From the September-October 2021 issue of News & Letters
Oaxaca, Mexico—Community authorities and residents of the Ocotlán Valley, Oaxaca, are demanding that the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources not give in to pressure from Compañía Minera Cuzcatlán, a subsidiary of Canada’s Fortuna Silver Mines, to expand their San José II mining project.
This is only the latest moment in more than a decade-long struggle of the Zapotec communities of Ocotlán to protect themselves from predatory mining activities, raising the banners FOR THE DEFENSE OF LIFE, OF OUR LAND AND TERRITORY and NO TO MINING DEATH IN OUR ZAPOTEC TERRITORIES. Below are translated excerpts from the communities’ statement on their history of struggle and current demands:
“On May 6, 2009, more than 2,000 federal and state police and private security violently broke up a demonstration at the facilities of an old mine in San José del Progreso, Ocotlán, held by residents of Zapotec communities in the Ocotlán Valley. This mine and its facilities had been bought by the Compañía Minera Cuzcatlán.
“The eviction took place in the morning. Thousands of policemen beat people holding a peaceful sit-in on the outskirts of the mining facilities. There were 24 arbitrary arrests, and private homes in the neighboring community of Magdalena Ocotlán were illegally searched when the police pursued people fleeing the attacks.
“This is how the Mexican State forcibly installed the Cuzcatlán-Fortuna Silver Mines, and this began the ecocide, dispossession and destruction of our land, fields, territory and our people.
“During these 12 years, serious problems have gradually arisen due to environmental pollution: loss of flora and fauna, diseases and death of livestock, soil erosion and loss of crops, are some of the visible impacts. However, the deteriorating situation was exacerbated by a toxic spill of mining tailings that took place on Oct. 8, 2018.
“Over 1,516,000 liters of polluting mine tailings were dragged for several kilometers in the Coyote River channel, which runs through seven communities before joining the Atoyac River, whose mouth is the Pacific Ocean.”
MINE EXPANSION BLOCKED
While the government exonerated the company of responsibility for the toxic spill, protests against “the mining criminal Cuzcatlán-Fortuna Silver Mines” by the communities have forced it to deny the company’s request to expand their operations. The company has appealed the decision to deny that permit.
The communities’ response is clear: “It is not enough to deny the extension permit. This negative is not an achievement of the institutions, of any government, or of any actor or actors outside our people. On the contrary, we see it as a consequence of a long resistance struggle by those affected and communities who see their land and territory die every day and their families get sick and die of serious and strange diseases.
“We will remain ALERT to the constant siege that the Minera Cuzcatlán company exercises towards our territory in search of minerals, since 31 concessions are still in force in our Zapotec Valley. Not a step back in defending our territory.”