Murder of Indigenous Opponent of Canadian Mine Sparks Protest at Canadian Embassy in Mexico City

While Mexican organizations protest in front of the Canadian Embassy Wednesday against the murder of an indigenous leader, Canadian NGOs call for a full investigation, respect for indigenous rights, and an end to corporate impunity. 

On March 15th, Bernardo Vásquez Sánchez, an Indigenous Zapotec community leader and member of the Coordinating Committee of the United Peoples of the Valley of Ocotlán (CPUVO) in San José del Progreso, Oaxaca, was murdered in an ambush by a group of some three gunmen. His brother Alvaro Andrés Vásquez Sánchez and local activist Rosalinda Vásquez were also wounded and remain in hospital. Bernardo was an outspoken leader against the mining operations of Vancouver-based Fortuna Silver Mines in San José del Progreso, Oaxaca, known locally by the name of its Mexican subsidiary, Minera Cuzcatlán.

“A man deeply involved in the protest against Canadian mining company Fortuna Silver and its impact on local water sources has been murdered,” said Maude Barlow, national chairperson of the Council of Canadians. “Legislation in Canada is desperately needed so that when human, environmental and labour rights are violated outside our country those directly affected have some recourse through the Canadian court system.”

Shortly before his death, Bernardo Vásquez Sánchez spoke to Canadian independent journalist Dawn Paley. He explained how local opposition in the area arose. He described how the company entered their community, negotiating one by one with landowners, instead of in a full assembly. He indicated that local landowners lacked full information about the company’s plans before operations began.

He talked about the conflict over ideas of what is good for the community: “The government calls us poor but we live well. For us, the idea of development is a battle of concepts. […] We have fields and lands, we have work, what we don’t have is cash, and the company isn’t giving us money, they’ll give you chickens or little things like that, which the people don’t need.”

According to Paley, however, local governance structures that have not been elected through assembly for years have favoured the company’s entry. Peace Brigades International has reported that those opposed to the mine have been subjected to constant attacks, including threats, arbitrary arrests, and campaigns. Just two months ago, Bernardo Mendez was killed in another spate of violence in alleged connection with the dispute over the mine.

In January, speaking outside of the Canadian Embassy in reference to Mendez’ killing, Bernardo Vásquez stated: “Since 2010, we warned the government with pictures and videos that a group of civilians was armed… [We nonetheless maintained] an attitude of dialogue, working groups, and proposals. In return the municipal government killed our [friend] Bernardo…”

“The violence in San José de Progreso warrants a full investigation,” says Jen Moore, Latin America Program Coordinator for MiningWatch Canada. “This should include examination of how the company entered the area and how it may be benefiting from, aggravating, or corroding local governance structures to the detriment of Indigenous peoples there.” 

At 3:30 EST on Wednesday, March 21st, people from Oaxaca and many Mexican organizations will protest in front of the Canadian Embassy in Mexico City. The Council of Canadians, Common Frontiers, MiningWatch Canada, Peace Brigades International – Canada, and Rights Action join with them in solidarity, calling for: 

1. The governments of Oaxaca and Mexico to carry out a full and immediate investigation into Bernardo’s murder, as well as previous violence in this case, and bring those responsible to justice;

2. Mexican authorities to provide protection for Alvaro Andrés Vásquez Sánchez, Rosalinda Vásquez and all members of the Coordinating Committee of the United Peoples of the Ocotlán Valley;

3. Respect for the right of the Zapotec Indigenous communities to free, prior and informed consent over current and future mining operations, which includes the right to say “no”;

4. A statement from the Canadian Minister of State for Consular and Foreign Affairs (Latin America), the Honourable Diane Ablonczy, condemning the violence and calling for a full investigation, including any possible connections with Fortuna Silver, and for the protection of environmental defenders in San José de Progreso;

5. The Canadian government to enact legislation that would hold Canadian extractive companies accountable for human rights violations and environmental impacts of their mining practices around the world.

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  • Claudia Campero (in Mexico), Blue Planet Project. +52 1 55 3015 6366, [email protected]
  • Roberto Stefani (in Mexico), Centro Prodh; +52 1 5532061727 [email protected]
  • Octavio Rosas Landa (in Mexico), Asamblea de Afectados Ambientales +52 1 55 54 69 63 56
  • Jen Moore, MiningWatch. 613-569-3439, [email protected]
  • Dylan Penner, Media Officer, Council of Canadians. 613-795-8685, [email protected]