Canada’s Brand of Violence: Mining Companies in Mexico

April 6, 2018 By 0 Comments

I recently had a typical exchange with a fellow Canadian while visiting San Cristobal de Las Casas, in the southern state of Chiapas. She was relating a story about a conversation she had had the day before in which a Mexican had mistakenly assumed she was American. She quickly corrected the individual – as I have often done myself – declaring, “Oh no, I’m Canadian!” with only the merest hint of condescension. For once I had my wits about me and politely suggested (I’m Canadian after all) that she not trumpet her national pride too loudly, since in many parts of Mexico, Canadians are even more reviled than our immediate neighbours to the south.

Last year, The Justice and Corporate Accountability Project published a damning report, “The ‘Canada Brand’ Violence: Canadian Mining Companies in Latin America” which painstakingly documents that over a fifteen year period between 2000 and 2015, twenty-eight Canadian mining companies across Latin America were implicated in 44 deaths, 33 of them targeted assassinations of anti-mining activists, 403 injuries – most suffered on protests – and 709 cases of criminalization of anti-mining activity including arbitrary arrest, detention and sexual violence. Large and small, Canadian mining companies appear to be equal opportunity human rights violators:

Our research demonstrates that this violence is geographically widespread;that it  involves many different types of people, ranging from farmers, to lawyers,to police; and that it implicates companies of all sizes, from large publicly listed companies like Barrick Gold with a market cap of over $18 billion, to small private companies with only one mine, like Blackfire Resources.

Even though some publicly traded companies like Barrick Gold report incidents involving violence, they do so in the most anodyne terms. Moreover, their disclosure rates cover only a quarter of documented deaths and only eight percent of arbitrary arrests and detentions. As the report’s authors observe: “the incidents in this report appear to be the tip of the iceberg.”

The Canadian government recently responded to such criticism by setting up a new watchdog office for human rights violations by Canadian mining companies. But critics complain that this is a strictly non-judicial body with no powers to regulate or prosecute cases like those documented in the report above. Meanwhile, across Latin America and Mexico, the same violations continue with impunity.

Just last month, the PRI governor of Oaxaca, Alejandro Murat Hinojosa boasted that mining companies had pledged to spend US $87.5 million in new investment with a promised 5,000 jobs. Fifteen percent of the state of Oaxaca is now under lease, with over 400 projects under way. This might sound good until you consider that the majority of mines in Mexico are located in the poorest states with the lowest wages and highest profits for the mining companies. As one study has shown, with only .29 percent of the Oaxacan labour force employed in the mining sector there is little ‘spin off’ in terms of actual economic benefits. The average daily wage of a miner is 150 pesos, about CAN $10.50. Meanwhile the profits of the mostly Canadian mining companies are estimated to be 750 times what they paid for the concessions.

The environmental costs of mining are extremely high often involving the contamination and exhaustion of rivers and aquifers. But under Mexican law there is nothing to stop a mining company from taking over communal and indigenous lands, ending food production and leveling and destroying forests, despite the fact that the law clearly violates international conventions protecting indigenous rights. The environmental costs and limited economic benefits explain why many communities, like San Jose Progreso in Oaxaca have mounted stiff resistance to the Canadian company Fortuna Silver, which has been blamed for despoiling 80,000 hectares of indigenous land. That resistance cost the life of anti-mining community leader, Bernardo Vasquez who was assassinated in 2012 by ‘unknown assailants’ widely believed to be allied to the mining company.

But this is not the worst of it. In a recently published book Mexico a Cielo Abierto (Open-Pit Mexico), investigative journalist J. Jesus Lema documents in painful detail the links between many of Canada’s largest mining interests and narcotics cartels such as Los Zetas in the state of Puebla, Los Cabelleros Templarios and La Familia Michoacana in the State Michoacan, the Gulf Cartel in the state of Guererro, Jalisco Nueva Generación in the state of Jalisco. He presents evidence for such collaboration in an astonishing 915 regions, in which 65 percent of operating mining companies are Canadian owned. In the town of Guadalupe Victoria in Puebla, Lemas documents the close relationship between Los Zetas and the Canadian mining giant Goldcorp. There has been a slow exodus of residents from the town after Los Zetas initiated “night patrols” to ‘convince’ residents of the benefits of the mining operation. In another Goldcorp operation, the Los Filos Mine in Guerrero, turf wars have broken out between two gangs competing to control extortion linked to the mine. One group, the Guerreros Unidos have been linked to the disappearance of 43 students in Iguala in 2014. The turf war has so far resulted in 17 deaths, 3 disappearances, 8 injuries and hundreds of family displacements.

So brazen has this relationship become that one Canadian mining executive, Rob McEwan, boasted on The Canadian Business Television Network about his company’s excellent relations with the drug cartels: “Generally, we had a good relationship with them. If we want to go explore somewhere, you ask them, and they tell you no, but then they’ll say come back in a couple of weeks when we’re finished with what we are doing.”

If this is not enough to silence the self-righteousness of Canadians abroad, it is difficult to imagine what would. The truth is out.