More Bullets and Blood: The High Price of Anti-Mining Resistance in San Jose del Progreso, Oaxaca Mexico
MORE BULLETS AND BLOOD: THE HIGH PRICE OF ANTI-MINING RESISTANCE IN SAN JOSÉ DEL
PROGRESO, OAXACA, MEXICO
by Jonathan Treat
On the evening of Saturday, June 16, two environmental activists and human rights defenders were with friends in front of city hall on the main street of San José del Progreso, Mexico. Suddenly a red Dodge Ram pickup truck drove by, spraying them with bullets. Bertín Vásquez Ruiz was shot in the abdomen and Guadalupe Vázquez Ruis took bullets in his leg and hand. Both are members of the Coalition of United Peoples of the Ocotlán Valley (CPUVO), which has been actively protesting the presence of Canadian Fortuna Silver Inc.’s “Trinidad/Cuzcatlán” mine in their community southof Oaxaca city, Mexico.
Both of the shooting victims were taken to a public hospital, where they received cursory attention. Shortly after arriving at the civil hospital, for example, BertínVázquez reportedly was released – with the bullet still in his abdomen. He was later taken to a private (paid) hospital where the bullet was removed. Both of the shooting victims are said to be in stable condition.
WHO DID THE SHOOTING?
Eyewitnesses identified three of the gunmen, all allegedly connected in some way with Fortuna Silver’s Trinidad/Cuzcatlán mining operation. Local media report that eyewitnesses named Evaristo González (apparently an employee and ‘hired gun’ of the Fortuna Silver mine), Edgar Vásquez Hernández (son of a previous municipal president who gave permission for the mining operations in San José del Progreso) and Aarón Pérez Vásquez (a local school superintendent) as the supposed shooters.
ONGOING VIOLENCE THIS YEAR IN SAN JOSÉ DEL PROGRESO
Opposing the Vancouver-based Fortuna Silver mining operation in San José del Progreso in recent months has become increasingly dangerous – and even deadly.
JANUARY 23 – BERNARDO MENDEZ
Activist and CPUVO member Bernardo Méndez was shot dead on January 23 this year when, along with group of people from San José, he confronted a crew working on a water pipeline in the community. They suspected that the line would divert water from the arid town’s scarce water supply and be used for mining operations. Workers refused to show work permits to the crowd as requested. An argument ensued and soon municipal police arrive on the scene. Witness report hearing the voice of San José mayor Alberto Sánchez Muñoz over a radio giving the police an order to open fire. Méndez was shot seven times and died soon afterwards. Another member of CPUVO, Abigail Vásquez, was also shot and seriously wounded in the incident.
MARCH 15 – BERNADO VASQUEZ
Another activist and member of CPUVO was assassinated on two months later. On March 15 this year Bernardo Vásquez was shot and killed when his vehicle was ambushed just outside of San José. His brother, Andres, and friend Rosalinda Canseco were also seriously wounded in the attack. Doctors worried that Rosalinda’s leg would have to be amputated due to the grave gunshot wounds. That risk has passed, and she is currently undergoing physical therapy. No one has been charged in the crimes despite the existence of what many observers call considerable, concrete evidence – including photos of alleged assailants published in local media.
WHY THE OPPOSITION AND RELATED BLOODSHED?
Members of CPUVO oppose Fortuna Silver’s “Trinidad/Cuzcatlán” mine for a variety of reasons.
Water is a central concern. The area’s supply of potable water is increasingly scarce, and mining operations require vast quantities of water. Townspeople also express concern about contamination of water sources and lands by the toxic chemicals used by the mine to process silver and gold ore (such as cyanide), as well as by arsenic and other heavy metals.
There is ample local precedent for their concerns. A nearby Oaxacan community offers a dire warning as to the devastating environmental and health impacts related to the mining there. The Canadian Continuum mine in Capulálpam de Méndez seriously disrupted and polluted aquifers there. Local residents report that due to the mining activities there, 13 local streams disappeared and that community springs were so polluted by chemicals used to process the ore that livestock were dying from drinking the water. The environmental destruction by the Continuum mine was so flagrant that mining operations were suspended by the Mexican Federal Environmental Protection Agency.
The social costs related to the Fortuna Silver mine are also high. The ongoing violence has divided the town and created an atmosphere of pervasive tension and fear. Some townspeople point out that the majority of the community was originally opposed to the mine when it first opened. In 2009, for example, some 300 people blockaded the mine’s entrance for more than a month. Some 700 police were sent in to violently break the blockade, beating people and arresting 23.
The repression has silenced some of those opposed to the mine, and allegedly bribes and other corruption have effectively won support for the mine.
FORTUNA SILVER INC. COMMENTS
After the assassinations in January and March of the two CPUVO activists, Fortuna Silver in a public statement expressed their sadness over the acts of violence they claim are “…related to a long-standing power struggle for local power… . It is in no way related to our activities or involves company personnel.”
Some critics, including respected national media, vigorously challenged those assertions. The violence in San José, they point out, clearly began with the arrival of Fortuna Silver in the community.
During the company’s public presentation of financial earnings for the first trimester of 2012, Fortuna Silver Inc., someone in the audience asked President Jorge Garzona about the mining company’s relationship with the community of San José. He responded that they have a strong relationship with the town’s authorities and with the majority of people in the community. He mentioned, however, that there are “reactionary groups” that oppose any development project in the area – not just mines.”
Some critics have pointed out that the so-called “reactionary groups” are people who are simply defending their territories, human rights and the rights of nature.
IMPUNITY BREEDING MORE IMPUNITY
According to accusations by CPUVO, all of this year’s assassinations and assaults against environmental and human rights activists who oppose Fortuna Silver’s Trinidad/Cuzcatlán mine were perpetrated by municipal authorities and employees of the mining company. Members of CPUVO have repeatedly denounced in the media and to the state government that the mine is financing armed groups in the community, with the endorsement of San José’s municipal president Alberto Mauro Sánchez.
In a recent press release by an umbrella of prominent human rights and civil society organizations, the Coalition in Defense of Territories declared: “Since the beginning of the current year CPUVO has denounced the irregularities and violations caused by the mining company Cuzcatlán and the municipal authorities of San José del Progreso, nevertheless, up until this moment there has been no adequate reply on the part of the state government in reference to the problems”.
The Oaxacan Collective for Defense of Territories calls for investigations into the recent violence, for justice, and for protection of protective measures and the security of defenders of human rights and the environment.
No one has been charged in any of the violent attacks, and the assassins remain at large. Observers express concern that the lack of justice and the resulting flagrant impunity enjoyed by the perpetrators can only create an atmosphere of continuing fear and insecurity in San José. The recent attacks, unfortunately, give credence to those concerns.
Given the ongoing, unprosecuted violence in San José, the Oaxaca Collective in Defense of the Lands declared its deep concern for the increasing vulnerability of defenders of human rights in the state of Oaxaca, and demand immediate and effective actions on the part of the Oaxacan state government.
To date, the state government has responded only with deafening silence; there has been no official public comment on the recent shootings in San José del Progreso.
For more information on the situation in San José del Progresso, read:http://upsidedownworld.org/main/mexico-archives-79/3545-mexico-blood-for-silver-blood-for-gold.
Jonathan Treat is a journalist, professor, activist and founding member of the non-profit organization, University Services and Knowledge Networks of Oaxaca (SURCO, A.C.):www.surcooaxaca.org. He works with SURCO as Academic Director and Coordinator of Delegations looking issues related to the defense of indigenous territories in Oaxaca and Chiapas.