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Not Worth the Dirt They're Buried In: Canada's Aura Minerals continues to dig up the dead to

Esparta, Honduras

Canada's corporate gravediggers continue to raid a generations-old cemetery in Azacualpa, Copan to expand one of Central America's largest open pit gold mines in the midst of the country's ongoing political crisis.

"We aren't in agreement with what the mining company is doing with the remains of our loved ones. My brother is here and I don't want him to be taken out. He died in the USA and we brought him back here to bury him. That's why I'm not in agreement that he be removed. That's why I'm in this, defending what he can't defend." said Bercy, a young woman and member of the local development council.

Photo: Louis Bockner

Aura Minerals' San Andres Mine is an open-pit gold mine located in the highlands of western Honduras, in the municipality of La Union, Department of Copan and covers 399 hectares. It began as an artesanal mine in 1983 and transformed over the years into a high producing leaching mine. In August 2009, just weeks after the military-backed coup d'etat in Honduras that ousted President Mel Zelaya, Aura Minerals, a Toronto based gold mining company, acquired the mine and began its expansion in the midst of social and political turmoil.

The Aura Minerals mine engulfs nearby communities, including the forcibly relocated community of San Andrews Las Minas, shown here. Photo: Louis Bockner Photography

Photo: Louis Bockner Photography

Almost nine years later, and in the midst of Honduras' post-electoral crisis - an ever-worsening situation since the 2009 coup that has resulted in more than 35 extrajudicial murders and hundreds arbitrary detentions since the illegal elections in November 2017 and the fraudulent results announced weeks later - the expansion of the San Andres Mine continues.

The generations old cemetery in Azacualpa stands in the way of Aura Minerals' expansion. Photo: Louis Bockner Photography

Photo: Louis Bockner Photography - The cemetery of Azacualpa first was lit on fire to destroy the trees, plants and grass. Today only rubble remains in the graveyard.

Today, the community of Azacualpa is at risk: the only thing standing in the way of Aura Minerals' continued expansion that would see the entire community displaced and relocated is a small cemetery on the top of a hill - full of gold. Despite an agreement between the community and the company that the cemetery wouldn't be touched during the expansion, since 2016 the company has aggressively approached the close to 400 home-owners of Azacualpa to offer between 285,000-574,000 Honduran Limpiras ($12,100 - $24,400 USD) as compensation for their homes, on the condition that they will allow the company to dig up their loved ones in the local cemetery to be relocated and abandon their homes when the time comes for the community itself to be consumed by the mine expansion.

Photo: Louis Bockner Photography

Model homes that Aura Minerals built to entice the families of Azacualpa to move so that gold mining could take place where the community now sits. In 1997, the town of San Andres Minas was also forcibly displaced as the expansion of the gold mine ramped up.

Photo: Louis Bockner Photography

"We are here because we don't want them to touch our family members who are in the cemetery. We want them to stop destroying it," said Miriam Varga. "My husband was here and they took him out without my permission. And my son is there and I am not giving permission for them to take him out." Just rubble remains where bodies have been removed.

One by one, the tombs of Azacualpa are being raided. Photo: Louis Bockner Photography

Photo: Louis Bockner Photography

Since the illegal November 2017 elections which resulted in Juan Orlando Hernandez fraudulently taking power, dozens of bodies have be removed from the cemetery in Azacualpa, requiring state institutions to provide accompaniment and technical support to Aura Minerals. At the same time, the dozens of extrajudicial murders that have happened in the country since November have not been investigated, clearly showing where State interests lie.

According to its 2016 Extractive Sector Transparency Measures Act (ESTMA) report (the most recent filings), Aura Minerals paid the Honduran government a 2% security tax, equivalent $2.48 million USD in security taxes that year. The tax was enshrined in the 2012 Honduran Mining Law law that Canada played a significant part in developing.

The security tax goes directly to train and arm Honduran security forces - military and police - that have been carrying out state-led violence since the 2009 coup.

A stick with a number marks an exhumed grave in Azacualpa. Photo: Louis Bockner Photography

Photo: Louis Bockner Photography

A stick with a number marks a recent exhumation at the cemetery in Azacualpa where Aura Minerals is set to expand its gold mine.

Photo: Louis Bockner Photography

#D0'10 P - To the horror of his family, the remains of Manuel Trigueroz were wrongly exhumed by Aura Minerals and had to be reburied.

Photo: Louis Bockner Photography

"When we showed up to observe the exhumation, they told us to get out, that it was private property. They told us if we didn't leave, the same thing would happen to us that happened to Berta Caceres" said Varga. Caceres, an internationally known Indigenous Lenca woman and human rights activist from Honduras was the leader of a national movement to defend territory and watersheds from destructive extractive sector projects, was murdered in her her home on March 3, 2016. Her assassination served as a clear message to anyone denouncing corporate abuses.

Photo: Louis Bockner Photography

** In 2016, Aura Minerals went off-shore and registered in the British Virgin Islands and is no longer considered a Canadian company. At the same time, Canada provided diplomatic and political support to the company for years in addition to the previous Canadian owners of the mine. Going off shore or selling off mines after there are implications of serious human rights violations is a common tactic that Canadian mining companies employ to escape economic and judicial action against them.

What to do:

From Rights Action -


How grotesque and harmful does Canadian-backed mining have to be, before Canadian politicians, media, investors and the industry say enough? In the name of the dead and the living in Azacualpa, share this information with family, friends, media, your politicians, etc., to keep on exposing how Canadian companies operate in other countries.

Until the people of the home country of the mining companies – Canada, in this case – hold their companies, investors and governments legally and politically accountable for environmental harms, human rights violations and repression caused by mining, these abuses – including the desecration of the dead - will continue.

Grahame Russell, director Rights Action


Canadian authorities must publicly support the Azacualpa community members and their calls for an immediate stop to the exhumations and a suspension of all mining expansion.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau:

Minister Chrystia Freeland, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Global Affairs Canada,

Ambassador James Hill, Embassy of Canada in Costa Rica, Honduras and Nicaragua,,

Canadian embassy for Honduras: Bertrand-Xavier Asselin,; Isabelle Solon Helal,; Kyle Sundstrom,

Contact your Member of Parliament and pressure them to write to make write the above offices as well:

Aura Minerals Rodrigo Barbosa, President and Chief Executive Officer William Monti Reed, Honduras mine manager,;


More information


Karen Spring, Honduras Solidarity Network,

Jackie Mcvicar, United for Mining Justice

Louis Bockner,


Grahame Russell, Rights Action,


Free Edwin Espinal and political prisoners in Honduras

Karen Spring, HSN (Honduras Solidarity Network); + (504) 9584-8572

Facebook: Free EDWIN ESPINAL Libertad

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