Saturday, February 25, 2006

The Neo-Conquistadors: Glamis Gold, Guatemalan Blood

The Neo-Conquistadors: Glamis Gold, Guatemalan Blood

by C. L. Cook 

Object of conquest itself just a year past, Glamis Gold of Vancouver recently announced its take-over bid for Western Silver for a paltry 1.04 billion (US) dollars. So, how did the struggling mining company turn its fortunes around? It starts with the World Bank, and the sacrifice of Mayan villagers on the alter of corporate greed and government malfeasance.

The troubles for the locals began in 1998 when discovery of gold in the Guatemalan highlands. What most would believe a boon was immediately suspect to the Maya who have suffered dislocation, assimilation, and murder by successive oppressors since the first days of contact with European Conquistadors. They wanted environmental, cultural, and labour oversight of the proposed project in their ancestral lands, as was guaranteed in Guatemala's 1996 Peace Accords. The Accords were initiated as part of a national reconciliation effort following the decades-long terror campaign waged against the indigenous Maya by a series of U.S.-supported dictatorships.

As part of the Accords, the government of the day signed on to International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention 169 which commits government to consultations with local indigenous populations regarding natural resources found on their lands. It also provided that communities have the right to decide "development priorities" and the right to participate in any "use, management, and conservation" of those resources. But, the Guatemalan government side-stepped this legislated mandate and granted rights of sub-surface development to "Canadian" mining giant, Glamis Gold and their so-called 'Marlin Project.' The Reno, Nevada-based Glamis, [NYSE:GLG; TSX:GLG] through subsidiary, Montana Exploradora also ignored the tenets of Convention 169 exacerbating an already tense situation.

Though consultation meetings were held with locals, the Maya contend Glamis didn't listen to their concerns about the impact of the project, and say they doubt Glamis' claims of economic benefits for their community. Resistance to the project was wide-spread, but despite the popular rejection, the World Bank in 2004, through its International Finance Corporation (IFC), secured a 45 million dollar loan guarantee for Glamis to push the project ahead. This in clear contradiction to both the ILO's Convention 169, and the World Bank's Extractive Industries Review (EIR).

When questioned about Glamis and the Marlin Project, the Canadian Ambassador to Guatemala said only: "Permits have been granted according to national and international regulations." This despite the clear violations of both by the World Bank and Guatemalan government.

Environmental concerns about the benignly named, Marlin Project have too, the Maya contend, been downplayed, or ignored completely. Glamis' operation is an open pit, cyanide leaching process outlawed by both the European Union and State of Montana in the United States.

To date, protests have been met with harassment, intimidation, beatings, and murder at the hands of the "authorities." All presumably with the express approval of the Canadian Embassy in Guatemala City. The Canadians have been one of the biggest supporters of the project, though Glamis is merely a "Canadian-licensed" operation.

But, not all Canadians are happy about their government's support of Glamis and the Marlin Project. Grahame Russell, a coordinator with the Canadian organization, Rights Action says of the deaths of Maya opposing the Marlin:

"This repression was waiting to happen. The red flags were there since the beginning, but the company, the Canadian government, and the World Bank have been content to let it happen. The communities and the Guatemalan organisations have always said they needed to be consulted." adding, "There needs to be a full investigation into how this happened, who gave the orders, and who knew what was going on."

That was more than a year ago, when Glamis was fighting for its corporate life. Today, the Marlin Project swims on and Glamis is looking to expand its industry profile.

Chris Cook is a contributing editor to PEJ News. He also hosts Gorilla Radio, a weekly public affairs program, broad/webcast from the University of Victoria, Canada. You can check out the GR Blog here.

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