(La Platosa, Durango, Mexico) The Mexican government’s act of force against the families protesting outside Excellon Resources’ mine in Durango, Mexico, may be the result of previously unreported high-level lobbying in Ottawa.
On August 29, approximately 100 soldiers and officers of the Mexican Army and federal and state police agencies used force to break through the peaceful protest taking place in front of the La Platosa mine, owned by a subsidiary of Excellon Resources. The Ejido is demanding that the Company comply with the land rental agreement signed between the two parties in 2008. Workers present at the camp are also demanding that Excellon and the government guarantee their right to freedom of association.
Since August 23rd, Will Stewart of Ensight Canada has been registered as a hired lobbyist of Excellon’s new Executive Vice President, Brendan Cahill. According to the Canadian Lobby Registry, he was hired to seek “government support for Excellon Resources’ operations in Mexico.” Mr. Stewart’s previous post as chief of staff of John Baird, Minister of Foreign Affairs, places him in an advantageous position to deeply influence the Harper administration on issues abroad. One source states that Mr. Stewart was recently sanctioned for illegal fundraising in 2010.
Communications records for lobby activities have to be filed within 30 days. As such, it is not clear what meetings Mr. Stewart has so far requested on Excellon’s behalf. Nonetheless, his registration indicates that he was hired to lobby the Department of Foreign Affairs, the House of Commons, Natural Resources Canada and the Prime Minister’s Office. That Mexican police and army entered the La Platosa mine less than a week after Mr. Stewart’s registration raises serious questions about whether Mexican authorities were responding to pressure from Canada.
Before last Wednesday, as stated in ProDESC’s press releases of July 26 and August 13 of this year, the Mexican government had maintained a role as mediator in the conflict at the La Platosa mine. The government, at both the state and federal levels, has assured the members of Ejido La Sierrita that it supports their right to protest and is outraged by Excellon’s failure to negotiate in good faith with the community. The federal government’s reversal of position and choice to send 100 police officers and soldiers to the mine comes only days after Excellon’s lobbyist was put to work on this issue. Instead of peacefully resolving the conflict, Excellon has resorted to indirect intimidation and pressure, which only ensures prolonged social upheaval in the region.
Ejido and ProDESC Respond to Excellon’s Untrue Allegations
At the same time as Excellon maneuvers in Ottawa seemingly to repress human rights defenders in Mexico, it continues to mislead shareholders. Excellon halted trading for an entire day on August 29, only to submit a press release defaming the Ejido La Sierrita and the Project for Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ProDESC), a non-profit Mexican human rights organization that has advised the Ejido since 2008.
The Company’s allegations regarding these two parties are extremely misleading and put them at risk. In what follows, ProDESC and the Ejido provide a transparent view of themselves and their role in this fight.
What is ProDESC?
ProDESC is a Mexican non-profit organization that focuses on the defense of economic, social, and cultural rights. As any Spanish speaker reading its website can attest, ProDESC achieves its objectives through the use of interdisciplinary efforts that include non-judicial tactics. In other words, ProDESC does not rely solely on litigation. ProDESC focuses on broader strategies that include consulting, organizing, education, and advocacy with governmental and non-governmental actors. This is particularly important in a country such as Mexico where the judicial system often lacks impartiality in labour and agrarian matters. In no way does ProDESC condone or support illegal actions, and it has always consistently advised its partners to act accordingly.
ProDESC’s funding is varied and transparent. Since its inception, ProDESC has received the majority of its funding from well-recognized philanthropic institutions including the Open Society Foundation, Ford Foundation, General Service Foundation, Fund for Global Human Rights, Umvertelein Foundation, Oak Foundation, Solidarity Center, American Jewish World Service, and Semillas A.C. This money supports ProDESC’s diverse projects. ProDESC will be posting letters of support from each of its funders on its website over the next several days.
ProDESC’s staff has direct experience in human rights, labour law, collective bargaining, and civil transactions. It is highly trained in community development and organizing, and it has also worked with consultants to create successful community development plans not only in Durango but also in Guerrero. ProDESC staff includes alumni of prestigious universities, such as CIDE, Columbia University, Fordham University, Universidad Iberoamericana, and UNAM.
One of ProDESC’s overarching goals is the defense of workers’ human right to freedom of association throughout Mexico, irrespective of union affiliation. ProDESC has been an ally of Los Mineros since 2007, particularly to accompany local unions that have fought for independent union recognition in Mexico. ProDESC supports Los Mineros as one of the only national unions that allows for internal union democracy within its leadership and among its members. ProDESC is also thankful for the important solidarity of the USW.
Nonetheless, ProDESC receives no funding from either Los Mineros or the USW. Since 2005, ProDESC has worked on several successful campaigns to defend the human rights of workers and communities. ProDESC autonomously decides its own goals, objectives, and strategies without influence from any outside group. ProDESC accompanies a broad range of communities and workers unrelated to either Los Mineros or the USW. ProDESC has worked with the Ejido La Sierrita since 2007, a full three years before there was a union presence at the La Platosa mine.
ProDESC has worked with the Ejido La Sierrita for five years to fully develop an equal relationship with Excellon Resources. The Ejido’s struggle is a human rights struggle and not a mere contract matter. The Ejido is defending its fundamental human right to autonomy regarding its land and its right to fair and just local development. The Company, by blatantly ignoring and failing to comply with the Ejido’s contract, directly ignores its obligations to provide for sustainable and respectful development for stakeholders in the region where it operates.
Who is the Ejido La Sierrita and what are their demands?
An Ejido is a communally owned land entity in Mexico. The Ejido La Sierrita is comprised of 127 member-families who have communally owned for generations the land where the La Platosa mine currently operates. Because of the dismal economic reality of the region, many of these members have had to seek work elsewhere. Nonetheless, it is their human right to protect their heritage and their land and to use this important asset as a source of development for their families and neighbors. Ejido members hope to attract more of their families back from the United States and other locations with a sound community development plan that provides more locally autonomous sources of employment. The camp in front of La Platosa mine consists of representatives from each of these families along with other neighbors who live on the Ejido’s land.
Excellon has violated the Ejido’s right to a clean environment and economic development by not providing concessions and not building a water treatment plant and by blatantly violating the land rental agreement without consequence. The Ejido insists that the Company respect its rights, comply with the agreement, and remedy the violations of the land rental agreement.
Excellon’s Failure to Respect the Ejido’s Right to Development and Its Obligations to the Ejido
The Ejido entered into its land rental contract with Excellon in 2008 with the goal of securing its right to social development. The members hoped to be able to attract the community back to the land and to prosper, not just from rent payments, but from the various social clauses included in the contract. They also wanted to ensure that the mining activities would not damage their patrimony.
The Ejido has struggled for four years for Excellon to comply with this contract. In those four years, aside from two meetings in June of this year, Excellon’s local management failed to even sit down with the Ejido for more than an hour to discuss its non-compliance with the contract.
Excellon’s Failure to Guarantee a Clean Environment
Mexican federal law requires mining companies to construct a water treatment plant for all water extracted from an underground mine, even if it is pumped in its natural state, if it has the potential to damage the surrounding lands.
Irrespective of the permitting process, the water extracted from the La Platosa mine is harming surrounding lands. The Ejido has hired experts from large educational and governmental entities to test the water as it leaves the ground. These tests show that the water contains a high level of salt and heavy minerals and will render the surrounding land unsuitable for agricultural use in the next several years without appropriate precautions. This water was not meant to be pumped from the aquifer and spread over the drought-ridden land at approximately 10,000 gallons/minute, which is the result of La Platosa’s operations. The Ejido has provided the results of these tests to the Canadian National Contact Point for the OECD Guidelines on Multinational Enterprises (NCP for the OECD Guidelines). The Ejido has also provided Excellon with fairly cheap options to treat this water, without any response from the Company.
Rather than provide water to the small farmers of the Ejido, Excellon currently provides this extracted water to several large-scale farmers for their agricultural use. These farmers have stated to members of the Ejido that they pay Excellon for the use of this water. These current recipients of the water do not own the land that they are farming and will have little consideration for the quality of the soil in 3-4 years. But the farmers of the Ejido will have to live with the consequences of water contamination for generations.
Excellon’s Blatant Violation of Ejido’s Trust and the Land Rental Agreement
More importantly, the Company has failed to disclose that it violated a primary clause of the land rental agreement by conducting exploration activities on the Ejido’s land not included in the 1,100 hectares rented under the contract and without the Ejido’s permission. The Company has acknowledged its violation of this clause in several meetings with the Ejido and the government over the last year, but it has failed to disclose this material fact to shareholders.
The Ejido has asked to negotiate certain changes in the contract that would remedy the Company’s violations. These minimal changes would ensure a better relationship with both parties over the 30-year life of the contract.
If the Company is unwilling to negotiate, the Ejido has only one other remedy: rescission of the contract. Rescission of the contract would put at risk all land on which the Company is currently operating, including its main offices and access to the mine proper.
For more details on the Company’s failure to comply with the contract, please see the complaint filed with the Canadian NCP for the OECD Guidelines.
- Alejandra Ancheita, ProDESC (Proyecto de Derechos Económicos, Sociales y Culturales), Tel. +52-55-5212-2230, +52-55-5212-2229, +52-55-3334-6045, alejandra(at)prodesc.org.mx