(Ottawa/San Cristobal de las Casas) Documents released from the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) in response to a request under the access to information act reveal that Canadian authorities put public resources at the service of Calgary-based Blackfire Exploration despite connections with suspects in the murder of a local activist, mine suspension, and widely reported allegations of corruption.
“Our analysis of these documents found that mere days after a damning report about the company was circulated to the highest echelons of the Canadian government, Canadian authorities sought advice for the company about how to sue the state of Chiapas under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) for having closed the mine,” observes Rick Arnold, who participated in a 2010 fact-finding delegation to Chiapas. “It’s as if people’s lives don’t matter to the Canadian Government, only narrow commercial interests.”
On November 27, 2009, Mariano Abarca was murdered in front of the restaurant that he owned and operated in the town of Chicomuselo in Mexico’s most southerly state of Chiapas. Abarca was a father of four and an active citizen who had fought for lower electricity rates. At the time he was murdered, he was leading a fight against Blackfire’s barite mine given concerns over social and environmental impacts.
One week after his murder, Chiapas environmental authorities suspended the mine. Days later, the Globe and Mail reported that Blackfire had been making payments into the personal bank account of the mayor of Chicomuselo. An RCMP investigation into the allegations is ongoing.
“From these records, we learn that even before my father’s death, the Canadian Embassy was closely monitoring the conflict in Chicomuselo,” remarks José Luis Abarca, son of Mariano. “But they completely disregarded the concerns that my father and others were raising, giving credence only to the company’s version of the story. One has to wonder how things might have been different today, if they had taken us seriously.”
DFAIT records show that the Embassy received 1,400 letters expressing dire concern for Abarca’s life following his arrest in August 2009. One month earlier, Abarca had complained to an Embassy official that Blackfire workers were armed and intimidating mine opponents. Nonetheless, when Embassy officials visited Chiapas weeks before Abarca’s death, they appear only to have inquired into concerns about the security of Blackfire’s investment.
“The picture we’ve been able to piece together is deeply troubling, given Canada’s role as a top investor in Mexico’s mining industry and conflict-ridden projects from Chiapas to Chihuahua,” says Jen Moore, Latin America Program Coordinator for MiningWatch Canada. “The Blackfire story highlights the need to reign in Canadian government promotion for our overseas mining sector given how this may be enabling much of the destructive practices that we’re seeing.”