Gold and silver deposits are found deep in the ground or high on the mountains. The coveted metals must be mined from the rock that contains them. The most popular gold mining technique in Guatemala is open-pit mining, which companies favour due to its low cost – this is the case for three of the four mining projects dealt with in this toolkit. The process requires explosions, grinding, leaching, the induction of chemical reactions, retention and decantation in basins, and more. It requires the use – or the release – of various products,16 some of which are highly toxic, such as cyanide, arsenic, mercury and lead. Mining also requires a huge quantity of water.17 Under Guatemala’s mining laws, companies are not required to pay any taxes on the use of the water sources they deplete or contaminate. Water contamination causes serious problems and the consequences for people’s public health and the environment, which outlast the life of the operations.
Mining companies see a potential for profits in the deposits, while ignoring the human and environmental impacts and the economic costs of the long-term damage caused. A recent OXFAM report and various scientific studies show that if the human and environmental costs were included in the companies’ costs/profits calculation, mining megaprojects such as the Marlin and Escobal mines would be seem unquestionably ridiculous and abhorrent.18
Due to the economic interests at play, the documentation and the denunciation of the catastrophic impacts of the mining industry are far from being fully understood. The people who attempt to raise awareness are often the subjects of assaults and very serious threats. In 2012, more than half of the attacks against human rights defenders in Guatemala targeted individuals or organizations that fight for environmental protection in contexts of mining or hydroelectric megaprojects.
Some major impacts of the mining industry in Guatemala19
|THE ENVIRONMENT||HUMAN HEALTH||COMMUNITY AND SOCIAL ECONOMY|
Action Ressources Naturelles, Mines d’or : exploration, développement, production et valorisation, Paris, 2011, en ligne : http://www.spgp.fr/export/sites/default/fr/_data/DOCS/fund_the_tectonic_fund/SPGP_TheTectonicFund_MinesdOr_ExplorationDeveloppementProductionValorisation.pdf ↩
FEPS Fondation de l’Eau potable sûre, rapport Exploitation minières et la pollution de l’eau, rapport en ligne : http://www.safewater.org/PDFS/knowthefacts/frenchfactsheets/exploitationminierepollutioneau.pdf ↩
OXFAM America, rapport Metals Mining and Sustainable Development in Central America, An Assessment of Benefits and Costs, Thomas M. Power, 2008 ↩
OXFAM America, rapport Metals Mining and Sustainable Development in Central America, an Assessment of Benefits and Costs, Thomas M. Power, 2008; Zarsky and Stanley, Searching for Gold in the Highlands of Guatemala: Economic benefits and environmental risks of the Marlin Mine, Global Development and Environment Institute, Tufts University, septembre 2011; Unité de protection des défenseurs et défenderesses des droits humains (UDEFEGUA), Quitemonos el Tabu, defendemos nuestros derechos. rapport annuel 2012; FEPS Fondation de l’Eau potable sûre, rapport Exploitation minières et la pollution de l’eau; Silvia Gonzalez, biologiste, rapport Impactos ambientales y en la salud humana de la minería a cielo abierto para la extracción de oro utilizando lixiviación con soluciones de cianuro en ligne, www.conflictosmineros.net; America’s Policy Group, Briefing Note Mining; E-Tech international, rapport Evaluation of Predicted and Actual Water Quality Conditions at the Marlin Mine; pour des compléments d’informations voir la liste des organisations vouées à la documentation des enjeux miniers. ↩