This past May, on the outskirts of San Luis Potosi, the capital city of the northeastern Mexican state of the same name, a Canadian mining company named Metallica Resources commenced operations of an open pit gold and silver mine.
Yet local residents have not exactly welcomed the company with open arms. According to a report from the non-governmental organization MiningWatch Canada, a survey indicated that between 97 and 99 per cent San Luis-area residents were opposed to the mine. Concerned about the impact of the mine on the community, Mexican citizens’ group the Broad Opposition Front (FAO) redoubled their decade-long efforts against the project.
These efforts have now brought the FAO to Canada. In anticipation of this week’s Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP) meetings and the upcoming Quebec Social Forum, five members of the FAO arrived in Quebec this weekend to bring their complaints to the Canadian public and major investors in the mining company.
But not a drop to drink
One member of the delegation, Juan Carlos Ruiz Guadalajara, is a professor and organizer with the FAO. He was raised in the town of San Pedro, now a ghosttown at the foot of Cerro de San Pedro.
Ruiz Guadalajara is gravely concerned that themine will pollute the aquifer that provides drinking water to 40 percent of the state—particularly when the size of the aquifer itself appears to be shrinking.
“What really lit people up was the issue of the water. Water is toorare there. What the hydrologists know now is that the water table ofthe aquifer is dropping five metres per year,” Ruiz Guadalajaraexplained through a translator. “It’s an aquifer of about 2,000 squarekilometres in area. So the problem is it’s already going down. Thewater is getting sucked up for other reasons, so if it getscontaminated, then it’s really a problem.”
The mine’s operations seem poised to exacerbate these concerns. Estimates project the use of approximately 32 million litres of water per day by the mine, and the mine’s impact assessment indicated water contamination will occur: extraction of the precious minerals is achieved by mixing cyanide with water and pumping the toxic mixture over the ore.
In addition to these concerns, the FAO is also worried about blasting so close to the town. In the old village of San Pedro, nearby the mine, cracks are already visible in the foundations of buildings of important historical and culturalsignificance. Mexico’s National Institute of History and Archaeology has been petitioned to work with UNESCO to recognize the area as a worldheritage site—though efforts here have stalled.
“They were doing this as a means to protect the town from the activityof this mine. This was in the very early years when the mine was justprojected. That process of petitioning UNESCO has been politicallyinterrupted,” says Ruiz Guadalajara.
McGill history professor Daviken Studnicki-Gizbert has studied theCerro de San Pedro region for many years. He has examined the social and political effects of mining in the area as far back as the 16thcentury.
A mine on Mount Royal?
“As a historian, I started with the beginning of this town to see howit developed. And what I’m realizing is I’m witnessing the end of thistown as well,” says Studnicki-Gizbert. He says the Cerro de SanPedro’s importance is similar to Mount Royal for Montrealers.
“Mount Royal is a place where Maisonneuve trucked up with the crossand founded the city of Ville Marie. And it’s a symbolic centre: astime goes on, the park on the mountain is kind of a really key part ofthe life of the city. It’s strong in that sense. It’s the same thingwith Cerro de San Pedro.”
Back in Mexico, the FAO faces increasing political pressure. Fearing for his freedom, FAO lawyer Enrique Riviera fled the country after Mexicanauthorities cracked down on flyer-distributing protestors, usingthe country’s anti-terrorism laws to impose severe sentences. Now in Montreal, Riviera has applied for refugee status. In all, six people with the FAO have been taken as political prisoners since opposition to the mine began eleven years ago.
Backed by the Party of the DemocraticRevolution, one of Mexico’s largest opposition parties, the FAO is taking advantage of the SPP meetings in Montebello to raise Canadian awareness about the mine.
“The majority of Canadians have no idea what these companies are doingin Canada’s name. The Canadian government has a role to play. Theyhave complicity because their laws allow these companies to do whatthey’re doing. But this is nothing less than environmental assault onterritories and communities in Mexico,” says Ruiz Guadalajara.
Through the efforts of groups like MiningWatch Canada and KAIROS, (a church-based coalition concerned with human rights), opposition to the mine is growing in Canada. In an attempt to continue building this momentum, in between rallies at Montebello and the Quebec Social Forum, FAO members plan to visit high-profile Canadian investors in Metallica—like the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce—during their week-long stay.