Chiapas communities maintain resistance against mining concessions

For more than three decades petrous material has been extracted from the Salsipuedes open pit mine, to the southeast of San Cristóbal de Las Casas. The deposit has been expanded to occupy a hundred hectares. Specialists have denounced that the nearby wetlands, declared a natural protected area in 2008, are irreversibly drying up due to the loss of seven of the 25 wells in the zone. Photo: Oscar León

By: Elio Henríquez

San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Chiapas

The communities’ resistance has achieved stopping the operation of 111 mines authorized in Chiapas, which encompass around a million hectares (2.47 million acres), 16 percent of the state’s territory.

An emblematic case is the barite mine in the Grecia ejido, municipality of Chicomuselo, in the highlands, where the (anti-mining) activist Mariano Abarca Roblero was murdered in November 2009. It is alleged that the Canadian mining company Black Fire was involved in this still-unpunished murder.

“Mining is an activity of death that only leaves crumbs and destruction. Those who take away the wealth are the mining companies, so we will never permit them to exploit the deposits that exist in our territories,” warned Luis Rojas Nomura of the June 20 Popular Front (Frente Popular 20 de Junio), with a presence on the state’s coast.

Opposition to the projects has taken place principally in the municipalities of Escuintla, Acacoyagua and Chicomuselo, where the mining companies have abandoned exploration or extraction projects.

“In Chiapas there are 111 concessions for the extraction of gold, silver, titanium and barite, and other minerals, but all these projects are full of cloudiness, anomalies and a lack of information in the communities,” said Libertad Díaz Vera, from the land and territory defense area of the civilian organization Otros Mundos, a member of the Mexican Network of Those Affected by Mining (Rema).

Thanks to the organization of residents of different communities, he said in an interview, there isn’t any mine operating in any of the areas with concessions.

He pointed out that work at the El Bambú deposit, on the Nueva Francia ejido, in the municipality of Escuintla, is suspended, because of the opposition of the residents “conscious of the destruction and contamination that it would occasion.”

The Casas Viejas project has not gone beyond the exploration phase faced with the struggle of the Popular Front in Defense of the Soconusco (an area of Chiapas on the Pacific Coast). However, Díaz Vera pointed out that there were still grave environmental damages.

“The workers removed material. After denouncing them to the Federal Prosecutor for Environmental Protection (Profepa, its Spanish acronym), the people decided not to allow the passage of the trucks and machinery until the company reported about this situation.”

Residents of several communities in Acacoyagua, in the Soconusco, installed a surveillance camp around the mine and after two years “it has been shown that the project in that region is murky and has contaminated.

“In addition to causing skin diseases, there has been an increase in cancer cases; that’s why they have asked the National Water Commission and the Ministry of Health to carry out the corresponding studies to verify the information, but they have refused,” Díaz Vera said.

He added that the residents monitor the entry and exit of machines from the encampments, and “at times have asked the truck drivers to show them what material they carry.”

Luis Rojas Nomura, a representative of the June 20 Popular Front, expressed that ejidos, communal wealth commissions and campesinos “are firm in not permitting mining exploitation, because that is agreed to in the minutes (of assemblies).”

He commented that just in Acacoyagua there are 13 concessions that encompass more than 36,000 hectares and there are 8 in Escuintla, which would affect their water, because the Cintalapa River runs through there.

In the La Libertad ejido, he added: “they destroyed the environment with the Cristina mine. Definitively, mining will cause us problems. Before there was the idea that it would bring progress and development, but it’s a lie, because we already saw what was destroyed. They took away tons and tons of titanium and left our roads destroyed.”

He said that the Cristina del Male company: “offered that if we accepted the passage of machines and dump trucks, they would give us schools, roads, trails, a health center and 50,000 pesos for the ejido. There was never anything and they took away 49,000 tons at 6,000 and 9,000 pesos for each ton in 2015.

“We decided to undertake the resistance so as not to permit the mining companies to take possession of the territories we have in the northern part of Acacoyagua, because the communities of Los Amates, Acacoyagua, Jalapa, La Cadena, San Marcos and others would be affected. It would cause us irreversible damage.”

Rojas Nomura said that if the operation of mines is allowed: “the natural reserves of El Triunfo and La Encrucijada will be affected.”

Meanwhile, Díaz Vera warned that the arrival of Andrés Manuel López Obrador in the Presidency of the Republic is cause for concern to the towns where there are mining concessions.

“The welfare project, as he calls it, includes mining and the Mining Fund, which has existed since 2014, and the idea is to have more Canadian investment. That’s what he told (United States) President Donald Trump,” he said.

With the trust, he added, he intends to share a part of the profits among the poor. That “is giving money in exchange for health. He also talks about green or sustainable mining; however, the damages are in sight and no fund is going to solve them.”

He warned that there will be “more resistance because we don’t believe in sustainable mining or in the Mining Fund. It worries us that instead of doing justice to the affected families, more investment is requested.”


Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada

Monday, December 24, 2018

Re-Published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee


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