Despite Indigenous resistance, Mexico authorizes mining concessions in protected areas

Avispa Midia

Written by Santiago Navarro, Avispa Midia

Keving Hernán Sánchez, an Indigenous Zoque man from Oaxaca, Mexico, left his community at a young age to move to the state’s capital and study literature. He never imagined that after graduating and returning to his territory he would have to learn how to defend it, but that is what happened when a mining project threatened to tear apart the social and environmental fabric of his town.

Hernán hails from Los Chimalapas, a region in southern Mexico spanning 1,468,000 acres (594,000 hectares)—1,137,000 (460,000 ha) in Santa María Chimalapa and 331,000 (134,000 ha) in San Miguel Chimalapa. According to the National Commission for Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity (CONABIO), the region contains areas of “extreme priority for conservation” because they function as a biological corridor that, along with other ecosystems, make Oaxaca the most biodiverse state in the country.

Data from the National Institute of Ecology and Climate Change (INECC) indicates that today Los Chimalapas “is one of the most important tropical areas and resource banks in Mexico and Mesoamerica. One sole hectare of undisturbed tropical vegetation in this region is estimated to contain up to 900 plant species.” It’s also home to endangered species such as cycads in the Ceratozamia genus and palms in the Chamaedora genus.

More than 200 animal species also live there, including several that are vulnerable or threatened: the mealy parrot, great curassow, keel-billed motmot, black solitary eagle, wood stork, and others.

However, despite its natural riches, 422 mining concessions have been authorized throughout the state of Oaxaca as of December 2022, putting its residents, flora, and fauna at risk. There is great concern over the significant amount of water used by mining operations, as well as groundwater contamination. On top of that, as the sources consulted for this report show, the Indigenous peoples who live in areas marked for mining don’t know what kinds of metals the companies want to extract from their territories and have not been consulted about the matter.


Viviana Herrera, the Latin America Program Coordinator for MiningWatch, a non-governmental organization (NGO) based in Ottawa, Canada, said that “businesses incentivize the division of communities in order to gain the support of one faction, and then that’s how they present themselves to their investors, as if nothing happened.”

Herrera added that that is why the impacts are “social as well as environmental and begin the moment the rumor spreads that there’s a concession, all the way through the process of exploration and exploitation.”

Because MiningWatch has monitored the negative effects of Canadian mining companies in Latin America, Herrera explained, she can confirm that “the actions of mining companies repeat themselves in the region. The companies don’t inform people, they dodge all responsibility for environmental contamination, and often, they just abandon the mine once they’re finished with exploitation.”


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