MAC: Mines and Communities

Mexico: Zapotec Protesters Shot on Behalf of Canadian Mining Company

Published by MAC on 2012-01-31
Source: Statement, International Cry, Postmedia News

One Indigenous Zapotec died and another was injured on 18 January, after a group of  police and other armed men opened fire on a crowd of protesters in the municipality of San José del Progreso, Ocotlán, Oaxaca, Mexico.

Some members of the municipality had gathered in opposition to a pipeline that a subsidiary of Canada's Fortuna Silvers requires to exploit the community's water resources.

Opponents of the mine maintain the permit should not have been issued because the municipal government failed to obtain the community's free, prior and informed consent.

Previous MAC posts: Mayor Killed, Priest Beaten in Dispute over Mine in Mexico  Demonstrators blockaded Canadian miner in Oaxaca


Deadly Conflict over Canadian Mine in Oaxaca

By Alexander Debusman - OSAG

22 January 2012

San José del Progreso, Oaxaca - In the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca one person was killed and another injured during a confrontation between mining opponents and police on January 18th.

The middle aged farmer and a woman in her twenties - both indigenous Zapotecs - were among a group of villagers trying to block the path of an excavator working for the Canadian Mining Company Fortuna Silver.

Bernardo Méndez and Abigail Vasquez were shot by local police and plainclothes gunmen working for the Vancouver-based mining company. San José del Progreso, located 50 km south of Oaxaca City, has been a flash point for violence since an alliance of local environmentalists and farmers occupied the gold and silver mine in early 2009.

Protest in Mexico over Fortuna Silver
Protest in Mexico over Fortuna Silver. Source: OSAG

Despite widespread resistance and an ongoing conflict that already claimed the lives of two people in summer 2010, Fortuna Silver began commercial operation of the mine last September. As the installations are located in an arid valley, smooth operation is heavily dependent on water access to process the ore. The contamination of the scarce resource is among the main concerns of the mining opponents, many of whom grow vegetables for a living and rely on clean water for irrigation. The inhabitants of Magdalena Ocotlán, a village adjacent to the mine that hosted a nationwide environmentalist convention in 2010, have so far successfully prevented the construction of a sewage duct leading to the ore-processing installations.

Fortuna Silver has since tried to get water access at all cost, recently settling for a deal with San José's pro-mining camp. The scheme allows the mine to tap into a newly built well on village lands to keep its operations going throughout the dry season. It was at the building-site of the new water duct that Bernardo Méndez was killed. He and his neighbors had gathered to stop the machine digging a trench because it had damaged their own fresh water access.

Mining operations in Oaxaca are backed both by the new governor Gabino Cué and the ousted Party of Institutionalized Revolution (PRI) which still enjoys widespread support in the countryside.

Contrary to the precepts of international law, the indigenous population of the region was never consulted about the mining project. The recent violence has prompted various social organizations in Oaxaca, among them an influential teachers' union, to demand the end of mining operations.

Zapotec Protesters Shot on Behalf of Canadian Mining Company

Intercontinental Cry

23 January 2012

One Zapotec has died and another is in recovery after a group of municipal police officers and other armed men opened fire on a crowd of protesters in the municipality of San José del Progreso, Ocotlán, Oaxaca, Mexico.

On 18 January, members from the community of San José del Progreso had gathered to speak out against a pipeline that the mining company Cuzcatlán wants so it can exploit the community's water resources.

Cuzcatlán, a subsidiary of the Canadian mining company Fortuna Silver has already received a permit to build the pipeline. Opponents of the mine maintain that the permit should not have been issued because the municipal government failed to obtain the community's free, prior and informed consent.

According to an initial report by El Colectivo Oaxaqueño en Defensa de los Territorios, there was a bitter confrontation during the protest between community members who oppose the mine and others who support it (Ever since Fortuna Silver arrived on the scene, there has been a great deal of tension in the community.)

During the confrontation, a group of police and plain-clothed men suddenly and unexpectedly opened fire on the protesters, seriously injuring two people: Bernardo Mendez Vazquez and Abigail Vasquez Sanchez. Abigail Vazquez is in stable condition and is now recovering from an injury to one leg; however, Bernardo Mendez Vazquez has since passed away as a result of multiple injuries to the stomach, chest and leg.

Thus far, no arrests have been made; however, the accusations are flying. Opponents of the mine insist that the mayor of San José del Progreso gave the order to open fire; while others have claimed that he was one of the gunmen. Some have also alleged that the shooters could be members of the Popular Revolutionary Front (FPR).

In any case one thing is clear: Bernardo Mendez Vazquez and Abigail Vasquez Sanchez were ultimately shot on behalf a Canadian mining company.

El Colectivo Oaxaqueño en Defensa de los Territorios is calling for:

What You Can Do:

Please send appeals to the following officials. A Sample letter (in Spanish) which you can sign is available here:

1) Lic. Manuel de Jesús López López, Procuraduría General de Justicia del Estado de Oaxaca.
Official Address: Centro Administrativo del Poder Ejecutivo y Judicial _Gral. Porfirio Díaz, Soldado de la Patria_.
Colonia : Edificio Jesús _Chu_ Rasgado. Segundo Nivel. Reyes Mantecón, San Bartolo Coyotepec Oaxaca.
Official Phone: (951) 501 69 00 ext. 20769 / 20602
Official Email:

2) Lic. Oscar Cruz López, subsecretario de gobierno y desarrollo político.
Official Phone: 5015000 EXT. 13889
Official Email:
Official Address: Carret. Int. Oaxaca-Istmo Km. 11.5, Cd. Administrativa, Edificios 4 y 8
Colonia : Tlalixtac de Cabrera, C.P : 68270

3) Lic. Manuel de Jesús López López, Procuraduría General de Justicia del Estado de Oaxaca.
Official Address: Centro Administrativo del Poder Ejecutivo y Judicial _Gral. Porfirio Díaz, Soldado de la Patria_.
Colonia : Edificio Jesús _Chu_ Rasgado. Segundo Nivel. Reyes Mantecón, San Bartolo Coyotepec Oaxaca.
Official Phone: (951) 501 69 00 ext. 20769 / 20602
Official Email:

4) Lic. Emanuel Castillo Ruiz. Coordinador General de Asuntos jurídicos
Official Phone: 951 5020800
Official Email:
Official Address: Heroico Colegio Militar No. 317, Colonia : Reforma, C.P : 68050

5) Mtra. Eréndira Cruzvillegas, Comisionada para los Derechos Humanos del Poder Ejecutivo del Estado de Oaxaca.
Official Phone: (951) 501 5000 Ext. 40056
Official Email:
Official Address: Palacio de Gobierno, Bustamante esquina con Guerrero S/N, Colonia Centro.

6) Dr. Heriberto Antonio García, Defensor de los Derechos Humanos del Pueblo de Oaxaca.
Calle de los Derechos Humanos No 210, Col América
Oaxaca Oax
Official Phone: (951) 50 30 52 00
Official Email:

Canadian mining company denies link to shooting death of protester in Mexico

By Peter O'Neil

Postmedia News

25 January 2012

OTTAWA - Vancouver-based mining company Fortuna Silver says it has nothing to do with the shooting death of a protester in a town near the company's mine site in Mexico.

Police have arrested the alleged shooter implicated in the death of Bernardo Mendez Vazquez, who was shot last week during a protest that news reports have linked to opposition to the gold and silver mine.

The shooting took place in the town of San Jose del Progreso, where the mine is the chief employer.

The town and mine in the southwestern state of Oaxaca have been the sites of past conflicts involving groups who say the mine is an environmental threat to the arid region's scarce water supply.

But Fortuna Silver president Jorge Ganoza said "misinformation" is behind media reports tying his company to the violence, which also left another protester with a leg wound.

"We, as a company, and our team in Oaxaca are saddened by these senseless and continued acts of violence in the town of San Jose, related to a long-standing political struggle for local power," Ganoza said.

"It is not the first incident of this nature in the last few years. It is in no way related to our activities or involves company personnel, and we really hope that the people of San Jose, with the assistance of the state authorities, will find a long-term solution to this senseless violence."

He said reports that the company is a threat to the area's freshwater supply are inaccurate, adding the mine gets all of its industrial water supply from a rain-supplied tailings pond.

Some Spanish-language media reports suggested the clash was related to protests over a project that was viewed as an attempt by the company to access the town's water supply.

"This sad incident is related to an infrastructure project that was being handled by the municipality of San Jose and it's related to the inter-connection of sewage and drinking water in the town of San Jose, and it has nothing to do" with the mine, Ganoza said.

He said rival groups, one linked to the municipal government and one connected to the opposition, have clashed around other projects such as road construction.

"There is constant misinformation because I believe there are groups interested in linking us to these issues," he said.

"It always makes better news to have a foreign company involved in some of this, and some local groups can be more visible if this is linked to an international company."

A spokeswoman for the Canadian group MiningWatch criticized the company's position.

"There has been conflict over this project and worries over potential impacts on local water supplies for several years," said Jen Moore.

"Instead of trying to deny any responsibility, the company should work to help diminish tensions."

Last week's violence wasn't the first time conflict swirled around the mine.

In 2010, the San Jose mayor and another city official were killed and four others hurt in a clash that also resulted in a priest opposed to the mine being detained and beaten, according to the Catholic News Service.

In 2009, hundreds of police were called to the mine to break up a blockade.

Fortuna Silver, a junior mining firm which also has a silver mine in Peru, announced in September that it began production at the $55-million mine in Mexico. It was expected to produce 1.7 million ounces of silver and 15,000 ounces of gold in 2012.

The company says the mine employs 450 workers, with half coming from San Jose and neighbouring communities.

With files from Jeff Davis, Postmedia News

Tensions Flare over Vancouver-owned Mine in Oaxaca

Three dead and community divided over Fortuna Silver's gold and silver project

Dawn Paley

Vancouver Media Coop

5 February 2012

It's been almost three years since hundreds of Zapotec community members took direct action to temporarily shut down Vancouver-based Fortuna Silver's gold and silver mine just south of Oaxaca City, Mexico.

The blockade ended with a massive police raid, during which demonstrators were beaten and 23 people were taken by police and jailed, some for up to three months. Since then, the neighbouring community of San José del Progreso has been deeply divided, and residents have faced a series of difficult and sometimes deadly confrontations.

Three people have been killed since then, most recently Bernardo Méndez Vásquez, who was shot seven times on January 18, 2012, by a municipal police officer. Locals say municipal authorities ordered the police to attack residents, who were refusing to allow a new water system to be installed on their land because they felt it would be used to supply the mine with water.

"Yes there's problems in the municipality," admits Bernardo Vásquez Sánchez, who lives in San José and works with the Coordinating Committee of the United Villages of the Ocotlan Valley. "But it's not unconnected, because they started in 2008 and they're because of the mine, if the company leaves, the municipal problems will be solved," he said in an interview with the Vancouver Media Co-op.

So far, the mining company has avoided being linked with the violence by playing up the fact that people in San Jose are fighting with each other. Fortuna CEO Jorge Ganoza has repeatedly referred to it as "senseless" violence. "It is in no way related to our activities or involves company personnel, and we really hope that the people of San Jose, with the assistance of the state authorities, will find a long-term solution to this senseless violence," Ganoza told the National Post regarding the recent killing.

The mine, known locally by the name of its subsidiary Minera Cuzcatlán, went into production in late September 2011. Its opponents maintain that Fortuna Silver's mine is the root of the social problems that plague the once peaceful region. In a press conference following the police shooting of Méndez Vásquez, mine opponents made it clear that they see a direct link between Fortuna Silver and the violence.

"The social and political conflicts that have ended the lives of three people are due to the appearance of the mining company, without the consent of the people, and not to the control and power over the municipality as expressed by various authorities in the state government," reads a statement signed by over a dozen Oaxacan organizations.

Today, the existence of the mining project is something that residents of San José del Progreso couldn't ignore, even if they tried. The main access road into the town passes directly in front of Fortuna's operations, complete with its own power station, offices, and a huge stockpile of ore, all surrounded by high chain link fence. Near the entrance to the mine, there's fencing that looks more like the high, super resistant barrier surrounding the Canadian embassy in Mexico City, where anti-mining activists from all around the country gather regularly in outrage and protest.

In the centre of the village, which is home to about 1,200 people, Vásquez points out that there's two different taxi stands, one used by people in favour of the mine, and another by those who are opposed. "In one year [the company] managed to cut the town in half, to divide the people, and the dispute become present in all spaces: in the primary school, in the secondary school, in the kindergarten, in the health centre, in city hall, in all of these situations," said Vásquez.

Because of the company's refusal to inform and properly involve the community in the decision to allow the mining company to operate in San José del Progreso, the community has been without an Ejidal (communal land owners) commission for three years. This commission effectively exercises control over the communally owned lands in the region, without it, communal land owners are left without means of making officially recognized decisions about the fate of their territories.

City hall has effectively been shut down since January, when municipal authorities and the municipal police fled after the murder of Méndez Vásquez. "Basically the entire town is divided in two parts, one part that has a mayor, and another part that does not have a mayor," said Vásquez, who together with others has formally requested the dissolution of powers of the municipal government.

In addition, according to sources in Oaxaca City and in the community of San José del Progreso, a group started by the mining company, called "San José in Defense of our Rights," has taken on a paramilitary role in the community, intimidating opponents of the project.

"Things are so broken that there's no other way out, the only way, I think, is that the company leaves," said Father Martin Garcia Ortiz, who served as priest in San José del Progreso until he was beaten and kidnapped by those in favour of the project. He was later jailed and released without charge, and subsequently decided to leave the parish.

Vásquez, too, is determined to see to it that mine packs up and leaves. He and others are worried the project might eventually become an open pit mine, further threatening the region's already fragile water system. Given Fortuna's track record, there's reason to be worried: Simon Ridgway, chair for Fortuna's board of directors, was subject to two arrest warrants in Honduras because of environmental contamination from an open pit mine now owned by Goldcorp Inc.

"There's no reason to negotiate with the company, there's no parameters to say ‘okay, we'll propose some productive projects or development projects,' and then the next day I'll have to leave my village," said Vásquez. "That doesn't make sense."

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