immediate area, and national indigenous peoples’ organisations that have raised broader concerns about the scores of mining concessions that have been issued in recent years.

In the first Guatemalan national forum on mining in December 2004, the World Bank, Canadian embassy, and the Guatemalan ministry of energy and mines attempted to come up with a national consensus on mining. Participation at this event was by invitation only, and consisted largely of representatives from government, investors and mining companies. Indigenous participation was reportedly marginal, despite the fact that indigenous peoples account for over half the population and roughly 90 per cent of concessions fall within indigenous territory.

Guatemalan and international NGOs have written to the IFC insisting that they:

  • visit those communities that both support and oppose the mine;
  • coordinate their visit with the communities directly, and not use the ministry of energy and mines as their liaison; and
  • Verify the results of the consultation that the company claimed to have carried out.

They have also asked the IFC why, given that it was informed of protests a month before the fatal clash with authorities, it did not visit the project, investigate or send a conflict resolution specialist.

In early February, a joint Bank/ IFC delegation visited Guatemala to “review the situation”, and meet with government officials, NGOs, and senior Catholic clergy. The IFC’s Compliance Advisor Ombudsman has also acknowledged receipt of a formal complaint lodged by the local Guatemalan NGO, Colectivo Madre Selva, which was accused of being an “anti-mining NGO” by the Bank’s executive director for the Austrian group. He also contested the death of the demonstrator on the grounds that the victim may have been shot by the demonstrators themselves, and that the authorities were apparently prevented from inspecting the body prior to burial.

There have been further incidents of violence stemming from previous clashes over the mine. On 13 February, trade unionist, Eusebio Tuy Taniel, was reportedly imprisoned and ill-treated by the National Civil Police in Santa Catarina, Ixtahuacán.