By Terry Wolfwood
MJAC was fortunate to be able to organize, co-sponsor & participate in presenting three excellent speakers on the important issue of the involvement of Canadian mining companies in Latin America.
VIDALINA MORALES on March 13, 2013
Along with the Mining Justice Action Committee and many local & national sponsors we were privileged to meet & hear Vidalina Morales on her cross-Canada tour. A representative of MESA, the roundtable on mining in El Salvador, Vidalina is a member of the Association for Social Development in Santa Ana, a small community trying to practice self -sufficiency and sustainability. Unfortunately Santa Ana is located in the ‘gold belt’ an area of El Salvador with known gold deposits.
Vidalina spoke about the efforts of Pacific Rim, a Vancouver based company to try to develop a mine in San Isidro. A group of CASC members visited there in 2012, taking solidarity and financial support to MUFRAS-32, the local group opposing the mine, and met with activists who had been beaten and threatened for trying to create more sustainable development. We remembered the three activists who were murdered in the community. At that time Pacific Rim had launched a suit against the government of El Salvador for $80 million for deemed loss of profit due to the moratorium on mining that the President declared in 2009; the company has upped its demands to $315 million in its lawsuit in El Salvador. The government has had to pay $5.5 million in legal expenses so far – money desperately needed for development and social programmes.
Vidalina told us that El Salvador is small densely populated country where most of its fresh water is already polluted. Mining creates high levels of contamination; in San Isidro, Rio Titiguapa, San Isidro is one of only 3% of clean rivers in El Salvador. It is vital for domestic and agricultural use in the region. As Vidalina said, “You can live without gold, but you can’t live without a glass of water every day.” She also said while they face “water stress in our country”, mining companies admit that in 1 day it will use 30 years of a family’s water use.
MESA is also concerned about the downstream effects of trans-boundary mining. Vidalina named Cerro Blanco, in Guatemala; this mine is only 18km over the border. This is an area where Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala have been recognized by UNESCO for biodiversity.
Finally Vidalina told us that MESA has proposed a new mining law which they presented to the government in 2006. The proposed law would prohibit metal mining in the country. So far there is only the president’s verbal commitment; but Vialina said that as we are a country governed by law, so we want it into law.
SHARLENE PATTERSON on March 29, 3013
Café Simpatico hosted a full house to hear Sharlene speak about her participation in February I with trade unionists and community activists on a delegation to Mexico to see the impact of Canadian mining companies in Mexico. Sharlene is a Victoria library worker, active in CUPE and a mining justice activist. She went to Oaxaca to meet with community workers in San Jose del Progreso, about 30 km from the city of Oaxaca. Fortuna Silver Mines, a Vancouver-based company has operated a mine there since 2011.
Sharlene showed slides of the local community, we saw the widow of Bernardo Mendez, murdered in January, 2012. She said, “I hope you can get the mining company out of here.” One of the people Sharlene also met was Rosalind Sanchez who walks with difficulty since she was injured in March, 2012, when her cousin Bernardo was murdered. The local priest who called for public participation was threatened, beaten, arrested and moved away by the church.
Sharlene told us how the mine which has employed local workers since it opened has divided the community. Some appreciate the work & income. Others are concerned that there was and is no public consultation with citizens about the concerns expressed including, noise, toxic dust, dry wells, damage to land fertility, contamination of ground and surface water and death of livestock. Sharlene spoke movingly of the lives of the people, particularly those who are brave enough to question and oppose the mine. Her photographs showed the materially poor living conditions of people in an Jose del Progreso, but many are determined to continue their struggle for human rights and environmental security. Fortuna declined to meet with the delegation. The Canada Pension Plan invests out mandatory contributions in Fortuna.
The delegation did meet with PRDESC (Project of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights) who work to support the rights of Mexican, including mine workers.
Alejandra Ancheita, April 19, 2013
Speaking on the topic of “The Accountability Gap: Canadian Mining in Mexico” Alejandra Ancheita, the executive director of the Project on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ProDESC), based in Mexico City explained how yet another Canadian mining company behaves in Mexico. Her group has been involved in investigating and revealing human and labour rights abuses at mines sites of Canadian mining companies, most recently, Toronto-based Excellon Resources mine, Platosa in Durango, Mexico. The Canada Pension Plan has invested $5million of our money in this company.
When Excellon came to Ejido La Sierrita in 2004 it made certain promises to the community leaders they met with. People in the community thought the mine would provide jobs for some and a better life for all in this poor farming community. The company fired and abused workers who tried to form an independent union. Land use was not respected and rents for leased lands were not paid, a promised water treatment plant was not built, scholarships and training commitments were not fulfilled.
After efforts to get Excellon to honour its agreement failed, local citizens constructed a camp at the mine gate, but on property belonging to local people. In October, 2012, the company forcibly entered the camp and bulldozed and set fire to it. With the support of ProDESC, the Ejido filed a lawsuit in the Agrarian Tribunal in Gomez Palacio against Excellon to get their lands back.
Alejandra was able to announce at our meeting that La Sierrita has won its case! Excellon was ordered on April 18 to return lands to the community; there will be another hearing on May 9. 2013. Funds returned to the community will be used for local economic project, Alejandra said, including commercial farming and selective logging for furniture making – providing jobs for workers who were fired for their union activity by Excellon.
ProDESC will continue to support the united workers and citizens of La Sierrita while it seeks to remedy the human rights violations of Excellon against the community. We were able to make a generous donation to ProDESC thanks to all who attended and sponsors who covered local costs.
These were all successful awareness-raising events, with excellent presentations, good information and action suggestions. None of these events would be possible without dedicated local activists who organized the events, prepared and distributed publicity, provided refreshments and those who performed music for us all to enjoy.