A network of environmental and human rights activists from the Americas and Europe is appealing on Canada’s new prime minister to promote legislative and administrative reforms aimed at Canadian mining companies operating across the globe.
In an April 25 letter to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, more than 190 non-governmental organizations, including Mexico’s Tlachinollan Human Rights Center of the Mountain, Bios Iguana, the Mexican Network of Persons Affected by Mining and other civil society groups, urged the Canadian leader to push reforms that will ensure mining firms from his country abide by international treaties, respect human rights standards and conform to transparent, good government practices in the public and private financing of mining investments.
The activists further called on Trudeau to not support influence peddling around regulatory policies in countries where mining takes place, uphold the right of self-determination of Indigenous communities, refrain from backing free trade agreements and international arbitration mechanisms that shield corporations from accountability, and allow international victims of human rights violations access to the Canadian justice system.
Besides environmental damages, some Canadian-owned mining projects have been linked to violence against environmentalists and community leaders, political corruption and organized crime throughout Mexico and Latin America, according to numerous press reports and a new report from European-headquartered researchers.
The lure of new gold mines has also created lucrative opportunities for thieves, such as the 2015 robbery of 7,000 ounces of gold from the Canadian-owned El Gallo mine in Sonora, Mexico.
Asserting that previous Canadian governments lacked the political will to address international environmental and human rights concerns, the signatories of the Trudeau letter expressed optimism that Canada’s new leader will take a different track.
They wrote, “We are hopeful that your commitment to human rights will lead to measures that hold state agencies and corporations to account and prevent further abuses by Canadian mining companies operating abroad..”
During the administration of former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Canadian mining corporations-often subsidized by their home government-dramatically expanded their operations in Latin America and other regions of the world.
In Mexico, an estimated 70 percent of the mining is currently done by Canadian companies, especially in the states of Sonora, Chihuahua, Durango, Sinaloa, Jalisco, Guerrero, and Oaxaca. In many cases, the geography of mining overlaps with the geography of illicit drug production and other organized criminal activities.
According to a recent report by the Geneva-based Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime cited in the Mexican press, Mexico ranks as the world’s 13th largest gold exporter, chalking up $5.4 billion in exports in 2012 alone. State governments like Chihuahua’s have an open door policy to mining companies, and frequently tout their local mines as beneficial to a strong economy.
The Global Initiative report, “Organized Crime and Illegally Mined Gold In Latin America,” contends that organized crime “controls the right to realize” mining through extortion in several Mexican states, with underworld groups including Los Zetas, the Templar Knights, Guerreros Unidos, Los Rojos, and the Sinaloa Cartel having the say.
“Though criminal organizations benefit from the extortion of mines that legally operate, evidence also exists of deliberate collusion between the mines and leaders of organized crime,” the report states.
According to the report’s authors, a similar pattern of mining/organized crime exists in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Guyana, Peru, and Venezuela,
In Mexico the Global Initiative report claimed that not only are mining companies shaken down for turf fees, but so are company employees who are individually taxed for the “right” to work in a mine.
The report cited a March 2015 attack on a community near a Canadian Goldcorp mine in Mezcala, Guerrero, allegedly committed as “a reminder to pay” the protection money, which resulted in the killing of three off-duty Goldcorp employees. Although a company executive told a Guerrero newspaper that the slain workers were not engaged in employment-related activities at the time of their killings, victims’ relatives blamed Goldcorp for not providing adequate security.
A more recent mining controversy flared in the same region when fishermen and landowners staged protests this spring at a subsidiary of the Canadian mining company Torex Gold Resources in Nuevo Balsas, Guerrero. Demanding hefty compensation, the protesters alleged that mine-related explosions, dust and the dumping of oil and other waste into the local river were injuring or driving away fish in addition to negatively impacting the health of the local population.
According to Torex Gold Resource’s website, the Nuevo Balsas mine contains the estimated equivalent of 7.4 million ounces of gold. Geographically, both Mezcala and Nuevo Balsas are situated in the same organized crime corridor where government security forces and cartel gunmen have been linked to the murders and disappearances of civilians and Ayotzinapa college students on the evening of September 26-27, 2014, as well as to the prior disappearances of hundreds of other people.
Additional sources: La Jornada, April 26, 2014. Article by Matilde Perez U. La Jornada (Guerrero edition), April 3, 2016. Article by Raymundo Ruiz Aviles. Frontenet.com, March 31, 2016. Article by Gustavo Ramos. Proceso/Apro, March 30, 2016. El Financiero, March 28, 2016. Article by Natividad Ambrocio. El Sur, March 18, 30, 31, 2016; April 1, 6, 7, 9, 2016.
Frontera NorteSur: on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news
Center for Latin American and Border Studies
New Mexico State University
Las Cruces, New Mexico