Reno, Nevada-based Glamis Gold is building a mine in Guatemala, but local opposition is heating up. Judging from the company’s press releases, the company has a very long way to go before it gains support from affected communities.
The Marlin gold project, in the western highlands of the country, is scheduled to begin production in the fourth quarter of this year. Glamis insists that the mine has the backing of the World Bank, the Guatemalan government and local communities. The World Bank has loaned US$45 million for the project, despite complaints filed with the bank and the International Labor Organization about social and environmental non-compliance. Support from the government seems likely; it has said it will honour the Marlin mining concessions even though it will grant no new ones. That the project enjoys the support of local residents seems unlikely if their actions are any indicator of approval.
Beginning last January, protests against the Marlin project have become violent, with bouts of rock-throwing and barricaded roads. MSNBC reported that police shot one man to death and wounded 16 others in removing the roadblocks. On April 20, Glamis issued a press release in response to a March 13 incident during which one of its contracted off-duty security guards shot and killed a bus driver working for another contractor. Evidently this shooting arose from a private dispute unrelated to the project.
In the same April 20 press release, Glamis promised to address the positive aspects of the Marlin project as well as defend itself against alleged threats and the impression that it does not communicate with the local communities. It will do so “… in a series of press releases over the next several weeks.” And the press releases are arriving as promised.
Press releases may impress the financial community and Glamis stockholders, but I cannot believe they are an effective method of winning over Guatemalan villagers. Contrast this approach with the hands-on involvement that Barrick Gold uses in South America (see articles in this issue).
For each mine development, Barrick has a comprehensive program of community dialogue. The company meets regularly with villagers, listening to their needs, and supplying materials with which they can improve their communities. It teaches safety to villagers, particularly as it relates to the transport of hazardous substances. It helps them build local commerce–teaching everything from agriculture to money management–so that these businesses will sustain them when the mines close.
It’s true that Glamis is working toward sustainable development. It has spent US$2.5 million over the past two years on community improvement and infrastructure projects. Currently, the company is putting US$400,000/year into the Sierre Madre Foundation, which directs social programs. This still seems to be a long way from the person-to-person approach that has proven to benefit other companies and local residents.