Guatemalans in a small community voted “no” during a referendum on a mining project led by a Canadian company, as activists and environmental organizations are weary about a proposed new bill that could merge two environmental ministries together to form a ‘superministry.’

A referendum done by the locals living in Asunción Mita showed over 89% of the people living there voting “no” on continuing the mining projects in the area–including a gold and silver open-pit mining area in Cerro Blanco–that was started with Canadian mining company Bluestone Resources, according to The Conversation.

The mining in the area has been linked to an increase in toxic leaching due to the arsenic found in the mines, and reportedly has affected the water, agriculture, and livestock of the community nearby due to the pollution.

Bluestone Resources and Guatemala’s Ministry of Energy and Mines were able to successfully nullify the consultation results on a national level, however, forcing the community to join forces with local environmental organizations to bring the case up to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

Meanwhile, environmental activist groups have expressed weariness at a new bill that would merge the National Council of Protected Areas (CONAP) and the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources (MARN), calling the merging of the two a ‘superministry’ that would have negative effects on the current protected areas under the organization, Mongabay News reported.

Among the worries of environmental activists in Guatemala is the lack of proposal for a replacement to the council, which encouraged civil participation to the highest level and allowed non-government organizations to participate in the decisions regarding the protected areas.

Over 300-350 protected areas have been registered since the creation of the council over 30 years ago, and due to a lack of clarity in the new bill, environmental groups are worried that the progress made with the environment would be undone after the creation of the ‘superministry.”

“I think the most important thing about this bill is that it would throw away at least 30 years of work between civil society and the government through CONAP,” executive director of Defensores de la Naturaleza Javier Márquez said. “CONAP has real weaknesses, but it has also had very strong successes with the participation of civil society.”

Guatemala Environmental Pushback Rep. Pic
A community in Guatemala voted in a referendum not to let a Canadian company continue their mining operations there, as environmental groups worry about a bill that could nullify a council built for preserving the environment through a 'superministry'. This is a representational image. Arnaud Jaegers/Unsplash.

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