At the recent Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Prime Minister Stephen Harper stated: “Looking to the future, we see increased Canadian mining investment throughout the Americas – something that will be good for our mutual prosperity and is therefore a priority of our government.” Over 60 per cent of the world’s mining corporations are registered on the Toronto Stock Exchange and the CEOs and chairmen of these companies are among the most influential players in Canadian foreign policy.
Indeed, the Canadian government’s recent decision to tie foreign aid to Corporate Social Responsibility projects carried out by mining-funded NGO programming demonstrates the driving motor behind Canada’s foreign policy agenda: economic benefits for Canadian business.
With the price of gold currently sitting at a historical high of $1,640 per oz, the stakes in the business are high. The CEO of Canadian gold giant, Goldcorp, received $11.4 million in 2011, up from $9.7 million in 2010. Barrick Gold’s CEO has been named the highest paid CEO in Canada, bringing in over $24 million in 2009. That breaks down to approximately $13,000 per hour. This is the 1 per cent.
Yet Harper’s promise of “mutual prosperity” seems difficult to comprehend when these astronomical financial gains are compared to the devastating effects of mining in local communities. The conspicuous lack of medium and long-term social and economic progress in the very communities where these mines operate belie Harper’s claims. In fact, a growing resistance movement is gaining momentum in Canada and around the world to demonstrate just how erroneous these claims are; and how detrimental the real effects of mining are to the social fabric, sovereignty, environment, collective rights and human security of impacted communities.
Former pillars of Canadian foreign policy — what made us proud to be Canadian — are now replaced by the monotonous drone of a one-dimensional agenda which has made wearing a Canadian flag on your backpack no longer a symbol of respect, but rather a dangerous endeavour in certain parts of the mining-afflicted world.
Goldcorp’s gaping wound in Guatemala
For example, in San Miguel Ixtahuacán, in the Guatemalan highlands, the gaping wound of the Marlin Mine, a project of Vancouver-based company, Goldcorp, has generated fierce resistance and devastating consequences.
Numerous community consultations were carried out in accordance with the International Labour Organization’s Convention 169, Guatemalan constitutional law, and the UN Declaration on Indigenous Rights, as a legally binding process in which thousands of Guatemalan Indigenous persons voted overwhelmingly against the operations of the mine.
Despite the international treaties and national recognition of Indigenous Peoples rights, the Marlin Mine has not ceased since gold and silver extraction operations began in 2005. The continued operations of the mine have resulted in broken communities, environmental degradation and violence. Community leaders have been threatened, attacked, arrested and ostracised in their families and communities.
Using over 250,000 litres of water an hour, the mining operations have caused dramatic reductions in water sources. Use of cyanide in the leaching process has contaminated ground water as well as soil. One community leader explained their objection: “This is a project of death. We are not willing to sell our children’s future for the benefit of a few foreigners. What will we tell [the children] when they can no longer drink the water or grow food in the earth because it is full of cyanide? What future do we leave them?”
While the CEO of Goldcorp is earning one of the highest salaries in Canada, and Goldcorp profits are skyrocketing because of the exaggerated price of gold, the trickle down seems to be less in terms of benefit, and more in terms of suffering. Without a doubt, mining generates economic development and benefits; it’s also without a doubt, however, that the development and benefits stays in the hands of the corporate elite.
Colombia: The spoils of war and displacement
In Colombia, mining operations are entangled with the on-going armed conflict that has claimed millions of lives and displaced over five million from their lands. In the last year, internal displacement has risen by seven per cent, with an average of 323 people brutally and violently displaced daily.
This puts into doubt both the Colombian and Canadian government’s affirmations that “all is well” in the country. The war rages on. And the stolen land is rich land. Upwards of 87 per cent of Colombia’s displaced population come from regions in the country that are rich in natural resources, and the current government’s sale of upwards of 40 per cent of national territory to mining concessions should sit uncomfortably with Canadian shareholders and citizens alike.
Human rights violations and crimes against humanity in the form of massacres, death threats and extrajudicial assassinations, alongside brutal repression of labour organizing, go hand in hand with the extractive industry in Colombia. According to Colombian lawyer and labour leader Francisco Ramirez, “Areas of Colombia that were declared ‘rehabilitation areas’ by ex-President Uribe are where companies such as British Petroleum, Repsol, Occidental de Colombia, Talisman and Harken Energy operate. Over the last 20 years, human rights violations in these areas have increased over 200 per cent.”
Yet there is a fierce and defiant cry of “no more!” resounding from the world’s majority. The global 99 per cent is taking a stand, and resistance is growing in response to the onslaught of corporate colonialism.
Communities are organizing, people are mobilizing, and alternatives to capitalist economic development are becoming a shared goal by a determined international resistance movement. From First Nations communities in Canada, to Indigenous movements in the Philippines; from campesino organizations in Honduras to community resistance in Tanzania, the movement is growing and will not be silenced.
In an effort to support these movements, raise awareness and consciousness in Canada, the Mining Injustice Solidarity Network is pleased to host the fourth annual international Mining Injustice Conference, with endorsement, sponsorship and participation from local and international organizations and movements. This year the theme of the conference is “Resistance,” focusing on the current struggles, triumphs and on-going creative political work happening around the world in response to Canadian mining projects.
Over 20 panel discussions and working group caucuses will feature participants from Canada and around the world, from affected communities to organizations working at different levels of policy. This year’s keynote speakers include academic and activist, Avi Chomsky, and the conference panels will cover broad and diverse themes, from armed conflict and mining, to legal developments in mining law, to environmental conservation and Indigenous sovereignty.
Activists, academics, and legal experts will share experiences and strategies for continued resistance to the mining industry and its beneficiaries’ colonial designs on the world’s most precious natural resources and the people who are committed to protecting them.
For more information on this weekend’s Mining Injustice conference in Toronto, visit solidarityresponse.net
Rebecca Bartel is a member of the Mining Injustice Solidarity Network and the Colombian Action Solidarity Alliance, as well as a board member of Peace Brigades International Canada. She has been involved with activism around mining issues in Latin America for almost a decade, mostly focused on Colombia where she lived, worked and studied for eight years. She is currently a PhD student at the University of Toronto.