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Today, indigenous people in Mexico don’t have to fight landowners, but they’re faced with a much bigger threat coming from foreign mining companies, especially Canadian ones. Professor Pierre Beaucage from the University of Montreal told Sputnik how mining, actively lobbied for by Ottawa, has become a threat to the local ecology in Mexico.
Mexican and Chinese mining companies are also developing gold deposits in Mexico, but the share of Canadian companies in this sector is 60 percent. Major players include mining giants such as Canadian Blackfire Exploration, Almaden Minerals and Goldcorp.
“The fight of the indigenous population has changed with the emergence of mining companies in these regions. From protests against large landowners, local money lenders and election fraud, the indigenous people have turned to defending their land. Since the 2000s, local protests have been replaced with the fight of indigenous peoples for independence”, Beaucage said.
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The Canadian government uses various methods to protect the interests of its companies. The Canadian Embassy in Mexico City has “lobbied for mining” since former Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper took office in ۲۰۰۶٫
“This was the largest reform of former Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Before he came to power, companies had to negotiate with local governments. Under Harper, Canadian embassies in Latin America, in particular, in Mexico, began to receive orders. The embassies were told that they now serve the interests of Canada. In Mexico, Canadian interests are the interests of mining companies”, Beaucage explained.
In 2009, environmental activist Mariano Abarca, a well-known opponent of mining companies, was shot dead allegedly over his opposition to a barite mine operated by Blackfire Exploration in Chicomuselo, Mexico. Sometime after the murder, a group of Mexicans went to Canada to file a complaint with the Office of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner of Canada. Mariano’s lawyer, Miguel Angel de los Santos, remains convinced that Canada bears a certain amount of responsibility for this murder.
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“Local authorities [in the state of Chiapas] are easily amenable to the assurances of the Canadian embassy, taking them seriously. In our opinion, the support provided by Canada to Blackfire under the local authorities increased the risk to Mariano Abarca, which ultimately led to his assassination”, Miguel Angel de los Santos said in February 2018.
Canada is not so innocent in this matter, says Pierre Beaucage. The Canadian government was not implicated in this murder as such, but it may have contributed to the tension between Blackfire and the demonstrators. The professor characterised the local government’s attitude as one of “passive complicity”.
“Protests took place outside the Canadian Embassy in Mexico. The embassy suspended the demonstrations and, contrary to its statements, did not give in to complaints. People from Chiapas should have gone to Ottawa and filed a lawsuit themselves. They were told that Canada would send an ombudsman to analyse human rights violations related to Canadian enterprises abroad […] Mariano Abarca found out that the embassy had sabotaged the protests”.
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The gold mining method that is used by Canadian mining companies causes serious harm to the environment, and groups and movements that advocate for the protection of the environment in different countries have expressed their concern over this. The open mining method requires large amounts of water and leads to deforestation.
“Canada’s reputation in Mexico is deteriorating”, Beaucage suggested. Although the two countries have decided to sign a new free trade agreement [l’Accord Canada-États-Unis-Mexique, ACEUM], the issues related to mining companies will continue to affect their relationship.
Views and opinions expressed in this article are those of Pierre Beaucage and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.