A well-known environmental activist in Oaxaca, Mexico was murdered Thursday night in a highway ambush about an hour south of the state capital. Thirty-two year old Bernardo Vásquez Sánchez – a vocal opponent to a Canadian-owned mining project – was shot multiple times in the chest when armed men attacked his car along the road which connects his hometown, San Jose del Progreso, to the regional hub of Ocotlán.
His brother, Andrés Vásquez and his cousin, Rosalinda Dionicio – both active in the local struggle against the mine – have been hospitalized with gunshot wounds. Bernardo Vásquez died upon arrival at a regional clinic.
The men responsible for the attack have not been identified, but the organization Vásquez led – the Coordinating Committee of the United Towns of the Valley – has meticulously documented the actions of a group they say has been funded and armed by mining interests.
In a recent interview with FSRN, Bernardo Vazquez Sanchez described how in 2006, the then-mayor of San Jose del Progreso signed a deal with mine representatives without consulting the town’s residents.
Bernardo Vásquez Sánchez: “We found out about it in 2008. That year was marked by demands and peaceful protests against the mayor. In 2009, with the occupation of the mine, the pressure became more notable. And it was in May of 2009 when we found out about the pro-mine organization. And it was that month when we began to see armed men who belonged to said organization. Those armed men who belonged to that organization, are now part of the town governing council and they’ve now brought in guys from other towns to act as their gunmen.”
The mine in San José del Progreso operates as Minera Cuzcatlán, a subsidiary of Vancouver-based Fortuna Silver.
Bernardo Vázquez showed FSRN a case file of documentation, including photographs of men with weapons reserved exclusively for military use. His group had identified the men by name and – in the face of state government inaction – had planned to deliver the evidence to the Canadian Embassy.
While opposition to the mining project is a main thrust of the Coordinating Committee of the United Towns of the Valley, it’s part of a larger set of demands for greater self-determination and territorial control in Oaxaca; Mexico’s most indigenous state.
Again, Bernardo Vazquez Sanchez.
Bernardo Vásquez Sánchez: “The problem with the San José mine isn’t just limited to San José del Progreso. It’s a problem for Oaxaca. It’s a nationwide problem. It’s practically a war declared on the small towns and their people because government officials, in their eagerness to look productive, are giving away our gold like in times past.”
The gold and silver mine in San José began full operations in September 2011. On its website, Fortuna Silver states it expects the mine to produce “1.7 million ounces of silver and 15,000 ounces of gold” this year.
Although opposition to the mine will likely continue, Thursday night’s murder of Bernardo Vásquez Sánchez means local movements of mostly indigenous small farmers in the Ocotlán Valley have lost a young and committed leader.