Honduran cardinal seeks 'helping hand' on mining problem

  • November 20, 2006
TORONTO - A cardinal in Honduras has asked the Canadian government to rein in Canadian mining companies operating in his country.

Campaigners hoping to persuade the federal government to regulate Canadian mining company operations outside of Canada went into talks with government and industry Nov. 14 to 16 with the backing of Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga.

Rodriguez, archbishop of Tegucigalpa, sent his request for tighter mining regulation to a meeting of Foreign Affairs officials with mining industry representatives and Canadian non-governmental organizations. The Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace delivered the letter to the national roundtable on corporate social responsibility in Montreal.

"The increasingly frequent conflicts in different parts of the world between mining companies and affected communities, as well as the growing efforts of civil society organizations to demand stricter regulation, more rigorous monitoring, more responsible and transparent practices, are a sign that we can no longer continue to adhere solely to the logic of the business market that operates on the principle of the less invested, the greater the profits," said Rodriguez.

Honduran church organizations are dealing with the fallout from several Canadian-owned mines, but most particularly the environmental problems caused by the San Martin mine, owned by Goldcorp Inc. of Vancouver, said Development and Peace researcher Mary Durran.

San Martin is an open pit gold mine which uses a process called heap leaching to extract gold from raw ore. Crushed ore is piled up on a pad and sprayed down with a mixture of water and cyanide. The chemical mixture separates the gold from the ore. The gold, cyanide and other metals mixed with water seeps out through pipes at the bottom of the pile into a holding pond. Gold settles at the bottom of the pond.

Goldcorp plans to close this mine in 2009. It has begun filling in the pit in one part of the mine to reclaim the land.

San Martin has produced 529,088 ounces of gold since 2001. The company forecasts the mine will produce 80,000 ounces in 2006.

Calls from The Catholic Register to Goldcorp headquarters in Vancouver and to the mine in Honduras were not returned.

"The cardinal knows very well in many countries in the south, particularly Honduras, legislation is very weak," said Durran. "And he's saying that they need a helping hand from the governments of the north."

Canadian mining companies typically adhere to voluntary international codes of conduct plus local legislation when operating mines abroad.

Rodriguez said the problem of foreign mines exploiting mineral resources in poor countries goes beyond economics and ecology.

"(The problem) is eminently ethical, as it brings us face to face with the need to review not only the rules and practices of trade in the natural resources sector, but also to review the level of stewardship and responsibility with which we care for natural resources," he said.

Environmental and social costs of mining "are generally borne by the communities and nations who produce these commodities, and who, paradoxically, nearly always live in conditions of greater poverty," said Rodriguez.

The issues at the San Martin mine are typical for Canadian miners abroad, said Durran, who recently returned from Honduras. Local people were moved to make room for the mine onto a government-owned concession. Only about half of them were given title deeds to their new land, and those deeds are now in dispute. At the same time local farmers and villagers are dealing with an acute shortage of water.

The Montreal roundtable is the last in a series of four national roundtables on corporate social responsibility and the mining and oil and gas industries.

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