The recent beating and intimidation of indigenous activists protesting the ongoing operation of the Marlin Mine in Guatemala’s Western Highlands is only the most recent stain in the mine’s short but troubled history. On Feb. 28, following a day-long blockade of one the mine’s main supply routes attended by 200 residents of San Miguel Ixtahuacan municipality, a bus carrying protesters was stopped by mine workers and community members of San Jose Ixcaniche. According to Amnesty International’s report on the incident, the protesters were forced off the bus and beaten and robbed. Protesters Miguel Bamaca and Aniceto Lopez were singled out and Lopez was reportedly taken to the mayor’s office where he was further beaten, stripped of the documents he was carrying and threatened with murder, the Amnesty report stated.
What the activists were protesting was the failure of the Guatemalan government to comply with a May 20, 2010 request from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to suspend the mine’s operations, which is wholly owned by the Canadian firm Goldcorp, one of the largest mining companies in the world. The request was made after the IACHR received petitions from numerous affected Indigenous communities expressing concern about the mine’s potential environmental impacts. In June of 2010, the government stated that they would comply with the request but have yet to do so. A 2010 study by Physician’s for Human Rights found that residents living near the mine had elevated levels of toxins including arsenic and lead. The study also stated that, because the mine has only been operating since 2005, those levels are likely to increase.
Also at issue in the conflict is the failure of the Guatemalan government to uphold its obligations under the International Labour Organization’s Convention 169, which mandates that signatory countries consult affected indigenous communities before approving development projects. In the absence of government consultation prior to the opening of the Marlin Mine and other projects, indigenous communities have been holding non-binding consultas populares, or community consultations, to express popular will with regard to industrial development projects. The first consultation, held in June of 2005 in Sipakapa, San Marcos, firmly rejected the Marlin development. According to a 2007 MiningWatch Canada article, numerous communities affected by other developments, such as hydroelectric projects, subsequently adopted the consultation model to express their disapproval. The Front in Defense of San Miguel Ixtahuacan (FREDEMI) and the Association for the Integral Development of San Migual Ixtahuacan (ADISMI), the groups which organized the Marlin protest, are continuing to press the Guatemalan government to comply with the order to shut down the mine.