In November 2018, Peace Brigades International-Canada brought two human rights defenders from Mexico to share their concerns about the intentions and impacts of Vancouver-based Fortuna Silver Mines in the south-eastern state of Oaxaca.
Salvador Martínez Arellanes and Neftalí Reyes Méndez visited Toronto and Ottawa with firsthand information and updates about the concerns being expressed by the residents of Santa Catarina Minas, a community in the Central Valleys Region of Oaxaca.
Martinez Arellanes is an Indigenous leader from Santa Carina Minas, while Reyes Méndez is with the Oaxacan Territorial Defense Collective and EDUCA, a non-governmental organization based in the city of Oaxaca that promotes justice, equality and social participation.
Virry Schaafsma, the Mexico City-based Advocacy Coordinator for Peace Brigades International – Mexico Project, travelled with them to Canada.
Large parts of the territory in Oaxaca have been granted to Fortuna Silver without the consent of local Indigenous and farming communities.
Fortuna Silver holds about 80,000 hectares of concessions in Oaxaca.
The residents of Santa Catarina Minas are aware of the violence Fortuna's operations has brought to the nearby community of San José del Progreso.
Intercontinental Cry has reported, "In January 2012, as opponents of the mine [near San José del Progreso] gathered for a protest in defence of their water resources, a municipal police officer fired into the crowd, killing local resident Bernardo Méndez Vásquez."
It adds, "In March 2012, gunmen opened fire on members of the environmental and human rights group the Coalition of United Peoples of the Ocotlán Valley (CPUVO) as they travelled home from the Oaxaca airport, killing Indigenous Zapotec land defender Bernardo Vasquez Sánchez."
The Zapotecs are Indigenous peoples mostly situated in Oaxaca.
In July 2018, the community of Santa Catarina Minas joined with other communities in the region and decided to form the Assembly of the Central Valleys Against Mining.
The communique from that gathering stated, "In the exercise of our free determination and autonomy, as Zapoteco communities of the Central Valleys, we declare that in our territories, 'any activity whatsoever of mining prospecting, exploration and exploitation is prohibited.'"
The communique also stated, "We declare our commitment to continue defending Mother Earth, caring for and defending water that gives us life, as well as defending all of the natural resources present in our territories."
And it highlighted, "We demand justice for Bernardo Méndez and Bernardo Vásquez, assassinated in 2012 for their work in defence of the territories in San José del Progreso."
Then in October 2018 the community participated in the first "People's Trial against the State and Mining Companies in Oaxaca."
Intercontinental Cry notes, "Speakers at the tribunal event said that Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization requires the consent of Indigenous peoples regarding projects that may affect their communities."
Article 6 of Convention 169 - Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention states, "The consultations carried out in application of this Convention shall be undertaken, in good faith and in a form appropriate to the circumstances, with the objective of achieving agreement or consent to the proposed measures."
Both Canada and Mexico are signatories to Convention 169, but Indigenous communities have stated that they were not consulted about the Mexican government's concession of land to Fortuna Silver Mines on their territories.
The People's Trial called for a state-wide moratorium on mining activities, the cancellation of the 322 concessions granted by the Mexican government to mining companies in the state of Oaxaca (including the one granted to Fortuna Silver near the community of Santa Catarina Minas) and an end to the existing 41 mining projects in Oaxaca (including the Fortuna Silver mine currently operating near the community of San José del Progreso).
To follow the work of Peace Brigades International-Canada, please see its Twitter feed and Facebook page. To support PBI-Canada's work, including another speaking tour in this country in 2019 with human rights defenders accompanied by PBI, please click here.
Brent Patterson is a political activist and writer.
Photo by Peace Brigades International
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