This book review was originally published in the Halifax Examiner on November 17, 2021.
Alvaro Sandoval is a Guatemalan who knows all too well what it is like to be attacked and criminalized for trying to defend his community from North American gold mining companies, and he has a message for Canadians and Americans:
I would like to call on the people and politicians of Canada and the United States to reflect seriously on your way of life in your so-called developed countries; that your way of life is achieved at the cost of exploiting the natural resources in our countries that you call “underdeveloped.”
Sandoval is from San José del Golfo, a community about an hour’s drive northeast of the capital, Guatemala city.
Like others in his and neighbouring communities, Sandoval began his resistance to gold mining in 2012 when he got wind of plans by Vancouver-based junior mining company Radius Gold to open the Tambor gold mine in the area.
For more than five years, Sandoval and his family were part of a community movement that maintained a permanent peaceful encampment outside the mine, a camp known as “La Puya” (The Thorn). Riot police were repeatedly dispatched to the site to violently evict the people at the encampment.
Although the Canadian company Radius Gold – that promotes itself with the motto “Relentless Exploration, Great Discoveries” – initiated the mine, it didn’t keep it very long. In 2012, shortly after two hitmen on a motorbike shot at and attempted to assassinate community member, Yolanda Oquelí, Radius sold its interests to its junior American partner, Kappes, Cassiday & Associates (KCA). However, Radius Gold maintained a royalty interest in the mine’s gold production.
After years of community resistance to the mine, in 2016 the Guatemalan Supreme Court finally and definitively revoked the company’s license. The gold mine – which had been illegal all along – was closed down. It had never obtained “free, prior, and informed consent” from Indigenous communities in the area.
Sandoval and his daughter Ana would like to see people in North America help reign in their mining companies that are wreaking havoc on Indigenous lands and people in Guatemala and beyond:
We call on the Canadian and American people to investigate and learn about how your companies come here and violate our rights; how your companies participate in and take advantage of the corruption of our governments that serve the interests of your companies to then violate our rights and harm the wellbeing of our natural resources, our communities, and our people.
We call on your politicians and business leaders to reflect on how you do your work as politicians and business people; we call on you to do your work in an honourable way and not in a way that profits from the blood and tears of other people. Like you, we merit respect in life.
The Sandovals’ messages are contained in a new book that details in sometimes horrifying detail the behaviour of Canadian-owned mines in Guatemala, a country that suffered 36 years of armed conflict, which only ended in 1996 when a Peace Accord was signed.
The book documents the complicity of the Canadian government in promoting Canadian companies and mining-friendly laws in the country on the heels of decades of genocidal military governments, and the unwitting complicity of the Canadian people whose pensions are invested in those companies. Continue reading “It pains me to tell you that the image of Canada is severely damaged:” damning testimony in a new book reveals the horrific record of Canadian mining companies in Guatemala