Press Conference about Health Impacts of San Martin mine and Honduras’ Proposed Mining Law

On August 1, 2012, members of the Siria Valley Environmental Committee (Comité Ambientalista del Valle de Siria) traveled to Tegucigalpa for a press conference about the health impacts of the San Martin mine. PROAH accompanies the Siria Valley Environmental Committee, whose members have been criminalized for their efforts to defend the environment, and was present for the press conference, held as part of the Continental Day of Action Against Canadian Mega Resource Extraction. It was led by Dr. Juan Almendares, a medical doctor who has worked extensively with communities affected by the mine in Honduras and the coordinator of the Movimiento Madre Tierra (Mother Earth Movement) of Honduras.

The San Martin mine, owned by Canadian mining company Goldcorp, operated in the Siria Valley from 2000 until 2008. Dr Almendares and community members report that the mine has left behind a legacy of health and environmental problems due to the mine’s contamination of the water in the area with heavy metals. According to Dr. Almendares, when the mine opened in 2000, only 8 out of every 100 people in the area had skin problems. Ten years later, after the operation of the mine, this figure has increased ten-fold, to 80 out of every 100 residents. High levels of heavy metals – lead, arsenic, and mercury – have been found in the blood of both children and adults in the Valley.

A recent photo report by Carlos Amador of the Siria Valley Environmental Committee documents the “serious endemic health crisis [that] continues to unfold” in the Siria Valley. The report includes testimony from community members, such as Juana Aceituno, who explains, “Look at how sick I am. I never had problems like this. It was when the mine came that I got sick. I have a lot of pain and I don’t know what to do about it. This Canadian mine came here and ruined everything.”

Last month, members of the Siria Valley Environmental Committee traveled to Guatemala for the People’s International Health Tribunal to testify about the health effects of the San Martin mine. The Tribunal heard testimony from people affected by Goldcorp mines in Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras and in its verdict stated:

“All of the cases that have been presented have the common elements of: (a) contamination and the irreversible loss of water sources, (b) irreversible environmental devastation: disappearance of mountains, ecosystems and changes to the hydrologic cycle, (c) dust that is constantly inhaled and that contains heavy metals and toxic substances that include carcinogenic elements that accumulate in organisms, (d) effects in the chain of life: destruction of crops and soil, illness and death of wild and domestic animals. In the testimonies, we have heard people talk about skin and eye illnesses, hair loss, skin rashes, miscarriages, infertility, premature births, birth defects and death of newborns, joint pains, auditory damage, gastrointestinal problems, nervous system problems, cases of poisoning that have led to death….We heard from ex-workers of Goldcorp whose health has been affected because they suffer from frequent intoxication, leaks, toxic chemical explosions, and workplace accidents due to a lack of equipment and security measures. These accidents have also led to death.”

Pedro Landa, Coordinator of CEHPRODEC (Honduran Center for the Promotion of Community Development) and facilitator of the National Coalition of Environmental and Social Networks of Honduras (Coalición Nacional de Redes Ambientales y Sociales de Honduras) noted at the press conference that 70% of mines in Latin America are owned by Canadian companies or companies with headquarters in Canada and it is no coincidence that the Canadian government sent experts to ‘advise’ on the proposed mining law currently being considered by the Honduran Congress. In a recent article, Jennifer Moore of Mining Watch Canada examines the role of the Canadian government in the proposed mining law in Honduras and finds that “the Canadian government is spending taxpayer dollars to help set up a favourable legal framework for Canadian mining operations against the will of Honduran civil society.”

Numerous Honduran civil society organizations have rejected the proposed mining law that the Honduran Congress is currently considering. This proposed law would end the current moratorium on new mining concessions, paving the way for the 300 mining applications that were stalled by the moratorium to move forward. It allows for open-pit mining — which 91% of Hondurans oppose, according to a survey by the CESPAD (Center for Democracy Studies) and the World Lutheran Federation. The National Coalition of Environmental and Social Networks of Honduras released a statement about the recent ‘socialization’ process in which the Mining Commission of the National Congress and government agencies held briefing sessions about the proposed law. The Coalition notes, “In all these “briefing” sessions, the above-mentioned public officials have tried to deceive the population by telling a series of half-truths which, according to ethical principles and values, are complete lies.”

The first half-truth they cite is the claim that “the new law better protects natural resources,” noting that “the truth of the new law” is that “it makes it possible for buffer zones of protected areas to be subject to mining concessions, it fails to safeguard the human right to water for the population, … removes from municipalities their authority to designate zones as protected, … [and] relaxes the requirements for obtaining an environmental license.” Read the whole statement from the National Coalition of Environmental and Social Networks of Honduras here.

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