"Honduras Is Worth More Than Gold" — Anti-mining Campaign

Date: Sun, 25 Feb 2001


"Honduras Is Worth More Than Gold" — Anti-mining Campaign

More than 30% of Honduras' territory
has been licensed to foreign mining companies
in just four years!


"Honduras Is Worth More Than Gold"
-- By Michael Marsh

Undoubtedly, you own at least a small piece of Honduras, or some other
gold-producing country.  Many people do, though frequently they don't
know it.  84% of all gold extracted from the earth this year will go
toward producing rings, necklaces and earrings for consumers in North
America, Europe, India and the Arab countries.

Most of this gold is given freely to international mining companies, who
earn hundreds of millions of dollars in profits each year.  In return
they offer limited employment, pay little or no taxes, and cause major
environmental and social problems in developing countries, ... such as

Fortunately, Honduran campesinos, joined by human rights and
environmental activists, are working to reverse the pillage of their
nation's natural resources, while protecting their communities and the

The Asociación de Organismos No Gubernamentales, ASONOG, based in Santa
Rosa de Copán, has spent more than a year investigating the massive
recent arrival of gold mining companies from Canada and the United
States.  The results are both surprising and frightening.  In just two
years, 1996 and 1997, the Honduran mining department issued mining
concessions totaling 21,000 square miles, or more than 30% of Honduras'
territory to foreign companies, mainly from the United States, Canada
and Australia. 

Under the cover of "HURRICANE MITCH"

In December of 1998, just four weeks after Hurricane Mitch ravaged much
of the country, these companies achieved their first objective, the
passage of a new mining law which reduced taxes and gave them nearly
unlimited power to petition for the removal of traditional communities
located near mineral deposits.

One of the first mining companies to take advantage of the "favorable
business climate" in Honduras was Greenstone Resources Limited, then
based in Toronto, Canada.  Greenstone gained the mining concession for
several hundred acres in Copán in western Honduras in the mid-nineties,
and promptly moved to evict the local residents.

After two years of confronting the divide and conquer tactics of
Greenstone, which included shutting off water to the community and
intentionally running over one resident with a bulldozer, the residents
of San Andrés Minas succumbed.  Four years later, the community still
does not have legal title to the new lands promised to them and
Greenstone, after going bankrupt, was auctioned to a new company.

Recently, the new company has been the target of numerous environmental
complaints, including making illegal discharges of waste into a nearby
river, using cyanide within 25 yards of occupied homes, and causing the
deaths of farm animals.

In another part of the country, a second company, Entre Mares, owned by
the US company Glamis Gold, faces civil and criminal charges for
usurping water from nearby communities and for cutting down a forest
without permission.  Entre Mares, which commenced operations without the
required environmental license, has been the target of numerous protests
by members of the Committee to Protect the Environment in the Valley of
Syria.  [In a side note, Nevada-based Glamis Gold also made history in
the U.S. in January, when for the first time ever then-Interior
Secretary Bruce Babbitt denied its permit for a mine slated for sacred
Quechan Indian land in southern California.]

The argument in favor of expanding mining operations in Honduras is a
neo-liberal economic model based on attracting foreign venture capital,
at all costs.  Passed under the devastating shadow of "el Huracan
Mitch", the new mining law offers companies lifelong concessions, low
taxes, unlimited access to water, legal rights to expropriate campesino
and indigenous lands, and few environmental regulations with which to

In December of 2000, the International Monetary Fund -"IMF"- pressured
Honduras to reduce taxes even further, with the elimination of the
export tax on mining products.  With land use fees as low as $1500 a
year for a large mine, and a nominal 1% municipal tax, Honduras has
created an ideal tributary environment for foreign companies. 

Supporters of the neo-liberal mining model have argued that the Honduran
economy will benefit from rising employment offered by the mines.  Not
even this has materialized.  In San Andrés Minas, the community forcibly
removed by Greenstone, only 11 people are employed at the mine. 
Overall, the mine employs just 144 people, less than half of the 370
jobs promised by the company when it convinced the government to grant
it the concession.

Considering that the land occupied by the mine was used previously to
grow corn and graze cattle, the local economy of San Andrés was
destroyed, and the 'increase' in employment has not help provide any
economic growth since the arrival of Greenstone.

Facing these social and environmental problems, communities harmed by
international mining companies are joining together.  Residents of
communities in western Honduras have visited communities in central
Honduras and vice versa.  Indigenous people in eastern Honduras are
fighting to protect the rivers that run through their ancient tropical
rainforest from dredging.  

CAMPAIGN — "Honduras Is Worth More Than Gold"

In March 2001, these communities, together with environmental and human
rights organizations, will meet to launch a national anti-mining
campaign, "Honduras Is Worth More Than Gold."  Several of the goals of
this campaign are:  1) prohibit the use of cyanide in mining operations,
2) prohibit the expropriation of campesino and indigenous lands, and 3)
strengthen mining and environmental laws.



1) Help investigate via internet the US and Canadian mining companies
with operations in Honduras.  Write Michael Marsh [address below] for
more information.

2) Write a letter in English or Spanish supporting the "Honduras Is
Worth More Than Gold" campaign, to be read at the March launching of the
campaign.  Encourage your organization to write a letter of support. 
Letters will later be presented to the Honduran mining department. 
Email your letter to ASONOG [address below], or mail it to: ASONOG,
Apdo. Postal 218, Santa Rosa de Copán, Honduras, Central America.

3) Come and be a volunteer, who can live in Honduras and work on the
campaign.  Desired commitment: one year.  Stipend funding a
possibility.  Contact Michael Marsh [Address below].

4) Read more about how international mining companies are ruining the
lives, livelihood and environment in developing countries at Project
Underground (www.moles.org) and the Mineral Policy Center


Asociación de Organismos No Gubernamentales, ASONOG,

Michael Marsh, miguel@sdnhon.org.hn

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