MEXICOPublished by MAC on 2007-04-15
Canadian Mining in Mexico: Made in Canada Violence
Written by Mandeep Dhillon with help from Antoine Libert Amico
The history of mining in Mexico is a long one. The riches of the Mexican sub-soil were a major motivation for Spanish colonizers and the mining industry is often accorded an important place in events leading to the Mexican Revolution; the 1906 bloody repression of striking miners working for U.S. Cananean Consolidated Copper in Sonora is often cited as a precursor to current labor struggles in Mexico. The authors of the Mexican Revolution sought to make a reality of the ideal that those who work the land should have control over it. In order to protect its land from foreign interests, Article 27 of the 1917 Mexican Constitution dictated that the land, the subsoil and its riches were all property of the Mexican State. More importantly, Article 27 recognized the lasting collective right of communities to land through the “ejido” system and limited private land ownership.
As in the colonization of Indigenous lands elsewhere, mining was an activity of primary economic importance to colonizing forces and a major cause of injury, death, land destruction and impoverishment for Indigenous communities. Not much has changed in this imbalance today. And Canadian mining corporations – with wealth created from the historic (and ongoing) take-over and exploitation of Indigenous territory in Canada – are at the lead of these colonizing forces in present day Mexico.
Important changes to the Mexican Constitution in anticipation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) resulted in the facilitation of land privatization and the entry of foreign corporations. One such change was the modification of Article 27, allowing for the sale of “ejido” land to private owners – government or third parties including foreign multi-nationals. Another was the Mining Law of 1992 which together with the Law on Foreign Investment allowed for 100% foreign investment in exploration and production. Article 6 of this Mining Law also stipulates that the exploration and exploitation of minerals will have priority over any other use of the land, such as agriculture or housing. The modifications also allowed for the participation of the private sector in the production of some minerals previously reserved to the government including coal and iron.
Though the Canadian corporate world is often seen as a secondary beneficiary of aggressive American corporate expansion – the reality of the mining industry certainly turns this myth onto its head. And the picture of mining activities in Mexico is a prime example.
The Scope of the Canadian Mining Industry
Canadian mining corporations lead the global mining industry. The Canadian industry ranks first in the global production of zinc, uranium, nickel and potash; second in sulphur, asbestos, aluminium and cadmium; third in copper and platinum group metals; fourth in gold; and fifth in lead. It has interests in over 8,300 properties worldwide – 3,400 of which are in 100 foreign countries. In Latin America and the Caribbean, which has been identified as the main current geographical target for mineral exploration, Canadian mining corporations represent the largest percentage of foreign mining companies – with interests in more than 1,200 properties. In 1998, over $4.5 billion USD were raised by Canadian mining companies through domestic and foreign projects which represented 51% of the world’s mine capital.
Canadian Corporate Interest & Mining in Mexico
The politics of neo-liberalism in Mexico, which gained important ground in the 1980s and took flight with the implementation of NAFTA, have had a tremendous impact on the presence of Canadian corporate interests in Mexico. Since NAFTA, bilateral trade between the two nations increased about 300%. According to the report, Opening Doors to the World: Canada’s International Market Priorities – 2006, “Over 1,500 Canadian companies have a presence in Mexico, and a further 3,100 are currently working on their first sales in Mexico.” Canada is Mexico’s fifth largest investor. Some of Canada’s largest corporations which have a significant presence in Mexico include Scotiabank, TransAlta, Transcontinental, Magna International, Palliser, Presion Drilling, Fairmont and Four Seasons Hotels.
In a 2005 address, the Canadian Ambassador to Mexico, Gaetan Lavertu noted that “well over half of the foreign mining concessions issued in Mexico are registered to Canadian companies. The bulk of these investments are from British Columbia…Mexico recognizes Canada’s leadership and technological advantages in the minerals and mining equipment business”.
The importance of Mexico to Canada’s mining industry is confirmed by a 2004 report entitled “Current Mexican-Canadian Relations in the Mining Sector” by Cecilia Costero. The report describes Mexico as almost entirely mineralized with an estimate of 85% of mineral reserves yet untouched. This despite the 10,380 mines which have already been exploited. After the manufacturing industry, mining is the second largest Canadian capital interest in Mexico. In 2000, this interest was to the tune of over $150 million USD. In December 2001, 225 Canadian mining corporations were operating in Mexico (over 40% of the foreign investment), 209 of which owned over 50% of the capital in their projects. In the same year, Canada led foreign nations in terms of direct investment in the Mexican mining industry. Further, Mexico imports 75% of its machinery used for mining and 4.4% of its total market needs from Canada.
Made In Canada: Violence & Displacement
The devastation and violence perpetrated by Canadian mining corporations has been documented clearly with links to human rights violations in Guatemala, Peru, Romania, the Philippines, Honduras, Ecuador, Bolivia, Ghana, Suriname, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Papua New Guinea, Tanzania, India, Indonesia, Zambia and Sudan. Though the criticism of Canadian mining corporations taking advantage of so-called weak human rights protection in the South is made often enough, significantly less is said about the role of the same corporations in the destruction and displacement of Indigenous communities within Canadian borders. In Saskatchewan, on Deline Dene territory, over 1.7 million tons of radioactive waste and tailings were dumped in and around Great Bear Lake during the 1940s and 50s, contaminating all food sources of the Dene People. The community lost 50 men due to radiation effects. Since 1990, 27% of the 609 First Nations reserves in Canada have undergone some level of exploration activity for non-metallic minerals.
In British Columbia, where over 97% of the land is yet unceded First Nations land even according to Canadian and International law, the British Columbia Mining Plan of 2005 designated over 85% of the province’s land “open to exploration” even setting up an online system for staking mineral claims. (In the right-wing Canadian think tank The Fraser Institute’s 2005/06 survey, mining corporation executives and representatives ranked B.C. 2nd for “uncertainty about native land claims” being a deterrent to mining investment; only Venezuela was ranked higher.) Mining is a $5 billion industry in B.C. with a multitude of Canada’s mining corporations based in Vancouver. In a review of a non-exhaustive list of Canadian mining companies operating in Mexico, over 60 of them locate their head-quarters in Vancouver.
Selling Mining Projects
The website of Endeavour Silver, one of those Vancouver based corporations, includes an industry article which attempts to answer the question, “Why Mexico?” The piece says that “Mexico is the world’s premier silver exploration and mining country for several reasons... mining is an integral part of national and local economies…this takes on increasing importance as migration from rural areas to cities increases due to lack of rural employment opportunities: mines create economic anchors wherever they are found, which mitigates this effect locally and allows rural residents to maintain well-paid, dignified and productive occupations.”
In actual fact, reviews of Mexican neo-liberal policies since the 1980s including NAFTA have concluded that land privatization for corporate use including mining projects has resulted in an exponential increase in displacement and migration. Since NAFTA came into effect in 1994, over 15 million Mexicans have been displaced from their lands. The myth that mining is a necessary activity for economic development has been central to the industry. Most employment created by mining projects for local residents is short term and low-paid. Furthermore, mining companies receive heavy government subsidies in most countries, leave virtual ghost-towns after their projects end and leave local governments to dispose of wastes. The environmental price and the long term cost to local communities are never calculated. In fact, the article goes on to state that “Mexico has strong environmental laws and a commitment to uphold them, but effective obstructionist environmental organizations are few”. As in the community of Cerro de San Pedro, Mexico which has been battling Toronto-based Metallica Resources Inc. for over 10 years, communities pay with the loss of their land, homes, health and lives.
“Culturally,” writes the author, “Mexicans are friendly towards mining at all levels. This means…developers can expect to be welcomed when they enter an area...in stark contrast to their reception in many other parts of the world.” Currently in Mexico, public audiences are not required by law prior to granting mining concessions. Local communities are often the last to find out about mining projects and are hardly ever informed about the projected effects of mining operations on their land and their health. This phenomenon is not limited to Mexico. Communities affected by mining in Canada, which is often attributed respect for consultation processes, have often related experiences of false consultation processes or deals made between corporations and so-called community leaders without community involvement. Such has been the case with Montreal based Niocan Inc. which has been attempting to open a Niobium mine on unceded Mohawk territory next to the community of Kanehsatake. Residents of Kanehsatake received notice of the consultation meetings only days prior and were shut out of negotiations carried out with Niocan by a Canadian government backed band-council leader that the community had attempted to oust multiple times.
These myths are not supported solely by mining corporations. The Canadian government has been an active player in pushing forward Canadian mining projects in foreign countries, including Mexico, through its embassy representatives and trade councils. This type of Canadian government pressure continues even when mining projects result in the murders of opposing local residents such as occurred during the opposition to Vancouver-based Glamis Gold’s Marlin mine in Guatemala. Along these lines, Kenneth Cook, the Canadian ambassador to Guatemala, has recently been denounced for carrying out a disinformation campaign seeking to discredit a documentary film on the recent violent eviction of the Maya Q’eqchi’ Indigenous communities near El Estor, carried out on request by another Vancouver-based corporation, Skye Resources (the video is available online at http://www.rightsaction.org/video/elestor/).
From B.C. to Oaxaca
Another reason given for Mexico being a prime location for silver exploitation on Endeavour’s website is that “politically, Mexico is the most stable country in Latin America”. Another industry report states that, “political and financial stability, legal security for investors…are all positive factors impacting Mexico's mining industry today. However, one must also consider the highly unionized nature of its mining and metallurgical workers…and possible socio-economic issues generated by low wages and under-employment as possible road blocks to the continued prosperity of the industry”.
Weakened workers’ rights and the silencing of social movements are necessary pre-cursors to the flourishing of mining projects in Mexico and elsewhere. Industry reports such as this one are clear about it. The “political stability” that corporate and Canadian government reports allude to is certainly not social stability but rather the heavy-handed control of movements, the militarization of the country-side and the displacement of local communities that is currently being seen in Mexico and which allows for the implementation and protection of corporate investment.
The world has recently become witness to Oaxaca’s social movement that is calling for an end to years of impoverishment through neo-liberal policies, displacement of Indigenous communities and government violence. The state violence against this movement has recently increased to unprecedented levels. Oaxaca, like the rest of Mexico’s south is rich in natural resources that have been the target of foreign corporations for years. Vancouver based Continuum Resources already has ten projects in Oaxaca at various stages, covering over 70, 000 hectares of land and “continuing to consolidate larger land positions”. At the end of September, Vancouver based Chesapeake Gold Corp announced it had optioned 70% of its two Oaxaca projects to Vancouver’s Pinnacle Mines. Horseshoe Gold Mining Inc., also based in Vancouver, acquired 60% interest in Almaden’s Fuego prospect located in Oaxaca and Halifax’s Linear Gold Corp also owns an active project in the state. Neighbouring Chiapas, another of Mexico’s most impoverished and most militarized states is also the target of Canadian mining projects. From 2003 to 2006, the federal government has granted a total of 72 mining concessions in Chiapas, representing a total of 727,435 hectares. More than 55% (419,337 hectares) of these lands conceded without any information or consultation with local communities lies in the hands of two Canadian mining corporations alone: Linear Gold Corp and Fronteer Development Group.
Canadian mining corporations in Oaxaca and Chiapas are not just witnesses to the violence that is occurring there but rely on that violence to protect their profits. Businesses and governments have identified one of NAFTA’s short-comings as the failure of its benefits reaching Mexico’s southern states rather than an increase in poverty and inequality caused by NAFTA itself. In more recent business reports and talks between Canada, the U.S. and Mexico focused on the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP), the opening up of Mexico’s energy resources - in particular to Canadian corporations - has been accorded prime importance. (So has the further development of energy sources in Canada.) According to the Independent Task Force on the Future of North America, which has been identified as one of the major business think-tanks behind the SPP, “improvements in human capital and physical infrastructure in Mexico, particularly in the center and south of the country, would knit these regions more firmly into the North American economy and are in the economic and security interest of all three countries”. It comes as no surprise that the same corporate and government bodies are calling for expansions of Canada’s exploitative agricultural guest-worker program which they cite as an example of bi-lateral success. For Canadian and Mexican governments and business, such guest-worker programs are a win-win situation as they provide a means to control forced migration caused by corporate and military displacement while reaping the economic benefits of a moveable, exploitable labor force in Canada and through remittances sent to Mexico. According to a Mexican government official who ran the program for two years in one of the southern states, these programs also allow for the Mexican government to weaken social movement building by intermittently removing thousands of its poorest citizens. Canadian complicity in increasing displacement both at home and in Mexico is to be anticipated.
The perception of Canada as the U.S.’ junior partner often comes with a lack of clarity on Canadian responsibility in the history of violence and displacement within and beyond its national borders. Often, language around Canada-based solidarity work with the struggles of Indigenous communities, campesino and labor movements in Mexico distorts the responsibility of Canadian governmental and corporate players in the violence which has engendered those movements. Canadian mining corporations are but one example of how Canadians are complicit beyond just silence on the issues but through a very active process. The reality of mining also offers a concrete point of solidarity between those who have been displaced from the South and Indigenous communities in “Canada”. Allies in Canada also cannot limit solidarity work to pointing fingers at a “corrupt Mexican government” or U.S. imperialist drive. To get to the roots of this displacement, there is a need to first look inwards at what is being perpetrated against Indigenous communities here and how the authors of that violence are also dictating crimes against the people of Oaxaca, Chiapas and other parts of Mexico.
On occupied Coast Salish land, here in Vancouver, these relationships visibly come full circle. As development for the 2010 Olympics causes the destruction of Indigenous land, the gentrification of the Down Town East Side and the repression of First Nations peoples both outside and inside the city, many of the unsafe, slave-wage construction jobs are being filled by Mexican men who are coming from impoverished communities that have similarly been repressed in the name of development. In the background stand the tall office buildings of West Vancouver that house the majority of its mining and “development” conglomerates.