MAC: Mines and Communities

Mexico: Another opponent of Canadian mining is assassinated

Published by MAC on 2012-03-20
Source: Vancouver Media Co-op, statements

A second anti-mining activist has been assassinated by unidentified gunmen in the Mexican state of Oaxaca.

Bernado Vasquez had spoken out against the activities of Canada's Fortuna Silver.

In November 2009, Mariano Abarca Roblero was murdered in similar circumstances, while  campaigning against Blackfire Resources, another Canadian outfit operating in the state.

Last week, three Canadian organisations condemned their government's failure to investigate allegations of corruption and complicity by Blackfire in Roblero's murder - although these had been submitted no fewer than two years before.

Previous article on MAC: Mexico: Zapotec Protesters Shot on Behalf of Canadian Mining Company


Another Activist Murdered for Resisting a Canadian Mine

Bernardo Vásquez killed in Oaxaca, two others wounded

By Dawn Paley

Vancouver Media Co-op

16 March 2012

Tonight, we lost a comrade. Someone who understood very well that it was cheaper for Fortuna Silver to divide his people and for paramilitaries and police to repress them than it was for the company to consult with the community. Someone who could debunk "Corporate Social Responsibility" based on his own experience, and connect it to capitalism and the state. Someone who hadn't yet had children, he told me when I met him in February, but who hoped to, some day.

Spray painted threats against Bernardo Vásquez Sánchez in San José Progreso, Oaxaca
Spray painted threats against Bernardo Vásquez
Sánchez in San José Progreso, Oaxaca, Feb 2012
Source: Vancouver Media Co-op

Bernardo Vasquez Sanchez was a clear spoken Zapotec activist, a brother, son, and cousin, who dared to stand up against a mining project in the territory of his people. He was well aware that a paramilitary group was operating in San José Progreso, Oaxaca, and that it was organized to snuff out opposition to a gold mine, owned by Vancouver based Fortuna Silver.

Bernardo was killed March 15th at 9pm, when gunmen opened fire on his car. His cousin, Rosalinda Dionicio Sánchez, and his brother Andres Vésquez Sánchez, are in hospital with bullet wounds. Though there's few details, one thing is clear: this was a political hit. Bernardo was murdered because he dared to speak out, ignoring the climate of fear imposed upon his people.

Tonight, we mourn Bernardo and prey for Rosalinda and Andres. We remember Bernardo's words and his resistance, and we ask, who will speak up for San José now that he is gone?

Bernardo Vásquez, opposition leader against Fortuna Silver, Assassinated

Proyecto Ambulante

15 March 2012

At approximately 21:00, Bernardo Vásquez Sánchez was murdered. He was an activist against Fortuna Silver's mine in San José Progreso, Oaxaca, and a member of the Coordinating Committee of the United Villages of the Ocotlan Valley.

The killing took place at the entrance to Santa Lucia Ocotlan, where he was ambushed together with his companions Rosalinda Dionicio Sánchez, and Andres Vésquez Sánchez (Bernardo's brother).

It is not yet known who the perpetrators were, but his companions, who were badly wounded, assumed that they were people who politically opposed him.

On January 19th, 2012, Vásquez Sánchez said that San José's town councilor ordered municipal police to fire at people protesting the laying of pipes leading to Fortuna's mine, leaving two wounded [one of the two, Bernardo Vásquez Méndez, died from his wounds].

Blood for Silver, Blood for Gold

The Assassination of Bernard Vasquez: At Fortuna Silver's mine in Oaxaca, Mexico

by Jonathan Treat

Rights & Action

18 March 2012

"One thing is clear: this was a political hit. Bernardo was murdered because he dared to speak out." (Dawn Paley)

In the dry and dusty town of San José del Pacifico, south of Oaxaca, Mexico, a funeral was held on March 17 for Bernardo Vasquez, a slain community leader who actively opposed a Canadian silver and gold mining project in his community. During the somber event, attended by roughly 300 members of this Zapotec community, the collective grief, solidarity and resistance was palpable. Fear also hung in the air; some people held placards proclaiming their resistance in front of their faces to avoid being photographed.

The fear is understandable - Bernardo Vásquez was the second anti-mining activist to be shot dead in the past two months. Three others at the scene of the assassination of Vasquez were also shot and remain in serious condition.

Why the Violence?

Why all the bloodshed in this small Zapotec community? The common thread connecting the victims of the recent violence is that - together with a coalition of people from other nearby communities - they were all actively opposing the presence of the Canadian company, Fortuna Silver Inc.'s "Trinidad/Cuzcatlán" silver and gold mine in their community in the Ocotlán valley, about 45 minutes outside of Oaxaca City.

Bernardo Vásquez was killed on March 16 when he and two passengers were ambushed at an intersection near his community. His brother Andrés and friend Rosalinda Canseco remain hospitalized in serious condition. In an interview at the hospital, Rosalinda's father said doctors are concerned they may have to amputate her leg.

Previous killing of Bernardo Mendez

Two months ago, the now dead Bernardo Vásquez was denouncing the murder of Bernardo Mendez, a friend and colleague also opposed to the Trinidad/Cuzcatán mine. During a press conference on January 23, as spokesperson for a local coalition of people opposed to Fortuna Silver's mine, Vásquez denounced the shooting death of Méndez that had occurred several days earlier. That murder happened when a group of people confronted a work crew constructing a water pipeline in San José. The people suspected the project would divert the arid community's scarce water resources to the mine. An argument ensued and municipal police arrived on the scene and opened fire into the crowd. Bernardo Méndez later died of 7 gunshot wounds. Abigail Vásquez, sister of Bernardo Vázquez (killed March 16), was seriously wounded in the January killing.

During the press conference, Vázquez and the Coalition of People United in the Ocotlán Valley (COPOVU) held the Vancouver-based Fortuna Silver and it's local Trinidad/Cuzcatlán mining activities directly responsible for the murder and other related violence, and called for the suspension and removal of all the mining company's activities in San José. The anti-mining group also called for the cancellation and removal of the mining project.

Fortuna Silver Denies any Links to its Activities and the Violence

Mining officials dismissed allegations that the mine was diverting water from the community, and denied any links between the recent violence and their mining operation in San José del Progreso. In response to COPOVU's accusations that the mine is responsible for the violence in San José, CEO Jorge Ganoza called the allegations "misinformation".

"We, as a company, and our team in Oaxaca, are saddened by these senseless and continued acts of violence in the town of San José, related to a long-standing political struggle for local power", he said in statement published by Canadian media. "It is in no way related to our activities or involves company personnel...". Several Oaxaca state government officials in press releases repeat this version of events, but critics point out to a long history of violence in local communities since Fortuna Silver first arrived on the scene in 2006.

History of Mine-Related Violence

In 2009, roughly three hundred opponents to Fortuna Silver's mining operation participated in a blockade of the entrance to the Trinidad/Cuzcatlán. After 40 days, the blockade was brutally broken when some 700 police stormed into the community in full anti-riot gear, with automatic weapons, tear gas, attack dogs and a helicopter. People were beaten and more than 23 people were arrested; some were detained for three months.

In 2010, the mayor of San José, along with another municipal official, was killed in a confrontation between residents supporting and those opposing the mine. A local priest supporting anti-mining activists was brutally beaten and detained.

The ongoing violence has divided and created a tense, fearful atmosphere in the once peaceful community. One local activist who has been involved in resistance to the mine from the beginning estimated that the vast majority of residents were opposed to the mine when it started originally arrived to break ground in the community. The ongoing repression and intimidation - coupled with bribes to prominent members of the community - has reduced the number of residents who actively resist the mine. Nonetheless, he estimated that roughly half of the community is opposed to the mine, and many others are against the mine but fearful of openly resisting the mining project.

Why the Opposition to the Mine?

In the arid Ocotlán valley of Oaxaca, as in many parts of the state, water is a scarce and precious commodity. Residents opposed to the mine argue that processing silver and gold is water-intensive puts their local aquifers at risk.

Their argument has strong precedent. Another Oaxacan community with years of painful experience with mining operations, Calpulálpam, had its water supply devastated by the Canadian "Continuum" mine there. Aquifers were disrupted and local resident report that 13 local streams completely dried up due to mining in their community. Local springs were also so polluted by chemicals used to process ore that livestock were dying from the contamination. The devastation was so flagrant that the Mexican Federal Environmental Protection Agency eventually ordered the mine to suspend all activities.

Thus the violent confrontation in January between the group of local residents and workers installing a water pipeline is understandable. The actual motives behind the project remain unclear; transparency about public works in San José is sorely lacking. While Fortuna Silver continues to flatly deny any link between purported municipal potable water project and mining activities, many local residentS remain unconvinced. And Mexico's three leading national newspapers, including the respected daily La Jornada, all reported that the disputed water pipeline was indeed related to the mining operation and all linked the violence to tensions in the community around the mine's activities there.

Human Rights and Civil Society Organisations Speak Out

In a recent statement by the Oaxacan Collective in Defense of Territories, an umbrella organization made up of prominent human rights and civil society organization, issued a statement on March 16, the day following the ambush of Vázquez and his two companions. The declaration points out that Vázquez had repeatedly alerted state and federal authorities - since 2008 - of the risk of violent confrontations due to the initiation of mining operations by Fortuna Silver without the consent of the community, as legally required by international accords signed by Mexico. The statement says that the members of the anti-mining coalition COPUVO repeatedly complained that the mining company was financing armed groups in the community with the endorsement of the municipal president of San José del Progreso, Alberto Mauro Sánchez. The collective's statement says argues that the lack of justice and application of law by government officials has created a dangerous atmosphere of impunity in San José. The statement closes with a demand for the immediate departure of the Trinidad/Cuzcatlán mine.

Eulogy for Bernardo Vásquez

In a eulogy for Bernardo Vásquez, Dawn Paley, an independent Canadian journalist, wrote:

"Bernardo Vasquez was a clear spoken Zapotec activist, a brother, son, and cousin, who dared to stand up against a mining project in the territory of his people. He was well aware that a paramilitary group was operating in San José Progreso, Oaxaca, and that it was organized to snuff out opposition to a gold mine , owned by Vancouver based Fortuna Silver. ... One thing is clear: this was a political hit. Bernardo was murdered because he dared to speak out, ignoring the climate of fear imposed upon his people."

The Stakes are High, but the Struggle Continues

Fortuna Silver's $55 million Trinidad/Cuzcatlán mine began its production in September last year and projected to produce 1.7 million ounces of silver and 15,000 ounce of gold in 2012. Future conflicts are likely as the mine expands its operations in its 58,000 hectares holdings just south of Oaxaca City in coming years, particularly in light of the ongoing impunity enjoyed by local officials and hired guns in San José.

During the funeral, many residents expressed their concerns that the lack of justice for those responsible for the recent shootings has created an atmosphere of impunity that is likely to foster more bloodshed.

But in spite of the fear and intimidation, the March 17 funeral clearly illustrated that anti-mining activists from San José together with other surrounding communities affected by the mine, will continue on in their resistance. Indignation and defiance hung in the air. Just before Vasquez's coffin was lowered into the ground, a friend said: "They can cut a flower, but they cannot stop the Spring."


(Jonathan Treat is a journalist, professor, activist and founding member of the non-profit organization SURCO (University Services and Knowledge Networks of Oaxaca), He works with SURCO as Academic Director and Coordinator of Delegations looking at issues related to the defense of indigenous territories in Oaxaca and Chiapas)

Mexico: Indigenous People Attacked, Threatened

Amnesty International - UA 89/12 AI Index: AMR 41/023/2012

20 March 2012

Community leader and human rights defender Bernardo Vásquez Sánchez was shot dead on 14 March. His brother and cousin, also members of the community organization defending their land and rights against a mining company were also injured. The organization suffered several previous threats and there is fear of further attacks.

On 14 March Bernardo Vásquez Sánchez was killed and two members of his family were wounded by a group of around three gunmen, who ambushed them as they drove on a highway in Ocotlán, in the southern state of Oaxaca. The gunmen shot Bernardo Vásquez Sánchez in the back at least three times, killing him, and wounded his brother, Álvaro Andres Vásquez Sánchez in the shoulder, and their cousin, Rosalinda Vásquez in the leg. The gunmen fled in a car towards the city/town of Ejutla de Crespo. Álvaro Vásquez Sánchez and Rosalinda Vásquez remain in hospital.

Bernardo Vásquez Sánchez was the leader of the Coordination of United Peoples Ocotlán Valley (Coordinadora de Pueblos Unidos del Valle de Ocotlán), and Álvaro Andres Vásquez Sánchez and Rosalinda Vásquez are members. The organization has been demanding their rights as traditional owners of their communities' lands against a mining company.


* Insist that the authorities provide protection to Álvaro Vásquez Sánchez, Rosalinda Vásquez and all other members of the Coordination of United Peoples Ocotlán Valley.

* Urge them to order a full and prompt investigation of the killing of Bernardo Vásquez Sánchez and bring those responsible to justice.

* Call on them to adopt and implement the mechanism of protection for human rights defenders and comply fully with United Nations resolution 61/178, which protects the rights of Indigenous Peoples.


Governor of Oaxaca State:
Lic. Gabino Cué Monteagudo
Palacio de Gobierno (Planta Alta)
Plaza de la Constitución, Centro Histórico
Oaxaca de Juárez, Oaxaca
C.P. 68000, México
Fax: 011 52 951 501 5000 (You will need a machine that can dial ext 40068.)
Salutation: Dear Governor

Attorney General of the Republic:
Marisela Morales Ibáñez
Paseo de la reforma 211-213
Col. Cuauhtémoc
México D.F.
C.P. 06500, México
Fax: 011 52 55 5346 0908 (Hard to reach. If answered, say "El tono de fax, por favor.")
Salutation: Dear Attorney General


His Excellency Francisco J. Barrio Terrazas
Ambassador for Mexico
45 O'Connor Street, Suites 1000 & 1030
Ottawa, Ontario K1P 1A4
Fax: (613) 235-9123

The Honourable Diane Ablonczy
Minister of State for Consular and Foreign Affairs (Latin America)
House of Commons
Ottawa ON K1A 0A6
Fax: (613) 992-2537
Email: /

Centro Regional de Derechos Humanos Bartolomé Carrasco Briseño AC


Human rights activists in Mexico frequently face threats and attacks in reprisal for their legitimate human rights work. Those responsible are virtually never held to account, generating a climate of impunity. Despite improved commitments by the Oaxacan authorities to protect human rights defenders, intimidation and threats have continued. It has been registered that the Coordination of United Peoples Ocotlán Valley has been experienced several threats, and aggression, since 2009.

Two years on, Canadian government silent on Blackfire case of corruption and murder in Chiapas, Mexico

Joint press release

15 March 2012

(Ottawa/Toronto) Two years after filing a complaint with the RCMP for corruption allegations against Calgary-based Blackfire Resources, a group of Canadian civil society organizations would like to know where Canadian authorities stand on the company's controversial operations in Chiapas, Mexico.

But, after an eighteen-month wait, a request for information to the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade under the Access to Information Act is still unanswered.

Documents obtained in late 2009 by Common Frontiers, MiningWatch Canada, the United Steelworkers and others indicated that Blackfire had been paying into the personal bank account of a former mayor of the municipality of Chicomuselo, Chiapas, where the company operated a barite mine.

On March 10, 2010, nine Canadian civil society organizations filed a complaint with the RCMP under the Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act. National press revealed this past summer that the federal police have undertaken investigations with reports of a raid on the company's Calgary offices. No charges have yet been laid.

Blackfire had already been in the news following the murder of Mariano Abarca Roblero, a prominent community leader and opponent of the company's operations, who was shot dead in front of his home on November 29, 2009. Shortly after Abarca's death, several men with known connections to Blackfire were jailed. State environmental authorities also temporarily suspended mine activities in Chicomuselo.

United Steelworkers, Common Frontiers and MiningWatch Canada organized a fact-finding delegation to Chiapas in late March 2010 to investigate Abarca's murder and the company's activities. The delegation's findings demonstrated that the open-pit mine had given rise to local opposition in the area as a result of broken promises, lack of benefits and environmental degradation at the site. Delegates found that communities had also been divided as a result of the company's presence and repeatedly heard calls for the company to leave.

During a visit to the Canadian Embassy in Mexico, the delegation was informed that the Political Counselor had written a report following an investigative trip to Chiapas just weeks after Abarca's murder. When a copy was requested the delegation was told that the report was 'classified'. In the summer of 2010 a request was submitted to the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) for a copy of this report. But despite repeated promises from desk officers and a complaint with the information commissioner, the report has failed to materialize.

Meanwhile, there are significant concerns that the company could be striking up new operations in Chiapas. In January, the Mexican national newspaper La Jornada cited community members from the municipality of Siltepec, one mountain valley away from Chicomuselo.

Communities were quoted saying that they wanted "to stop the clandestine looting of minerals, given that the mining company Blackfire has been going in surreptitiously at night and has already taken out eight truckloads of minerals... We are notifying all concerned that we are not going to permit such activities anywhere in the sierra."

It is possible that any mining company carrying out undesirable activities in an area so close to Chicomuselo could be mistakenly identified as the highly discredited Blackfire.

Given recent history and a reasonable degree of probability that this could be another Blackfire initiative, however, it is a cause for concern. With no clear mechanism beyond the anti-corruption act to bring this company to account for past harms and given the lack of any clear response from the DFAIT to signal serious interest in addressing cases in which the land and lives of a community are at threat, it is unclear to whom the recent Siltepec area complaint should be channeled.

On the eve of the conference 'Walking the Talk: Human Rights Abroad Take II ,' to be held this week on Parliament Hill, we will once again call for holding mining companies responsible for their operations abroad. Bill C-323, a Bill that would enable foreign citizens to sue Canadian companies through our courts, is the kind of legislative initiative that is needed to remedy the frequent abuses committed by Canadian mining companies like Blackfire.

We also call for greater accountability on the part of the Canadian government to explain why it is that the Department of Foreign Affairs are not responding in a more effective and timely manner in a case where rights and lives have been trampled, and where the voices of concern raised by the affected communities have long gone unheeded.

- 30 -

For further information:
United Steelworkers: Mark Rowlinson, 647-231-5983
MiningWatch Canada: Jen Moore, 613-569-3439
Common Frontiers: Raul Burbano, 416-522-8615

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