CCCB Letter to the Ambassador of Guatemala: Open-pit mining project is a source of worry

Wednesday, December 29 2004

(sent on 20 December 2004)

His Excellency Carlos Humberto Jiménez
Ambassador of Guatemala to Canada
Embassy of Guatemala
130 Albert Street, Suite 1010
Ottawa, ON
K1P 5G4

Your Excellency:

The purpose of my letter concerns the Marlin gold and silver mine in the municipalities of San Miguel Ixtahuacán and Sipacapa, located in the Department of San Marcos. Montana Exploradora, a subsidiary of Glamis Gold, has recently begun work on this open-pit mining project.

It is clear that the Government of Guatemala has already made major decisions concerning the conditions under which this mine will be allowed to operate. Yet major questions remain.

The Guatemalan Conference of Catholic Bishops has previously raised concerns about the risks related to mining activities. Most Reverend Alvaro Ramazzini, Bishop of San Marcos, stated on 17 September that he learned of the Marlin project far too late, but that had he known of the possibility of the project he would have attempted to prevent it.

In keeping with Convention 169 of the International Labour Organization, which Guatemala ratified in 1996, would the Government of Guatemala be willing to halt further work until the local indigenous Mam and Sicacapense indigenous communities give their informed consent for the project? In other words, will Guatemala’s Mining Law be applied congruently with Guatemala’s international commitments?

There are also other urgent questions: Who will receive the economic benefits of the project? Will the local communities be given employment opportunities as well as receive investments for their social development?

Concerning environmental concerns, will the massive water resources needed for the project be protected so they can be returned safely to use downstream? Will cyanide be used to leach gold from the ore, or will the company use more ecologically sound technologies? Has the company been asked to provide financing and a plan for environmental clean-up when the mine is closed?

We recognize these important government decisions are not simple ones. They will have great impacts on your people. Precisely for this reason, we wish to echo the concerns raised by the local bishop, Most Reverend Alvaro Ramazzini, and other community leaders, in the hope that development proposals respond to the most deeply felt needs and aspirations of the people and ecology of San Marcos.

Attentively and appreciatively we await your reply to these questions.

Yours sincerely in Christ,
+ Most Reverend Blaise Morand
Bishop of Prince Albert
Human Rights Committee
Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops

Cc Hon. Pierre Pettigrew, Minister of Foreign Affairs