Making blood run 'gold': Mining justice organizers take on Goldcorp

| May 23, 2011
Carlos Amador, from Guatemala, challenged Goldcorp executives inside the meeting, thanks to proxy shareholder votes. Photo: David P. Ball

"A carrion Death, within whose empty eye / There is a written scroll! I'll read the writing. / All that glitters is not gold."
- Shakespeare

As shareholders in the Canadian mining company Goldcorp met for their annual general meeting (AGM) in Vancouver last Wednesday, a jubilant and diverse crowd of more than 200 -- with some participants festooned in gold glitter -- pushed its way into the Pan Pacific Convention Centre, where the AGM was taking place.

Armed with a 10-metre-long painted banner, a marching band, and giant golden puppets, the demonstrators occupied the building for almost an hour.

Inside the meeting, Guatemalan organizer Carlos Amador and several other activists confronted the company on the human rights, health and environmental record of Goldcorp's Marlin Mine, about 300 kilometres north-east of Guatemala City. Allegations include killings, attacks and death threats against opponents of the mine, and health impacts, pollution, and intimidation of unionists.

"The company should recognize the impacts of their operations and listen to our concerns," said Amador, with the Environmental Committee of the Siria Valley in Guatemala, who traveled to Vancouver to confront Goldcorp. "The people in this meeting lack a conscience."

Police prevented demonstrators from disrupting the meeting itself after they entered the Pan Pacific Hotel and attempted to climb escalators to where Goldcorp was meeting. However, a marching band and many drums and whistles ensured that the crowd was heard inside the meeting itself.

According to a shareholder activist who used a proxy vote to question Goldcorp, noise from the rally downstairs interrupted company vice president David Deisley's presentation on corporate social responsibility.

"I'm not sure there's ever been such a solid expression of solidarity at a Goldcorp AGM before," said Jennifer Moore, with MiningWatch Canada, who attended the meetings on behalf of a shareholder. "Our goal today was to really put Goldcorp management on the spot and ask questions on issues they've refused to address."

Last year, a Goldcorp-commissioned Human Rights Assessment backed up claims of human rights abuses near the mine. It describes how mine operators repeatedly asked security forces to break up protests, notably in 2005 when 1,600 police and guards were called in to break up a 40-day blockade, firing tear gas and bullets and killing protester Castro Bocel. No one has been charged in the killing.

In February, according to Amnesty International, human rights defender Miguel Bámaca was "severely" beaten after many death threats; Amnesty also documented the shooting of Deodora Hernandez in the face, and death threats to Carmen Mejía, both of whom had spoken against the mine. Unionizing workers have been summarily fired.

Last May, the Organization of American States' human rights-monitoring body called for the suspension of operations at the Marlin Mine, backing up the recommendation of the UN's International Labour Organization.

"In a country rich in resources the people are suffering misery and violence," said Sarita Galvez, a member of Mining Justice Alliance, the Vancouver group which organized a week of mining-related events and actions. Galvez is originally from Guatemala and has seen the impacts of mining first-hand.

"Mining has been happening for a long time, but now the destruction is on a much higher scale," she said. "Guatemala has always been a banana republic -- there's too much investment and resource interests to allow for change.

"But I hope Canadian people get informed and that word spreads. The money we are putting every month into Canada Pension Plan is being used to hurt other people."

Canada Pension Plan (CPP) is a major shareholder in Goldcorp -- its $177 million investment makes it CPP's eighth largest Canadian holding, and is in the top one per cent of its global investments -- and the demonstration also gathered outside the CPP offices a few blocks away. According to CPP, it voted against resolutions to suspend Marlin operations at the last two Goldcorp AGMs, despite a policy to support motions to mitigate environmental and social impacts.

Speakers emphasized Goldcorp's connection to Canada -- not only because it is Canadian-owned and receives public funds, but also because Indigenous peoples are also impacted by the mining industry worldwide.

"In central B.C. there are so many mines," said Telquaa, a Vancouver community activist from the Wet'suwet'en nation in northwest B.C. "A lot of people have been displaced, and mine-tailing ponds have made our people sick with cancer.

"But today people have come from other parts of the world to show their support. And we support them too."

The night before the rally, the Native Friendship Centre welcomed the Latin American visitors at a feast and cultural evening. A long line formed to greet the guests and many voiced their support for their struggles.

"Everywhere there is a mine, we have to wonder which nation has been shoved off their land," said Kat Norris, a Salish member of the Indigenous Action Movement. "In Brazil, Hawaii, the Philippines and here, lands are being stolen for corporate greed.

"It has been growing for hundreds of years. But we as Indigenous people are known as wards of our environment. Now more and more of my brothers and sisters are standing in solidarity with other Indigenous nations."

Based in Vancouver, Goldcorp employs 11,500 people globally and announced recently its shares doubled in value, recording a $651 million profit in its first quarter.

David P. Ball is an freelance photojournalist in Vancouver, Coast Salish territories. His website is www.davidpball.net.

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