Marlin Mine: On land, destruction, and hope

Meeting with community organizers in San MIguel

I still have a vivid memory from 3 years ago during Planting Peace (another MCC Alberta young adult program) when our friend Maggie wept as she asked us whether we knew what Canadian mines were doing to her country of Guatemala. I was shocked as she described how a Canadian mine has caused incredible devastation – both environmental and social – to her community. 
Maggie’s face was in my mind all day as we travelled through the Guatemala highlands to San Miguel, where Marlin mine operates, a subsidiary of the Canadian company Goldcorp. We first met with a number of community organizers in San Miguel at a Catholic Church where they are resisting the mine.  They took the time to tell us how the mine has affected their community, a tale of destruction consistent with what Maggie had told us in Canada. It was an honor to hear the stories of these strong women and men willing to speak out against the mine. They spoke of the visible environmental signs of destruction caused by the mine: their river is now polluted, animals and humans are becoming sick, and they have to buy water from other municipalities because the mine used up their natural spring (it was said that the water the mine uses in 1 hour is equivalent to what 1 family in the community would use for 25 years).  Apparently a couple of boys in the community now have a skin condition and difficulty walking, all because they played in the river by their school, which also happens to be where the toxic chemicals used to separate out the gold get dumped. They also spoke of the social implications for the community: almost all of the people who lived by the mine have been forced to move elsewhere, bars and prostitution have sprung up, and there is great division in the community between those who support the mine and those who speak out against it.  

We heard how the mine promotes all the positive ‘development’ they are bringing to the community and how people originally allowed the mine to enter under coerision and promises of many good things that haven’t been followed through on. We heard how the mine employs some community members (for lower wages than originally promised) while deemploying many more people through pollution. The advocates spoke of the difficulties of speaking out against the mine including being resisted by mine workers, receiving threats, and powerful people striving to silence them. They voiced the deep complexity that the environmental damage has already been done and if they succeed in getting the mine to leave, what next?…  for they will simply move on to a new community to destroy.  

A spot where houses once stood. They have spent years now filling the hole in.

Naturally it was hard to sit and hear the incredible hardship that the mine, the ‘capitalist monster’, has inflicted on the community. Yet there was also incredible resilience and beauty in the community organizer’s words. Again and again they came back to the concept of returning to the earth and the importance of reconnecting to the sacredness of the mountains, the earth, and the water. They voiced a deep recognition of the value for the earth, their need for healthy land, and the importance of stewarding what we have been given for the next generation.  This was a hope founded in a weaving together of spiritually, Indigenous values, and the teachings of the church. We also heard beautiful stories about how women are finding their voice and are central to the resistance. It was incredible to hear about the group’s perseverance in raising consciousness, striving to hold the mine accountable, and seeking to build peace in their community despite differences of opinions. 

When I asked what stories they would like us to share with our communities back home in Canada, we were asked to share the story of how the mine has ended our livelihoods and caused so many problems – ‘is it just that they can just come and do this to our land?’. They spoke of how the mine is slowly killing their community, especially due to the deeply polluted water. They asked us to raise awareness, for this is happening in many other countries and will continue to happen else where.  

After lunch we drove to a couple spots overlooking the mine while Elsa and Edwin explained more about what was happening there.  We saw a place that used to be filled with houses, but now is a deep open pit mine.  It was startling to see a huge ‘pond’ filled with toxic sludge, which is slowly being turned to cement while excess is piped into the river. We heard of the efforts being made to refill the open pit and plant trees, efforts which our local guides were highly skeptical of, knowing it would be used to make the mine look good but the amount of chemicals in the land will make it impossible to use the land any time soon.

Edwin shows us the toxic lake

As we stood overlooking the mine, the message we had heard earlier in the day from Father Eric rang in my ears: how can we have peace in the world without stopping the desire for more? He had spoke of how the North’s consumerism drives demand and leads to this destruction. How we need to learn to live with less and stop living in excess so that we can all continue to live. Standing in rural Guatemala,  I find myself implicated in this story… how do I stand there knowing my own consumerism and greed plays a part in destroying this once beautiful mountain?  
At this point I have no good ideas of what to do next and no idea of how this experience of seeing the mine might change how I live.  For now, I think that is okay – it is a complex problem I am only beginning to understand, so I won’t grasp for solutions quite yet. I will sit and lament for this deeply broken world, this grieving community of San Miguel, these mountains and rivers destroyed. I will sit in the beauty and discomfort of knowing that we are all deeply connected – in the best and worst ways – and my story is interwoven with the story of these people we have met in Guatemala. I will also sit in hope, having glimpsed the strength of these people.  I gratefully accept the reminder that we all need to find ways to return to the earth, honor the sacredness of the mountains, and recognize how deeply connected we are to the land.  

-Carol McNaughton

Happy Mother’s Day

Just thought we would share some of the flowers we got to see on Mother’s Day. Since we weren’t in wi-fi, this is the closest we could get to wishing you Happy Mother’s Day. Enjoy your flowers!!

Photography by Allison and Carol, modeling by Andrew 🙂 

Happy Cinco de Mayo

Happy Cinco de Mayo from the Uprooted crew! Despite traveling thousands of kilometres, dealing with delayed flights, and flying through a lightning storm, we have all arrived safely in Tapachula, Mexico late last night. 

This first day in Mexico has been intense! Hot and humid weather, fast-speaking Spanish, and an unfamiliar culture, all while trying to grapple with complex issues surrounding migration and peacebuilding in Tapachula. Tapachula is located in southern Mexico in the state of Chiapas, which borders Guatemala to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the south. This morning we met with Fray Matias Human Rights Center in Tapachula. They help to work for the human rights of the many migrants that pass through Tapachula, as many people cross the river along the Guatemala-Mexico border every day. Fray Matias in a human rights NGO that meets with migrants in detention centres in Mexico and helps them to understand their rights.

Later in the morning, we all squished into public transportation vans and traveled to the Guatemala-Mexico border to see what is going on there for ourselves. When we arrived we could see the border customs on the bridge over the river, but just a couple hundred metres upstream people could be seen traveling back and forth across the river on makeshift boats made of inflatable tubes and wooden boards. They transported people and goods on these boats and migrant communities could be seen on both sides. It was an unbelievable experience to see this all firsthand. Many of these people are forced to leave their countries due to various unfortunate circumstances at home, but crossing into Mexico is not the end of their struggles. Once in Mexico, they have to get past corrupt police and immigration officers, the drug cartel, and people who are looking to take advantage of these vulnerable people. These migrants come from different countries in South and Central America, but many also come from other troubled places in the world, like Syria and areas of Africa, through South America.

Our last stop of the day took us to Cafe Justo, a coffee cooperative about 30 minutes outside of Tapachula, deep in the rainforest of Chiapas. Here, many coffee farmers became poverty-stricken when the price of coffee plummeted in the early 2000’s. The cooperative came together as a sort of fair-trade organization that was able to harvest the coffee in Tapachula, roast the beans Agua Prieta in the North, and sell the coffee in the United States for a greater profit that helped the farmers to be successful. We will be visiting Cafe Justo in Agua Prieta in a couple weeks when we travel to the northern border. 

Tomorrow we leave for San Marcos, Guatemala. Check with us again in a couple days for another post!

Andrew Brown

Uprooted 2016: It’s beginning!


group 2

The 2016 Team! Top left to right: Thomas Coldwell (MCC AB), Andrew Brown, Allanah DeJong. Bottom left to right: Allison Goerzen (MCC AB), Jana Klassen, Carol McNaughton, Maria Toro. 


They’re off!

This morning I had the privilege to see off this year’s Uprooted team. After 3 days of orientation, they are ready to go! By yesterday afternoon, you could tell they were ready to stop prepping and start the journey!

In the next three weeks, this team will travel from Tapachula (Southern Mexico) to northern Guatemala, to Mexico City, to Agua Prieta (Northern Mexico) and then to Tuscon, Phoenix.

We spent the past 3 days talking about the trip, becoming familiar with the context of Mexico and Latin America, learning about global and regional migration trends, and discussing the mindset necessary to enter into this journey.

Today is a long day of travel for the team. Their day started at about 4:30am and they will arrive at 10pm tonight! Please pray for them during this tiring day of travel. They will start full force on the learning tour tomorrow!

We greatly appreciate everyone who contributed to this orientation time. Thank you for your willingness to prepare with this team! A special thanks to Abe Janzen, Kim Thiessen, Orlando Vasquez, Rebekah Sears, Anna Vogt, Doug and Rose Klassen, and Alan and Marie McNaughton.

Stay tuned for more updates from the team!

— Carlie Heagy (MCC SK)

It’s just coffee and flowers…

Thomas Coldwell, our 2015 Uprooted co-leader, blogging with MCC’s Ottawa Office. On migration, fair trade, and the power of “just coffee”.

Ottawa Notebook

This week’s blog is written by Thomas Coldwell, who is currently volunteering with MCC Ottawa, and interning as Associate Pastor with the Village International Mennonite Church. In fall, he will join MCC Alberta as Peace and Community Engagement Coordinator.

This past May, I co-led the MCC Alberta/Saskatchewan Uprooted 2015 delegmonumento-a-la-revolucionation to Guatemala, Mexico, and the United States. We learned about migration.

Many in Mexico and Guatemala (and Canada, too) migrate for economic reasons. They are unable to sustain a decent standard of living due to poverty or a lack of job opportunities.

Some migrants, especially from the rural areas, are small-scale landless subsistence farmers (or campesinos) who are unable to earn a sustainable income from the crops they produce. A lot of these crops—like coffee and flowers—are major exports, destined for countries like Canada.

Other migrating peoples are forced from their homes due to violence or instability. Across the region…

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Uprooted Learning Tour 2015

Reflections and take aways one month later from Uprooted leader, Erin Willems, (MCCS Youth and Young Adult Engagement Programs Coordinator). Erin wrote this for the MCCS blog: “Peacebuilding on the Prairies”. Posted June 18, 2015.

Peacebuilding on the Prairies

Enjoying some of the sites in Mexico City. This is the Monumento a la Revolucion. 2015 Uprooted Team (left to right): Tonja Friesen Ehpaw Eh, Katrina Doran, Thomas Caldwell, Josie Willms, Erin Willems Enjoying some of the sites in Mexico City. This is the Monumento a la Revolucion. 2015 Uprooted Team (left to right): Tonja Friesen, Ehpaw Eh, Katrina Doran, Thomas Coldwell, Josie Willms, Erin Willems

I just returned from a learning tour with five other young adults. We spent three weeks observing and learning about migration in Mexico. We also spent a week in Guatemala and Southern Mexico looking at the border, visiting an MCC flower cooperative, and learning how cooperatives serve as an alternative to migration. We flew to Mexico City and spent a week experiencing some Mexican history and culture and visiting migrant shelters. The last week was in Northern Mexico where we spent time visiting with migrants and walking in the desert, and along the border wall. It was an incredible opportunity and we learned and experienced a lot in a short time

In orientation we talked about how to…

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Well it is the last night here in Tucson! We have been here in Tucson since Friday doing some debrief and spending some time with Luzdy, the MCC West Coast representative. On Friday we did a 12 km walk through the desert with Scott from HEPAC. It was an eye opening experience, and was really meaningful to walk where the migrants have walked before us. We left some water and food care packages for the migrants, and then continued on to Tucson. We have spent time together as a team talking about the things that we have learned and spending time encouraging each other as well. This morning we attended Shalom Mennonite Church. We had lunch after church with another group from all over North America and Colombia. They are starting a migrant walk tomorrow where they will walk 75 miles over the course of a week. The idea is not for them to recreate the experience of the migrants, but to walk in solidarity with them. We had a time of sharing with both groups, and it was neat to hear what they had been learning and experiencing during their time on the Northern border as well. Tonight Tito (from HEPAC) and Luzdy taught us some Salsa dancing, and other dancing moves, and we had a lot of fun laughing together (and perhaps at each other…). We have also enjoyed great food, Tim and Luzdy’s hospitality, some time in the sun, and at the pool, and catching up on some much needed sleep as well 🙂 The last few days in Tucson have been great, but we are all ready to come back to Canada tomorrow. See you all in one more sleep!!