January 13, 2005.
Mr. Marcel Mass
Canadian Executive Director
World Bank Group
MC-12-175, 1818 H St. N.W.,
Washington, DC 20433, USA
Fax: (202) 477-4155
Re: Deaths linked to IFC-funded Glamis gold mine
Dear Mr. Mass
On behalf of the Halifax Initiative Coalition, I am writing to bring to your attention the reported tragic death on January 11 of at least one Guatemalan citizen who was blockading the road leading to the International Finance Corporation (IFC)-funded Marlin gold mine in the western highlands of Guatemala.
Marlin Gold is being operated by Montana Exploradora de Guatemala, S.A., a 100% subsidiary of Glamis Gold, a Canadian company trading on the Toronto Stock Exchange. On June 3, 2004, IFC's Board approved $45 million in support for the greenfield project.
According to local accounts, since December 3, platform trailers carrying milling cylinders for the mine have been blocked from passing under a metal pedestrian bridge, located 130 km northwest of Guatemala City along the Pan-American Highway on the way to the mine. When the local population discovered the equipment was for mining, they initially feared that it was to be used in their communities 100 km from the actual mine, and organized to protect the bridge and prevent the mine equipment from passing further. On the first day of protest more than 2000 indigenous farmers and villagers reportedly gathered, and tried to dissuade the convoy from traveling further. When their demands were not met, one small vehicle carrying tools and fuel for the mine was set afire. The rest of the convoy retreated 2 km to a parking lot guarded by private police under the vigilance of local villagers.
With the stand-off still unresolved, the Guatemalan Interior Ministry indicated on January 8 that it would call in troops to escort the convoy past the bridge. On January 11, when local opposition did not withdraw, the Ministry brought in more than 750 military and police to end the blockade. Reports indicate that at least one person was killed in the standoff, and twelve peasants and police officers were injured. Full information at this stage is still limited, but we deeply regret and mourn the reported passing of Raul Castro Bocel.
Opposition to the mine stems from a mining license granted by the former Portillo government in late 2003, without consulting local indigenous communities, as is required under ILO Convention 169. Once the communities discovered the extent and possible impacts of the project, opposition formed around violation of indigenous rights and environmental risks inherent to the cyanide leaching refinement process that will be used at the mine.
Local organizations and villagers have organized across four departments in support of the protest and have demanded that both the government and company conduct a dialogue directly with the communities affected by the mine in San Marcos to reach an accord regarding the mine's future. The recent violent resolution to the blockade may only serve to exacerbate this situation.
To date, the World Bank (WB) has also demonstrated no leadership or ability to address the situation.
In May 2004, Guatemalan groups called on the WB to delay approval of the mine to allow for various outstanding issues to be resolved. These groups argued that more consultation was necessary and that large segments of the local population did not support the project. Ignoring this advice, the WB approved the project on schedule in June 2004, arguing that "the project enjoys the significant support of the local indigenous communities" and that consultations with the local population had been adequate. Current developments suggest otherwise.
IFC's agreement last June to support the project is inconsistent with the WB's response to the Extractive Industries Review, namely that it would only support mining projects that enjoyed "broad community support". Current events suggest this is not the case with Glamis.
Since project approval, local groups have repeatedly raised their concerns with the WB and have not received a satisfactory or meaningful response. This includes groups in the immediate area, as well as national indigenous peoples' organizations that have raised broader concerns about the hundreds of mining concessions issued in the country in recent years. They deserve an answer.
Now that the government has brought in the military, and one protester lie dead with scores more injured including seven police officers, we feel it is essential that the Bank intervene. As a member of the Board that elected to support this project:
1. What is your office proposing to do about this, given the events of recent days?
2. Does the WB continue to maintain that this project enjoys broad community support?
Before things escalate further, the WB should suspend any further processing of the existing loan and insist on the establishment of an independent and thorough review of the project, including the tragic events of recent days. The Bank should also support a process for immediate dialogue among the communities, the government and the company, as well as insist that the government and the company suspend further development of the project until community concerns can be addressed and full respect for the rights of affected communities can be guaranteed.
The IFC got involved in this project because it believed it could play a strong and positive role in the project by facilitating community partnerships, enhancing project's environment and social management capacity. Now is the IFC's chance to demonstrate this.
Chair, Halifax Initiative Coalition
Cc: Hon. Ralph Goodale, Minister of Finance
Hon. Pierre Pettigrew, Minister for Foreign Affairs
Kevin McArthur, President and CEO, Glamis Gold