What does "I'm sorry" mean to you?
"We must stop thinking that those who created the system are going to change it to benefit anyone but themsleves," Spasaqsit Possesom, Wolastoq Grand Chief, reflecting on a teaching from Art Manuel, the great leader from the Secwepemc Nation
In January, we visited Marlin Mine-affected Communities where we donated more than $6000 that was raised through the Restitution Project. This was a small, symbolic contribution raised by churches, Conferences, and individuals who felt compelled to respond to the crisis that indigenous Maya communities are facing after close to 15 years of gold and silver extraction without consent in their territory. The communities were never meaningfully consulted prior to, nor throughout operations of the mine. Not surprisingly, the communities had not been told of the recent sale of Goldcorp or what longterm impacts, if any, that would have on the mining-affected communities. At the Marlin Mine, the company processed an average of 6500 tonnes of rock per day, turning out higher than expected amounts of gold and silver at the mine that started extraction in 2005.
Locals repeatedly and adamantly reported the negative impacts and severe human rights violations happening near the Marlin Mine since it opened. The story of corporate negligence, deceit, and destruction was well documented at the mine, the first large scale open-pit mine in Guatemala. For more than a decade, unions, universities, grassroots organizations, international human rights organizations, and churches condemned the way that communities were tricked into first accepting the mine into the remote indigenous community in the northern highlands, and later the series of negative environmental and social impacts it had. Falling down homes, social conflict, family breakdown, water contamination, drying up springs and water sources, ancestral and ceremonial sites destroyed and air contamination were just some of the complaints. There were also assassination attempts, increased military, and police presence and criminalization of land defenders. Corruption and collusion between the local and national governments and the company from the onsite were downplayed by both, even though it was well documented and denounced by locals and the Public Prosecutor's office with the help of the UN-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG). According to locals, the company did not adequately inform the communities surrounding the Marlin Mine of the closure plans.
The United Church Pension Plan for more than 10 years after knowing of the devastating impacts that the Marlin Mine has had on church partners and allies in Guatemala refused to divest. They chose to engage in dialogue with the company - not the impacted communities - which led to no tangible impacts. The irony is that they most likely lost money through their investment in Goldcorp because after the company announced its sale a few months ago, the shares dropped significantly. They argued fiduciary duty, yet weren't able to see that investing in a disastrous project was not only destroying the lives of local communities, but it was also bad for their own bottom line.
The more than 10-year struggle for accountability from the Pension Board parallels another struggle that has ended with deception; that to create an independent ombudsperson to help make the Canadian extractive sector working overseas more accountable. Years of work and input from impacted communities went into a comprehensive proposal that the Canadian government agreed to in January 2018 agreed to. The Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise (CORE) was meant to have the power to compel documents and testimony, full independence to investigate and the obligation to publicly report on its findings and recommendations, including for remedy, harm prevention and reforms. Instead, in April 2019, the federal government announced an ombudsperson with the mandate to "review alleged human rights abuses arising from a Canadian company's operations abroad," (read more from Kairos here). The Canadian government completely undermined the work and manipulated the vision of church, civil society and grassroots organizations who had spent more than 15 years working on the proposal with overseas partners on the Open for Justice campaign. There is a resounding sense of betrayal, frusration, and loss. If our leaders and elected officials, whether church or government, are not willing to heed the will of those who put them in power, what kind of democracy are we really living in?
On May 1, 2019 over 50 international organizations sent a letter to the World Bank, urging the financial institution to prioritize recycling, circular economy, public transit, and other non-mining solutions as the primary components of its agenda - not business as usual and the promotion of the mining sector. The letter noted, "Metals mining is currently one of the world’s dirtiest industries, responsible for at least 10% of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, and over 50% of all toxic solid wastes in many producing countries." Quite simply, mining is not the way forward. We simply cannot count on it as a sustainable way to build the world we need.
As Berta Caceres, a Lenca leader who was murdered for her opposition to extractivism in her territory warned, "Wake up humanity, there is no time left!" Greta Thunberg, Autumn Pelletier and people around the world are urging us to heed Berta's call. "Act like your house is on fire. Because it is."
The tragedy at the Marlin mine is heartbreaking. It's also completely unjust and racist that Maya Mama and Sipakapense territory has been destroyed by a Canadian company, thanks to investments from the CPP, churches, unions, and "ethical funds" while those that are left to pick up the pieces are the very people who never wanted the project in the first place.
As we struggle to live in a right way a relationship with all our relations, the impacts of Canadian colonialism are glaringly evident and urge us to change.
Learn more about the restitution project here.
RESTITUTION PROJECT SPONSORS: Mining the Connections Working Group of the Church in Action Committee of the Maritime Conference of the United Church of Canada and United for Mining Justice.
We acknowledge the severe ongoing risks that the communities living near the Marlin mine face. We acknowledge the injustice that Indigenous Maya Mam communities have been forced to face since the mine deceitfully entered the community more than 20 years ago. We seek your support for this campaign as a gesture of restitution, solidarity and friendship.
WHAT? In the summer of 2018, the Maritime Conference Mining the Connections Working Group and the United for Mining Justice Network launched a campaign to raise funds to support the ongoing struggle for justice and reparations in relation to negative impacts of the Marlin Mine in the Guatemalan Western Highlands, owned by Goldcorp Inc., and later sold to a Canadian company in which the United Church of Canada Pension Board (UCCPB) invests.
WHEN? Give now! Contributions must be received by Maritime Conference no later than Dec. 15th 2018. This campaign is an act of restitution, enabling United Church members and groups, along with others who support this initiative to express to our indigenous Maya sisters and brothers our regret, accept our responsibility and sorrow regarding the UCCPB refusal to divest from Goldcorp. Funds raised will support local initiatives to deal with the ongoing legacy of mining destruction in the region where Goldcorp operated its Marlin Mine for over a decade. Today, the communities face tremendous damages, including the cost of constructing new homes close to the mine site after cracks from explosions destroyed their homes, the treatment of skin diseases, the repair of bridges and impassable roads and dried-up water sources. Our contribution will only be a symbolic gesture given the millions of dollars it would take to put the community back together again.
BACKGROUND: For more than a decade, Mining the Connections has denounced serious human rights violations near the Marlin mine in the Western Highlands of Guatemala. Church and community partners and human rights organizations have documented violations, including violence (attempted murder) and criminalization, along with negative social, environmental and economic impacts of the mine. Irreparable consequences of this open pit mine will be felt for generations to come.
After years of education—speaking tours with affected community members, presentations at Conference meetings, tours in Guatemala, workshops, conferences and more—there was a sustained effort by UCC members and Conferences to urge UCCPB divestment from Goldcorp. The Pension Board opted instead to engage with Goldcorp to advocate for policy change, a strategy that has shown few concrete results in the communities.
Contribute to the Marlin Mine-Affected Communities
*Donations must be received no later than December 15th, 2018.
Income tax receipts will be issued by the end of February 2019 for contributions of $20 and more.
You may contact Jennifer at Maritime Conference to process your payment:
Maritime Conference Fund
Please add: “Restitution Project” on the memo line.
21 Wright St.
"The Pension Board opted instead to engage with Goldcorp to advocate for policy change, a strategy that has shown few concrete results in the communities."
Indigenous Maya Mam Catholic Sister, Maudilia Lopez:
In May 2018, as the Marlin mine continued its closure phase, Sister Maudilia Lopez Cardona from the Parish of San Miguel Ixtahuacan, in one of the municipalities most affected by the mine, traveled to Canada. She is a Maya Mam indigenous leader deeply committed to Mayan and Christian spirituality and the well-being of her community, especially women and children. Her speaking engagements included a gathering at the General Council office in Toronto and the Maritime Conference Annual Meeting. It was heartbreaking to hear her name the social, cultural and environmental impacts on the community that “all the profits made by Goldcorp would not repair the damages because these are long-term impacts that have broken our Maya Mam community.” She reminded us that, as followers of Jesus, we are called to seek abundant life for all, rather than enabling the security of some through the suffering of others.
Maudilia described the breakdown in trust and cohesiveness in a community previously united in its Maya Mam identity. She spoke of families separated when some were forced to move from the communities they had lived in since time immemorial. She described conflicts and violence which have profoundly impacted families, when workers and those opposed to the mine are in the same family. She noted the huge growth of bars and related growth in the sex trade, which has contributed to alcoholism, domestic violence, divorce and family abandonment, as well as an HIV/AIDS upsurge, due to the influx of construction and mine workers and truck drivers.
She shared about the ongoing contamination of waters downstream from the mine. She referred to dried up water sources, and to the funds Goldcorp provided for free water installation for all members of several communities. Corrupt community leaders used these funds for their friends while charging others for installation, thus excluding the poorest, the elderly and those opposed to the mine’s presence, a situation about which Goldcorp claims they can do nothing.
She spoke of structurally damaged homes now unlivable and unsafe in communities near where Goldcorp blasted. She added that it was culturally offensive to suggest that these homes were badly built when adobe home construction has been going on for centuries.
Maudilia identified Goldcorp’s lack of transparency, citing the 2017 report that Goldcorp commissioned to update shareholders on Goldcorp’s responses to a 2010 human rights assessment, an update promised in 2011. She only became aware of the report when in Canada, as it was not translated into Spanish, so that community members could read it. When it was translated for her, she was disturbed by the omissions, errors and distortions of the truth in a report which relied solely on information from Goldcorp staff.
"All the profits made by Goldcorp would not repair the damages because these are long-term impacts that have broken our Maya Mam community."