MAC: Mines and Communities

Mexicans take to streets in protests at Canadian miner

Published by MAC on 2009-12-22
Source: The Canadian Press, The Globe and Mail, others

The fallout from the murder of a Mexican anti-mining activist, Mariano Abarca Roblero, continues. See:

A group of Canadian NGOs and unions are placing pressure on the Canadian Government, after revelations of mining company Blackfire's involvement in corruption and intimidation of opponents to their barite mine.

For its part,  the company counters that it was blackmailed by the local mayor.

Protests in Chiapas itself have also escalated, with 1,500 protesters marching through the town of Frontera Comalapa. 


Documents Show Corruption and Intimidation by Canadian Mining Firm Blackfire In Its Mexican Operations - Ottawa Must Investigate Immediately

Common Frontiers-Canada / Council of Canadians / MiningWatch Canada / United Steelworkers Press Release

18 December  2009

Harper government must adopt legislation to punish corrupt practices by Canadian-based mining corporations.

(Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver) On November 27, 2009, Mariano Abarca Roblero, a prominent Mexican anti-mining activist, was shot to death in front of his home in the community of Chicomuselo, Chiapas.

Mr. Abarca was a leader of the Mexican Network of People Affected by Mining (REMA, from the Spanish) and one of the most important figures to publicly denounce the negative social and environmental impacts of Canadian mining company Blackfire Exploration Ltd.'s open-pit barite mine in Chiapas. Just days before his murder Mariano Abarca filed charges 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. Three men linked to Blackfire have been arrested for his murder.

"This tragic outcome can be traced directly to the Harper government's refusal to end the impunity currently enjoyed by Canadian mining companies," commented Maude Barlow, national chairperson of the Council of Canadians.

Documents recently filed by REMA with the Chiapas Attorney General's Office have exposed Blackfire's involvement in the corruption of local officials for the purpose of intimidating opponents to the open pit mine. "We have obtained documents - which Blackfire admits are genuine - that clearly show payments of US$1,000 a month going directly into the Mayor of Chicomuselo's bank account on the understanding that municipal authorities would keep community members opposed to the mine under control," explained Rick Arnold, coordinator for Common Frontiers-Canada.

On December 9, the Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean, Governor General of Canada, and Peter Kent, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs (Americas) were confronted with the aftermath of the Abarca murder during their recent visit to San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas. Jean characterized it as "appalling and unacceptable." Kent, however, made a point of lauding Canadian mining activity in Mexico. REMA's repeated requests for a meeting with the Canadian delegation to inform them about the circumstances surrounding the murder of Mr. Abarca, including Blackfire's activities, were denied.

"It is tragic that people with serious and valid concerns, such as those from Chicomuselo, are threatened, abused, and killed instead of having those concerns taken seriously by local authorities, the company, or the Canadian government," said Jamie Kneen, Communications Coordinator for MiningWatch Canada.

"Mining and oil and gas companies are the face of Canada abroad," said Steve Hunt, District 3 Director for USW. "Yet, when Steelworker members employed in mining carry out labour exchanges in countries such as Mexico, Argentina and Guatemala, we find a huge disparity between the corporate behaviour of these companies at home and their corporate behaviour abroad."

Mr. Hunt added, "In Canada, unions have fought long and hard to establish decent wages and pensions, safe workplaces through joint health and safety initiatives, and environmental measures to protect surrounding communities. The mining companies claim to take these best practices with them when they go to developing countries, but our experience on the ground shows differently."

Given the documented evidence of corrupt practices and intimidation on the part of Blackfire, the four organizations are pursuing a complaint to the RCMP under the Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act (1998, c.34) asking them to immediately initiate a criminal investigation of Blackfire Exploration Ltd.'s activities in Chiapas, Mexico. They also call on the Canadian government to issue an immediate public rebuke to Blackfire Exploration Ltd.

Instead of turning a blind eye to the negative impact that Canadian extractive industry operations are having on affected communities in Mexico and around the world, the Canadian government needs to put a stop to these harmful activities by supporting legislation that would make Canadian based mining corporations answerable to courts in Canada for their behaviour overseas.

Protests against Canadian miner escalate with 1,500 taking to streets in Mexico

By Dominique Jarry-Shore, THE CANADIAN PRESS

18 December 2009

SAN CRISTOBAL DE LAS CASAS, Chiapas - Protests against a Canadian-based mining company linked to a Mexican murder investigation escalated Friday as more than a thousand people took to the streets to honour a slain anti-mining activist.

About 1,500 protesters marched through the town of Frontera Comalapa, some 20 kilometres from Chicomuselo where Mariano Abarca Roblero was gunned down last month.

Protesters blame his death on Calgary-based Blackfire Exploration, a company that Abarca Roblero said was a chronic polluter. Blackfire has said it is not connected in any way with Abarca Roblero's death and denied it has caused any environmental harm.

Organizers said Friday's protest was about more than the activist's slaying and was also meant to give a voice to other social issues. "The reason for the march was for everything that happened to Mariano because there's a lot of insecurity, impunity, militarization and police presence," said organizer Gustavo Castro.

"This wasn't exclusively a protest against Blackfire but against the criminalization of social protest, and violence, and Mariano's case is an example of this."

The number of people at Friday's protest far exceeded the turnout at similar events against Blackfire held in front of the Canadian Embassy in Mexico City and during Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean's Dec. 9 visit to the region.

The protest was the latest in a series of actions meant to draw attention to Canadian companies with mining operations in Mexico.

The demonstrations began days after Abarca Roblero was shot outside his home in southern Chiapas on Nov. 27.

He had been an outspoken critic of environmental practices at Blackfire's barite mine, saying the company was contaminating local resources.

Mexican police arrested three people in Abarca Roblero's death, all of whom have ties to Blackfire. The news galvanized the activist's supporters, who had consistently blamed the corporation for his slaying.

Company President Brent Willis has denied all such claims, saying Blackfire is in no way connected with Abarca Roblero's death. Allegations of pollution are also groundless, since the Mexican mine is run in an environmentally responsible way and is held to Canadian standards, he has said.

Willis also said Blackfire has tried to work with local members of the community, many of whom appreciate the company and the employment and local business opportunities it brings.

The company invited protesters, including Abarca Roblero, to come to the site to see environmental safeguards in place, but none would come, he said.

Since Abarca Roblero's death, supporters have launched protests across the country during which they vowed to force Canadian mining companies out of Mexico.

Organizers say death threats are commonplace and anticipate they will encounter more violence as their campaign continues.

Mayor blackmailed us, Canadian mining company says

Mariano Abarca Roblero, from the village of Chicomoseco in Chiapas, talks about his community's struggle against Canadian corporation Blackfire.

Andy Hoffman, The Globe and Mail

11 December 2009

A slain Mexican activist, a Canadian mining company, allegations of extortion and demands for a “sexual evening” with an actress and Playboy model.

The murder mystery involving the death of a Mexican protester who led opposition to a mine owned by Blackfire Exploration Ltd. has taken a bizarre turn.

Calgary-based Blackfire was paying 10,000 pesos a month to the mayor of Chicomuselo, in the state of Chiapas, who also demanded that the company provide him with airline tickets and set up a liaison with a Latin soap-opera star and nude model named Niurka Marcos, according to legal documents obtained by The Globe and Mail.

In a complaint filed with the Congress of Chiapas and received on June 15, 2009, a Blackfire executive alleges “extortion” against the company by Julio Cesar Velazquez Calderon, the mayor of Chicomuselo, where Blackfire operates a barite mine.

Blackfire says in the complaint that it paid the mayor the money to prevent locals from vandalizing and protesting against its mine. It included documentation showing company funds totalling about 214,000 pesos, nearly $17,700, ended up in the mayor's bank account.

“We have been extorted by the mayor of Chicomuselo, who since we began operations has asked us for the amount of 10,000 pesos per month to prevent the Mexican co-operative farm near where we mine from taking up arms,” Blackfire alleges in a legal request to have the mayor impeached.

Blackfire has been embroiled in controversy since the Nov. 27 murder of Mariano Abarca Roblero, a local activist who led opposition and protests against its mine.

Mr. Abarca's murder has ignited debate about the conduct of Canadian mining companies in foreign countries and has been seized upon by advocates of Bill C-300, a private member's bill that would impose sanctions on Canadian mining companies that violate human rights and environmental standards overseas.

Governor-General Michaëlle Jean encountered protesters chanting, “Canada get out,” while on a visit to Chiapas this week. Ms. Jean called Mr. Abarca's murder “deplorable” and “inexcusable.”

Three men with links to Blackfire have been arrested by Mexican police in connection with the slaying. One of the men arrested is a Blackfire employee and the two others have worked for the company in the past.

Blackfire has condemned Mr. Abarca's murder and denied any involvement. Its mine was shut down this week by Mexican authorities for alleged environmental violations.

Representatives of the Canadian mining industry concede the Blackfire case is threatening to tarnish its reputation at a sensitive time, as Parliament considers the proposed mining law.

“It could add fuel to the fire for those proponents of Bill C-300,” said Tony Andrews, executive director of the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada, in an interview.

Blackfire's complaint against the Chicomuselo mayor depicts a company exasperated with what it called an “unscrupulous” government official whose demands had become increasingly brazen.

The documents show the mayor asked for airline tickets to Mexico City for his wife, children and a colleague and that Blackfire complied.

The demands became “absurd,” however, when the mayor asked for 100,000 pesos for the village fair. The documents indicate that 75,000 pesos were to be deposited into the mayor's personal account at the Bancomer bank.

As well, the mayor requested that Ms. Marcos, the TV star and nude model, perform at the Chicomuselo fair and spend a “sexual evening” with him.

“We decided not to meet those requirements, and for this reason the mayor started a smear campaign, making allegations to the priest of the region against the company, and we know that this incited the people who violently took the facilities of our company on June 10, 2009,” the complaint says.

In an interview, Blackfire president Brent Willis said the company thought the payments were being made to the town and to sponsor the annual fair, not to the mayor personally.

“As far as Blackfire is concerned, we were sponsoring the town of Chicomuselo, and we felt that the mayor was abusing and taking the money for his own personal needs, and that is why we reported him to congress to overturn his immunity so that we could press criminal charges against him,” Mr. Willis said.

“This isn't bribery. We were taken advantage of. We are fighting against it.”

In a statement Friday night, Blackfire said it had donated 200,000 pesos to the Chicomuselo fair. Half was paid in instalments of 10,000 pesos a month. A second 100,000-peso payment was made to a “town official” with a 75,000-peso cheque and 25,000 pesos in cash, the statement said. A receipt was provided.

“All payments were made in compliance with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act of Canada,” Blackfire said.

Blackfire's complaint against the mayor names three people who it alleges were involved in vandalizing its mine and inciting violence. One is identified as Mariano Perez Roblero, a name very similar to that of the slain activist.

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