(Ejido La Sierrita, Durango, Mexico) Today, a representative of MiningWatch Canada visited workers and communal landowners from the Ejido La Sierrita in Durango, Mexico, where protests are ongoing against the abuses of Toronto-based Excellon Resources. Most recently, at the end of October, company workers - in the presence of Excellon’s Chief Operating Officer - destroyed a protest camp that was installed on private property in front of Excellon’s La Platosa mine. The aggression in Durango coincided with escalating tensions in Oaxaca and the murder of two community activists in Chihuahua, where local groups are also fighting Canadian mining investments.
“This astonishing outburst of violence is the outcome of systematic disrespect for the collective rights of mining-affected communities and workers and the impunity that companies and their supporters enjoy,” commented Jen Moore, Latin America Program Coordinator for MiningWatch Canada. “Excellon’s outright refusal to address very straightforward issues with landowners and workers at the La Platosa mine is an outrageous example of this.”
The Ejido La Sierrita and workers from the National Mining Union Local 309 of the La Platosa mine have been fighting for their land and labour rights. For two years, the affected parties attempted to dialogue with the company and engage the Mexican and Canadian governments to mediate the matter, but the company repeatedly avoided or scuttled their efforts. In July, the landowners established a blockade, seeing no other way to bring the company to the table.
The two-month blockade, however, ended after the company hired a well-connected lobbyist in Ottawa, and police and military moved in. Work at the mine resumed, but the protest camp remained. It was located on private property where demonstrators had the consent of the landowners. Nonetheless, in late October, the company-supported union used mining equipment to violently bulldoze and burn down the camp, while, eye-witnesses say, Excellon’s COO looked on.
“This situation could have been resolved by now. The company could readily address the Ejido’s demands, while respecting the right to association of its workers and dealing with health and safety issues in the mine,” remarked Moore. “But instead it is resorting to bullying, intimidation and high level lobbying. As a result, it appears that the mine will be mired in lawsuits, legal actions and extended conflict for the foreseeable future.”
In the same week that members of the Ejido La Sierrita and Local 309 fled their protest camp in Durango, two community leaders in Chihuahua, Ismael Solorio Urrutia and Manuela Martha Solis, were murdered amidst community efforts to stop the advances of MAG Silver’s mining project and address concerns of illegal well drilling. Concurrently, an alert was issued over renewed tensions in connection with Fortuna Silver’s operations in Oaxaca, where two opponents to the mine were murdered earlier this year.
In Chicomuselo, Chiapas, local activists continue to seek justice for the murder of Mariano Abarca in November 2009, an outspoken opponent of Blackfire Exploration’s barite mine. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) is also investigating this company for corruption of a former mayor.
President of the Ejido’s Board of Directors, David Espinoza thanked Ms. Moore, stating, “We are one of many communities suffering from the failure of the Canadian and Mexican government’s failure to ensure that Canadian mining companies’ respect the rights of communities and workers where they invest. We welcome MiningWatch’s solidarity and are strengthened by their alliance as we move forward to ensure that Excellon be held accountable for its actions.”
Canada is the biggest source of foreign direct investment in Mexico’s mining sector with 76% of foreign-owned companies in the country, or 204 of 269 companies, with estimated cumulative assets of $18.5 million CDN as of 2010 according to the Canadian Embassy.
The Ejido and the non-governmental organization ProDESC, which advises the Ejido, recently updated a fact sheet regarding the conflict, which can be read here. Photos following the October 24th events at the protest camp can be viewed here.
Contacts:Valeria Scorza, ProDESC (Proyecto de Derechos Económicos, Sociales y Culturales), valeria(at)prodesc.org.mx, Tel. 55-5212-2230, 55-5212-2229, 55-3334-6045
Jennifer Moore, MiningWatch Canada, jen(at)miningwatch.ca, (613) 569-3439, cell in Mexico: 52-1-967-121-1106
Proyecto de Derechos Económicos, Sociales y Culturales, A.C (PRODESC) is a non-governmental organization founded in 2005. The organization’s primary mission is the defence of economic, social and cultural rights of underrepresented workers and communities in Mexico. ProDESC achieves this goal through integral defense of workers and communities that systemically contributes to the enforcement, justiciability and accountability of these rights.
MiningWatch Canada is a pan-Canadian initiative supported by twenty-four environmental, social justice, Aboriginal and labour organisations from across Canada. It provides a co-ordinated public interest response to the threats to public health, water and air quality, fish and wildlife habitat and community interests posed by irresponsible mineral policies and practices in Canada and around the world.