Armed group loots barite in Chicomuselo and threatens residents

The San Ramón property, in the municipality of Chicomuselo, Chiapas, where the Canadian company BlackFire extracted barite.

By: Elio Henríquez, Correspondent
San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas

Unidentified individuals began to remove, with the support of armed men, barite extracted a few years ago by the Canadian company BlackFire Exploration Mexico from a mine located in the Grecia ejido, municipality of Chicomuselo, in the mountains of Chiapas, residents of the area reported, who indicated that the workers would be employees of a company whose name they do not know. [1]

“On Saturday, eight trucks entered and made a lot of trips with the barite that is piled up on a platform located on land belonging to the Nueva Morelia ejido (neighbor of Grecia); They say it’s going to take eight to 10 days, because it’s many tons,” they said.

“They were working all day and taking the material, supposedly to the town of Chicomuselo, the municipal seat. The community could not prevent them from entering because when they went to talk to us a few days ago, they were armed, supporting the mining companies so that we don’t oppose them,” they said.

The ejido members recalled that last Thursday armed men came to threaten them to let the trucks pass to remove the material and warned them: “If someone messes with us, you know what’s going to happen to them.”

They said one of the workers told them: “My company doesn’t have a name” and didn’t give them information or submit documents. “They bring violent people and we are peaceful people. We are asking the government to help us, because we are vulnerable and have no way to deal with them,” they said.

Given the entry of the trucks and the threats by force, the neighbors of Nueva Morelia held an assembly the previous Friday, in which they agreed to send a letter to President Andrés Manuel López Obrador asking that he intervene.

In January 2023, hundreds of people marched in Chicomuselo to demand an end to the violence and a halt to the paramilitary groups that seek to impose mining in the region.

“We met in a general assembly in the Nueva Morelia ejido to express our disagreement with exploitation of the mine in the Grecia ejido. This looting affects a natural spring of water, where the drinking water that supplies our population comes from and that’s why the ejido totally rejects it (the arrival of strangers), because it would harm the health of our population,” they wrote in the document.

They added that “the mining group asked that the population not to get in its way, so it may move freely. We ask the three levels of government for their valuable intervention to solve this problem, since it harms our population, bringing pollution and diseases.”

In another letter they stated that: “the miners, together with organized crime, are taking the barite that is in the Nueva Morelia ejido,” so they asked “attentively to the Ministry of National Defense and the National Guard to arrest them in Chicomuselo and refer them to the Attorney General’s Office for the crimes that result, since mining is under federal jurisdiction.”

The problems for the inhabitants of Chicomuselo communities began 20 years ago, when the Caracol Mining Company began barite exploitation work at the La Revancha mine, located in the San Ramón neighborhood of the Grecia ejido, which borders Nueva Morelia, where the firm constructed warehouses, dormitories and a dining room for its employees.

Caracol left the area, apparently because it was bankrupt, and in 2006 sold its rights to the concession to Blackfire Exploration Mexico, which began working in the area that same year.

Mariano Abarca Roblero

Amid protests by residents of Grecia and surrounding localities over lack of fulfillment of the Canadian consortium’s promises, retention of trucks and workers, Blackfire Exploration Mexico continued to exploit the mine until it was closed after the murder of Mariano Abarca Roblero, a leader opposed to the exploitation of deposits, perpetrated in the municipal seat of Chicomuselo on November 28, 2009.

Blackfire left the area afterwards, without it being officially known who bought the rights to the concession. Not even five years had passed when people began to arrive to harass inhabitants of the region to allow them to continue exploiting the mines to extract barite and remove the material that the Canadian company abandoned in San Ramón and Nuevo Morelia.

Last year the entry of alleged representatives of companies that bought the rights increased, so on several occasions campesinos in the area held them and then released them with the commitment that they would not return.

Faced with the resistance of the farmers, the mining representatives changed their strategy and were accompanied by armed men, allegedly members of criminal groups operating on the border with Guatemala.

About six months ago they entered Santa María, a neighboring town of Nueva Morelia, to extract barite without the inhabitants being able to prevent it. Even the local Catholic parish that played a prominent role in the protests against mining decided to suspend its mobilizations, so as not to risk its parishioners. [2]

“The resistance against the megaprojects has been dying down,” said one resident who requested anonymity. “The presence of organized crime is very strong. The alleged mining businessmen arrive arrogantly, with armed men, but they do not say the name of the company or present documents. The authorities of the communities have already been overwhelmed and do not have the power to contain them. In Santa Maria they have already finished with almost half of the hill,” he said.

Translator’s Notes

[1] A January 2023 march in Chicomuselo, called the “March for Life,” made up of campesinos and people of faith from the local parish demanded “an end to organized crime violence that seeks to impose mining on the region with the complicit silence of the authorities.”

[2] In their April Pronouncement, Bishops of the San Cristóbal de las Casas Diocese specifically stated that mining extraction was damaging the social fabric

Originally Published in Spanish La Jornada, Monday, May 22, 2023, and Re-Published with English interpretation by the ˚Chiapas Support Committee

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