Community residents opposed to a mining operation in the Ocotlán Valley, just south of Oaxaca City, were met with gunfire from local officials last Wednesday January 18th. The attack has left one man dead and another woman injured. Both victims were part of the local coordinating committee that opposes the operation of a silver and gold mine in the community of San José el Progreso. Reports state that the municipal president fired the shots himself, or may have ordered other armed civilians to fire upon Bernardo Méndez Vásquez, as well as Abigail Vásquez Sánchez who is reported to be in fair condition.
The mine in San Jose el Progreso is run by Minera Cuzcatlán, a subsidiary of the Canadian mining company Fortuna Silver Mines. Information about this mining project and its location can be seen here.
In a press conference held on Monday January 23, community residents who oppose the mine called for the cancellation of the project and its total removal from the area. They cited Minera Cuzcatlán and Fortuna Silver as being responsible for human rights violations, confrontations, injuries and deaths that have occurred since the company’s entrance into the community in 2006. They are also calling for the removal of the municipal authorities involved in the attack and the prosecution of those responsible.
Witness for Peace Mexico partners including EDUCA, the Center for Indigenous Rights Flor y Canto, The Union of Organizations of the Sierra Juarez of Oaxaca (UNOSJO), and the Human Rights Center Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez (Centro Prodh) also denounced the attack as well as the ongoing conflicts related to the mine’s operations in area.
These human rights and indigenous defense organizations are also members of the Oaxacan Collective in Defense of the Land. As a collective, they work to expose the impacts that megaprojects and the exploitation of natural resources can have on local communities’ rights to their land, water, farming, and food sovereignty. They focus on rural and indigenous communities who did not give their “prior, free, and informed consent” to the entrance of these projects into their communities.
The Oaxacan Collective in Defense of the Land states on their website that “under the paradigm of free trade, neoliberal policies through international treaties, new laws, and government programs, a few politicians are giving out concessions for the exploitation of natural resources.”
Indeed, with over 24,000 mining concessions given out by Mexican administrations during the years 2000-2010, 25% of all of Mexico’s surface territory is now in the hands of foreign mining companies. While the majority of those are Canadian companies, at least 45 U.S.-based companies, such as Coeur d’Alene Mines Corporation and Cotton & Western Mining Inc., have mining operations within the country.
The implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994 certainly has facilitated the entrance of Canadian and American mining companies into Mexico. When asked by Witness for Peace what was the relation between NAFTA and the situation occurring in Oaxaca, indigenous Zapotec and director of Flor y Canto, Carmen Santiago Alonso responded, “With these treaties what we have seen is that they have enriched a few, and impoverished the majority of the people. That’s what we see…The illicit enrichment of a few businessmen and our governments as well...And the impoverishment of the people in all aspects- in health, in access to food. In effect, they are violating all rights.”
While all of Mexico is rich in natural resources, the southern state of Oaxaca is home to a vast wealth of resources, and currently has 13 different megaprojects operating around the state. Oaxaca is also home to the country’s largest percentage of indigenous peoples, who continue to use their land communally.
Despite these indigenous communities having rights over their territory, often times community members and local officials are coerced, corrupted, mislead, or misinformed about what is actually happening if and when they sign their land rights over. On many occasions, projects are implemented without prior consultation with community members. As seen in the case of San José el Progreso, the conflicts that arise can turn deadly.
For more information about the conflict in San José el Progreso, Oaxaca link to the following:
- An audio interview conducted by Witness for Peace with Carmen of Flor y Canto about the situation in San José el Progreso from an indigenous and human rights perspective as well as connections to the politics of NAFTA. (In Spanish)
Part 1 on the issue of mining in the larger context of human and indigenous rights in Oaxaca
Part 2 on the connections to the North American Free Trade Agreement:
- A written interview about mining in Oaxaca with Carmen of Flor y Canto, by the Casa Collective (in English)
- The film “Minas and Mentiras” (Mines and Lies) produced by CentroProdh available online (in Spanish only)