Written by Marvin Palacios
A public opinion survey has been conducted in various regions of the country that have experienced the effects of open cast mining, as well as in other regions likely to suffer the same fate. This has shown that there is strong opposition to this type of extraction of mineral resources carried out by transnational companies in Honduras.
The findings were presented by representatives from the Center of Democracy Studies (CESPAD) and the World Lutheran Federation in a conference on metal mining held on 27 March in Tegucigalpa.
Ninety-one percent of the people questioned in the survey expressed their total opposition to open cast mining due to concerns about its role in deforestation, water contamination, the negative effects on the landscape, dermatological and intestinal illnesses, its impact on agricultural processes, both on crops and livestock rearing, and the fact that it does not contribute greatly to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
The survey took place in September 2011, involving two thousand citizens consulted in different regions of Honduras. The people questioned in the survey stated that mining violated the human rights of the people living in the affected communities.
Furthermore, it revealed that 54 percent of Hondurans think that the government is unconcerned and is failing to act to protect the country’s natural resources. The survey also demonstrated that the citizens back the environmental struggle for a rational and just management of Honduras’ natural wealth.
Sixty-eight percent of the people questioned stated that they were willing to back environmental movements’ opposition to mining while twenty-two percent said that they would be willing to do so in some cases. According to the consultation, the Honduran population is also calling for a prohibition on the use of cyanide in mining as well as on the government’s forced expropriation of lands that possess mineral resources.
During the conference the organizers screened a documentary that showed the struggle of the Costa Rican people whose lobbying of representatives of their National Congress resulted in the government issuing a decree on the 9th of November 2010 banning open cast mining in the country.
Hermilo Soto from the World Lutheran Federation stated that if other countries in the region (as is the case with Costa Rica) clearly prohibit open cast metal mining, Honduras should also be able to do the same in view of the high number of populations affected. A considerable amount of work has been done by civil society organizations and proposals developed on the basis of that, and the World Lutheran Federation is working to support these initiatives.
Consulted about the recent visit of high-level Canadian state officials, Soto said that there is no doubt that it is Canadian capital that is principally invested in mining in Honduras, and that Canada’s officials, government and companies have lobbied intensively to ensure that mining can be carried out without any social responsibility for the populations affected.
“Indeed, there are businesses that are giving money, bribing, buying consciousness, financing politicians’ campaigns so that the National Congress will favour them, but we believe that a high percentage of the population opposes this activity due to the effects on several communities such as those in Valle de Siria and others, and due to the awareness-raising carried out by a range of civil society organizations. We think that the visits of these representatives from Canada is without a doubt related to this”, maintained Soto.
With regards to the visit made by Canada’s Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Diane Ablonczy on the 23rd of March, Donaldo Reyes Abelar, a Member of Congress for the Nationalist Party, presented a copy of the report on the new mining law to Porfirio Lobo Sosa and the Canadian minister, as one of the bases for the implementation of the Trade Agreement signed in 2011 between Honduras and Canada.
On several occasions, members of the congressional Mining Committee,Rigoberto Cuéllar, the minister of the Secretariat of Natural Resources and the Environment, as well as Aldo Santos, the head of Defomín (Directorate for the Promotion of Mining) (), , have made statements to the media announcing that the new mining law, considered by experts to be worse than its predecessor, will be approved in June of this year.
It should be noted that state officials were recently in Canada in order to promote the “supposed benefits of the mining law” during the annual mining investors’ convention that took place in Toronto, Canada.
In a a public statement, the Coalición Nacional de Redes Ambientalistas y Sociales contra la Minería a Cielos Abiertos (National Coalition of Environmental and Social Networks against Open Cast Mining), signaled that Rolando Dubón Bueso and Donaldo Reyes Avelar, who are both on Congress’s Mining Committee, have come to an agreement with Rigoberto Cuéllar and Aldo Santos to lobby in favour of the law that is harmful to the interests of the Honduran people.
Those condemning this law maintain that it has not been subject to a consultation process and even less to genuine public involvement in the process. Furthermore they add that the country is on the edge of a new phase of massdestruction of natural resources, of illnesses and of death, thanks to the decisions of unscrupulous and heartless officials that are handing over our country to foreign interests.
The project Cordinator of CESPAD said that ninety-one percent of the people questioned in the survey do not support open cast mining and condemn this activity. Some are convinced that this type of mining seriously damages agricultural activities such as livestock rearing and traditional craftwork, but furthermore that it is seriously harming the health of the people, above all through broncho-respiratory illnesses and skin diseases. Additionally, it is believed to have a negative effect on the accountability and integrity of state institutions, and onHonduran culture, as well as having a capacity to generate conflicts in mining areas.
“We hope that this survey will serve to convince the legislators that the people of Honduras have an opinion very different to theirs and on the basis of this we will be able to develop a strategy aimed at true sustainable development”, said Francisco Saravia.
Original Spanish version: