Guatemala, the Vote in Sipacapa: No to Mining!

The Marlin Project is an open pit mine located in the indigenous department of San Marcos in the high western plains of Guatemala. The mine is operated by its owner, the Canadian company Glamis Gold. The project was partially financed by the International Finance Corporation (IFC) of the World Bank with a 45 million dollar loan. The mine is currently under construction, but Glamis plans to start production in the last quarter of 2005. Marlin is the first mine of its type financed by the World Bank since the Extractive Industries Review (EIR) and the IFC considers it a pilot project for the region. Since its beginning civil society has had many problems with the mine and the Catholic Church, local Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), and indigenous groups have formed a Front Against Mining (Frente Contra la Minería) in Guatemala with the intention of stopping the construction of the Marlin Mine until a dialog between all parties can resolve the problems associated with the project and face the problems associated with mining in Guatemala in general.

Sipacapa, an indigenous village in the Department of San Marcos, is the site for the processing of ore from the controversial Marlin mine. It has had a strong role in the movement against mining in Guatemala, and with the help of the NGO Madre Selva, citizens of the village presented official complaints to the office of the Compliance Advisory Ombudsman (CAO), which is in charge of investigating projects financed by the International Finance Corporation of the World Bank.
When Glamis asked for a loan from the IFC, they had to organize consultations as a requirement to receive the loan. Although the company states that it spoke with around 3,000 people in the department, many claim that the mine was presented as a done deal and that they were given no opportunity to make decisions about the project. They also stated that Glamis misinformed them about the social and environmental impacts of the project. Thanks to the controversy about the consultations that Glamis organized in the region, the rural communities of Sipacapa decided to hold a popular referendum, in accordance with the traditional Mayan way to make decisions- with community assemblies in each affected village.

Obstacles to the Referendum
When the Sipacapa community made public their intention of organizing a popular consultation with the goal of creating a municipal agreement, Glamis reacted immediately. Montana Exploradora, Glamis’ subsidiary in charge of the Marlin project, asked for an injunction from the Seventh Circuit Civil Court, claiming that the referendum was illegal because the decisions regarding mineral exploitation are the responsibility of the national government, which had already approved the project. At the same time, the Ministry of Energy and Mines (MEM) filed for an injunction at the Constitutional Court. The 15th of June, the Seventh Circuit Court decided in favor of Glamis, supporting the injunction and issuing a mandate demanding that the mayor of Sipacapa suspend the consultation. It was an unexpected and irregular verdict. Normally the court takes two weeks to review the case before making a public decision.
The next day, the 16th of June, The Constitutional Court of Guatemala, citing convention 169 of the ILO and article 65 of the municipal code, rejected MEM’s petition. Nevertheless, due to the political pressure, the mayor of Sipacapa suspended the referendum and retired from the process. The population of one village decided not to participate in the consultation, but the remaining 10 communities decided to continue without the support of the mayor. Despite the decision of the communities to continue with the referendum, and although the Constitutional Court did not support the decision of the Seventh Circuit Court, the day before the referendum children from the community distributed unsigned pamphlets that claimed that the referendum was cancelled on account of being illegal. Similar announcements were also sent out over local radio stations. "We don’t oppose any consultation, as long as it is always done legally, because there is an injunction here that must be respected", explained Milton Saravia, the general manager of Montana.

The Popular Consultation and The Vote
Despite all the confusion and misinformation about the referendum, the voting occurred Saturday, the 18th of June 2005, as part of the popular consultation that was realized at three sites within the town of Sipacapa and in ten rural communities in the region. 75 national and international observers were present in all the communities to ensure a democratic vote. Although Glamis claimed that people in favor of the mine were threatened, the observers reported a democratic process, with a high level of participation by both men and women and without incidents of violence or coercion. In total, 2,415 persons voted NO to mining, with only 30 persons voting YES. The organization Friends of the Earth International reported that "Of the 13 community assemblies, 11 rejected mining (the great majority unanimously), 1 supported it and another community abstained from voting." In total, 98.5% of the participating population rejected mining.

But, is it Legitimate?
Although the Guatemalan government ratified convention 169 of the International Labor Organization as part of the Peace Accords of 1997 that ended 36 years of civil war, it has not developed regulations for the implementation of the convention.
The consultation was organized in accordance with the provisions of the convention and the municipal code, with the intention of supporting Convention 169 and promoting its current application in Guatemala as part of the accords. This is the first time that a consultation of this type has been held in Guatemala and for the participants this is a sign of democracy in the region. Regardless, Glamis and the Ministry of Energy and Mines dismiss the referendum as illegal. It is not explained how the consultations organized by Glamis can be legal while those held by Guatemalan citizens are not. Tuesday the 28th of  June, local leaders and representatives of the municipal government presented the results of the referendum to the National Congress and to the  office of the Solicitor for Human Rights (PDH in Spanish). They also presented the results to Mynor López, president of the Commission of Energy and Mines. The citizens want the results to be ratified by the municipal government and recognized as legitimate at the national level. The 29th of June Sergio Morales, the solicitor of PDH, declared in a meeting with the mayor of Sipacapa, Alejandro Mazariegos and 150 local leaders, that the results of the referendum will be binding, "We support the whole process when it comes from the will of the people, which should be respected," stated Morales. The Congress responded to the presentation of the results with the promise to follow up on the issue and investigate if they are binding or not. It could be months or years before a resolution on the status of the referendum-meanwhile, the construction of the mine and the plant for cyanide processing of the ore continues. Glamis will begin production of gold and silver from the Marlin Mine within five months.

Resources: Articles and Reports on the Marlin Mine

The Press

Prensa Libre (in Spanish):

Prensa Latina (in Spanish):{1EC23BB3-423D-4FD2-9916-2A257C14

El Periodico (in Spanish): (La opinión oficial del abogado sobre la legalidad del referendo.)

BIC Articles (Guatemalan Update) (Glamis in Guatemala project alert)

Websites about mining in Guatemala (in Spanish) (in English)

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