Holding Canadian Mining Companies Accountable: Stories of Solidarity and Strength in Mexico

Friday, March 29th: Café Simpatico. Hosted by the Central America Support Committee and co-sponsored by Mining Justice Action Committee

On Friday night at Café Simpatico there was live music, fair trade coffee and a slide show by Sharlene Patterson discussing her February trip to Mexico spearheaded by the United Steelworkers Union. Sharlene was invited as an active member of her CUPE union’s International Solidarity Committee to be a part of a fact-finding and solidarity mission.

The slide show was a record of the delegation’s trip, which began in Mexico City and travelled to many communities in the Oaxaca region affected by mining. It’s predominantly Canadian mining companies that are at the forefront of this activity.

Did you know 70% of mining projects in Mexico are now the work of Canadian mining companies?

There are some images that stay with you long after a slide show has finished.

Graffiti on a wall. The Canadian flag dripping blood.

The red of the flag has an ugly flavour here in this area of Mexico, the Ocotlan Valley, just south of Oaxaca city.

The delegation met with people whose lives have been dramatically altered by the presence of mining activity. Last year this area saw several violent assassinations of community leaders who were involved in opposition to the mining in the area being done. Bernardo Mendez Vasquez was killed January 18, 2012 and Abigail Vasquez Sanchez was injured. They both opposed the locally known mine Trinidad in the community of San Jose el Progreso. Not very long after that, on March 15th , Bernardo Vasquez Sanchez was killed and his brother Atro was injured and their cousin Rosalinda Dionicos Sanchez was injured and now walks with a cane. All of these people belonged to organizations that actively opposed the mining being done, namely by the company Minera Cuzcatlan, owned by Fortuna Mines in Vancouver.

Consider the sobering fact that the Canada Pension Plan Investment board has invested 5 million dollars of taxpayer’s money into the company.

This area is only one of many in Mexico that is being split apart by the pressure of mining companies coming in and changing the landscape both literally and figuratively. Violence, dissenting religious leaders pushed out of their communities, even taxi services that are divided by those who support the mine and those who don’t.

Sharlene spoke about how the struggle for all leaders and citizens whether in government, the church, human rights, business or unions is the lack of consultation and information. The federal government is granting concessions to the foreign mining companies and there is no communication at the local level. The communities are given no say in how the development unfolds. And the development is happening at an astounding rate.

In the area around San Jose el Progreso alone, 350 mining concessions have been granted. What happens when those concessions are opened up? What happens to the people in those communities then?

These are communities where you are struck by the beauty of the buildings, the geography, the public art. Currently Mexico is undertaking a national program called the Magical Cities Tour to restore and beautify the old colonial buildings. Many of these communities are trying to get eco-tourism businesses off the ground.

But as in the community of Capulalpam de Mendez, mining has been having a significant impact on their water supply. It used to have 14 working aquifers: it now has one. The mining company Continuum Resources offered to bring in bottled water. Not exactly helpful to a community trying to model sustainability. And not exactly sustainable to the community for the future.

And with all this, is the federal government benefitting much by giving away so much? Sharlene says that in her meetings with local government workers, the understanding is that the federal government with all its corruption is only seeing about 1-2% royalties from the mining company profits.

The delegation went to the National Palace in Mexico City, where they were able to see the works of Diego Rivera, the paintings that show the long shadow of colonialism through Mexico’s history.

After the slide show on Friday night I keep thinking about the graffiti of the Canadian flag, the blood seeping from the maple leaf. I wonder if Diego Rivera was still alive and painting the changes in Mexico today, where he would put the Canadian flag? What he would see?