NEWS: Opponent of Canadian mine in Colombia killed By Brent Patterson, Tuesday, September 6th, More info: Grahame Russell, Rights Action, 011 502 4955-3634, firstname.lastname@example.org
“Father Jose Reinel Restrepo Idairraga was killed by unknown assailants…on Thursday, 1 September…in Colombia. …Father Restrepo was 36 years old…and since 2009 was pastor in Marmato, where he was appreciated and respected by the locals because of his commitment to the poor. The authorities have begun investigating the case to determine whether the reason for the priest’s killing was mugging or if there is any other reason.
This area of Colombia is well-known because about 80 percent of the population of Marmato works in gold mining.”
In a video posted to YouTube just days before his murder, Father Restrepo spoke against an open pit gold mine proposed by Toronto-based Medoro Resources (which recently merged with another Canadian company, Gran Colombia Gold Corp). Colombia’s El Tiempo newspaper reports,
“The priest had spent the past two years in Marmato where he had opposed the moving of the town, a possibility that has been considered if the mining company Gran Colombia Gold mines its open pit project.”
The Marmato Project: As noted on their website, “Medoro Resources Ltd. is a gold exploration, development and mining company with a primary emphasis on Colombia. Medoro owns most of the prolific Marmato gold district and the producing Mineros Nacionales underground gold mine located in Zona Baja at Marmato. The Compan (plans) to develop a large open pit gold mine to realize the large potential of the Marmato Project.
” In October 2009, Medoro acquired the Zona Alta license through its share purchase of Colombia Goldfields Ltd.” A March 2008 article in The Dominion by Micheál Ó Tuathail of Edmonton’s La Chiva collective reports, “Five years ago, (Marmato’s) roots were shaken when the Compañía Mineras de Caldas, a subsidiary of Toronto-based Colombia Goldfields Limited, began its project of consolidating ownership of the mountain, leading to what many call the ‘economic forced displacement’ of Marmato and the social eradication of a working community. …(An article in El Colombiano) claims that an open-pit gold mine at Marmato would be ‘one of the largest in South America’, requiring the removal of ‘between 30,000 and 60,000 tonnes of earth daily in order to produce 250,000 ounces of gold annually.’ The operation would exploit in 20 years what small miners could in 200.”
Water: The Dominion article adds, “While small mining practices are notorious for their use of harmful chemicals such as cyanide, open-pit mines are environmental disaster zones, according to critics, who say they bring limited short-term employment and leave behind gigantic holes in the ground where communities once lived.” A Colombia Goldfields media release from February 2007 says, “The first detailed water monitoring ever undertaken at Marmato was completed in December 2006 at 18 locations in three creeks and two locations on the Cauca River. The sampling was a joint effort with Corpocaldas, the State Environmental Agency responsible for the Environment in the Department of Caldas. Due to unregulated discharge from the mills and the lack of any tailings disposal facilities at Marmato, cyanide levels are toxic in all locations and the amount of suspended solids is many times above acceptable levels.”
Maude Barlow to visit Goldcorp mine in Guatemala
Tomorrow, Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow will be visiting the controversial Canadian-owned Marlin mine in the municipality of San Miguel Ixtahuacán, which is located about 300 kilometres north of Guatemala City.
“Community activists have risked their lives to protect their water from depletion and the discharge of toxic tailings,” says Maude Barlow.
Among the water-related concerns with the Marlin mine, Tech International, a US-based non-governmental organization, has expressed concern that tailings water from the mine is seeping into a downstream tributary.
In 2009, a research team from the Pastoral Commission for Peace and Ecology confirmed the Marlin mine had contaminated local water supplies. And University of Ghent researchers believe the mine is depleting surface water causing arsenic-rich groundwater to be drawn into surface waters, and that arsenic may be the reason for skin problems being found among local residents.
“By allowing Goldcorp to operate this way in Guatemala, the Canadian government is violating the right to water of the local communities in the regional and river basin where the Marlin mine operates,” says Barlow, referring to the legally binding resolutions passed at the United Nations last year recognizing the right to water and sanitation.
“To Harper, the right to water in Guatemala, and other countries Canadian mining companies operate in, is simply a barrier to trade,” adds Barlow, noting the federal government is seeking a free trade agreement with Guatemala. “But you can’t trade away human rights.”
Given Canadian investments (including through the Canada Pension Plan) and subsidies that have funded the mine's operations, the Canadian government and public have a responsibility here, notes Barlow. The Council of Canadians is calling for legislation in Canada that recognizes the right to water and ends the impunity Canadian mining companies currently enjoy abroad.
“With Guatemala’s federal election less than a week away, mining should be a central issue given its widespread impacts in Guatemalan society and environment,” says Barlow. “With the terrible international record of Canadian mining companies, it should be a central issue here too.”
This past May, the Council of Canadians, along with 200+ people, participated in a protest at Goldcorp's annual shareholders meeting in Vancouver. The protest demanded that Goldcorp suspend its operations at the Marlin mine.