Guatemalans Sue Supreme Court Chief Justice

Date of publication: 
29 July 2010

GUATEMALA CITY — Hundreds of Guatemalan Indians who live near a gold mine owned by Canada’s GoldCorp on Wednesday filed a criminal complaint against Supreme Court Chief Justice Erick Alvarez for his actions nine years ago as a private attorney.

The Indians say that Alvarez in 2001 — while representing Peridot, a company linked to GoldCorp subsidiary Montana Exploradora — resorted to a law known as “supplementary titling” to appropriate the terrain where the Marlin mine is located.

That law was initially intended to give land title to smallholders who had worked the property for at least 10 years, but in practice has led to a number of abuses.

According to the Indians, the land where the Marlin mine is situated legally belongs to the municipality of San Miguel Ixtahuacan.

“The law states that (a person) who would seek to appropriate the property of a third party commits the crime of ‘ideological falsehood,’ and in this case Mr. Alvarez sought for his client to take possession of the lands where the mine operates,” plaintiffs’ attorney Benito Morales told Efe.

Morales said the plot of land covers an area of 20 square kilometers (7.7 square miles) and is registered in the name of San Miguel Ixtahuacan, where, despite the objection of local residents, the Marlin mine has been in operation since 2005.

Alvarez should be prosecuted for “the continued crime of ideological falsehood because the action he undertook in 2001 continues to affect the inhabitants” of that community, Morales said.

Although the courts still have not ruled on Peridot’s intention to register the property in its name, the mine began operations five years ago, according to Morales, “due to the complicity of the state, which has supported mining exploitation even though it is detrimental to the health and safety” of the inhabitants of the surrounding area.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on May 21 ordered the Guatemalan state to suspend the operations of the Marlin mine as a cautionary measure, citing harm to the health of the residents of the Sipacapa and San Miguel Ixtahuacan municipalities, as well as their water sources and the environment.

The government announced on June 23 that it will heed the commission’s order, although without providing details.

The Marlin mine produces an average of 250,000 ounces of gold and 3.5 million ounces of silver annually, according to government figures.

The complaint against the chief justice is backed by the Catholic Diocese of San Marcos and the Archdiocese of Guatemala City, the People’s Council of the Western Guatemalan Highlands and the Rigoberta Menchu Tum Foundation.

If the lawsuit is allowed to proceed, the Attorney General’s Office must first ask Congress to revoke Alvarez’s immunity from prosecution and suspend him from his post before he could be tried in court.