Residents say new Canadian mine in Guatemala will benefit mayor, devastate community

By Danilo Valladares, Inter-Press Service

“No one will pay for the damages when work at the mine has finished,” says María del Rosario Velásquez, who lives in a town near the Oasis mine 100 km southeast of the Guatemalan capital.

The Canada-based Tahoe Resources company plans to extract gold, silver, zinc and lead from the mine.

Velásquez is not so sure that the mine will bring benefits to her hometown, San Rafael Las Flores. But she is sure of the risks that it poses to the environment.

“We know it will cause a great deal of pollution, which is why we are opposed to this project. The only one here benefiting from this is the mayor,” she told IPS.

Anti-mining sentiments flared up again in Guatemala after the new right-wing president, retired General Otto Pérez Molina, signed a “voluntary agreement” on Jan. 27 with the extractive industries business association, to increase royalties paid by the companies. The deal will be in effect until an amended mining law is passed by Congress.

In the accord, which is non-binding, the industry agreed to increase royalties from one to five percent for gold mining, from one to four percent for silver, and from one to three percent for metals like nickel, lead and zinc.

But the royalties paid by quarries extracting lime, cement, marble and stone – which also cause environmental problems in this impoverished Central American country – will remain unchanged at one percent.

Pérez Molina says the increase in royalties, which according to the government’s estimates will rise from 53 million dollars a year to between 80 and 93 million dollars, is a major achievement.

However, not only is the increase voluntary, but the agreement states that it will not be applied if international prices drop below 975 dollars per ounce for gold (the current price is 1,730 dollars) or below 16 dollars per ounce for silver (now at 33.70 dollars).

Environmentalists, universities and local communities opposed the agreement, arguing that the debate on the activities of the mining industry must go beyond the issue of royalties and take into account questions such as natural resources, the environment, the development of local communities, and what real benefits the industry brings to the country.

Velásquez says her community will see no benefits from the rise in royalties to be paid by the mining industry, which on the other hand “will definitely cause us harm.”

Read more from IPS News: http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=106766

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