Much of the international attention which has turned towards Mexico in recent years has come as a result of the so-called drug war. But one aspect which has marked the years since 2006 in resource-rich areas of Mexico has been the number of mining concessions approved for operations. As these permits move from the exploratory to the commercial production stage, an increasing number of communities in Mexico – many of them indigenous – are raising their voices in opposition. One such community is San Jose del Progreso in the southern state of Oaxaca.
Of the hundreds of permits granted to foreign mining companies in Mexico, more than half have gone to Canadian firms. Some of the more contentious mining projects involve operations within indigenous territories. A common complaint in these cases is the lack of community consultation beforehand.
AMBI: reading statement at protest
At a recent protest in front of a state office for foreign investment, indigenous rights activists called on the government to abide by the terms of the International Labor Organization’s Convention 169 and consult with local communities before approving projects within their territories.
Residents of San Jose del Progreso – where Canadian firm Fortuna Silver owns a 55 million dollar mine – say that didn’t happen.
(Bernardo Vasquez audio in Spanish, reporter interprets)
Mine opponent Bernardo Vasquez Sanchez said residents began to notice the then-mayor was holding long, closed door meetings with businessmen in 2006…and that residents were only informed of the plans for the mine once the project was in its exploratory stage.
Vasquez, a college educated avocado farmer, became a lead organizer. On the night of March 15th, he became the second opponent of the San Jose mine murdered this year. He spoke with FSRN weeks before his death and alleged the mine was funding local officials who, in turn, created an armed group to intimidate opponents of the mine.
This is something Fortuna Silver CEO Jorge Ganoza denies.
JORGE GANOZA: “We categorically deny any involvement of the company or its subsidiaries in acts or even condoning any such violence.”
Ganoza told investors during a teleconference this week that the conflict in San Jose pre-dates the arrival of the Fortuna Silver owned mine.
JORGE GANOZA: “What we are aware of is a long, historic conflict in San Jose that is a cause of local struggle. This is not unusual in Oaxaca which is a state marked by local political disputes and land struggle.”
But many San Jose residents say the rift within the community is more recent. Eustacio Vasquez Ruiz says the mine is the root cause of the social division within the town:
EUSTACIO VASQUEZ RUIZ: “Everything started to change when this mining company arrived. It started to divide our people…and I think that’s the aim of these big companies; to divide and conquer. And those of us who have experienced it first-hand can attest to it.”
That statement came during a press conference held in Mexico City last week ahead of a demonstration in front of the Canadian Embassy. During the question and answer session, an audience member from the state of Veracruz stood up to make his own statement.
(Guillermo Rodriguez audio in Spanish, reporter interprets)
The man introduced himself as Guillermo Rodriguez, a member of a newly-formed group which opposes plans for an open pit gold mine near Mexico’s only nuclear power plant. The project is known as Caballo Blanco and the permit belongs to Goldgroup, another Canadian-owned firm. In his short speech, Rodriguez said Bernardo Vasquez’s murder struck a personal nerve because he had travelled to Veracruz just weeks before his murder to share the experiences of the anti-mine struggle in San Jose.
GUILLERMO RODRIGUEZ: “We say that Bernardo isn’t dead. He’s been planted and he sewed a powerful seed in Veracruz. And in our most recent meeting of our organization, we determined that we will honor Bernardo’s memory by fighting until the Canadian mine, Caballo Blanco, is eradicated.”
Over the past few of years, opposition to mining projects in indigenous territories has been relatively contained and limited to regional struggles…but the recent murder of activist Bernardo Vasquez seems to be changing that. His death has focused international attention on controversial mines in Mexico and established a concrete connection between previously isolated environmental and indigenous rights movements in southern Mexico.