On July 14-15 the first ever International People’s Health Tribunal was held in the town of San Miguel Ixtahuacán in Guatemala’s Western highlands. The tribunal was organized to judge Canadian mining company Goldcorp Inc. for its operations in Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras, and their effects on the integral health of communities.
Beyond skin and respiratory diseases, birth complications and miscarriages, instances of cancer, and other health harms, the tribunal’s participants also spoke to the psychological and social consequences of mining activity. These included social conflict, violence and threats, trauma, stress, and the violation of human rights. The tribunal, comprised of 13 national and international experts in health, ecology, and human rights, ultimately found Goldcorp guilty of causing grave damages to surrounding communities. Here is some of the testimony from workers and community members affected by Goldcorp’s San Martin mine in the Valle Siria of Honduras and their Los Filos mine in Guerrero, MX.
“I think we have to look at the health impacts from three perspectives. We have to go beyond the physical, beyond terms of illnesses, internal and external, to what happens in the social context- the rupture in the community’s process, in solidarity, collectivity, in the very logic of community power and to what happens with the environment, which obviously has repercussions in physical harm to individuals and environmental harm to the whole society. I think it’s important to link those three components to health. Speaking physically, the harms that we’ve seen are serious externally and worse internally… irritations of the skin, of the throat, in the ears, are already a crisis, that we see in 70% of the population. Internally, there are things that we are just beginning to monitor but that are already serious, like, for example, premature births. In less than two years… in the 25 cases that we’ve seen, 60% of them have taken place in the last two years. They’re clearly linked with the mine that is now operating at 100%. Of these cases, 17 of the babies died. The testimonies of the women are that when the babies are born, the ones that actually make it to that point, they can see that they are deformed, with cracked skin, and there are other cases of lung disease from breathing in so much dust. We just completed an analysis to look at the presence of hard metals in the blood. We turned the results in to this tribunal and we hope to get the support from some of them to interpret it, but evidently, the harms are increasing. In environmental terms, there are many harms, but the most serious and immediate is water, for two particular reasons. First, because it disappears. So if you have a community whose main problem is dust, the situation becomes worse without water. Secondly, the little water that’s left is contaminated with heavy metals and with cyanide acid, so you have an adverse situation that just keeps getting worse. Things are more notable in the dry season. In the dry season, the cases of physical illness are almost… I would say at 90% of the population that have something, whether it’s light or serious. The mining company collapses our condition. The other thing is, to me, the worst, because when you destroy the social fabric, your ability to resist in order to mitigate the harms that the outsiders are causing you, is very difficult. The company is very powerful, has a lot of money, they contract the federal police to guard their installations, there is an accumulation of elements that makes it so that the community becomes divided between different positions, and that limits the possibilities for collective resistance. All of this together is quite a complicated cocktail… of what a mining company generates.” –Miguel Angel Mijangos on Goldcorp Inc’s Los Filos mine in Guererro, Mexico.
Los Filos Mine, Mexico
Goldcorp’s Los Filos mine began operations in 2007. It is located in the state of Guererro and is to be the largest gold mine in Mexico. At the mine, more than 70,000 metric tons of earth are removed daily by explosives, according to a Wall Street Journal article. The development of Los Filos falls within the context of massive mining expansion in Mexico. According to Miguel Angel Mijangos from Carizarillo, Guererro, around 26,000 mining concessions have been granted in Mexico over the last 12 years, mounting to practically 1/3 of Mexican territory. In the videos, Francisca Gonzales Gutierrez from Chiapas, Mexico speaks to this overwhelming wave of extractive activity in the country and its social impacts, while Petra Maturana, mother of two, speaks to the impacts of the Los Filos mine on her family and community.
San Martín Mine, Hondura
Goldcorp’s San Martín mine is located in the Siria Valley of Honduras and has been operating since 2000. Since 2004 reports began showing evidence of environmental contamination and mine-related illnesses in the area, including high levels of arsenic and mercury in blood samples. In 2010 the Honduran government filed criminal charges against Goldcorp for water contamination based on a study conducted in 2009 by aid agency CAFOD. While the mine’s operations have come to an end, Goldcorp’s mine closure plan lacks any compensation for community members harmed by the contamination, like former mine workers Rodolfo Arteaga and Angel Torres.