[ Foto Notimex ]
By Andrea Caraballo*
Translated by Scott Campbell
“…It’s very painful to say it to you, but it’s reached the point to examine and to decide that the earth is worth giving your life for.”
These are the words of Carmen Santiago Alonso, better known as Carmelina in the towns in her area and amongst social organizations. She identifies as a Zapotec from the central valleys of Oaxaca, Mexico, and for fifteen years has been part of the founding team of the Flor y Canto Indigenous Rights Center, an organization that works in resistance to the mine located in the municipality of San José del Progreso, belonging to the district of Ocotlán, in the state of Oaxaca.
This is a mine that has been prospected for many years, from which gold and silver have been extracted. This began more than 40 years ago, but prospecting was started again in 2009 by the Canadian company Continuum Resources, which has thirty concessions in just this region alone.
What risks does mining in the region bring with it?
It fills us with deep concern, because we well know that these mining companies, in order to obtain purified metal, clean and ready for sale, require millions of cubic meters of water, with the result of leaving the poor farmers in the region without water, without being able to obtain water for their harvests.
What happened is that the authorities – civil as well as agricultural – got involved in this matter of mining.
How did the authorities get involved?
Through buying off their consciences, through bribing them with economic resources to gain their trust, through perks, through deception they purchased lands here; this was through bribery, deception and manipulating the authorities.
A little later on they also poured in resources in order to pave the roads, to provide attention to the housewives, to the single mothers, and through the creation of leaflets they made the community believe that what this company brings is progress and it is going to give them work.
And what happened to these promises?
All of this was untrue and has provoked internal destabilization in San José del Progreso, because there are people who believe that the company is going to bring quote-unquote progress, but there are also people who say no, because they have examined that this runs the risk of disintegration.
These companies have gone even further, have gained the confidence of the authorities through bribery and making the communities believe that there will be some benefit; as a result in the region there is division. This is creating a powerful conflict that is impacting other communities, and at the regional level as well.
I want to tell you that this whole situation has provoked confrontations.
What has happened in these confrontations?
First the community confronted it, because in order to avoid the mining they took a very important action… To close ranks and to protest; they united in 2009 to close the mine… They closed it; they were there blocking it – I think for more than 30 days – until they were violently removed and many compañeros were put in jail; and also neighboring communities joined in solidarity, they have the capacity to organize concrete actions for the defense of natural resources. So the impact has caused powerful problems.
There have been clashes between communities; we don’t see social well-being, what we see is an irrational exploitation of natural resources, an impact on the environment.
What has been learned through this experience?
What we learned first is to organize ourselves, because everything was disjointed. Through education and information comes organization, and as an organization the outcome is very important; it is to be aware of the situation and for us to realize that in order to be strong we have to coordinate with other organizations and with other movements.
But we have also learned something very valuable: respect for nature; during these years, through different ceremonies, the sacred value of the earth has been recovered. Here we recognize the earth as a mother, the mother earth, because from her comes all food, she helps us to produce everything we need to live and we have learned that we need to respect her and to know that we, as citizens, have legal rights.
The right to consultation and information; that the different federal and state government agencies have the obligation to inform and to consult before making decisions. Education in the communities has begun, they have learned to organize themselves, to coordinate actions in defense and care for the environment, and also to recognize this resource: the earth as a sacred resource – like I just said – which deserves respect.
What actions are the people taking?
And, well, that it’s worth it even; it’s very painful to say it to you, but it’s reached the point to examine and to decide that the earth is worth giving your life for. For the mother it is worth giving your life for and several, many communities have that willingness to give even their lives.
To return our gaze to the sacred, which are our natural resources; sacred, because they were made by our gods who were thinking of us, and we, their children, should also be respectful of all these resources, to look after them, to protect them, to talk with them, to give them the offerings that they deserve. Mother earth deserves an offering.
To not divide ourselves, to be very careful, because there are many men whose hearts are, well, sick with power, who are going to come or who are arriving in our lands. They are arriving where you are, too, but our strength is much greater. If we, the people, unite and if we return our affection to the mother earth, she and we will be able to create a great strength and to defend. To defend so that our mother earth is not raped, so that she is not raped by hands or by machines from other places, with other ways of thinking. We, as original peoples, as indigenous peoples, as peoples who were born in these places, we have a duty to fulfill and that is to care for this great house, this great planet, because other generations will come and we have the duty to have spaces for them to live and to live well. That they don’t take advantage of our poverty, but that we demonstrate the cultural richness that we have as a people.
What message would you give to other people in other places who are struggling against the mining industry?
Well, I would like to send this message to those who are around the Aratirí mine in Uruguay. Sisters, brothers, we must organize ourselves as soon as possible, we must coordinate ourselves as soon as possible and we must return our gaze, hearing, hearts to our mother earth in order to defender her and to not allow her to be exploited, also to talk with the youth and with the children, that it is very important to defend her. Don’t lose heart…Don’t lose heart and don’t rest. Keep moving forward, keep working together, because its defense and care is in our hands, it is our responsibility and we can’t allow this exploitation that is happening, that tries to remove a resource and to rape our mother earth…We can’t allow it. But it can only be done through organization and coordination.
From here we send our strength, from here we send our knowledge and recognition for your struggle. We move onward; it is worth it to struggle today to defend our land and our territory. Our land which is our mother.
To learn more about the work of Carmelina and the Flor y Canto Indigenous Rights Center, visit the website of the Oaxacan Collective in Defense of Territories: http://www.endefensadelosterritorios.org/
* Andrea Caraballo is coordinator of the C.A.S.A. Collective, based in Oaxaca, Mexico, and a member of the Colectivo Contraimpunidad in Montevideo, Uruguay.
Edits: Ana De León y Natalia Castelgrande.