Melanie Schambach vividly remembers her body’s reaction when she came near a mine-tailings pond in the western highlands of Guatemala.
The Canadian visual artist was travelling in the country of her mother’s birth early this year to document the impact of the operations of Goldcorp, a Vancouver-based mining company that will hold its annual shareholders’ meeting at the Pan Pacific Hotel on Wednesday (May 18).
There were “mountains of white foam” on the edges of the “totally toxic” pond whose water was a bright blue hue, the Vancouver resident recalled in an interview at the Georgia Straight offices.
“We were standing at the top of a hill, and I feel like my eyes are totally burning,” Schambach said. “And the hairs of my nose are, like, piercing my skin.”
Operated by its wholly owned subsidiary, Montana Explorada de Guatemala S.A., Goldcorp’s Marlin mine in the municipalities of Sipacapa and San Miguel Ixtahuacán has been the focus of controversy since it was established in 2004.
In May 2010, the Washington, D.C.–based Inter-American Commission on Human Rights requested the Guatemalan government suspend operations at the open-pit and underground gold and silver mine because of its adverse environmental effects.
An autonomous organ of the Organization of American States, whose members include Canada and the U.S., the IACHR was responding to calls by 18 Mayan indigenous communities whose water sources have either dried up or become contaminated.
On May 4 of this year, Goldcorp reported cash flows of US$586 million for the first quarter of 2011, based on gold production of 637,600 ounces at US$188 per ounce. Dividends paid amounted to US$75 million during this period. First-quarter gold production at the Marlin mine was 77,800 ounces.