Mexican activists are poised for an International Day of Action against Open Pit Mining on Thursday, July 22. A major focus will be New Gold’s mine in Cerro de San Pedro, in San Luis Potosi. In April, Juan Carlos Ruiz Guadalajara, a professor and historian from San Luis Potosi, Mexico, visited Canada to speak with Canadian officials and the public on the adverse and illegal actions Canadian company New Gold has had in his area.
Mexican activists are poised for an International Day of Action against Open Pit Mining on Thursday, July 22. A major focus will be New Gold’s mine in Cerro de San Pedro, in San Luis Potosi. The Canadian company, New Gold Inc. continues to operate, despite autumn rulings by the Ninth Circuit Administrative Court, and the Federal Tribunal of Fiscal and Administrative Justice, that the mine is operating illegally.
Across the globe, metallic mineral mining has caused environmental degradation, community displacement and the loss of cultural heritage. The exorbitant daily amount of water required for processing, coupled with the use of toxic chemicals such as cyanide needed to extract gold and other minerals from rock, dually threatens local water supplies, which can already be on the brink of scarcity. The use of explosives in mines that directly abut communities negatively impacts the structural integrity of local buildings, and disrupts everyday life.
In April, Juan Carlos Ruiz Guadalajara, a professor and historian from San Luis Potosi, Mexico, visited Canada to speak with Canadian officials and the public on the adverse and illegal actions Canadian company New Gold has had in his area. He is a member of the FAO (Frente Amplio Opositor) who has been active in the ongoing legal battles against the company.
Juan Carlos Ruiz Guadalajara, speaking at McGill University in Montreal, in April 2010:
Good evening. I am going to talk about a situation very similar to what my colleague from El Salvador just talked about. [El Salvador is currently being sued under the Central American Free Trade Agreement, by Canadian mining company Pacific Rim, for not issuing the company an exploitation permit for gold extraction. They are suing through a US subsidiary.] They are based on a similar paradigm. The case I am going to summarize for you has to do with a mega project, an open pit mine, with cyanide drainage, within the high plateau of Central Mexico. This case involves the co-responsibility of the government of Mexico and the government of Canada.
The ways of evaluating things are different. For some in the government, there isn’t a whole lot to preserve in this high plateau. However, like many of these types of mega projects, it is based on a paradigm that isn’t rational or sustainable.
This project came in 1995 to the town of Cerro de San Pedro in San Luis Potosi. It was first a project owned by Cambior Inc, later Metallica Resources and Glamis Gold, and now New Gold Inc. There Mexican subsidiary is Minerva San Xavier (MSX).
It set itself down on the edge of the Valley of San Luis Potosi. The valley of San Luis Potosi has a population of over one million three thousand people. The open pit mine in the town of Cerro de San Pedro is located less than five kilometers from the large urban center of San Luis Potosi.
At the beginning, mining interests projected they would be able to get a million and half ounces of gold in the zone, based on a calculation of a half gram of gold per ton of ore. The only method to getting to this half gram of ore, is a process that means the entire destruction of the zone. When the company came in 1995, they projected they would stay until 2005. In only 10 years, they were going to take out this million and a half ounces of gold, which would add up to 3 cubic meters of gold. In exchange, they would leave us a crater one and a half kilometers in diameter and 300 meters deep, and they would have a daily water use of 32 million liters, which would be mixed with 16 tons of cyanide.
There would be an irreversible loss of a large area of land that, since 1993, had been declared under a state law to be a region of natural restoration and preservation. It is also a region with endemic cactus species, which are in danger of extinction. This open pit gold mining operation also threatens the complete destruction of a historical city, Cerro de San Pedro, which was constructed in 1592, and which includes national historic monuments. All of this takes place, I am going to reiterate, less then 5 kilometers from a great urban center with over 1 million three thousand people. A series of technical reports, that have been produced both independently and by the company, indicate that the area of environmental impact includes 5 municipalities, one of which is the urban area which I mentioned.
From any perspective it was an arbitrary and irrational project. The company did not have a single argument. Not even one, to insist on developing this project. In fact, the only way this company had of pushing this project forward in the region was illegality, was evading the law. And so this is exactly what the company dedicated themselves to doing, from 1995 to the present day. First it was the company Metallica Resources, and now it is New Gold.
In response, there was a massive opposition organized by local people in the town of Cerro de San Pedro, and throughout the San Luis Potosi Valley. This open pit gold mine has generated one of the most emblematic and dramatic legal fights in Mexico.
Civil society organized, researched, documented, contracted independent studies from a scientific prospective, a historical perspective and a social perspective, that all demonstrated that this project would be a complete disaster for the country, and that we were facing the greatest environmental disaster in the history of this region.
The strategy employed by the local population was a legal strategy, trying to find justice through Mexican tribunals. But they were facing a transnational Canadian power that had great experience in Africa and India, a very rich experience of knowing how to fracture a community in order to impose their plan. And this is exactly what they’ve done to fight the work we’ve done over the past 15 years to try to stop them.
In the first phase of the resistance, from 1995 to 1999, civil society worked to promote the scientific findings, to work this out in a rational way. There were consultations, and a lot of information was shared with people in the valley of San Luis. Through out this time, the company, which was Metallica Resources at this time, because Glamis Gold had sold their part, put their attention on the same very small community, to see how they could fracture the community and take advantage of any conflicts that existed within it.
They also continued their criminal conduct, presenting a fraudulent contract of title for the land the mine is on, signed by people they had paid off. They were also connected to the murder of the municipal president, who in 1998, convinced by all of the arguments against mining, had finally declared himself opposed to the project. In this year, 1998, Baltasar Loredo , the municipal president, had proof of how the company had illegally acquired the title to a number of historic lands within the region. We were asking for further investigation by the state congress of San Luis Potosi, when he was assassinated. [No one has been charged in this case.] In 1999, however, the federal government, through the Ministry of the Environment, granted the exploitation permit to Metallica Resources, completely disregarding all public consultation mechanisms and ignoring all arguments of the population that was going to be effected; The government supported the company, under the premise that international investment is of the top priority.
With this began the second phase of resistance to the project. This phase began in 1999 and went until 2005. Throughout these six years, together, with the help of lawyers and activists, we pushed forward an exemplary legal fight. On one hand, we proved that the company had falsified contracts, giving them title to communal lands. On the other hand, we demonstrated that this project was in violation of a number of very important environmental laws. Through this legal process, we demonstrated that mining project was not viable and entirely absurd.
In 2004, the result of this legal struggle was that a federal tribunal definitively declared that, under no conditions, should an open pit mine be operated in this region. Between 2004 and 2005, Metallica appealed the decision. They put all their resources behind the appeal; but in 2005, they lost again. So this means, at this point, in 2005, it has now taken us 10 years, since the company arrived in 1995, to nullify the project. However, throughout these 10 years, the impact of the company having been there, and of the ways the project had moved forward, were irreversible.
Between 2005 and 2006, the company strengthened their position with the head of the Mexican state, a criminal known as Vicente Fox, the first president not of the PRI party of Mexico, and who represented the possible transition to democracy in my country. Vicente Fox declared at the beginning of his regime, however, that his government was of the businessmen and for the businessmen; and in 2004, despite our legal victory against this mining company, Fox declared his total support for all foreign investment in open pit mining, because, according to him , they were completely ecologically sound. This was a completely political declaration in the context of a project that was on the verge of being nullified, thanks to citizen and civil participation.
In 2005, with the reaffirmation of our legal victory, the company simply didn’t leave. And not only that, Vicente Fox made an official visit to Canada and visited the offices of Metallica Resources, telling them that he would fix the situation. At the same time, the government of Canada put all their diplomatic resources at the service of their companies, in this case Metallica., against the law, against what the citizenry said, against everything.
In 2005 and 2006, Vicente(?) Fox, the governor of San Luis Potosi, and the businessmen who were part of Metallica Resources in San Luis Postosi, Mexican businessmen, bought influences, corrupted tribunals, and corrupted the Ministry of the Environment. The result was, in 2006, instead of being denied their permit by the government, they were granted a new permit.
And so how did they do that? You might ask that. We have proof of this corruption. Similar to the case of El Salvador, the lawyer of Metallica Resources was also the lawyer for the governor of San Luis Potosi. And the general director of Metallica Resources in San Luis Potosi, has close family members that are active in the same political party, the PAN. We have copies of correspondence, of emails, written between the manager, the lawyer, the president of Mexico and the governor of San Luis Potosi asking for a new permit to be given to the company.
And so then, from 2006 to 2009, we were entered the third phase of our resistance, within this context of social decomposition. With this illegal permit they acquired in 2006, at the end of that year, the company began to use explosives in the zone to open the mine(28:08), and began destroying the area. Also in 2006, there began to be a series of persecutions against citizens who were involved in opposition to the mine, and local violence against opposition members began to grow. In 2007, it got to be such a high level of conflict that in a demonstration, the government arrested 5 students, and once they were in jail told them in exchange for their release, they would be required to give statements incriminating three of the main local leaders opposing the mine. (One of those leaders, Enrique Rivera, was recently granted political asylum in Canada. Rivera had been severely beaten in Mexico and threatened for his work opposing the mine. ) This is one thing among many others. It would take me a long time to give all the details. But the thing I want to say that is important about this third phase, is that we continued. We returned to appeal against this new permit in other tribunals, and in a demonstrate opposition in a peaceful manner.
While the company operated with an illegal permit, we took three years, up until September of 2009, to get a new sentence that established, not only that this project had been annulled since 2005, but that the new permit that the company had received in 2006 was illegal. [In November, 2009, Mexico’s environmental enforcement agency, PROFEPA, shut down the New Gold mine, enforcing the decisions of the Ninth Circuit Administrative Court and the Federal Tribunal of Fiscal and Administrative Justice, that the mine had been operating with out legal environmental permits. Mexico’s Federal Agrarian Courts also nullified New Gold’s land use contract with ejidatarios, communal land owners, when it was discovered that number of the signatories to the contract were fraudulent. In November the FAO filed a complaint with the British Colombia Securities Commission accusing New Gold of withholding information regarding these problems from their shareholders. A month after, the Federal Tribunal’s decision, New Gold issued a press release stating : “New Gold , Inc. confirms that all permits, licenses, concessions or authorizations that are required to operate its Cerro San Pedro Mine are valid and in force.”] It was also in this 3rd phase of our struggle, that we began to internationalize it, involving civil society in Canada.
So, while the company continued to work with an illegal permit, and to finalize a merger with two other small companies, which was finalized in 2008, we continued to communicate our position to the Canadian embassy in Mexico, as well as Montreal and Toronto. Our first objective was to find out what Canadian society knew about this struggle; and, secondly, to ask for the support of the Canadian society. And we discovered, that in Canada, just like in Mexico, there are many sectors that are very conservative, that support this type of irrational mining; but we also discovered that there is a very strong civil society, maybe a minority, but who are very committed to fighting these projects. Those are the people who we are interested in working to fight together with.
And so, these were the things that characterized this third phase of our resistance, which basically wrapped up in September 2009, when the last court ruling was made against the company .All of this was a very long process, a very exhausting process, because none of us are professionals activists. We’re just people who live in this region who are effected by this project. So, workers, farmers, academics, they are all part of this broad opposition front, the FAO( Frente Amplio Opositor) against the New Gold San Xavier mining project. Through all this, we have brought our own economic resources, our time and our own will and commitment. And we’re conscious that we are not only working to preserve one region, which is very important, but we are also working to preserve the sovereignty of Mexico.
So what happened? On the 20th of November in 2009, after a strong campaign of media pressure, after three years of international pressure, after radio coverage on Radio Canada, CNN and Al Jazerra, the federal government finally reacted. They sealed up and closed the gates of New Gold San Xavier mine. But this wasn’t the end of the story.
Because what we thought was the beginning of the end of the story, what we thought was the beginning of a big investigation into all the crimes committed by New Gold and their buddies in Mexico, instead turned into a big disaster. Because the company on the 20th of March, began operating again. Having lost in litigation, without a valid permit, without a permit to use dynamite, but with the complicity of the state and federal governments of Mexico, it proceeded to mine. Through out December, January, February and part of March, the Canadian embassy, Canadian diplomacy, the Mexican elite, the mining lobby, the chambers of commerce for mining, had operated to nullify the environmental protection laws that had made the permit invalid.
Since December, they have invested millions of pesos in a publicity campaign to say that a small group of enemies of development, of crazies, of hippies.. they call us hippies…had worked to stop a mining project that would produce gold. They invested a huge amount of money trying to convince the local population that all of the studies that we had done were invalid and incorrect, and that the company had the resources to make sure that this site would not be irreversibly damaged.
So, in general terms, the message we have gotten, as an organized resistance to this project, as an organized local community, the message that we’ve gotten from New Gold and from the government of Mexico, is that you are not going to get us out of here through a legal process. The message is very clear. It’s that if you want us to get out of here, you’re going to have to throw us out. And that’s the moment we find ourselves right now.
We’ve entered the fourth stage of this resistance, where any outcome is possible. It is either going to be them or us.
So this is our situation, and this is the message we are bringing to Canadian civil society, to students, to everyone: that you be attentive to what is going on, to what is about to happen, that it is a situation, from my point of view, that does not look like a very good one.
And so, I’ll end with this. What we know facing the situation, is that we are facing a new and emerging form of organized crime, similar to narco-trafficking. These mining companies have the power to fracture communities and corrupt. They have the will and determination to get gold out at any cost. F acing this new form of organized crime, we, as organized communities are at a loss. Do we return to the tribunals, or do we turn to other methods of resistance? Thank-you.
(On the spot translation by Emily Carpenter, edited by. Meredith DeFrancesco)