Mexico: coal mine hit by deadly disaster operated “outside of the law”

Rescue crews recovered the last of 14 bodies May 8 from the Pozo 3 coal mine hit by a gas explosion in Mexico’s northern Coahuila state, while Labor Secretary Javier Lozano called for an overhaul of mine safety in Mexico and the federal Prosecutor General opened an investigation into the disaster. Mexican officials said the May 3 blast was caused by a buildup of gas. A teenage boy who was evidently employed illegally at the mine, JesĂşs Fernando Lara Ruiz, had his right arm blown off in the explosion. The National Union of Mine and Metal Workers and the Like of the Mexican Republic (SNTMMSRM) said the mine’s work force was not unionized, and protested the “completely unsafe conditions under which coal mines operate in the country, and especially in this region known as the coal belt.”

Sergio Tolano Lizárraga, director of the local Section 65 of the SNTMMSRM, at Cananea, Sonora, charged that the company that runs the Pozo 3 mine, known as BINSA and reportedly owned by one Melchor González Vélez, was operating outside of the law, and accused federal authorities—especially the Labor Secretariat—of turning a blind eye.

A similar blast caused by a methane gas buildup killed 65 miners in February 2006 at the Pasta de Conchos coal mine—in the same Coahuila municipality of San Juan de Sabinas. To date, only two bodies have been recovered from the collapsed Pasta de Conchos shaft. Coahuila state legislator Ramiro Flores Morales said that since the Pasta de Conchos disaster, the government “has promised to increase the number of inspectors…to increase safety measures and to provide training for miners, and none of this has happened.” Instead, Flores said, two things remain unchanged: “The cry and demand from loved ones to recover the bodies for proper burial, and the fact that mining continues to be the only local source of employment.”

Labor Secretary Lozano said his ministry would ensure that all mining companies comply with the law and provide safe conditions for workers. “We want clean coal, coal without blood,” he said. Between 1889 and the new disaster, a total of 635 workers have lost their lives in explosions and other accidents in the mines of Coahuila. (AP, May 8; Punto Critico, Mexico City, May 6; BBC News, Xinhua, Adital, La Vanguardia, Saltillo, from AP and EFE, May 4)

See our last posts on Mexico, the labor struggle, and the oxymoron of “clean coal”

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