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More on the Marlin Mine

Jennifer Wiebe

Much to the concern of many human rights activists and civil society groups, in late December the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) lifted its two year-old order calling for the suspension of operations at Goldcorp's controversial Marlin Mine in Guatemala.

Addressing allegations that the mine was contaminating water supplies, on May 20th of 2010 the IACHR—a key institution for the protection of human rights in the western hemisphere— issued a recommendation that Guatemala immediately suspend the Marlin Mine's operations until its impact on the health of 18 local indigenous communities be properly investigated. Insisting there was no basis to these allegations, Goldcorp continued operations pending the outcome of an IACHR delegation that July.

While one month later, on June 23, 2010, the Guatemalan government promised to observe the IACHR's precautionary measure and temporarily suspend the mine's operations, over a year later the country's Ministry of Energy and Mines had still not complied, arguing a lack of proper evidence. Guatemalan President Álvaro Colom then requested the IACHR to modify or lift its original recommendation.

Last month, on December 7, 2011, the IACHR agreed, lifting the suspension order and encouraging other measures in its place (see PM 260/07). The modification of this order, however, does not effect the petition currently under consideration at the Commission, which alleges that before establishing the mine Goldcorp failed to respect the rights of indigenous people to free, prior and informed consent.

While IACHR's decision is being celebrated by Goldcorp, civil society groups such as MiningWatch Canada and the Centre for International Environmental Law are worried that it will be interpreted as evidence that threats to Guatemala's mining-affected communities have been effectively addressed. Citing other cases in which IACHR has weakened its decisions in the face of mounting government pressure, they warn that this decision should serve, instead, as "a wake-up call for organizations and communities concerned about the defense of human rights in the Americas."

For years, the Marlin Mine has been a lightning rod for controversy. Operating in San Miguel Ixtahuacán since 2005, its social, environmental, and health impacts have continued to ignite local community resistance and draw international attention. Indeed, in 2010 an MCC Canada staff delegation spent eight days in Guatemala's western highlands, listening to people in the communities in the region of San Marcos as they struggled to cope with the impact of Goldcorp's mining operation.

More recently, shortly after Goldcorp was removed from the Dow Jones North American Sustainability Index—prompted by ongoing allegations of human rights violations and environmental contamination—this past September the Global Development and Environment Institute at Tufts University released a report by economists Lyuba Zarsky and Leonardo Stanley concerning the benefits and risks of the Marlin Mine. Based on three central findings, the report, ultimately challenged by Goldcorp, concluded that the mine's long-term environmental impacts significantly outweigh any economic benefits to local Guatemalan communities.