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Dear Mr. Harper: An open letter from mining-affected communities in Mexico

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Mexican organizations and communities have issued a searing public statement to the heads of state of Canada, the U.S. and Mexico who will meet in Toluca, Mexico on February 19. Their declaration expresses opposition to the free trade framework and related policies that further entrench the interests of extractive industry, while communities continue to suffer the harms of their operations without redress or respect for their right to self-determination.

Mr. President of the Republic of Mexico
Mr. President of the United States of America
Mr. Prime Minister of Canada

Issued February 16, 2014

The peoples and communities of Mexico opposed to the predatory mining extractive model, gathered in the 2014 National Forum in Zacualpan, in the municipality of Comala, state of Colima, Mexico, make the following statement with regard to agreements first signed twenty years ago by all three nations that gave rise to the now well known “Free Trade Agreement” (FTA).

On the eve of your meeting in the city of Toluca on February 19th, during which you will “renew and adjust” the commercial agreements between the three nations, we feel it necessary to remind you that is it not possible to continue promoting this sort of agreement and make us believe that this is the solution to the problems we face. Hundreds of investigations and cases demonstrate that this global framework has clear signs of wearing out, is a set back for human rights, and is depleting the natural commons in a dramatic way given the predatory vision of the world that you and this framework share. A view of the world that involves handing over the natural commons to predatory and insatiable transnational companies that day after day destroy communities, populations and ecosystems in every corner of the world.

It is clear that every year there are a growing number of communities in resistance and in direct confrontation with national, foreign and transnational mining companies, especially Canadian firms, although not exclusively. This is a result of the clear, recurring and intransigent way in which they try to appropriate the natural commons in our territories. With their false vision of progress and development, they cause serious and irreversible damage to health and the environment, while at the same time destroying the social fabric of our communities by fostering divisions between individuals. This contributes to growing insecurity linked to organized crime, as well as the murders of brave community leaders, crimes which are then covered up and protected by the state and federal apparatus.

For us, it is not strange to learn that the Canadian Government has just announced its Global Markets Action Plan in which it makes “economic diplomacy” a big focus. According to the government this equates to “All diplomatic assets of the Government of Canada will be marshalled on behalf of the private sector in order to achieve the stated objectives within key foreign markets” (announced November 27, 2013), including: Mexico, Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Peru within Latin America.

We already have information about twelve cases that demonstrate what this sort of “diplomacy” means where communities are opposed to mining or are speaking out about mining-related abuses. It is enough to recall what happened in the ejemplary case of Blackfire Exploration in Chiapas.

We have also been closely following the laws, regulations, legal processes and budgetary measures in which there are clear indications about how legislatures favour the interests of extractive companies to such a degree that it is ever more common to see entire countries defenseless when they measures against companies. Companies submit local governments to lawsuits in international arbitration tribunals to resolve disputes over the natural commons, as if this belonged to them and not to peoples and nations. This is evident in the cases that have been presented to the World Bank’s International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICISD). Up until March 2013, there were 169 investor-state disputes. Sixty of these, or 35.7%, are related to disputes over oil (23), mining (19) and gas (13), with another 5 cases related to both oil and gas.

Another indication of the tremendous pressure that companies exert over nations can be observed in that, since 2012, 48 new cases have been registered with ICSID. Seventeen of these, or 35%, are related to extractive industries, while have all been filed against countries in development. It is notable that 46.7% of all of these cases correspond to legal proceses between companies and countries in Latin America or the Caribbean, making it clear how empire makes its mark.

A number of these cases are strongly linked to lawsuits undertaken by Canadian companies. For example, Pacific Rim Mining (now OceanaGold) has sued El Salvador, pressuring the government to authorize permits for the exploitation of a gold mine that would be potentially devastating for the environment. With regard to Pacific Rim, ICSID has decided that it lacks jurisdiction under the Free Trade Agreement with Central America, the U.S. and the Dominican Republic (DR-CAFTA by its initials in English) given that it is a Canadian firm, but that the case can continue under the investment laws of El Salvador. Pacific Rim is suing El Salvador for $301 million dollars, which is equivalent to approximately 1.8% of the GDP of El Salvador or about half of its total education budget.

Two months after the assassination of Mariano Abarca and after the closure of the Payback mine by the state environmental authorities of Chiapas, Mexico, Blackfire Exploration threatened the state of Chiapas with a suit for $800 million dollars.

The company Infinito Gold is threatening Costa Rica with a suit for $1 billion (note: this suit has just been filed for $94 million). Costa Rica has prohibited open pit gold mining and there have been successive findings by the Supreme Court of Costa Rica against the company’s Crucitas project. In additioning to threatening the state, the company has sued a couple of professors and a lawyer for having made statements against its project.

If this were not enough, the Canadian Government announced a $25 million investment for the creation of the Canadian International Institute for Extractive Industries and Development, which involves a collaboration between three universities: the University of British Columbia, Simon Fraser University and the Ecole Polytechnique de Montréal. The financing comes from Canada’s overseas development funds with a mandate to collaborate with governments of other countries regarding their policies and institutions responsible for natural resource management, supposedly to improve and stregthen natural resource governance in other countries. It is unfortunate that these universities, like others in the world, would put themselves at the service of corporations and lose the ethical and moral compass that science should have so as not to hide or cover up environmental and health harms.

This institute, of course, already has strategic and/or financial relationships with: Goldcorp, New Gold Inc, Fresnillo, as well as the Mexican Undersecretary of Industry, the Mexican General Coordinating Office for Mining and the Mexican General Directorate for Promotion of Mining.

There are multiple ways through which companies and governments exert great diplomatic influence to bring about laws in countries with considerable mineral wealth. One example of this is how technical assistance was provided paid for by Canadian overseas development aid (2012-2013) for the development of a new mining law in Honduras. Its approval, in January 2013, lifted a moratorium on new mining projects in place since 2006, facilitating the opening of the mining sector to new projects and implementing a new security tax for mining companies that will contribute to ensuring security forces defend private interests.

Examples like the above are common throughout Latin America. Mexico, of course, is undergoing similar processes in which there is a clear tendency for governments to stop serving society and to put themselves at the service of transnational, foreign and national corporations.

Favourable legal reforms, the lack of application of laws that are intended to protect peoples, communities and the environment, combined with impunity, corrupt officials and inspectors, and growing insecurity linked to organized crime, work in favour of extractive corporations. Meanwhile, peoples in resistance lack basic respect for their rights, are not consulted, face informative processes undertaken in coercive ways, and social protest is criminalized or leaders and opponents are assassinated. These are the common consequences of the projects of companies working within the predatory extractive mining model.

Given the above, we demand that you abstain from defending the interests of large mining companies and focus on ensuring that peoples are fully guaranteed the rule of law and respect of their human rights, which governments have ratified in international conventions. Until this happens, we will continue in resistance to these predatory policies that violate the lives of the peoples.

Mesoamerican Movement against the Extractive Mining Model (M4)
Mexican Network of People Affected by Mining (REMA)
National Forum of People Affected by Mining in Zacualpan, Colima, 2014

Translated from the original in Spanish here.

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