Gold miner in Honduras must stop exhuming bodies from cemetery – lawyer

San Andres open-pit gold mine in Honduras. Photo by Minerales de Occidente.

A Honduran judge has temporarily blocked a Canadian-listed miner from exhuming dozens of human remains at a more than 200-year-old cemetery in the Central American country to make way for a gold mine, a lawyer for the local citizens said on Friday.

Since 2016, Minerales de Occidente (MINOSA), the Honduran subsidiary of Aura Minerals, has angered the citizens of the town of Azacualpa by removing over 350 corpses from a cemetery to make space for its San Andres open-pit gold mine, granted under a concession by the Honduran government.

Miners operating in Central America have long been accused of environmental damage, corruption and even violence against local communities. Mining firms, however, say they bring jobs and development to poor, rural areas.

Victor Fernandez, a lawyer for plaintiffs in the town, told Reuters on Friday that a judge had – for the time being – weighed in favor of the local villagers. The town is located about 122 km (76 miles) northwest of the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa.

“A judge ordered the mayor’s office to temporarily suspend the exhumation of the cadavers … while he decides on an injunction we presented on behalf of the villagers,” Fernandez said. “As we understand it, the exhumations have stopped.”

MINOSA could not immediately be reached for comment.

Fernandez said that relatives of those buried in the cemetery reached an agreement with the local mayor’s office in 2015 to protect the remains of their family members, but he said local officials broke that covenant.

The plaintiffs say the exhumations infringe on their popular sovereignty and their familial rights.

In 2017, Honduras received mining export income of $183 million, according to the central bank.

Reporting by Gustavo Palencia; Editing by Christian Schmollinger.