A Mennonite pastor in Honduras, working to change mining laws in his country, fled to the U.S. when his name appeared on a list of people that powerful voices in Honduras want to silence.
“My heart is well, even though darts are thrown at me,” said Francisco Machado, who was a guest speaker at several Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) annual meetings in Canada in November. He was referring to the character assassination and death threats that he has experienced as a result of his advocacy for mining reform in his home country.
Since 2000 Machado has worked for the Association of Non-Government Organizations in Honduras and has led their effort to bring about greater accountability for foreign-owned mining companies. He told MCC audiences that in 1998, only a month after Hurricane Mitch devastated his country, a new mining law was passed opening the door to foreign-owned investment in mineral extraction.
That law, later deemed unconstitutional, allowed companies to begin mining in almost any part of the country, including ecologically sensitive nature preserves, and without significant consultation with affected communities.
According to people living in these communities, the mining operations--several of which are Canadian-- have displaced people from their homes, contaminated rivers with their toxic waste, and contributed to significant health problems. Additionally, promised jobs have not materialized.
Despite the court ruling on the mining law, nothing has changed, Machado said. Indeed, military and police forces have attacked peaceful protesters who have demanded that the government abide by the court ruling.
Francisco has paid a high price for his efforts to have the mining law changed. He and his family left for the U.S. soon after his name appeared on the list and have made a home there until such a time as it is safe for them to return to Honduras.
MCC Canada, together with MCC Manitoba and MCC Saskatchewan, brought Machado to Canada to help launch a new “Mining Justice Campaign.” The campaign is a response to the growing cry of MCC partners around the world concerning the operations of Canadian mining companies in their countries.
“Canada is a world leader in mining,” says Stefan Cherry, MCC Canada policy analyst. “Unfortunately, Canadian companies don’t always behave appropriately. What is happening in Honduras is happening around the world.”
MCC’s campaign seeks to educate Canadians about the cost to people, communities and the earth, where mining activity is not adequately regulated. It is advocating for the passage of legislation that will hold Canadian companies operating overseas accountable to clearly identified human rights and environmental standards.
Currently a private member’s bill, C-300, is moving its way through Parliament. This bill would make government support (through Export Development Canada, the Canadian Pension Plan and other mechanisms) contingent upon compliance with those standards.
MCC Canada encourages constituents and supporters to back Bill C-300. A downloadable postcard to the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development, currently studying the bill, is found on the campaign website. There are also additional campaign resources, including a short video, case studies, analysis, and biblical reflection materials at http://mccottawa.ca/miningjustice.
At the MCC Manitoba annual meeting one delegate noticed that Machado, though married, wore no ring. Machado responded with the question, “Why do we need gold rings, when they cause so much suffering?” Later that evening, the MCC offering plate was found to contain the typical offering of cash and cheques – as well as two gold rings.