By Mónica Montalvo
December 29, 2013
Translated by Scott Campbell
For our indigenous people, the land is not merely an object of possession and production.
The integral relationship between our people’s spiritual life and our lands has many profound implications. Furthermore, our land and our water are not commodities to be appropriated, but a common good which we and our children should freely enjoy.
Indigenous Council for the Defense of the Territory of Zacualpan
Zacualpan, Colima. In recent weeks, the town of Zacualpan, in the municipality of Comala, has joined the growing number of farming and indigenous communities facing conflicts over mining. A few months ago, this indigenous Nahua community began hearing about a plan to build a mine – backed by Rigoberto Verduzco Rodríguez – from which gold, silver, copper and manganese would be extracted, without an environmental impact study or any approval process or permits in the offices of the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT) in Colima.
The planned mine is one kilometer from a water spring that supplies the metropolitan area of Colima-Villa de Álvarez, which would mean contaminating the water source in an area known as Cerro Gordo, which is important from a biological and geological point of view and where there is a large number of species at risk of extinction. This would translate into putting at risk the water supply for 260,000 people in the state.
The case of Zacualpan is one of the first conflicts emerging in the state, but it will not be the last, as in Colima alone there are 360 mining concessions covering virtually the entire state with the exception of the volcanos. There is already an example that shows all the negative implications of these extractive projects: the Peña Colorado mine. This mine, operated by an Italian-Argentinian-Indian firm, has been in operation for the past 44 years on the border between Colima and Jalisco and has caused severe environmental damage, territorial displacement and human rights violations in the Nahua communities. The Peña Colorado mine has also meant threats, assassinations and disappearances, as in the case of the indigenous Nahua Celedonio Monroy Prudencio, member of the Ayotitlan Council of Elders.
Territory free of mining
The indigenous community has sought information regarding the implications of a mine in their territory, as the project’s backers make no mention of the environmental or health impacts on communities that already have mines, nor of the total earnings mining companies take out and what they leave for the communities. In this case, neither officials from the Federal Attorney’s Office for Environmental Protection (PROFEPA) nor Colima’s Ministry for Economic Development have provided information about the mine.
Cyanide, one of the most toxic and lethal substances on the planet, is used for the extraction and processing of gold, in a process known as “gold cyanidation.” The mineral where the gold is found is crushed. Subsequently, water is used and cyanide is applied to extract and recover the metal. The water used must be treated using extreme security measures and the process should not be carried out near areas such as rivers, lakes, ponds, springs or aqueducts, as a leak of contaminated water leads to devastating effects, as the cyanide in the water, even in small doses, kills any person or animal that might ingest it. Even with proper safety measures, the residual cyanide trapped in gold mines causes persistent leaks into the groundwater that nourishes aquifers, which is why gold mining has become one of the most questioned and dangerous processes in the world.
On November 18, 2013, in a general assembly with the attendance of more than 300 inhabitants, the indigenous Nahua community declared its refusal to give permission for the mining of gold, silver and copper. The community also demanded that its decision be respected, without reprisals, pressure, divisions, blackmail, threats or corruption.
On December 4, the Indigenous Council for the Defense of the Territory of Zacualpan and Bios Iguana/REMA-Colima presented to the Colima offices of the Federal Agrarian Attorney the December 1 agreement reached by the Assembly of Farmers and Inhabitants of the Indigenous Community of Zacualpan, which reaffirmed the November 18 demands. In the document they state: “We have made the decision of NO MINING IN ZACUALPAN by virtue of the fact that it violates the following rights of the indigenous community: the right to consultation, Articles 6 and 7 of Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization (ILO); those established by Article 19 of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the content of Articles 3, 4 and 26 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and Article 2 of the Mexican Constitution; we say that this territory and its resources are ours by law by virtue of us having traditionally and ancestrally occupied, possessed, utilized and acquired them.” They also mention that “the lands, biodiversity, and the water of Zacualpan constitute the natural heritage and life sustenance for the indigenous community.”
The decision to declare this territory free of mining has also been backed by REMA (the Mexican Network of People Affected by Mining). Additionally, the State Human Rights Commission has added its voice, in early December calling on the population and the three levels of government not to allow mining in Zacualpan.
On December 11, the State Congress unanimously approved a point of agreement to exhort the heads of government (federal, state and municipal) not to expedite any permit, authorization or license for the installation or operation of a gold or any other metal mine in Zacualpan, municipality of Comala.
The approved agreement also asked that in the case of existing permits, that they be reviewed and revoked “for constituting a serious risk to the environment, as well as to the health and security of the citizens of this state.”
From car washer to mining businessman
Rigoberto Verduzco Rodríguez, owner of “Rodríguez Carwash,” located at 267 Rey de Colimán Avenue, is now the driving force behind this mine, with mining concession 201,872, which, according to the Ministry of the Economy, since 1995 was registered to Adolfo Pineda Martínez, now deceased, according to the article “Gold disputed in Comala” by Martín Aquino.
In a press conference at the end of November, the farmers denounced that the businessman had offered 15,000 pesos to each of the 305 property owners to accept the project.
Among the most serious consequences these projects bring doesn’t begin with damage to the environment or health when the mining starts, but much earlier: the breakdown of the social fabric. The division created in communities faced with groups against or in favor of the projects is often hard to see, being that the consequences bring with them a level of insecurity for the inhabitants of the communities.
The backers of these projects many times offer money or benefits to government authorities so that they also speak up in favor of the projects or even become backers themselves.
In the case of Zacualpan, the Commissioner of Communal Lands, Carlos Guzmán, despite of stance of the community assembly, has insisted in mentioning the supposed benefits of accepting the project. One example is the assembly he tried to hold on Sunday, December 1 at 10am for the “sharing of a new proposal by Engineer Rigoberto Rodríguez on offering better royalties and personal payments to each inhabitant – in the case of their acceptance – and the community benefits of accepting the mine.” Said meeting was cancelled.
The above are some of the reasons why the inhabitants in an assembly decided to REMOVE all members of the Communal Lands Commission, along with all members of the Security Council from the indigenous community of Zacualpan, as allowed in Article 21 of the statutes of Zacualpan and for not carrying out their duties in line with Article 33 of the Agrarian Law.
The inhabitants of Zacualpan also brought their complaints to the Federal Agrarian Attorney’s representative in Colima, María Elena Díaz, who tried to block their demands for a reforming of the Communal Lands Commission “with the intention of delaying in order for the mine to be put into place.”
One day after the community declared itself a mining-free territory, the Mexican army arrived in an intimidating fashion and later presented themselves to the municipal president and an official from the National Forest Commission in order to present a “national prize” to the community for reforestation. The community has also denounced the verbal and physical attacks by relatives of the head of the Communal Lands Commission.
As well, the Bios Iguana organization has suffered defamation by supporters of the mine and one of its members, Gabriel Martínez Campo, was detained for a few minutes by the Comala Municipal Police in Zacualpan garden. Community members prevented the environmentalist from being put in a patrol car. This was while they were preparing for a film screening in the square.
Mining in Mexico
To speak of mining in Mexico is to speak of stories of pain, illness, corruption, repression and death. Of all economic activities, mining is that which has the most negative impact on health and illnesses which can reduce a lifespan by as much as 15 years, according to the Pan American Health Organization.
The extractive model pushed on our country since the 1992 reforms has meant that more than one third of the national territory is under the control of mines. The mining industry revolves around the logic and strategy of finance capital, where in order to reach the objective of higher earnings and capital accumulation, the industry seeks to lower its expenses – increasing poverty, improving their technology, lowering the cost of raw materials and externalizing the social and environmental costs, says Gustavo Castro, member of the organization Other Worlds/Friends of the Earth.
The tax system in Mexico is highly permissive for mining emporiums. The current mining law only requires collection of a minimal percentage per hectare; it is a semiannual permit. It is a laughable amount. As well, in some cases, the mines pay farmers a rent of 50 cents per meter for their lands. Adding together this and other administrative costs, the payments do not exceed more than one percent of the value of the metals extracted.
In Mexico, mining companies do not pay the government for the value of the extracted resources, but rather for the amount of land their concession is on.
Energy reform, a point in favor of mining
The mining sector can take advantage of the opening of the energy sector to private investment in order to use those projects to provide electricity with the argument of reducing their fixed costs. It also opens the possibility of exploiting oil, gas, coal or other minerals that form part of their mining concessions.
The indigenous Nahua community of Zacualpan has already decided regarding their territory and future: it said “no to mining.” What follows is for their right to say “no” be respected.
This post is also available in: Spanish