Photo of demonstration in the central plaza of Mexico City. The message reads: "It was the state"
Photo of demonstration over the disappearance of 43 students from Ayotzinapa in the central plaza of Mexico City. The message reads: "It was the state"

Two Years Since Ayotzinapa: Mexico Is a Graveyard and Canada is Quarrying for Headstones

Jen Moore Latin America Program Coordinator Jennifer Moore works to support communities, organizations, and networks in the region struggling with mining conflicts.

It is two years today since the disappearance of 43 students from the Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teacher Training College in Ayotzinapa, Guerrero, Mexico with no sign of their whereabouts, except for the remains of 19-year-old Alexander Mora Venancio. International experts have shown the Mexican authorities’ version of events to be impossible, but the government sticks to its own unbelievable story and refuses to follow leads that would take them to the door of the army – believed to have been involved in the crime and to have important information about what took place – while it continues to protect de facto economic and political powers that operate with impunity in Guerrero.

“It was the state,” yelled hundreds of thousands – if not millions – of Mexicans and people around the world who marched in the days, months and now years following this tragedy. The rage and sadness not only at 43 lost, but over 28,000 disappeared and 150,000 murdered in the last ten years according to official figures alone, where tremendous levels of violence that ramped up under the administration of Felipe Calderón have only gotten worse during President Enrique Peña Nieto’s term.   

No Mexican state lives a more bloody daily existence than Guerrero where the 43 were disappeared by municipal police on the watch of federal police and soldiers, and where there is news of more killings and disappearances everyday. Impunity, the cooptation of state structures by organized crime, and the collusion of state armed forces - as illustrated by investigations into the case of the 43 - are all aspects of the problem. Nonetheless, this is precisely where Canadian mining investment is growing and where the Canadian state and companies are revealing their careless and callous disregard for Mexican lives in their constant efforts to extract enormous profits.

Unsafe for tourists, but safe for mining?

A month ago, Canada reissued its alert to Canadian tourists to avoid non-essential travel to Acapulco, Guerrero, currently the most violent city in the country.

The Governor of Guerrero acknowledged the contradiction to the press: how it could be that Canadian mining companies are investing many millions of dollars in Guerrero, and the Canadian government issues an alert to warn Canadian sunbathers?

In April, Canadian Ambassador Pierre Alarie joined the Governor to celebrate the inauguration of Torex Gold’s El Limón-Guajes gold mine in Cocula, Guerrero (the same Cocula where the Mexican government alleges - against all scientific plausibility - that the students from Ayotzinapa were burned in a garbage dump).

It did not seem to matter to the Canadian Embassy that a mine manager had already been murdered and workers kidnapped, let alone that communities have been protesting over broken agreements, contaminated water, and health problems.

Nor did it seem to matter, one month after the ribbon-cutting ceremony, when the same communities complained in the press about have being under siege from organized crime and unable to get a response from the governor to ensure their safety, while the mine site is reportedly guarded by all levels of state armed forces.

Rather, in keeping with statements from a year ago, the Canadian Ambassador seems willing to write off such matters as generalized problems of insecurity, suggesting that a direct connection cannot be made with Canadian mining companies.

But this is just as hard to believe as the Mexican government’s version of what happened to the students from Ayotzinapa.

Canada’s Version Hard to Swallow

When Canadian mining companies are operating in areas known to be controlled by organized crime acting in collusion with state forces, where communities and workers are being extorted of what money they make from mining and other activities, when extreme violence and massive displacements are occurring with frequency, it is unbelievable that companies such as Torex Gold, Goldcorp – whose Los Filos mine is 25 kilometres from where the students from Ayotzinapa were abducted - and others would not be contributing to - directly or indirectly -, or profiting from, such horrors.

Having certainty about precisely what is happening is clearly difficult to come by in the context of such terror.

Nonetheless, in this week’s Proceso magazine, a brave Mexican journalist, Ezequiel Flores Contreras, lays out allegations that the leader of an organized crime group ‘La Familia’ has had business relations with Torex Gold and other mining companies. Whether or not this ends up to be true, he observes how mining seems to be doing well, while the rest of the local economy is collapsing in central Guerrero.

How does mining thrive in territories known to be controlled by criminal groups without some agreement or relationship with them?

Absurd – and Self-Interested – Ideas   

Torex, whose mine is just months into operation with plans for expansion, spoke out in August. It echoed the Embassy line that the security issues are a generalized issue, adding that it's the company’s duty to play a part, trusting that the state will do everything possible to address the problem.

But this could not be more absurd.

“It was the state” that was implicated in the disappearance of the 43 student teachers and it is the state that is obstructing justice for 43 families — and many, many more who have been unfortunate to lose their loved ones in places like central Guerrero.

In Guerrero, the population, community authorities, and human rights organizations, such as Tlachinollan - who have been accompanying the parents of the 43 students from Ayotzinapa - have been denouncing the relationship between state and criminal groups.

Furthermore, the Mexican government, under pressure from millions of people in Mexico and around the world, and from regional and international human rights bodies, has not been willing to fully investigate and locate 43 young men who were stolen off the streets by municipal police in Iguala two years ago.

What would possibly convince it to start investigating and addressing the thousands upon thousands of other disappearances taking place in Guerrero and around the country?

Certainly not the self-interested pronouncements of a company willing to invest in the deadliest part of the country despite constant bloodshed, ripped apart homes, murders and kidnappings – including of its own employees – not to mention the impacts on water and health that frequently arise in mining-affected communities.

Sadly, the Canadian Embassy’s principal complaint is that it is becoming costly for companies to pay for security measures in Mexico; not whether they should be investing at all.

Were the Canadian government serious about its commitment to human rights, it would be putting economic and political relations on the line with Mexico given the gravity of the violence, the impunity, and the implication of state armed forces in much of what is taking place.

There is no justification for the Canadian profiteering taking place and even less so for the level of disregard that the companies and the Canadian Embassy are demonstrating for the people whose lives and homes are being destroyed as a result.

Mexico is a graveyard and Canada is quarrying for headstones.