By Community Press, September 20, 2022
Spanish original: https://www.prensacomunitaria.org/2022/09/si-la-mina-no-gana-arrebata/
The people of Asunción Mita, in the department of Jutiapa, 117 kilometers from the capital, spoke with total clarity on September 18. They left no room for doubt. They spoke with one of the most important tools that democracy gives them, their votes, to say a resounding ‘no’ to the Cerro Blanco mining project of the Canadian company Bluestone Resources (and its subsidiary Elevar Resources).
87% of voters say ‘no’ to the mine
8,503 Mitecos and Mitecas voted. Of these, 7,481 rejected the open-pit mining project which, according to environmental organizations in Guatemala and neighboring El Salvador (the project is 14 kilometers from the border between the two nations), would generate irreparable damage to surface and subterranean water flows, and would put the water security of millions of people at even greater risk.
But the mine does not lose. In Guatemala, mines never lose. And if there are signs that something might go wrong, they turn to their main accomplice: the State.
Dirty tricks of the mining companies
Before the Municipal Consultation of Neighbors (consulta municipal de vecinos), which according to Guatemalan law must be free and informed, the mine had used every dirty trick in the book to dynamite the plebiscite.
It is a manual that local and foreign extractive industries have been writing for decades of illegal exploitation of Guatemala's natural resources, and which, in the worst cases, as in El Estor, Izabal, has included murder, rape, illegal evictions and other crimes.
In the Caribbean, Guatemalan are the [Swiss/Russian] companies. In the south, it is the Canadians.
In Asunción Mita, according to what members of civil society and religious leaders have told Prensa Comunitaria, the Bluestone/Elevar mine used parts of this manual to try to influence the results of the consultation:
- They sought to discredit those leading the opposition to the mine.
- They sought to provoke violence with paid demonstrations.
- They questioned technical and scientific studies that warn of the dangers faced by the Miteca communities if the open-pit mining project is approved.
- They sought to blackmail the villagers with the discourse that opposing the mine was opposing development.
- They tried to block the entrance of those who came to vote in Asunción Mita on September 18.
None of that worked. When none of the tricks worked and the population expressed its resounding ‘no’ to the project, the one who is supposed to be the arbiter in all of this, but is just another accomplice of the bloodthirsty extractivism that has plundered Guatemala, came into play - the State, this time through the government of President Alejandro Giammattei.
Late on September 19, when the results of the consultation were confirmed and incontestable, the Ministry of Energy and Mines (MEM) issued a communiqué in which it rejected the plebiscite.
The municipal government of Asunción Mita, so says the MEM, does not have the authority to call the consultation and that it was not endorsed by the ministry. Behind the argument is a confusing explanation of the territorial and geographic limits of the Cerro Blanco project. However, none of these claims arose prior to the municipal consultation. It is known that the MEM registered its representatives to be observers of the process.
This is the same ministry that protects the illegal operations of oil companies in Petén.
What it is really about is favoring the mine to the detriment of the Guatemalans who will be affected by it. In other words, the Guatemalan government is once again playing the role of private attorney for a mining company - in this case the Canadian Bluestone Resources - against the interests of its citizens. The Guatemalan State and the Giammattei government have ample experience in this.
The truth is that the Municipal Consultation of Neighbors is a State tool that allows local populations to make decisions in cases of activities that impact their territory, in the case of megaprojects that affect their lives directly and, in this case, about the illegal operation of the Cerro Blanco mine.
The Municipal Consultation of Neighbors is legally binding. Neither the MEM nor any other entity can attack or reverse it. There is jurisprudence on this in the country. For example, there are the cases of the Municipal Consultation of Neighbors of Mataquescuintla, Jalapa, of San Juan Tecuaco, of San Rosa de Lima, and of Nueva Santa Rosa (both in 2012).
Nickel mining in El Estor
In the case of the nickel mine in El Estor, Izabal, owned by the Swiss-Russian company Solway Investment Group, and its subsidiaries Compañía Guatemalteca de Níquel (CGN) and Pronico, the MEM was the perfect ally of the miners. The ministry, under both the Jimmy Morales and Giammattei administrations, allowed the mine to operate illegally by failing to comply with Guatemalan laws since 2005. [From 2004-2011, the owners of this illegal nickel mining operation were Canada's Skye Resources and Hudbay Minerals.]
The ministry allowed the mine to operate illegally without complying with a resolution of the Constitutional Court that ordered its closure for, precisely, not consulting the communities affected by the extractive activity.
Consultation manipulated by the government
The government then helped create the conditions for Solway Investment Group to carry out a rigged consultation, which was also dismissed by a higher court. In the end, however, under the government's nose and with its complicity, the mine continues to operate.
In the case of Cerro Blanco, the MEM communiqué is only a preview that the government will once again trample on the democratic exercise of consultation in favor of the extractivists, with the same script as in El Estor: legal maneuvers and repression.
Thus, the State announces that the power of the Canadian Bluestone Resources/ Elevar Resources is above the municipal government and the rights of the inhabitants, not only of the Mitecos and Mitecas, but of all Guatemalans.
And you don't have to be a magician to guess what the president's position will be here: complicity as well. After all, we are talking about Alejandro Giammattei, the same man who, according to an investigation by the Public Prosecutor's Office and the FECI, received a millionaire bribe from Russian visitors who have interests in the mining activity in El Estor [of the Swiss company Solway Investment Group]. There has been a lot written about this Russian plot.
A long battle awaits the Mitecos in defense of their rights and territory. Facing them will be the two-headed predatory giant: mine and state. But now they know that the monster is scared: they already hit him with the first blow, with the courageous consultation in which, standing firmly before him, they shouted in his face that ‘no’, predatory mining is not welcome in Asunción Mita.
On the other side of the border, the neighbors of the community of Cuevitas de Metapán, in El Salvador, have a battle against the Cerro Blanco mining project, about which President Nayib Bukele has kept completely silent.
Further information abot the enviromental struggle in Guatemala in this Webarticle: https://www.thedialogue.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/10/LAA221005.pdf