Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Adolfo Facussé to Honduras: Don't Demonize Mining

One of the clear contributing factors to the coup d'etat of 2009 was the abysmal nature of Honduran press coverage of politics. Today's La Tribuna brings an article that so perfectly exemplifies this, while also exposing more of the web of economic interests that distort Honduran society, that it merits commentary.

Under the headline They can't close sources of work with a new Law of Mining the article opens with the news that the San Martin mine, operated by Entre Mares, will be closing, having ended its cycle of production.

Entre Mares, owned by Goldcorp, a Canadian mining company, is well known to activists because of the complaints registered by local residents against the negative environmental impacts of its open-pit gold mine, located in an area of Honduras called the Siria Valley, in the Department of Francisco Morazán. Cyanide leaching processes are alleged to have led to elevated levels of arsenic, lead and mercury in the bodies of residents, contributing to a variety of illnesses. Cattle have died in the vicinity of the mine.

In 2007-- in the midst of the Zelaya administration-- the mine was fined one million lempiras (not quite $60,000) for environmental damage. Deforestation, damage to water sources, and displacement of a rural community are all products of this mining adventure. Reports on investigations by CAFOD (the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development, a branch of CARITAS) makes grim reading. CAFOD has called attention to the danger that Entre Mares and its parent Goldcorp will leave an environmental disaster that Honduras cannot clean up throughout 2009.

So what does Adolfo Facussé, president of the Asociación Nacional de Industriales (ANDI), have to add to the discussion? Well, let's let La Tribuna's objective reporting give us the answer:
Despite the fact that there are small groups in Honduras that demonize the companies, the businesses re-established all the environmental conditions that existed before the exploitation of the land, they even improved them, [Facussé] pointed out.

In the same way they left a tourist center constructed, where there is an hotel; these installations will serve to maintain the economic activity of the residents of the municipality of San Ignacio.

The bizarre notion of transforming a former open pit mine into a tourist center is hard to even take seriously.

I would point out that none of the above is in quotes, nor is the text that follows immediately:
Unfortunately the owners of the mine could not continue investing in Honduras, because some people meddled so that Honduras is the only country in the world where mining should not exist.

They are people inspired by the left and they forget that in Cuba, Peru and Venezuela there is exploitation of mines, only in Honduras they wish to prohibit it.

Ignore for the moment the nonsequitur between saying that the mine is being closed down because it reached the end of its cycle of production, and that the mining company cannot continue because of some meddlesome person. Attacking environmental and social justice groups-- among them, the Association for a More Just Society of Honduras, which published reports on the contamination as early as 2003-- by branding them as leftist, and especially, dragging in Cuba and Venezuela, is dangerous rhetoric in the wake of the coup in Honduras. (Why poor Peru got included I cannot say...)

But remember: the text above is not quoted. It is the body of the news report. It echoes and thus treats as facts assertions by Facussé, who is quoted next as saying
"To prohibit mining exploitation in Honduras damages the national economy, because in these moments gold has achieved extraordinary prices and in our country many mines could be opened to give work to thousands of compatriots, but it changed to thinking negatively."

The paper continues by paraphrasing Facussé further as saying
The enemies of Honduras do not want there to be work for the Hondurans, but they do not close the mines of Cuba and Venezuela, among other countries where there is mining exploitation.

then changes to direct quotes to continue his comments:
“In Honduras there already exists a Law of Mining that was agreed upon some years ago and we are in favor of them applying this law, and in it was established respect for the environment, an increase in the taxes that the mining companies should pay, among other regulations."

“Definitely, we are 100% against the project of Deputy Marvin Ponce, who wants to close the opportunities of work for thousands of Hondurans that need a job in this country.”

The line between reporting on the facts of the issue, and conveying the opinions of Facussé as if they were facts, is not just blurred in this article: it is obliterated.

The target of this thinly veiled piece of propaganda is a proposal Ponce-- congress member of the UD party-- made early in February. An article published on February 12 in Tiempo reports on the facts of the newly proposed law, which regulates, but does not end, mining. The key change to former practice that it would introduce would be the prohibition of open-pit mining like that in the Valle de Siria:
The project proposes the prohibition of open air mining in all the [Honduran] territory as well as the use of cyanide and any other chemical substance that might be manipulated in the processes of recovery and concentration of minerals and metals.

Ponce's proposal also calls for review of existing concessions for environmental impact, including the potential to close those found to be damaging the environment. It is worth recalling that one of the outcomes of last year's coup was a dramatic acceleration in the pace of approvals of petitions for environmental licenses by SERNA, the Secretariat of Natural Resources and Climate. The issue was and remains financial interests that lead some members of Honduran society to promote economic activities shown to be damaging to the common good and the people in general because of the benefits that would accrue to a small group.


John (Juancito) Donaghy said...

It may be useful to recall that in May 2009 President Zelaya had proposed a new mining law to send to Congress. There are some who see this act as another of the thorns in the side of the economic powers of the country.

Micheletti was one of the most intransigent in his stance on mining, particularly disdaining the efforts of Bishop Santos of Santa Rosa to work with poplar organizations for a new mining law.

It should be noted that a law prohibiting open pit gold mining using cyanide leaching would definitely affect at least one mine, the San Andrés, Copán, mine owned now by the Canadian company Aura Minerals which bought the mine last year from the Canadian-Brazilian company Yamana Gold.

RAJ said...

For an overview of the horrific story of the San Andrés mine, see the website of the Mennonite Central Committee of Canada. I can do no better than cite their final questions for reflection:

* Two thirds of the gold mined in the world today is for ornamental purposes. Why do rich Canadians need to adorn themselves with gold jewelry when the people of San Andrés struggle to meet their daily needs?

* The health of the land, water and people in the San Andrés area has been seriously affected. Why is so little being done to protect the natural and human resources from the impact of the mine?

* The price of gold has risen from $272 in 2000 to about $1000 in 2009. Why have the people of San Andrés not seen their fortunes rise in similar proportion?

Honduras was colonized for its gold in the sixteenth century, and was exploited throughout the seventeenth century for its extensive silver mines. Mining then led to the death of the indigenous population forced to labor in the mines, and the importation of enslaved Africans to replace them. But it is now the 21st century, and what is done by mining companies there-- forced resettlement of entire communities, poisoning of the water, endangering farming families and their livestock-- shoul no longer take place.

felipe said...

Canadian mines in Nicaragua has come up rather independently in this thread and others on NicaLiving. In this thread there is information on a bill in Canada to address this. The author of the bill seems to be listening. Adding folks from Honduras would be a plus.

RAJ said...

Thanks for the pointer to the discussion of Canadian mining in Nicaragua. From it there are a number of excellent links-- one of the key ones is to Mining Watch Canada, which has very useful pages for each country in the world where Canadian mining companies are operating, including Honduras.