The Guardian • Issue #2051

Guatemala’s Indigenous communities take on the mining TNCs

Community meeting regarding a mining project, Guatemala, 2005.

Photo: Friends of the Earth International – (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla, announced in 2020, that the production of Tesla electric car batteries required an exponential need for nickel, cobalt, lithium, gold, and copper. Nickel is a strategic mineral required in military manufactures such as stainless steel, electrotypes, spark plugs, a catalyst in the hardening of oil and lubricants, and pharmaceuticals. Gold is used in electrical conductors. It is the importance of these minerals that has given mining transnational corporations (TNCs) a controlling hand in negotiations with governments in Developing Countries and the implementation of their mining laws.

On 28th October 2021, Cultural Survival and 140 other environmental organisations, issued a joint statement in advance of the climate negotiations at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)’s Conference of Parties (COP 26) in Glasgow, Scotland. The “Declaration on Mining and the Energy Transition” expressed the grave concern that the mining of minerals is having a devastating impact on Indigenous communities, workers and ecosystems around the world. “Our transition to renewable energy sources must be just and equitable and accompanied by a simultaneous transformation away from irresponsible mining.” The dangerous waste from the mines has led to deaths and the catastrophic contamination of ecosystems and devastated Indigenous communities.

The increase in demand has created an upsurge in mineral exploration in Central America, especially Guatemala.

The Canadian-owned Bluestone Resources of the Lundin Group acquired Cerro Blanco in 2017, a decade after the Guatemalan government issued an environmental permit and exploitation license for the project. Bluestone initially planned Cerro Blanco as an underground mine, but changed it to an open cut mine, requiring a new environmental permit. The US$572 million project is one of the largest gold projects in Central America, expected to produce 73.7 million grams of gold over the 14-year life of the mine. The spot price of gold on the international markets in 2022 was US$57.7 million per tonne. This mine has a number of major health and environmental issues. The large water consumption, tailings, acid drainage and the arsenic used in the open-cut mine’s extraction process, will cause toxic leaching and the contamination of the water supply used for drinking, agriculture, farming, and cattle rearing by local communities.

On 18th September 2022, the residents of the nearby town of Asunción Mita voted in a referendum to stop the mine proceeding. Nearly 28 per cent of the 30,000 registered voters took part, with 88 per cent of those voting being against the mine. The Asunción Mita Avanza Pro-Mining Industry Association, was in favour of the mine, as it would create employment for 500 employees and contractors.

Bluestone Resources and the military-backed regime rejected the referendum as illegal and illegitimate. Bluestone argued anti-mining groups formed a biased commission to organise the referendum. The indigenous groups’ fight continues.

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