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Equinox Gold: Racist and Discriminatory Company, outside Los Filos, Mexico (Source: Amapola)
Blog Entry

Why Can't Equinox Gold Keep an Agreement? Timeline of events at Los Filos, Mexico

On September 3, 2020, the Ejido of Carrizalillo shut down the Los Filos gold mine in Guerrero, México over racist and discriminatory treatment as well as the company’s breaches of their social-cooperation agreement. On September 11 the Ejido agreed to terms that allowed the mine to start operating the same day. The two parties had also agreed that the community’s encampment would remain in place until dialogue led to significant advances in line with community expectations. However, two days later, the Ejido received a letter from Equinox Gold’s which completely ignored the September 11 agreement, stating that the Ejido must remove the encampment for their own safety and as a condition for talks to start. The Ejido, infuriated by the turnabout, shut down the mine again on September 13. On October 5th, nearly three weeks later, negotiations commenced at Los Filos, subsequently breaking down less than two weeks later with the Eijdo calling on the company to name new representatives for the negotiations. 

Equinox Gold has owned and operated the Los Filos mine since March 2020. In this short time, it has thrown away an unprecedented six-year agreement (2019-2025) with the Ejido of Carrizalillo – the longest agreement the Ejido has ever signed with a mining company. The agreement addresses important matters such as the lack of clean water and basic health care needs to alleviate serious health harms that have arisen since the mine began operating over ten years ago. The community has sought for months to address these issues, but report being met with hate, ridicule and exclusion from a company representative. In a letter to the Los Filos General Mine Manager, the Ejido explained that the company representative in question told them they “could go ahead and shut down the mine.” The Ejido’s preferred interlocutor was dismissed from the company shortly after and their requests went weeks without being adequately addressed. Ultimately, the Ejido’s community assembly decided to exercise their constitutional right to stop the mine in order to have their petitions addressed seriously by the company.  

Since the Los Filos mine went into operation, the Ejido of Carrizalillo, roughly half a kilometre from the massive heap leach pad at the Los Filos mine, has documented a marked increase in health problems among the local population believed to be the result of constant exposure to arsenic and heavy metal-laden dust from the mine. These include prevalence of eye irritation, skin conditions, respiratory trouble, premature births, and birth deformations, among other illnesses. The community’s medical costs are only partially alleviated through their social-cooperation agreement. The community has also lost its water supplies, which have either been depleted or contaminated as a result of mine operations. Violence has also escalated from the arrival of organized crime fighting for control of the area during the last 9 years, leading to processes of extortion, the forced displacement of half the community in 2015 and the murder of an estimated 55 community members as of 2019.  

The following timeline provides a summary of events, with detail concerning the community’s correspondence with Equinox Gold to address racism and discrimination, and have their grievances over water, health and other issues addressed. It also demonstrates that the company was well aware of the breakdown in the relationship with the Ejido, but was incapable of re-establishing trust and adequately responding to community concerns to avoid the shutdown of the mine and the community’s decision to rescind the six-year agreement.  

TIMELINE

2008

The Ejido of Carrizalillo stopped the Los Filos mine for 83 days after learning that then Canadian gold giant Goldcorp had illegally purchased collective lands. This action led to a land-use contract with a one-year duration requiring annual renewal and leading to incremental improvements over the years. 

2014 

In April 2014, Carrizalillo stops the mine for another 31 days in an effort to improve their agreements with Goldcorp after talks reached an impasse. 

2017

Goldcorp sells Los Filos to Leagold Mining.

April 1, 2019 

The Ejido of Carrizalillo signs a social-cooperation agreement with Leagold Mining for a period of six years, the longest period for which the Ejido had ever signed an agreement. 

March 2020

Equinox Gold completes its merger with Leagold Mining and takes over Los Filos. 

July 31, 2020 

The Ejido of Carrizalillo writes to Los Filos General Manager, Rodolfo Balderrama Neder with copies to Senior Vice President for Mexico, Peter Burger, Director of Expansion Projects, Timothy Galusky, and Manager of Corporate Issues and Sustainability for the Los Filos mine, Juan Carlos Flores Cano. The Ejido reports “significant deterioration” over a period of months in their efforts to deal with Manager, Juan Carlos Flores Cano, their designated contact. They state that their efforts “always end with incomplete responses or without resolution and with arrogant acts and insults that extend to acts of discrimination and lack of respect” toward representatives of the Ejido and the entire community. They add that “when [the Ejido] expressed their right to definitively close down the mine for breaches of their agreement with the company, whether one or all of the clauses, the arrogant response of Juan Carlos Flores Cano was ‘to stop threatening him and that if we wanted we could go ahead and shut down the mine’, tossing aside one of his responsibilities which is to dialogue about problems with the communities to find solutions to problems and not make them worse.” The Ejido states that they are defending their rights, not threatening the company. They conclude the letter by stating their refusal to continue interacting with Juan Carlos Flores Cano and request to be referred to Los Filos General Manager, Rodolfo Balderrama Neder, instead. 

The week of August 3, 2020 

Los Filos General Manager Rodolfo Balderrama Neder is let go from the company.  

August 7, 2020 

The Ejido writes to the Senior Vice President for Mexico, Peter Burger with copy to the Director of Expansion Projects, Timothy Galusky. The Ejido complains that they have yet to receive a response to their letter of July 31 and have heard rumours that Balderrama was dismissed. They are going up the management ladder to determine who they need to speak with about their concerns. They write, “It does not seem correct that, considering our requests, there is no route to resolve this issue, which, if it continues to deteriorate, will lead us to exercise our rights over [the company’s] acts or omissions that are totally possible to resolve.” They express an openness to dialogue, but a reluctance to accept any further delays “to this problem that today has reached its limit.” 

August 13, 2020 

The Ejido receives unsigned correspondence on the letterhead of Equinox Gold in the name of the Senior Vice President for Mexico, Peter Burger. They believe the letter was written by Juan Carlos Flores Cano. The letter refers to specific disputes over their social-cooperation agreement that they have been trying to resolve, including issues over the purchase of medicine, contracts, infrastructure projects and educational scholarships. The letter dismisses some of the Ejido’s concerns and asks them for further documentation or clarification on others. With regard to purchase of medicine, the letter acknowledges months of delays during the last four months and tensions over the prices. 

August 21, 2020 

The Ejido receives signed correspondence on the letterhead of Equinox Gold from the Senior Vice President for Mexico, Peter Burger. It is also copied to the communities of Mezcala and Xochipala, as well as the two labour unions at the mine. The letter advises that Los Filos General Manager, Rodolfo Balderrama Neder, ended his relationship with the company and states that from August 7 forward, Carlos Almanza Carrillo is interim General Manager for Los Filos. 

Week of August 17 and 24, 2020

The Ejido of Carrizalillo meets twice with Senior Vice President for Mexico, Peter Burger, but no agreement is reached.

August 28, 2020 

The Ejido writes to Equinox Gold CEO Christian Milau and copies President Ross Beaty. They express their discontent with Balderrama’s dismissal and the fact that they first learned about it through rumour, which they consider “a lack of respect for our role as one of the principle interest groups in the Los Filos mine operation.”They note that Balderrama had been one of the most successful people at establishing a positive relationship with them over the years, crediting him with their decision to sign six-year land-rental and social-cooperation contracts with Leagold Mining in 2019. They suspect that personal interests interfered in his dismissal. They conclude stating: “…in the case that the company decides to operate according to a different management model, we will be obliged to evaluate and decide if it is in our best interest to reduce the duration of the current contracts in order to mitigate the risks to our interests.” 

August 30, 2020 

CEO Christian Milau responds to the President of the Ejido of Carrizalillo and copies Senior Vice President for Mexico, Peter Burger, and Chief Operating Officer, Doug Reddy. The two sentence message states that he has been aware for months about why Balderrama was being let go and that he would be in touch again sometime that week. 

September 3, 2020

The Ejido of Carrizalillo shuts down the Los Filos mine and sets up their encampment in a treed area near the mine gates - not on the road - where men, women and children stay. 

September 4, 2020

Equinox Gold publishes a communiqué in English on their website describing the Ejido’s encampment as an “illegal road blockade” and stating that the company has temporarily suspended the mine. In a public response, the Ejido rejects the company’s description of events as an insult, defamation and criminalization of their struggle, when it is the company’s breaches of their agreement with the Ejido that has led to the current situation. The Ejido comments that it had received messages during the last 24 hours from the company asking for their trust, which they denounce as hypocritical, given the public communiqué. They ask that the company’s damaging and false description of the legality of the roadblock be rectified in order to pave the way for dialogue. 

September 5, 2020 

The Ejido writes to Senior Vice President for Mexico, Peter Burger. They inform him that the Ejido has decided to rescind their social-cooperation agreement with the company and that he should not bother coming to meet with them on September 7, unless he brings the resignation or dismissal of the Manager of Corporate Issues and Sustainability for the Los Filos mine, Juan Carlos Flores Cano. Only then will they be willing to discuss negotiations for a new social-cooperation contract.  

September 7, 2020

Senior Vice President for Mexico, Peter Burger, meets with the Ejido and informs them that he received the resignation letter of the Manager of Corporate Issues and Sustainability for the Los Filos mine, Juan Carlos Flores Cano, dated September 4. Juan Carlos Flores Cano the manager that the Ejido had refused to deal with anymore in their letter of July 31 given his arrogant and racist treatment of them. Agreement was not reached, however, for talks to begin.  

That same morning, the President of Mexico announces his willingness to mediate an agreement between the company and the Ejido of Carrizalillo. The Governor of Guerrero also expresses his concern about the conflict in the press, lamenting that it is not a good time to lose jobs, but that people’s rights should be respected. 

The Ejido responds in a public statement thanking the President, but saying that they have not asked for the government’s involvement. They also firmly denounce that 40 to 50 members of the Mexican army from the 35th Batallion in Chilpancingo arrived at the mine gate that day without reason to be there, except to intimidate them. The Ejido underscores that they are acting within their rights to close to the mine for company breaches in its contract with the Ejido and noting their efforts for over two months to try to resolve their differences. The Ejido also publicly announces that they have decided to rescind their social-cooperation agreement with the company, requiring new negotiations to reach a new contract.

September 8, 2020

The state representative for the Secretary of Economy arrives at the encampment accompanied by state police officers who were taking photos of the encampment until members of the Ejido told them to back off and stop. 

September 10, 2020

Senior Vice President for Mexico, Peter Burger, meets with the Ejido. 

September 11, 2020

The Ejido and the company, represented by Interim Manager, Carlos Almazán, arrive at an agreement to initiate talks toward a new social-cooperation agreement starting September 12. The Ejido agrees that the company may restart operations at the mine at a reduced rate and with measures to ensure safety at the encampment. Their agreement is conditional on the Ejido’s decision to continue the encampment until they reach a point in the negotiations which meet their expectations. The company restarts operations that same day. The Ejido and company also agree to tighten security measures in the area of the encampment to avoid any accidents from increased traffic or other unforeseen events. 

September 12, 2020

Senior Vice President for Mexico, Peter Burger, sends a letter to the Ejido ordering them to dismantle the encampment, arguing concern for their safety and safe operations of the mine, and as a condition of initiating talks concerning the social-cooperation agreement. His letter does not acknowledge the agreement reached on September 11. 

September 13, 2020 

The Ejido is surprised and angered to receive the Burger’s letter and issues a public statement rejecting the unilateral hardline the company is taking, in violation of the agreement reached two days earlier. The Ejido denounces this as an arrogant, discriminatory and racist act on part of the company. The Ejido shuts down the Los Filos mine again. 

September 18, 2020

The Ejido meets with Equinox Gold's VP for Sustainability, Georgina Blanco Mancilla.  She was respetfully received by the Ejido, but denied having knowledge of the Ejido’s side of things. Ms. Blanco Mancilla put forward the same proposal and position that the company has taken previously (that the Ejido remove their encampment, allow the company to restart mining operations and to undertake a review of the company’s breaches of the now-rescinded social-cooperation agreement). The Ejido reiterated their position to the Vice President and requested that they be treated with respect, insisting that the company take a position that would lead to dialogue to over a new agreement. Only then will the mine reopen.

September 21, 2020

The Ejido receives a surprise visit to their encampment from the State Attorney for Guerrero, Jorge Zuriel de los Santos Barrilla, acompanied by around 50 heavily armed agents who surround the community taking photos and creating a state of fear and anxiety while the State Attorney meets with them. They receive him at the camp, explain their situation, but insist that they have not requested state intervention, that mediation is not part of his official role, and that the only path forward is for the company to negotiate a new social-cooperation agreements with the Ejido. 

September 22, 2020

Equinox Gold's VP for Sustainability, Georgina Blanco Mancilla, and its Vice President for Mexico, Peter Burger, trespass on Ejido land when they participate in a meeting with the State Attorney for Guerrero at offices located at a section of the Los Filos mine that is on Carrizalillo's land. The operation was accompanied by 30 to 40 heavily-armed judicial police officers, most of whom were deployed in the community encampment where entire families have been staying while the meeting took place. The officials later meet with Ejido members who condemned the meeting and the company's attempt to try to provoke a confrontation and to try to involve a political official and state armed forces instead of seeking respectful means of dialoguing with them.  

September 23, 2020

Equnox Gold responds to a request for comment from the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre on the ongoing shut down of Los Filos and conflict with the Ejido of Carrizalillo. The company’s letter is misleading in that it fails to recognize that the social-cooperation agreement with Carrizalillo has been rescinded and must be renegotiated, referring to the agreement as if it is “in place”. The response also fails to rectify the company’s September 4 press release that calls the community’s action an “illegal road blockade”, as Carrizalillo has called for. The company response further downplays the nature of the conflict stating that the mine is "suspended … as the result of a blockade by members of one of the communities." The blockade was decided upon by the general assembly of Carrizalillo, whose lands are critical to operations at the Los Filos mine. 

September 25, 2020

The Ejido responds to the company’s September 23 response to the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre stressing: 1. their legal right to cease operations at Los Filos for violations of their agreement with the company, which they have rescinded; 2. the company’s failure to comply with an estimated 70% the social agreement, including ensuring adequate supply of potable water and medicines; 3. the ejido's decision making structure through its general assembly and agrarian representatives. The ejido also refuses to accept the company's claims of social responsibility, given the apparent lack of urgency Equinox has demonstrated in response to their complaints and the scorn they have experienced instead. The ejido concludes expressing their openness to dialogue and negotiation: "We remain open to dialogue and negotiations, given that it is also in our interest to return to our daily lives, although this time, not without having first confronted the abuses we consider can be mitigated through a new social-cooperation agreement."

October 5, 2020

Negotiations resume between Equniox and the Carrizalillo Ejido. 

October 14, 2020 

Negotiations over a new social-cooperation agreement break down when company negotiators continue to show disrespect toward members of the Ejido of Carrizalillo and consistently waffle in their positions on key issues such as a water treatment plant to ensure clean water for the community and jobs. The community assembly of the Ejido reach a decision to no longer talk or negotiate with Equinox Gold’s Senior Vice President of Operations for Mexico, Peter Burger, or the Vice President of External Affairs and Social Responsibility, Georgina Blanco. They call on the company to name a new representative or negotiating team to carry talks forward.