Mexico: Fortuna Silver mine protester killed

A dispute over a water pipeline in San José del Progreso, a municipality in the Ocotlán district of the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca, turned deadly on Jan. 18 when supporters of Mayor Alberto Mauro Sánchez Muñoz reportedly opened fire on demonstrators. Protesters Bernardo Méndez Vásquez and Abigail Vásquez Sánchez were wounded; Méndez Vásquez died the next day in a hospital in Oaxaca city, the state capital. Both were members of the United Peoples of the Ocotlán Valley Coordinating Committee (COPUVO), which has been engaged in a three-year struggle against the Trinidad silver mine owned by Compañia Minera Cuzcatlan S.A. de C.V., a subsidiary of Vancouver-based Fortuna Silver Mines Inc.

MĂ©ndez Vásquez is the third person to be killed in San JosĂ© del Progreso since the start of the dispute over the mine. Grassroots opposition to the mine is the subject of a half-hour documentary produced by the Miguel AgustĂ­n Pro Juárez Human Rights Center and the Oaxacan Center in Defense of the Territories. (See our last post, which incorrectly described Fortuna Silver as “Toronto-based.”)

The protesters charged that that work by the municipality on a pipeline was intended to divert community water to use by the mine; after the violence, COPUVO accused Mayor Sánchez Muñoz, who supports the mine, of giving the order to fire. But Fortuna Silver president Jorge Ganoza insisted that the confrontation was about “a long-standing political struggle for local power” and was “related to an infrastructure project that was being handled by the municipality of San JosĂ©, and it’s related to the interconnection of sewage and drinking water in the town of San JosĂ©, and it has nothing to do” with the mine.

A number of Mexican organizations feel the Trinidad mine has exacerbated local tensions and so is the very at least partly responsible for the violence. Some 20 organizations, including COPUVO and the Mexican Action Network on Free Trade (RMALC), held a demonstration outside the Canadian embassy in Mexico City on Jan. 25 to protest Canadian mining in Mexico. In a communiquĂ© the groups charged that 26% of the country “is already in the hands of mining companies, and of the 757 projects, 73% are Canadian.” While mining proponents say the operations create local jobs, the groups cited the violence at San JosĂ© del Progreso as an example of “the benefits these companies are leaving us.”

Protesters at the embassy also cited mines in Real de Catorce, San Luis PotosĂ­; the Caballo Blanco mine in Veracruz; and mines in Michoacán, Chihuahua, Baja California, Durango, Zacatecas, Jalisco, Guerrero and Chiapas. Mining operations “are taking our water and putting community life at risk. They are looting the country,” the protesters said. (La Jornada, Mexico, Jan. 19, Jan. 26; Vancouver Sun, Jan. 25; Vancouver Observer, Jan. 28)

In other news, one worker was killed and six others injured on Jan. 28 when company guards fired on former employees of a shuttered factory in Ciudad Sahagún in the central state of Hidalgo. Illinois-based Motor Coach Industries International, Inc. (MCI) closed the plant in February 2003, leaving 1,300 workers without severance pay and other benefits. The new owners, identified by the Mexican media as Pacific International Development (PID), promised to pay the workers a total of 170 million pesos (about $13.1 million), but the workers say the company has only paid 10 million pesos to date. The workers attempted to occupy the plant on Jan. 28 when they heard that PID was removing the machinery. Guards hired by PID responded by firing on the protesters, fatally wounding José Matilde Cotonieto Sánchez. State and municipal police later arrested 14 people, including guards and employees.

The plant originally belonged to Diesel Nacional S.A. de C.V. (DINA), a government-owned enterprise founded in 1951 to build buses. DINA was sold to Mexican industrialist and politician Raymundo GĂłmez Flores during a wave of privatizations under President Carlos Salinas de Gortari (1988-1994); GĂłmez Flores reportedly sold the factory to MCI in 1995. (LJ, Jan. 29) (MCI filed for bankruptcy protection in the US in 2008.)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Jan. 29.

See our last posts on Mexico, the mineral cartel and regional struggles for control of water.