MAC: Mines and Communities

Mayor Killed, Priest Beaten in Dispute over Mine in Mexico

Published by MAC on 2010-07-04
Source: EFE, Catholic News Service

In circumstances still under investigation, a mayor and another city official were killed and four other people hurt last month, in clashes over a Canadian mining project in Oaxaca, southern Mexico.

MAC has covered this mining conflict before, See: Mexican armed police arrest mine protestors in Oaxaca -

Demonstrators blockaded Canadian miner in Oaxaca -

On April 2010, the company, Fortuna Silver, released a Pre-Feasibility Study for the San Jose Project.



Mayor Killed, Priest Beaten in Dispute over Mine in Mexico


28 June 2010

OAXACA, Mexico - A mayor and another city official were killed, and four other people were hurt in a conflict over a mining project in southern Mexico, Oaxaca state Attorney General Maria de la Luz Candelaria Chiñas said.

San Jose del Progreso Mayor Oscar Venancio Rivera was killed in an ambush staged on Saturday night by unidentified individuals, Chiñas said.

Felix Misael Hernandez, who was the alderman in charge of health matters, also died in the ambush.

Initial reports from the AG's office said the mayor had been killed in a clash with residents who oppose a mining project, but Chiñas said the information was incorrect.

San Jose del Progreso has been torn by a dispute over the Canadian-owned Minera Cuzcatlan project.

Some residents oppose the silver and gold mining project on the grounds that it will pollute the drinking water supply, while supporters of the mine claim it will create much-needed jobs.

Prosecutors are investigating "the violent incidents that occurred ... where two people are dead, (but) we still don't know which group the people who attacked the mayor belonged to," Chiñas said.

A civilian, a police officer and a second alderman were wounded in the ambush, the attorney general said.

A group of residents grabbed and beat the Rev. Martin Octavio Garcia Ortiz, who was rescued by police and later gave a statement to prosecutors.

The priest "was detained because a group of residents identified him as one of those inciting" opponents of the mining project, Chiñas said.

"He is not in serious condition, he suffered blows and has bruises," the attorney general said.

The priest was not involved in the incident and "was coming from celebrating Mass in a nearby community when a group of residents told him to halt and ordered him out of his pick-up truck," Archdiocese of Oaxaca Justice and Peace Commission head Wilfrido Mayren Pelaez said.

Oaxaca Archbishop Jose Luis Chavez Botello called on officials to investigate the violent incidents.

"If a priest commits a crime, that is his responsibility," the archbishop said.

Oaxaca priest beaten, detained for anti-mining activism

Catholic News Service (CNS)

25 June 2010

OAXACA, Mexico - A Catholic priest known for his environmental activism has been accused of inciting a violent protest against a Canadian mining project in the state of Oaxaca that led to the deaths of a small-town mayor and a municipal official.

Father Martin Octavio Garcia Ortiz denied the allegations stemming from the June 19 incident. He described the accusations as politically motivated revenge and said they come in the run-up to local elections July 4 that will try to unseat the incumbent party after 80 years of uninterrupted rule.

The priest told Catholic News Service that his accusers abducted him, held him for six hours and beat him in a private home until state police rescued him. Father Garcia was subsequently ordered held for 30 days while judicial officials review his case.

"I'm a government hostage," Father Garcia said from his hospital bed in the state capital, Oaxaca city, as six state police officers guarded his room.

"The state government has been in favor of this project," he said. "If I'm out of the way, they can work freely."

The unrest reflects the ongoing conflicts over foreign-owned mining operations in Latin America, which often split communities between those in favor of job creation and economic growth and opponents who fear negative environmental and social consequences.

It also highlights ongoing tension between priests and the governing Institutional Revolutionary Party in Oaxaca, a state with a long history of repressive rule by local strongmen and the scene of a social uprising against the state governor in 2006 that descended into lawlessness.

"At the core of this (incident) ... we're seeing the (opposition parties) gaining force so they're trying to stop it," Father Garcia said.

Father Garcia, pastor of the St. Peter the Apostle Parish in Ocotlan, Oaxaca, denied having any political motives for opposing the mining project, although he acknowledged that a mine opposition group he has supported is now affiliated with a coalition of four political parties running against the incumbent party.

The disturbance broke out in the municipality of San Jose del Progreso, 20 miles south of Oaxaca city, as mine opponents returned from a political rally in a nearby community and were confronted by a pro-mining group and Institutional Revolutionary Party members.

Details of the incident remain sketchy, but Father Garcia, who was returning from celebrating Mass in a nearby community, said he arrived after the confrontation began and subsequently was abducted by the pro-mining group. Father Garcia said he was taken to the home of a leader identified as Servando Arango and "beaten with sticks and stones" and whipped with a pistol. State police arrived six hours later, he said, after being lobbied by Archbishop Jose Luis Chavez Botello of Antequera, Oaxaca.

In a June 24 statement, Archbishop Chavez said Father Garcia was threatened with death and being burned alive, and was rescued on the condition that he be detained.

"(We) are working through all possible means to clarify Father Martin's legal status and demonstrate his innocence," the archbishop said.

The incident claimed the lives of Mayor Oscar Venancio Martinez of San Jose del Progreso and Felix Misael Hernandez, a municipal official responsible for health affairs. The Institutional Revolutionary Party has alleged two groups involved in the 2006 Oaxaca uprising -- the state's combative teachers' union and a coalition of left-wing protest groups, the Peoples' Assembly of Oaxaca -- were present.

During a news conference, Arango denied hitting Father Garcia and accused him of "sowing discord in the community." Arango called photos of Father Garcia's injuries "vile lies," and said, without offering proof, that the priest belonged to a shadowy rebel group known as the People's Revolutionary Army, which gained notoriety in 2007 for bombing pipelines of Pemex, Mexico's state-owned petroleum company.

The priest's defenders blasted the accusations of involvement in a rebel group -- first floated by state prosecutors in 2009 -- and said the 30-day detention was just the latest act in a campaign of hostilities against him.

"He's a person that has never been silent in the face of injustice," the Oaxaca-based Bartolome Carrasco Human Rights Center said in a statement.

A spokesman for the mining company, Compania Minera Cuzcatlan, declined comment on Father Garcia and the altercation. He also declined to discuss mining operations.

Father Garcia, whose parish serves the region surrounding the mine, has focused much of his ministry on environmental and human rights issues. He said he tackled the mine project because of concerns about a lack of water in the region and the possible contamination of water resources from mining byproducts even though mine operators promised to bring hundreds of jobs to a region rife with unemployment.

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