book

This book review was originally published in the Halifax Examiner on November 17, 2021.

This photo shows the cover of the book "Testimonio" and it shows Diodora Hernández who was shot near Hudbay’s Marlin gold mine in Guatemala losing sight in one eye and hearing in one ear Photo: James Rodríguez

Book cover featuring Diodora Hernández who was shot near Hudbay’s Marlin gold mine in Guatemala losing sight in one eye and hearing in one ear Photo: James Rodríguez

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.

This photo shows Angelina Noj from San Pedro Ayampuc in Guatemala holding her small son Esmit in front of the blocked entrance gate to the Tambor gold mine. Photo: James Rodríguez

Angelina Noj from San Pedro Ayampuc in Guatemala holds her son Esmit in front of the blocked entrance gate to the Tambor gold mine. Photo: James Rodríguez

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.

This photo shows popular art on a wall saying “Todos somos la puya” (We are all The Thorn”) inspired by the resistance to the Tambor gold mine in Guatemala. Photo: Catherine Nolin

Popular art on a wall saying “Todos somos la puya” (We are all The Thorn”) inspired by the resistance to the Tambor gold mine in Guatemala. Photo: Catherine Nolin

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

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The pulp mill in northern Nova Scotia. Photo by Dr. Gerry Farrell

By Joan Baxter

December 12, 2017 (updated November 22, 2019)

When I held the first copy of “The Mill – Fifty Years of Pulp and Protest” in my hands two years ago, in November 2017, I would never have believed that the book would ever make any headlines, let alone national ones, or make any bestseller lists, or receive any special mentions from the incredible actress and activist from Nova Scotia, Ellen Page.

Right to left: Acclaimed ward-winning songwriter and musician Dave Gunning who inspired the book, the incredible person, activist and actress Ellen Page, myself, and Lil MacPherson, climate activist and co-owner of the Wooden Monkey restaurants, who passed “The Mill” on to her friend, Ellen Page, to read.

But it did. And what’s more astounding is that the book went from almost total obscurity when it came out, to the front pages of national media because of the actions of the very people who tried to suppress its promotion, ensure it remained obscure. Just desserts?

The book and its birth – a short history

But I need to take a breath here, and go back to the beginning. It’s been an overwhelming two years and I’m still trying to make some sense of it all and how it transpired.

Even before the book came out, there were times – late at night – that I lay awake questioning the wisdom of spending more than a year researching and writing a book about a pulp mill in a small town in a small province in eastern Canada. It was an intense (and income-less) time.

Not that it wasn’t a fascinating and fulfilling journey of learning. It was that and more.

It was a great pleasure and privilege to meet and listen to so many interesting, informed and passionate people who had been involved in one way or another with the mill over the years. Some had family members working there or had worked for the mill themselves at one point. Their views on the mill were nuanced. On one hand, it provided jobs and supported a lot of service industries in the area and forestry contractors around the province. If it smelled, so be it – that was just the smell of money.

But others felt the county had paid too high a price for the big smelly mill. Over the five decades that it had been in operation, one group of citizens after another had come together to create waves of protest, to try to get one government after another to do its job and protect them from the harmful effects of a large industry. Continue reading What happened when The Mill protested the book “The Mill – Fifty Years of Pulp and Protest”

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