Heavy-metals pollution threatens indigenous agriculture throughout the region, reports Edgardo Ayala.
Like an octopus, metals mining has been spreading its tentacles throughout Central America and dealing a blow to the region’s agriculture and natural ecosystems, according to affected villagers, activists and a new report on the problem.
“Where the mining company is operating was land that peasants leased to plant corn and beans, our staple crops. But since the company came in, there is no land left to farm,” said Lesbia Villagrán, who lives in the municipality of San Rafael Las Flores in eastern Guatemala.
Minera San Rafael, a subsidiary of the Canadian company Tahoe Resources, set up shop in this rural municipality of just over 9,000 people in 2007, and since then local residents in different villages scattered throughout this municipality and nearby areas have been organized to bring its operations to a halt. Villagers have been fighting the El Escobal silver mine arguing that it will affect their livelihood in agriculture, as well as local water sources and biodiversity.
“When I was little, my father leased four or six manzanas (a little more than four hectares) of land and for us it was a joy to work in the abundant harvest. But when the owners of the land sold it to the company, my father was no longer able to plant our staple crops,” added Villagrán, 28, in an interview with IPS from San Rafael.
The mine changed ownership in January, and now the company is called Minera San Rafael El Escobal, a subsidiary of Canada’s Pan American Silver, which according to its website, is the world’s second-largest producer of silver. It owns and operates six mines in Argentina, Bolivia, Mexico, Peru, and now Guatemala.
“The situation in agriculture is complicated by the company’s operations,” said Alex Reynoso, a coffee grower from a municipality near San Rafael.
Fears of Heavy Metal Contamination
According to Reynoso, the country’s markets do not want produce harvested near the mine because of fears that they…