For the past seven years, nursing students from the Selkirk College/University of Victoria Bachelor of Science in Nursing program have travelled to Guatemala to explore how globalization, community development and health are linked. Each year, students are invited to visit San Miguel Ixtahuacán, a community in the San Marcos district, to learn about the impact of the Marlin Mine (a subsidiary of the Canadian mining company Goldcorp) on the health and wellbeing of the surrounding Indigenious communities.
The Indigenous families and farmers that share their stories request that that we in turn share their stories in Canada to increase awareness about the devastating and profound impacts this mining operation has had on their lives, their community and their environment. The following is a May 2012 statement of Don Miguel, a local man in resistance to the mine:
“I’m sorry to meet like this, outside on the ground; however, it reflects our poverty. This is significant, because you will repeatedly hear that there is economic development, but it is not true . . . Our struggle, to be precise, is that we don’t want the mine here. We are humble people who just want life: salt, beans, coffee and nothing else. The money is not what preoccupies us, it is the threats. The cracked houses and the unknown tunnels beneath our land. Eating a fruit or vegetable and not knowing what is inside. Drinking water and not knowing if it is clean. I worry for our children and the animals of the land. This is what preoccupies us.”
The consequences of this mine for the local population are extensive: environmental destruction, water shortages, cyanide and heavy metal contamination, diseases, corruption, violence and disintegration of the social and spiritual fabric of the communities. As agriculture is the primary source of sustenance and income for families in the area, the consequences of environmental contamination and water shortages are overwhelming. Furthermore, the increasing repression, violence and intimidation towards those who protest the mine and its impacts is of huge concern. A number of community members have been attacked, been shot at and received death threats. Grassroots activist Deodora Hernandez was shot. Amnesty International has reported that it is seriously concerned about escalating violence towards Indigenous community activists in Guatemala and requested the Guatemalan government take action to protect them.
This is clearly a matter of social injustice. Indigenous communities have a right to water, land, housing, freedom of expression and cultural identity. They have a right to free, prior and informed consent. We have a moral imperative to take action. Together, as students, professionals, academics and community members, we have collective power. We can stand together and refuse to accept this injustice. Bill C-300, which would hold mining companies accountable for their actions abroad, was defeated, but only narrowly. The growing awareness around these issues must be cultivated. Together we have a voice and are a strong force for change.
Tessa Munro is a Bachelor of Science in Nursing student at UVic working with Vancouver Island Public Interest Research Group.