On September 3, 2020, the families of the Ejido of Carrizalillo in Guerrero, Mexico, shut down operations at Canadian mining company Equinox Gold’s Los Filos mine. Goldcorp began building the mine on Carrizalillo’s collective lands in 2006, which it had purchased illegally, leading to the first 83-day work stoppage at the mine by Carrizalillo. Equinox Gold acquired Los Filos when it merged with Vancouver-based Leagold earlier this year.
The Ejido, which administers Carrizalillo’s collective lands, says that Equinox Gold has treated the community with racism and discrimination, and has broken its social cooperation agreement with the Ejido, which the community has now rescinded. Now, the Ejido is facing increased intimidation and threats of violence for exercising its legitimate right to halt operations until their concerns are addressed.
In 2019, in an unusual move, the Ejido signed two 6-year agreements with Leagold -- one detailing the land rental for the mine, and the other addressing social demands to alleviate some of the serious health and environmental harms that the mine has caused. A lengthy negotiation process with Leagold led to the signing of these contracts and, given a rare level of trust established with the company at the time, the community signed for the longest period that they have agreed to since 2008.
That trust was short lived, however. Since Equinox Gold acquired the mine in March, the Ejido says that the terms of the agreement signed in 2019 between Leagold and the Ejido were not being met by the new owners.
“[A]ll of the respect we were shown during the negotiation of the agreements faded away, and differences began to arise over breaches of the agreements and lack of transparency. Ultimately, after raising the corresponding complaints, the company began to treat us with discrimination and racism.
Moving forward with Equinox Gold, the Ejido of Carrizalillo have stated that they will only sign agreements on a year-by-year basis.
Since September 3rd, as a result of violations in the terms of agreement and the racist treatment, the Ejido is exercising its right to stop the mine’s operations. On September 4th, at the same time that the company was communicating with the Ejido asking the community to regain its trust – in a blatant act of intimidation and disrespect – the company published a statement communicating to its shareholders that the company had suspended mining activities at Los Filos “as the result of an illegal road blockade by members of the nearby Carrizalillo community.”
In its statement, Equinox Gold claims that it had suspended operations instead of the Ejido and that the actions of the community of Carrizalillo were illegal -- an alarming and highly irresponsible statement to make in a country where land defenders are routinely criminalized and killed for speaking out against mining companies. The Ejido immediately criticised the company’s distorted version of events and the failure to recognize the legitimacy of the community’s actionsin a letter to Equinox Gold’s CEO, Christian Milau:
[Your statement] persists with the same discriminatory and racist behaviour that the company has been encouraging towards us. You and anyone else who would like to can come and walk freely on the federal road [outside of the mine] without any problem. In other words, you are lying to your investors by stating that we are illegally blocking the road, an act that defames us, criminalizes us, and offends us. Why don’t you tell your investors that we closed the mine because you didn’t comply with the agreement signed between both parties?
As of September 9, the company still has not amended its statement, despite calls from the Ejido that respect is a necessary condition for dialogue.
Health and community well-being? Not Equinox Gold’s concern.
Perhaps the most concerning aspect of this conflict is its avoidability: the Ejido had reached a milestone 6-year agreement with Leagold, which didn’t come easily. Since mining activities first began under Goldcorp in 2006, the Ejido has led multiple work stoppages out of concern for community health:
It is public knowledge that we are living in an area heavily affected by mining operations that have contaminated our sources of clean water with heavy metals, leading to significant health harms, such as to the skin, birth deformations, cancer, and respiratory problems, among others. These issues are aggravated because the company has paid little attention to this important issue after we ceded our principal sources of water in exchange for other water sources. Still, today, none of the three companies that have exploited our lands have finished this task. This means that we have been without clean water since 2010.
The community of Carrizalillo, as well as other communities in the state of Guerrero, are living and breathing the toxic effects of mining operations. Many of those companies, like Torex Gold and Equinox Gold, are Canadian. According to EJAtlas, symptoms arising from contamination of the air and waterways from Los Filos became evident as early as 2010. Many community members have presented skin, eye, and respiratory illnesses. An increase in gastrointestinal problems, as well as in the number of miscarriages and premature births (many with deformations) and cancer are documented in the community.
According to the same report, a 2012 census led by a group of community health workers in Carrizalillo determined that all of the families of the community had at least one family member with an illness associated with mineral extraction. In some cases, entire families were ill.
The prevalence of mining-related illnesses are surely linked, as the Ejido notes, to the destruction of the community’s water sources – making them almost entirely dependent on imported water. This represents a significant cost and contributes to serious health and social problems among the communities. The Ejido says that Equinox Gold is failing to take these issues seriously, and the company’s failures to address its commitments in this regard is one of the reasons they are halting operations at Los Filos.
Escalation of Threats and Violence
On September 7, 2020, shortly after the company released its statement, Mexican President Andrés López Obrador noted in his morning briefing that he would intervene to ensure a resolution to the conflict between the Ejido and Equinox Gold. This public statement was emphatically rejected by the Ejido on the grounds that it would only heighten tension and that the central government wasn’t party to the agreement between the Ejido and the company.
Later that afternoon, a military convoy of approximately 50 personnel arrived in one truck and a pick-up at the mine gate. In an act of clear intimidation and threat, they began to descend from their vehicles, provoking serious fear and concern among the peaceful families who are camping out at the site. Shortly after the soldiers’ arrival and after the people mobilized to bear witness and demand the motives for the aggression, the military departed from the area.
This act of aggression must be seen in the context of the company’s public statement calling the Ejido’s encampment illegal and AMLO’s statement about arriving at a speedy resolution. In refusing to recognize the Ejido’s rightful position to halt work at the mine on their land, and instead describing it as illegal and promoted by a vigilante group, the company has set the stage for a potentially violent outcome, one that is very real in the context of the threats and attacks that land defenders face on a daily basis in Mexico. It then comes as no surprise that the President of the country had not only heard about the conflict, but appeared to be acting on behalf of the company who, instead of acting in good faith towards the Ejido and its demands and process in a respectful manner, was going behind its back to state and national authorities - perpetuating this pattern of racism and discrimination. According to a recent articlepublished by Justice in Mexico, the state of Guerrero has seen a tremendous increase in Indigenous displacement, and over 55 community members have been assassinated in Carrizalillo alone since 2011, many of those linked to organized crime which, the report is clear to note, has direct ties to the Canadian mining industry.
The company’s disregard for –and active threat against – the safety and wellbeing of the families of the Ejido is shocking and terrifying in this context. Since September 4, individuals and organizations have been sending letters to the company urging them to not put the peaceful protestors in harm's way. Their concerns appear to have fallen on deaf ears.
The Broken Record of Ross Beaty
On September 4, MiningWatch wrote a letter (attached) to Equinox Gold and to the Canadian embassy in Mexico, expressing our concerns about the company’s position in this conflict. We promptly received a personal response from Ross Beaty, the founder, chairman of the board, and most significant shareholder of Equinox Gold.
I sure wish you could be present on site to appreciate the facts of this situation. Having worked with many Ejidos in Mexico pretty successfully over the last 25 years all I can say is that sometimes, no matter how much you try to openly and transparently resolve these things, they result in these kind of situations. I sure hope we can get this resolved soon. Thank you for your letter.
Beaty, and the company, have yet to respond officially to our letter. However, Beaty’s paternalist tone and nonchalance about the serious concerns for people’s health, safety and well-being that we raised in our letter, and about the real threat of repression and violence that communities could potentially face due to this conflict, is shocking, but not surprising. His response makes evident the complete lack of regard that Beaty, one of Canada’s most important mining investors, has for communities and their environments.
This is not the first case of such egregious disregard and contempt for people’s lives and livelihoods. Several of Beaty’s investments are tied to other ongoing conflicts, and this is not the first time that one of his companies has bought into a controversial mining project. In Ecuador, Equinox’s spin-off company Solaris Resources’ Warintza project is pushing through a sham consultation process, and in the process is creating serious risks for the safety and security of the Pueblo Shuar Arutam leadership, who have been opposed to mining for over a decade, and who have faced extreme military repression and targeted violence.
In Guatemala, Pan American Silver bought the controversial Escobal mine where long-standing opposition to the mine had paralized its operations since 2017. The company is willingly engaging in a consultation process which has been determined to be discriminatory and exclusionary. The same company bought the Navidad project in Argentina, where, thanks to the widespread mobilization of the population, a law was passed which prohibits open-pit mining, the very mining the company is trying to develop there. The company is also linked to other abuses, recently documented by EJAtlas. Beaty’s disdain and disrespect is part of a pattern which he himself recognizes: he is interested in generating shareholder value, and nothing else. Of course, that pursuit can also be thwarted by these kinds of aggressive and conflictual investments.
Equinox Gold, in refusing to recognize its role in this conflict, and refusing to make amends with the community, is knowingly putting the families of Carrizalillo in grave danger.
You can take action to support the Ejido of Carrizalillo by sending a letter to Equinox and the Canadian embassy, here.