Women fight South American mines


Kathryn Hopkins, Guardian

Date of publication: 
12 October 2009
  • UK urged to pressure South American governments to refuse mining licences
  • Women say mining is damaging their homes and environment

A group of South American women arrived in Britain this week to highlight the plight of indigenous people around the world fighting international mining companies.
In a desperate attempt to save their land and livelihoods, women from Ecuador, Peru and Guatemala will lobby the UK government and European parliament to put pressure on their governments to refuse mining licences. Maria Sian, 40, from San Juan SacatepĂ©quez in Guatemala, said: “What I’m looking for is for people here to press our government to not give out licences to international mining companies because the results that I see are death and destruction.”
Carmen Mejia, 25, from a village called Agel in the San Miguel region of Guatemala, has been protesting against Montana, a wholly owned subsidiary of Canadian mining company Goldcorp Inc. She alleged that explosions, dust and the vibrations of heavy trucks to and from the open-pit gold mine have changed the face of her village.
Another woman, Gregoria, who cannot give her full name for legal reasons, said: “As the mine advances and occupies more land, some families find that their houses have cracks and are now on the edge of a precipice. There are armed security guards everywhere.”
She said people faced chronic skin infections, hair loss and feared for the safety of their children living in houses which may collapse due to substantial cracks. The women were harassed by miners and intimidated by the police, she said they “cry in desperation, feel constantly depressed”. “Life has become very difficult. Sometimes suicide becomes an option,” said Gregoria. “The authorities don’t want to know, we don’t count.” The Guardian was unable to reach a representative of Goldcorp for comment.
Lina Solana, 40, from Ecuador has a similar story. She has several charges against her for protesting against Canadian mining company Corriente Resources. “The company’s activities damage the Amazonian ecosystem.”
She said the exploration caused environmental damage and problems with the water but also social problems such as corruption and the criminalisation of protests. “There is a lot of verbal aggression from the police towards females protesting against the mines. They call us sluts and smelly Indians.”
The Guardian was unable to reach Corriente for comment.
The women have been aided by the Latin American Mining Monitoring Programme. It said: “Women often feel that life in the community is so transformed by the mining conflict that ‘peace is gone, there is no more happiness’. Another worrying development for women is that abuse against them becomes ‘normal’ and unworthy of police attention.”