MAC: Mines and Communities

A victim's son speaks out - Canada

Published by MAC on 2010-10-04
Source: Canadian Press, Embassy (2010-09-29)

The son of an assassinated Mexican anti-mining campaign has been touring Canada to speak out against the company allegedly complicit in his father's murder.

See also: Mexican anti-mining leader assassinated in Chiapas

and:

Canadian Fact-finding Delegation Discovers Mexican Community Devastated by Blackfire Exploration

Slain activist's son brings anti-mining campaign to Canada

The Canadian Press

25 September 2010

TORONTO - His father's voice was silenced when he was killed in a bloody shooting last year, but Mexican anti-mining activist Jose Luis Abarca Montejo refuses to back down over the activities of Canadian mining companies in his state.

The son of Mariano Abarca Roblero, the community leader who spoke out against Calgary-based mining company Blackfire Exploration Ltd. and was gunned down in front of his home in Chicomuselo, Chiapas, is in Canada with a message.

"Canadian trans-national companies are corrupting Mexican authorities and contaminating the environment," Abarca Montejo said in an interview in Toronto on Saturday.

Since his father's murder, the younger Abarca has taken on a leadership role in his community's fight against a Canadian mine he said is destroying the environment and creating divisions between neighbours.

Now embarking on a six-day Canadian tour, the 28-year-old law graduate is to make an appearance at a human rights conference organized by NDP MP Peter Julian, as well as meet with Canadian lawyers and anti-mining activists.

The trip was organized by Julian and some Canadian non-governmental organizations.

It's Abarca Montejo's first trip this far from home but one he felt compelled to do in his father's memory.

"He continues to be a very special person for me," Abarca Montejo said. "Very honest, loyal and more than anything a fighter... he taught me respect and to keep fighting."

Part of Abarca Montejo's visit is to show support for two Private Member Bills -- Bill C-300 introduced by Liberal MP John McKay, and Bill C-354 introduced by NDP MP Peter Julian. Both have to do with enforcing accountability for Canadian companies overseas.

Abarca Montejo said he holds Blackfire responsible for the death of his father. Abarca Montejo said his father was a vocal critic of the company's practices and also complained to local authorities about death threats from Blackfire employees before he was killed.

After the murder, three people were arrested in Chiapas for allegedly carrying out the crime -- all of whom all are linked in some way to Blackfire.

One of the three men has since been released from jail after police determined he was not linked to the crime, Abarca Montejo said.

Blackfire has maintained it had nothing to do with Abarca Roblero's death, noting Mexican law enforcement has never implicated the Calgary company in the killing.

"Blackfire is the most significant employer in the town of Chicomuselo," the company said.

"The past employment or service ties to Blackfire Exploration of individuals involved in this incident is the result of the magnitude of which the company is involved in the community."

Blackfire has maintained its operations have followed strict environmental guidelines and has disputed suggestions that it pollutes the area.

The mine's involvement in the community has declined significantly since being shut down by the environment authority of the state of Chiapas in early December.

But Abarca Montejo said the situation in Chicomuselo remains tense, even though the armed police officer stationed outside the family home to offer protection after the murder is no longer there.

Abarca Montejo said his mother and three siblings are still reeling from their father's death.

"My mother has been very affected by this," Abarca Montejo said. "She's losing weight, she has headaches, she cries, she's worried."

Abarca Roblero's death made Canadian headlines when Governor General Michaelle Jean visited Chiapas in December 2009.

Subsequent allegations that the company paid the mayor of Chicomuselo approximately C$20,000, and was asked to provide the mayor with a night alone with a nude model created even more titilating headlines.

Blackfire reportedly alleged it was the victim of extortion and filed a complaint with Mexican authorities in 2009

After the corruption allegations came to light, a complaint was filed by a coalition of Canadian anti-mining organizations with the RCMP last March.

In the complaint the RCMP were asked to investigate Blackfire under the seldom-used Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act, which states it is illegal to bribe foreign officials.

Reached by phone, Sgt. Sylvain Roussel of the International Anti-Corruption Unit of the RCMP said he couldn't confirm or deny whether or not there is an investigation going on as a result of the complaint.

"If ever there are any charges laid... at that point it becomes public knowledge," Roussel said from Calgary.

Blackfire said it hasn't been contacted by the RCMP for any investigation. The company explained the money was for Chicomuselo's local town fair was deposited directly into the mayor's bank account because "the town has no banks."

Abarca Montejo disputes that claim, and said he has proof he intends to share with the Mounties that shows there is a banking option in the town.

He said a local telegraph office has an agreement with several Mexican banks, and he also said the municipal government's treasury office has an account set up specifically to receive payments.

Abarca Montejo also said Blackfire has been making overtures to people in neighbouring villages, promising paved roads, a health clinic and economic support in exchange for allowing a new mine to open.

Abarca Montejo said similar promises were made with regards to the Payback mine, but were not completed.

Rick Arnold, of the organization Common Frontiers, said making those kinds of promises are a "trick."

"It appears they're going to put money in the community, but in reality they make the promises but the state ends up doing it when it comes to following through," Armold, who visited the Payback mine last April, said in Toronto.

A protest against mining in the region around Chicomuselo was held on Aug. 27 in several communities, Abarca Montejo said.

For its part, Blackfire said it does have other "interests" in the area that are being reviewed, but there is no mine being currently developed.

"For competitive reasons the company will not disclose additional information concerning these interests," Blackfire said.


Stop Canadian companies' rights abuses

A victim's son speaks out

By Jose Luis Abarca

Embassy Magazine

29 September 2010

The people of Chiapas, Mexico, derive their livelihood from the land. That land and the people themselves are threatened by irresponsible corporate behaviour by Canadian mining companies, something Canada can help control through a new law now before the House of Commons.

Chiapis is my home and it was the home of my father, Mariano Abarca Robledo. He was an environmental and community activist in the town of Chicomuselo, where he was involved in defending the community's land rights and the environment, which are threatened by the activities of the Canadian mining company Blackfire Exploration Ltd.

My father criticized Blackfire's lack of consultation with local communities and was an advocate for the suspension of mining activity in the region. He organized a symbolic blockade in June 2009.

In July 2009, he received death threats. Then in August he was abducted by two armed men and held for eight days. His abduction was meant to intimidate him and he was released, but did not stop speaking out.

Then on Nov. 27, 2009, 52-year-old Mariano Abarco was shot to death in front of his home, leaving me and my three siblings without a father. Just days before his murder, my father sought legal protection against two Blackfire employees for threatening to shoot him if he didn't stop organizing local farmers protesting the loss of their land and livelihood to the mine.

An investigation by Mexican authorities identified two ex-Blackfire employees as the killers, but those who ordered the assassination are still to be investigated.

My father's message needs to be heard. His goal of stopping abuses by Canadian mining companies can be advanced by the passage of Bill C-300, which will face a vote in Canada's House of Commons in October.

Bill C-300 is a modest but decisive step towards corporate accountability. It would deny or require the withdrawal of Canadian government support for Canadian mining, oil and gas corporations whose actions are shown to be inconsistent with international best practices and with Canada's commitments to international human rights standards.

Bill C-300 gives Canada an opportunity to curtail Canadian companies' collusion in human rights abuses carried out by corrupt security forces, such as in the case of my father.

After his abduction in August 2009, my father made this statement: "Don't do to others what you wouldn't do to your own people. I think the government of Canada should be more careful with these companies who come to Mexico and treat us badly. I call on the Canadian government to do something because we're the same as any other citizen. We have rights too."

Bill C-300 is not anti-mining. It sets minimum standards for Canadian resource extraction companies operating internationally and is an important first step towards corporate accountability.

The bill has received strong support from Canadian and international civil society, including churches, unions, environmental and human rights organizations, academics and by an increasing number of affected populations.

It is my sincere hope that Canadian parliamentarians respect the memory of my father and others like him who have suffered and died by voting to ensure that Canadian extractive companies operating in Mexico and elsewhere are held to the same standards as they are at home.

Jose Luis Abarco is a Mexican lawyer visiting Canada from Sept. 24-30.

editor@embassymag.ca

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