What mine eyes have seen….
By Janet Gray
Janet Gray is active in First Metropolitan United church in Victoria, BC as chair of Outreach. As chair, she helped start a Mining Justice Action committee in Victoria. Janet is BC/Yukon regional representative for KAIROS and was involved in the planning of the KAIROS Elements of Justice gathering in October, near Squamish BC.
We piled into our little white bus this morning and one of the first photos I clicked was of a few little boys – say 5 or 6 years old – eating something while sitting on top of a pile of trash in the back of a very large garbage truck.
Our journey to witness in Guatemala to see what Canadian mining companies are doing here is coming to a close. We have seen so much each day; our eyes wide open; our eyes glued to the window of our bus; our eyes following every community spokesperson as they tell their story; our eyes looking for clarity, for truth. Eyes taking in of course the beautiful colours, scenery and people, but also the tears, laughter, poverty and visible fear.
Some of the community groups and individuals said “look and see for yourselves” when we asked if they had seen any of the promised improvements in their communities from the mines in their area. Others told us that “when some people and companies come and see this land, through their eyes, they see it only through eyes of greed and not through eyes that respect the earth.” Doesn’t this sound familiar to our Canadian context? We also heard people say “if people come here to talk with us and see us as equals, through eyes that respect us, then and only then, we would choose to consult.”
As one of our group’s photographers, I have been tasked with documenting our trip here as best I can. But how do you document an experience as profoundly moving as this one? It is said a picture is worth a thousand words, and although I have taken a thousand pictures, I think that the pictures that are embedded in my mind are not the ones I have taken with my camera. They are the vivid pictures of a reality – not my own, an unjust reality – that has formed in my throat, my mind, the pit of my stomach and my heart. They are the tears I shed as we heard story after story from people who live in places where pollution, lack of clean water, violence and community breakdown are on the increase. Lack of consultation and lack of respect for civil society appear to be the norm. They are pictures I will hold and carry with me for the rest of my life.
Today, Nellie spoke to us about her work with the Emmanuel Baptist church in El Salvador, and the work of her organization CEICOM (Center of Investigation on Investments and Business). El Salvador is an even smaller country than Guatemala. It has a moratorium in place against all new mining projects. As a result, it is facing a $300 million lawsuit by a Canadian mining company for lost revenues. Nellie spoke to us about the work she and others do to raise awareness and to oppose to the Cerro Blanco mine which, although in Guatemala, affects the waters, land and people of El Salvador because of its proximity to the border, and because of the water ecosystem that connects to a lake that lies in both countries.
Nellie speaks with a twinkle in her eye and inspires us as we listen. Solidarity between countries, between women and between churches is essential to the work she does and to the work we hope to carry out in our own communities when we return to Canada. She says “God has opened our eyes to the issues related to mining and we are now instruments of God to make this world a better, safer, cleaner place for all creation.” Yikes! During our visit today with a Goldcorp executive I saw how different is his view of the world and of good development; a world apart. We have a lot of work to do indeed, but I look forward to it with a new clarity of vision.
A Margaret Atwood poem was quoted the other day. It reflects our tour of witness, but for now I share only two lines.
“The facts of this world seen clearly
Are seen through tears;
Why tell me then
There is something wrong with my eyes?”
From the poem Notes towards a Poem that can never be Written.