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Indigenous Zapotec people want Canadian mining company to leave Oaxaca, Mexico

Twitter photo by La Minuta/ Educa Oaxaca

On October 8, 2018, heavy rains caused the overflow of mud and fine mining waste from a tailings dam at the Vancouver-based Fortuna Silver gold and silver mine situated near the town of San José del Progreso in the state of Oaxaca, in southern Mexico.

The spill entered the Coyote Creek and migrated downstream into a tributary that flows just 10 metres from the primary drinking water well for the town of Magdalena Ocotlán.

Coyote Creek also flows into the Magdalena River which in turn flows into the Atoyac River in Oaxaca City.

Those impacted by this spill have called for the closure of the Fortuna Silver mine and a moratorium on mining in the state of Oaxaca.

The Indigenous towns of Magdalena Ocotlán and San José del Progreso were never consulted about the imposition of the mines in the first place, meaning they lack the free, prior and informed consent required under the International Labour Organization's Convention 169 and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

On October 11-12, just days after the tailings dam spill, a "People's Trial against the State and Mining Companies in Oaxaca" was held in Oaxaca City.

The People's Trial called for an end to the existing 41 mining projects in Oaxaca (including the Fortuna Silver mine near San José del Progreso) and the cancellation of the 322 concessions granted by the Mexican government to mining companies in Oaxaca (including the one granted to Fortuna Silver near the community of Santa Catarina Minas).

By February of this year, Mexico's Federal Bureau of Environmental Protection (PROFEPA) ruled that soil contamination had not resulted from the tailings dam spill.

A final report from the Mexican National Water Commission (CONAGUA) has not yet been issued.

On March 18, communities opposed to mining in Oaxaca once again gathered and called on Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador to respect the rights of Indigenous Zapotec peoples, to launch an investigation into the criminal and administrative responsibility for the tailings dam spill, and to cancel the mining concessions in the state.

The communities supported by Educa Oaxaca put these demands in a letter to be sent to López Obrador.

But at a media conference that same day, López Obrador said he would not cancel the concessions that have been granted but did call on Canadian mining companies to follow the same standards in Mexico as they do in Canada.

The Mexican president may want to review the standards of Vancouver-based Imperial Metals and the experience of its Mount Polley open pit gold and copper mine, situated about 400 kilometres northeast of Vancouver on the territory of the Xat'sull (Soda Creek) First Nation.

In August 2014, the Mount Polley mine tailings dam broke, releasing 25 million cubic metres of mining waste into nearby lakes and rivers.

In May 2016, British Columbia auditor general Carol Bellringer found that the enforcement of mining regulations was "inadequate to protect the province from significant environmental risks."

In March 2017, MiningWatch Canada filed charges stating that the tailings pond collapse had violated the federal Fisheries Act.

And in August 2017, Bev Sellars, former chief of the Xat'sull (Soda Creek) First Nation, filed a private prosecution against the company, claiming the mine had violated 15 rules under both the provincial Environmental Act and the Mines Act.

Now, the mine is expected to close this May, not because of the damage it caused to waterways, but simply because of a decline in copper commodity prices.

Last week, the new Mexican ambassador to Canada, Juan Jose Gomez Camacho, stated, "We expect [Canadian mining companies] to operate in this country with exactly the same standards as they do in Canada."

The ambassador may want to raise the bar on his expectations.

In November 2018, Peace Brigades International-Canada and PBI-Mexico Project organized a speaking tour in Canada with community-based human rights defenders opposed to Fortuna Silver. For more on that, please see Fortuna Silver mine opposed by community of Santa Carina Minas in Oaxaca, Mexico.

Brent Patterson is a political activist and writer.

Twitter photo by La Minuta/ Educa Oaxaca

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