In 2007, the Canadian company Blackfire Exploration Ltd started the construction of the world’s largest barite mine in the municipality of Chicomuselo in Chiapas, Mexico (the state of Chiapas is one of the poorest in the country with one of the largest percentage of indigenous peoples). Even though the mine is still on construction, negative externalities to indigenous peoples’ rights and the natural environment have already taken place. For example, 200 indigenous families have been displaced from their lands and reallocated in faraway wastelands that impede them to continue relying on agriculture as the means of subsistence. Only 25 men of the 200 families that left their lands have been employed in the mine and they are being paid about US $9 a day for working under dangerous conditions. The communities are experiencing severe water shortage and pollution. The trees and vegetation that characterized the community have been cleared out. The promises from the company of building infrastructure have been materialized only in a 8- km road between the mine and the towncenter.
In 2006, when Blackfire was lobbying the project, its claim was that the mine would promote significantly Mexico’s socioeconomic development, without imposing negative environmental impacts. On the one hand, it would increase the Mexican production of barite, allowing the country to be an exporter of this mineral –currently, Mexico imports barite from China and India-, and it would support employment and welfare for the local communities of Chiapas. On the other hand, by constructing an open sky mine -the least harmful mining practice according to the company- the environment would be protected as well as the health of the communities.
With these arguments and promises of building infrastructure to improve the well being of the local people –e.g., roads, electricity, sewage, schools and health clinics-, representatives from the company visited the communities and convinced them to sell their lands. Likewise, the company approached the national government, which in turn, granted the concession without further investigating socioeconomic and environmental impacts.
The company denied these accusations arguing that the people were reallocated in the best lands possible, and that as soon as they finish with the construction stage and the mine starts operating regularly, more employment opportunities will be available, as well as infrastructure for the local people. With respect to the water and air contamination, the company alleged that the construction of the mine has not involved any chemical reactor and thus, the contamination to the environment could not be related to their works. Blackfire has not make any declaration regarding these accusations.
Non-governmental organizations and academic institutions from Guatemala and Mexico reacted to the socioeconomic and environmental impacts of Blackfire’s mining project and met with the affected communities in Chiapas. According to these organizations, the purposes of the meetings were to inform the people about the true social and environmental consequences of mining and the global struggles against Canadian mining companies, and to discuss methods for resistance. The sharing of experiences certainly improved the awareness and organizational abilities of the communities of Chicomuselo, Chiapas. Since the meeting took place, the communities have made more serious demands to the company and resistance has been growing. For example, in May 2008 the communities sealed off access to the mine demanding that Blackfire installs the electricity and sewage promised.
Also, the resistance from the indigenous communities of Chicomuselo has been strengthened by two Mexican organizations, the Red Mexicana de Afectados por la Mineria (REMA) and the Frente Nacional de la Lucha por el Socialismo (FNLS). These organizations have been encouraging the communities to voice their concerns and have helped in organizing indigenous peoples to participate in statewide manifestations against foreign mining companies. In this sense, in November, 2008 communities from Chicomuselo together with many other indigenous peoples affected by mining marched in Chiapas and the state of Oaxaca in a protest organized by REMA and the FNLS . In spite of the involvement of these organizations, the Federal Government has refrain from having an active participation in the process.
This summer, with support from the Program on Human Rights and Justice, Renata will be assessing this problem in Chicomuselo and working on alternatives of solution.