McGill Research Group Investigating
Canadian Mining in Latin America

Marlin Mine, Guatemala

Key Data

Company:Goldcorp Operational status:Active Materials extracted:silver, gold Type of mine:open pit, underground Main issues:human rights, public health, water, community relations


The Marlin mine is located in San Marcos in the Western Highlands of Guatemala. It is situated in a remote, mountainous region with an altitude of about 2,000 meters above sea level and experiences very distinct wet and dry seasons. [1]   The local municipalities of San Miguel Ixtahuacán and Sipacapa are predominantly Mayan (the majority in San Miguel being Maya Mam, and the majority in Sipacapa being Maya Sipakapense), and most inhabitants in the area engage in subsistence agriculture – cultivating corn, beans and coffee or keeping livestock. [1] [2] [3] The levels of poverty, malnutrition and illiteracy in the region are particularly high, with an estimated 90% of the population living below the poverty line. [3]

Goldcorp’s local subsidiary, Montana Exploradora Guatemalteca (MEG), began soliciting for an exploitation/exploration license in the region in 1996. In 2000 Francisco Gold Corporation bought MEG, and two years later Glamis Gold bought Francisco Gold. In November 2003 the Portillo government granted Glamis Gold a license for the exploitation of gold and silver – 85% of Glamis’ concession is located in San Miguel Ixtahuacán and 15% is located in Sipacapa. [1] The Guatemalan government and Glamis Gold strongly believed that the Marlin Mine would offer new hopes for rural development. The mining companies always claimed that the mine would bring local and regional development to the poorest and most marginalized region of the country through the provision of jobs and social investment. [6] [7] One of their proposals for social contribution involved creating the Sierra Madre Foundation.  Some of the goals of the Foundation include improving the accessibility and the quality of health services, increasing economic opportunities by supporting micro-loans, promoting environmental awareness, and developing local community capacity. [8] Construction of the Marlin mine began in May 2004, and a month later, the Marlin Project received a $45 million dollar loan (all figures USD) from the World Bank. [1]

Marlin mine commenced production in 2005. Its most profitable year of operation thus far has been 2011, in which it collected $907 million in revenues[19], and its lifetime revenues total over 3 billion dollars. [19] [20] [21] [22] [23] [24] [25] [26] Between 2007 and 2011, it contributed 113.6 million dollars to Guatemala through taxes and royalties, announcing in January 2012 that it was voluntarily increasing its royalty payments from 1% to 4% of revenue. [27] [30] That being said, a cost-benefit analysis by the Association for Social Research and Study (ASÍES) found any economic benefits to be largely outweighed by the costs incurred by the surrounding communities. [27] Marlin is expected to continue its activities until 2015. [1]

The construction of the Marlin Mine received an immediate response from civil society, starting with a protest by 500 Sipakapense farmers in February 2004. [4] On December 6th, in an open meeting with community members, the mayor of Solola stated that he never authorized mining in the region. Later in December, an indigenous group from Sipakapa began a 42-day blockade of Glamis trucks passing through their community on the way to San Marcos. The blockade ended on January 11, 2005, when more than 1,200 soldiers and 400 police agents began firing at unarmed protesters, and resulted in the death of Raul Casto Bocel, an indigenous farmer. [5] Following this event, the social mobilization against the Marlin mine grew and the opposition movement became increasingly structured. More recently, local communities have arranged a number of large-scale social mobilizations, blocking roads and detaining police officers and mine employees over Marlin’s water consumption [28] and the non-enforcement of a toll that Marlin-bound vehicles are legally obliged to pay. [29] Conflict over mine operations has escalated into violence on more than one occasion, and Goldcorp blamed former employees for an attack on its security personnel on January 8, 2013—citing a contract dispute as the rationale. [31] In addition to their other activities, local community activists have continued to organize discussion sessions and talks to garner local, national and international attention.

Some opponents of the Marlin Mine have faced harassment and intimidation throughout the life of the project. Notably, Bishop Alvaro Ramazzini faced such severe death threats for his anti-Marlin activism during the project’s planning stages that he had to be placed under police protection. [32] Similarly, on March 25, 2005, a vehicle belonging to the indigenous rights group FUNDAMAYA was reportedly doused in gasoline and set on fire. Soon after, FUNDAMAYA members Carlos Humberto Guarquez and Dominga Vásquez received death threats that explicitly referenced their anti-mining activities. [33] Other activists have been murdered or injured. For example, Alvaro Benito Sanchez was killed by two off-duty security guards employed by Grupo Golan, a security company hired to protect the Marlin mine. Glamis Gold has called this incident the “result of a private dispute”.[34] Further, The Guardian reports that an anti-mining activist, left anonymous for his family’s safety, was lit on fire in 2009 by men who asked why he was “against mining” and “against the company”.[35] On July 7, 2010, activist Diodora Hernandez, who had refused to sell her land to Goldcorp, was shot point-bank in the eye by two men who entered her home one evening.[36] Goldcorp denies using “intimidation tactics” against Marlin’s opponents, saying all of its security personnel follow the standards of ‘Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights’.[37]

The lack of proper consultation during the development of the mine is a primary reason for the resistance against Marlin. In the summer of 2003, prior to receiving its exploitation license, Glamis Gold conducted a series of meetings in San Miguel Ixtahuacan and Sipacapa, which, according to the company, attempted to address environmental and other community concerns. [9] Nonetheless, community members still believe that the project was developed without adequate and timely consultation of the local and Indigenous Peoples. In response to the company’s inadequate consultation process, the municipality of Sipacapa organized its own consultation process in June 2005, with 98% voting against the mine. [10] In July 2006 and February 2007, people in the villages of Huehuetenango[11] and Conception Tuatuapa[12] organized community consultation discussions in which the consensus opinions were overwhelmingly against mining. However despite these results, the Guatemalan government judged that the consultations were not legitimate enough for the State to suspend the mine. In December of 2010, Goldcorp organized a roundtable discussion of people and institutions with interests in the mine. [37]

Opposition to the mine has also been fueled by environmental concerns. According to a number of independent experts, the risks of contamination and cumulative impacts on local water availability have been largely underestimated. In November 2006, Flaviano Biachini, an Italian volunteer for the Madre Selva Collective, studied the quality of the water from the rivers near the Marlin mine. Biachini focused specifically on the Tzala river, which is an important source of water for drinking and for the irrigation of agricultural land. Bianchini found that the water of the Tzala river contained concentrations of manganese, aluminium, copper and iron above limits of the World Bank Guidelines for Open Pit Mining, the WHO Guidelines for Drinking Water, the EPA for Aquatic Life, and the Canadian limits for drinking water.[39] However, the Ministry of Energy and Mines responded to the research by claiming it did not have sufficient scientific basis.[13] In 2009, the Human Rights Office of the Archbishop of Guatemala received several complaints by area residents that the Marlin Mine was causing negative health effects (in the form of skin rashes, hair loss, respiratory difficulties and other disorders which people did not have prior to the development of the mine). [14] In 2010 in response to these complaints, new studies were published: one by scientists of the University of Michigan for Physicians Without Borders [15], and another by the Comisión Pastoral Paz y Ecología (COPAE). [16] Both studies revealed high concentrations of certain metals in the rivers downstream from the mine which posed potential negative impacts on the health of surrounding communities.

Based on these results, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) demanded the Guatemalan Government to suspend operations at the mine by June 24th 2010. On June 23rd, Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom announced Guatemala would suspend operations at the Marlin Mine to allow for a thorough scientific study of the environmental and health impacts of the mine. However, Goldcorp did not suspend operations, and July 8, 2011, the government reversed its position. ­ [17] Goldcorp and the Guatemalan state have since commissioned their own environmental assessments, finding that Marlin is operating within internationally recognized environmental standards for toxic emissions and tailings dam design. [40]  New findings backed by National Institute of Forensic Science (INACIF) and pursued in the Santa Rosa Criminal Court have revealed ongoing water contamination in San Marcos. [41] [42] On April 3, 2014, the IACHR released statement stating that it would now consider formerly-rejected human rights claims to fall within its jurisdiction, so more information may soon emerge. [38]

On the Canadian end, a group of four Members of Parliament and one Senator became embroiled in controversy when they accepted a Goldcorp-funded trip to Guatemala, where they toured the Marlin Mine and met behind closed doors with company representatives. The politicians all deny that accepting the trip constitutes a conflict of interest.[18]

As the “first modern mining project in Guatemala,” Marlin has been the focus of attention of various North American NGOs and networks, including Amnesty International, Peace Brigades International, and the Council for Canadians. These groups have been directly supporting community initiatives in San Miguel Ixtahuacán and Sipacapa, and have also been campaigning with these communities against mining activities on their lands. The Marlin Mine case has also awakened other Guatemalan communities about the potential environmental, social and health risks associated with the mining industry (such as those in communities surrounding the Escobal, Cerro Blanco and Fenix mining projects). It remains an important case to watch closely as it enters its final stages of development.


[1]International Finance Corporation. “Environmental Impact Assessment (Eia) Summary with Attachments: Community Action Plan, Indigenous Peoples Action Plan, Environmental Impact Assessment Executive Summary, Other.” World Bank, http://ifcext.ifc.org/ifcext/spiwebsite1.nsf/ProjectDisplay/EIA21766.


[2] van de Sandt, Joris. “Mining Conflicts and Indigenous Peoples in Guatemala.” The Hague: University of Amsterdam, 2009.
Available online: http://www.ciel.org/Law_Communities/Guatemala/Cordaid%20Guatemala%20brochure%20UK-DEF.pdf
[3] Willems, Luis. “Mining and Indigenous Peoples in Guatemala: The Local Relevance of Human Rights.” Ghent University, 2009-2010.
Available online:http://catapa.be/files/Luis%20Willems_Mining%20and%20Indigenous%20Peoples%20in%20Guatemala:%20The%20Local%20Relevance%20of%20Human%20Rights.pdf

[4] Vandenbrouke, Esther. “Environmental and Socio-Economic Impacts of Mining in Guatemala; the Role of Local Communities and the Ecological Justice Movement.” Ghent University, 2008.
Available online: http://catapa.be/files/thesis_guatemala_0.pdf

[5] Imai, Shin, Ladan Mehranvar, and Jennifer Sander. “Breaching Indigenous Law: Canadian Mining in Guatemala.” Indigenous Law Journal 6, no. 1 (2007): 101-39.
Available online: https://tspace.library.utoronto.ca/bitstream/1807/17137/1/ILJ-6.1-Imai_Mehranvar_Sander.pdf

[6] International Finance Corporation. “Montana Exploradora: Marlin Gold Project.” World Bank, 2004
Available online: http://siteresources.worldbank.org/INTOGMC/Resources/marlinfactsheetenglish.pdf

[7] Goldcorp. “Marlin – Community Initiatives.” Goldcorp.com, http://www.goldcorp.com/Unrivalled-Assets/Mines-and-Projects/Central-and-South-America/Operations/Marlin/Community-Initiatives/default.aspx.

[8] Goldcorp. “Poverty Reduction.” Goldcorp.com, http://www.goldcorp.com/Responsible-Mining/Partnerships-and-Programs/Sustainable-Community-Investments/Poverty-Reduction/default.aspx.

[9] Office of the Compliance Advisor/Ombudsman. “Assessment of a Complaint Submitted to Cao in Relation to the Marlin Mining Project in Guatemala.” 42: International Finance Corporation/Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency 2005.
Available online: http://www.cao-ombudsman.org/pdfs/CAO-Marlin-assessmentanexes-English-7Sept-05.pdf

[10] Mines and Communities. “The People of Sipacapa Reject Mining Activities in Their Territory.” Minesandcommunities.org, http://www.minesandcommunities.org/article.php?a=1066.

[11] Comisión Pastoral Paz Y Ecología (COPAE). “Community Consultations, San Marcos and Huehuetenango.” resistance-mining.org via web.archive.org, http://web.archive.org/web/20120327204301/http://resistance-mining.org/english/?q=image/tid/4.

[12] Rodriguez, James. “Sipakapa’s Legacy.” Mimundo.org, http://www.mimundo-photoessays.org/2007/06/sipakapas-legacy.html.

[13] Godinez, Mario. “Denuncia Contra Madreselva Y Reacción Por Parte De La Organización Ceiba.” Peacelink, 2007.

[14] Rights Action. “Health Harms in San Miguel Ixtahuacan Where Goldcorp Inc. Operates an Open-Pit, Cyanide Leeching Gold Mine.” rightsaction.org via web.archive.org, http://web.archive.org/web/20130617113519/http://www.rightsaction.org/articles/San_Miguel_022009.htm.

[15] Basu, Niladri, and Howard Hu. “Toxic Metals and Indigenous Peoples near the Marlin Mine in Western Guatemala: Potential Exposures and Impacts on Health.” 37. Physicians for Human Rights, 2010.
Available online: https://s3.amazonaws.com/PHR_Reports/guatemala-toxic-metals.pdf

[16] Comisión Pastoral Paz Y Ecología (COPAE). “Situación Actual Del Agua De Los Ríos Tzalá Y Quivichil En El Área Ubicada En Los Municipios De San Miguel Ixtahuacan Y Sipacapa, Departamento De San Marcos Guatemala.” In Análisis De La Calidad Del Agua, 51. Diócesis de San Marcos: COPAE, 2010.
Available online: http://goldcorpoutofguatemala.files.wordpress.com/2010/07/tercer20informe20anual20del20monitoreo.pdf

[17] Kosich, Dorothy. “Govt. Suspends Marlin Gold Mine, but Goldcorp Mining On.” mineweb.com, http://www.mineweb.com/mineweb/content/en/mineweb-gold-news?oid=106785&sn=Detail.

[18] Wallace, Kenyon. “Questions Raised over Politicians’ Trip to Mine in Guatemala.” Toronto Star, 2012

[19] Goldcorp Inc., December 31, 2012 Audited annual financial statements – English (filed February 14, 2013),

http://www.sedar.com/, accessed November 21 2014.

[20] Goldcorp Inc., December 31, 2013 Audited annual financial statements – English (filed February 13, 2014),

http://www.sedar.com/, accessed November 21 2014.

 [21] Goldcorp Inc., December 31, 2011 Audited annual financial statements – English (filed February 15, 2012),

http://www.sedar.com/, accessed November 21 2014.

 [22] Goldcorp Inc., December 31, 2010 Audited annual financial statements – English (filed February 24, 2011),

http://www.sedar.com/, accessed November 21 2014.

 [23] Goldcorp Inc., December 31, 2009 Audited annual financial statements – English (filed March 11, 2010),

http://www.sedar.com/, accessed November 21 2014.
[24] Goldcorp Inc., December 31, 2008 Audited annual financial statements – English (filed March 16, 2009),

http://www.sedar.com/, accessed November 21 2014.

 [25] Goldcorp Inc., December 31, 2007 Audited annual financial statements – English (filed March 28, 2008),

http://www.sedar.com/, accessed November 21 2014.
[26] Goldcorp Inc., December 31, 2006 Audited annual financial statements – English (filed March 30, 2007),

http://www.sedar.com/, accessed November 21 2014.
[27] Association for Social Research and Study. “Cost-Benefit Study of the Marlin Mine in San Marcos, Guatemala—

Executive Summary.” 8. Guatemala, 2010.
Available online: http://www.oxfamamerica.org/static/oa3/files/asies-mining-cost-benefit-analysis-summary-english.pdf

[28] Prensa Libre. “Demandan Agua a Mina Marlin.” Presna Libre, S.A., http://www.prensalibre.com/noticias/Demandan-agua-mina-Marlin_0_947305274.html.

[29] Marroquin, Arnoldo. “Turba Retiene a 25 Politicas En San Marcos.” Prensa Libre, http://www.prensalibre.com/san_marcos/turba-retiene-25_policias-comisarios_0_1166883534.html.

[30] Goldcorp Guatemala. “Beneficios Económicos.” Goldcorpguatemala.com, http://goldcorpguatemala.com/institucional/beneficios-economicos-2/.

[31] Above Ground. “Goldcorp Reports Incident near Its Marlin Mine.”Goldcorp.com, http://www.goldcorp.com/blog/2013/Goldcorp-Reports-Incident-Near-its-Marlin-Mine/default.aspx?view=details&item=Goldcorp-Reports-Incident-Near-its-Marlin-Mine.

[32] Patterson, Kelly. “Canadian Mine Strikes Lodes of Unrest.” Ottawa Citizen, 2005.

[33] Miningwatch. “Death Threats in Guatemala against Community Leaders Opposing the Mining Operations of Glamis Gold, a Canadian/Us Mining Company.” Miningwatch.ca.

[34] Keuhl, Amy, and David Carment. “Measuring the Reverse Flow of Risk: A Case Study of the Marlin Mine Project in Guatemala.” Ottawa: Carleton University, 2007.

 [35] Hill, David. “Welcome to Guatemala; Gold Mine Protester Beaten and Burnt Alive.” The Guardian, 2014.

36] Amnesty International. “Mining in Guatemala: Rights at Risk.” London: Amnesty International, 2014.

[37] Above Ground. “Dispelling the Myths of Marlin.” Goldcorp.com, 2012.

[38] Alvarez, Carlos. “Cidh Acepta Petición De Vecinos De San Marcos Sobre Minería.” Prensa Libre, http://www.prensalibre.com/noticias/politica/San_Marcos-CIDH-peticion-mineria_0_1147085454.html.

Bianchini, Flaviano. “Estudio Téchico: Calidad De Agua Del Río Tzalá (Municipio De Sipakapa; Departamento De San Marcos).” Madre Selva Collective, 2006.

[40] Goldcorp. “Update; Marlin Mine 2011.” Goldcorp.com, http://goldcorpguatemala.com/files/2011/10/Update-Marlin-Mine-final-Sept-11.pdf.

[41] Rey Rosa, Magali. “Efectos Perversos.” Prensa Libre, 2014.
Available online: http://www.prensalibre.com/opinion/Efectos-perversos_0_1256274645.html

 [42] Rivera, Nelton. “Comprobado: ¡La Minería Sí contamina!”: Prensa Communitaria, 2014.
Available online: https://comunitariapress.wordpress.com/2014/11/24/comprobado-la-mineria-si-contamina/#_ftn2

Timeline of Key Events