Canadian Mining Journal

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DOING SOME DIGGING – Glamis, Guatemalans at odds over gold mine

Reno, Nev.-based GLAMIS GOLD (www.Glamis.com) is building a mine in Guatemala, but local opposition is heating up. ...



Reno, Nev.-based GLAMIS GOLD (www.Glamis.com) 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. The cost of development is a modest US$140 million to create an open pit mine and 5,000-tonnes/day mill. Average annual production is targeted to be 250,000 oz of gold and 3.6 million oz of silver. At the end of last year the deposit had proven and probable reserves of 15.1 million tonnes grading 4.83 g/t Au and 74.7 g/t Ag. There were additional measured and indicated resources of 20.1 million tonnes grading 4.37 g/t Au and 73.3 g/t Ag.

Glamis insists that the mine has the backing of the World Bank, the Guatemalan government and local communities, but I am not so sure. I could find no reference to Glamis or Marlin on the World Bank’s website (www.WorldBank.org), nor could I find any type of project in Guatemala. 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 indication.

Protests against mining in Latin America have brought together environmentalists, farmers, religious leaders and aboriginal groups. Since 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. Glamis says it met with the family of the slain man and helped them file a wrongful death suit, a deed that reflects well on the company.

Glamis acknowledged that the death threats and threats of violence have been received not only by its employees and those of its contractors working on the project but also by individuals who have been outspoken in their opposition to it. The company said it has no knowledge of such activities and strongly opposes the use of violence.

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.

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 businessteaching everything from agriculture to money managementso that these businesses will sustain them when the mines close.

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 SIERRA MADRE FOUNDATION, which uses the funds to improve roads, build bridges and school rooms, supply drinking water, pay teachers, provide scholarships and adult literacy programs, create local banks, initiate rural health programs, and provide vocational training. This still seems to be a long way from the person-to-person approach that has proven to benefit other companies and local residents.