Guatemalan Community Leaders Demand Cancellation of Mining Licenses

GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala

Some 50 community leaders from the municipality of Cabricán, in Guatemala's Quetzaltenango department, have demanded a public hearing in the country's Constitutional Court to annul the license for the Eluvia mine, operated by Entre Mares de Guatemala, S.A.

Florentín Temaj Pérez, president of the local board of mayors, said at least 22,000 residents of Cabricán would be affected by the mining project, which he claimed did not meet legal requirements.

"We know that mining exploitation will cause damage in our community, and therefore we are asking magistrates to definitively cancel the license authorized," he said.

The Ministry of Energy and Mines, acting through the Directorate General of Mining, approved exploration permits for the mining company "without the consent of the population -- they did not carry out a consultation -- and therefore we strongly reject the authorization of this license," he said.

Udiel Miranda, a lawyer for the local groups, said the fifth chamber of the civil court had determined that the communities’ right to consultation had been violated, and authorized an amparo injunction -- a remedy for the protection of constitutional rights -- against the project.

The mining license allows the company to explore for deposits of gold, silver, zinc, copper, and other minerals in an area that includes the municipalities of Sipacapa, in the department of San Marcos, and San Carlos Sija and Cabricán in Quetzaltenango.

The Directorate General of Mining authorized the licenses in 2010, and they were extended in March 2012.

Jorge Ascencio Aguirre, a lawyer for Entre Mares, claimed the court had confused the terms “exploration” and “exploitation” in the case of the permit.

"Indigenous communities have many needs, they must fight for their own development, and these types of activities are not contrary to their culture and situation; on the contrary, they favor economic development, their cultural identity would be strengthened," he added.

As part of reforms to the country's Mining Law, the Ministry of Energy and Mines is proposing creation of a fund to help distribute royalties from mining in a more equitable way in order to reduce conflict, La Prensa reported.

The proposal includes increasing royalties from 1 percent to 5 percent, with the "suggestion" that that funds be used for construction of water, drainage, and other infrastructure for the population.

Meanwhile, residents of areas around the La Puya mine, located on the border of the municipalities of San José del Golfo and San Pedro Ayampuc, recently prevented mining equipment from entering El Tambor mine, owned by mining company Exmingua. The residents have been blocking the mine for two years.

They say mining will cause environmental damage, that the quantities of water the mine would use will affect the population, and that community consultation was never carried out.

Representatives of the Ombudsman of Human Rights (PDH) visited the location and talked with those involved in the blockade.

According to government data, the GDP of the mining sector in Guatemala decreased by 6 percent in 2013, going from $1.096 billion USD in 2012 to $1.043 billion USD in 2013. 

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