Mine reclamation measures inadequate in Honduras

El Pedernal, Siria valley, Honduras. For many inhabitants in the neighborhood of the San Martin mine, poverty persists. Photo: James Rodriguez/Oxfam

Steps taken to address social and environmental problems arising from the operation and closure of the San Martin Mine in the Valle de Siria in Honduras have been inadequate, according to a new report released by the Institute for Environmental Rights in that country.

The institute, known by its Spanish acronym IDAMHO, issued the report titled “The San Martin Mine in the Siria Valley. Exploration, exploitation, and closure: Impacts and consequences” with the support of Oxfam America. In it, IDAMHO asserts that the mining project caused excessive social conflict, criminalization and persecution of environmentalists, and the affected communities were not consulted with or involved in decisions before or during the operation of the project, nor during the closing phase.

The report goes on to state that a forensic medicine report from 16 August 2007 confirmed that at least 62 cases of community members in the neighborhood of the mine had heavy metals in their blood. The results of this medical report were given to the people four years after the exams had taken place, in 2011, when the mine had already closed its operations.

IDAMHO also contends that the mine used massive quantities of water a day, leaving the communities without adequate water supply. It goes on to say that over a five-year period, the inhabitants of San José de Palo Ralo drank water from a source contaminated with cyanide. In the nearby Guajiquinil River, the report says independent water testing data in 2005 showed an increase in cyanide pollution from 0.25 parts per million to 3.71 parts per million.

The organization is urging the government and mining company GoldCorp, a Canadian headquartered enterprise, to properly compensate people adversely affected by the mine, and injured mine workers. GoldCorp says it set up a foundation that is establishing a hotel, nature area, and athletic fields in the area -- but locals criticize this news as “greenwashing.

Mining law reform in Honduras

Analysis of the mine closure plan is an opportunity for IDAMHO to advocate for stronger laws to protected communities affected by mining.  “IDAMHO and others in Honduras are asking the current Government, Congress, and future candidates for president to revise the current mining laws to make sure that the problems in Valle de Siria don’t repeat,” says Juliana Turqui, Oxfam’s program officer working on oil, gas, and mining issues in Central America.

“The study is important because it is the first on the closing of an open-pit mine in the region,” says Turqui. “This evidence gives us economic, social, environmental, and health facts on the consequences of the mining activity, gathered from analysis of official documents as well as the voice of the people who live in the three municipalities in the Siria valley,” Turqui says of IDAMHO’s report.

IDAMHO’s report calls on the government of Honduras to hold public debates on banning open-pit mining.  Costa Rica has imposed such a ban, and El Salvador has imposed a moratorium on mining while the country reforms its mining laws. It goes on to recommend a ban on the use of cyanide in mining, for reforms in tax laws to ensure the country can benefit from mining wealth, and better policies for the restoration of mining-affected areas after mines are closed.

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