In the Mexican state of Oaxaca, precious mineral resources are hidden. The big corporations have long since discovered this. Residents still resist – and sometimes pay with their lives.
Many people in Mexico’s state of Oaxaca live in poverty, but there are plenty of resources to be found in the southern state: silver, ore and gold are underground. No wonder that large companies want to reduce their resources. But often this happens without the consent of the indigenous people on the ground. The environmental and social consequences of mining are fatal to her.
In the municipality of Santa María Zapotitlán most of the more than 1000 indigenous inhabitants work in agriculture. They grow corn, beans and zucchini. They live largely self-sufficient.
„We do not do business with nature“
For generations the families live there. Also by Cirino Martinez. He is responsible for the protection of the municipality as regional council: „In this area we make the bread for our families every day,“ he says. „We do not do business with nature, we feed our families with it.“
But big companies see a whole other value in this area: deep in the mountains are buried precious mineral wealth. Silver and ore for example. The company Zalamera has 2011 a concession for an area of 5400 hectares of land around the municipality issued. Her area of expertise: The exploration of possible mining areas for large international mining companies.
„No one has informed us,“ says Martinez. „Nobody asked for our approval.“ Not a single government official has explained the matter or asked for a signature so they can search for minerals.
But that actually contradicts the right to territorial self-determination for indigenous peoples, as stated in a statement by the United Nations.
The mining as a plague
For many indigenous communities, mining is like a plague. More than 25,000 concessions have been awarded by the Mexican authorities throughout the country. Almost always over the heads of the inhabitants.
The dramatic consequences this can have for the population are shown by the example of the municipality of San José del Progreso, also in the state of Oaxaca.
Progreso means progress. That came in 2006, in the form of the Canadian gold mining company Fortuna Silver. With him came also: dirty rivers, explosions that bring the houses to quake and bloody conflicts.
Victim of an assassination
In the dispute between proponents and opponents of the mines, there were two dead. Human rights groups complain that many residents have been lubricated by the authorities and companies to make the mega-project possible.
Rosalia Dionisio was also the victim of an assassination attempt. She was shot. She is against mining. For the young woman, life in the village has changed: „The fear will remain forever,“ she says. „Apart from the persecution and the assassination, we are still being harassed.“
Some have now left the community, says Dionisio. From a safe life in the countryside many people end up in poverty.
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador knows the problem. To take office in December 2018, he had announced plans to fight the causes of flight in the south of the country. His idea: no more new concessions. On the old decisions of his predecessors, however, he states: „We will respect these concessions,“ says Obrador. „So there is no fear, no fear.“
This refers to the fear of investors. Because for Mexico is a paradise: the country is considered export world champion for silver and ore. Germany with a volume of nearly 49 million US dollars is one of the largest customers.
The residents of Santa María Zapotitlán defend themselves, they organize regular information events, set up guards to prevent secret investigations. And they got legal help.
No further research
The intermediate result: The community has obtained judicial, that for the time being no further research may take place. On the other hand, the Ministry of Economy has sued. The process could become a precedent if the people of Zapotitlán were finally given the right.
Regional Councilor Martinez does not want to give up: „We will not leave our village, we will stay here until the last.“
For that he and his colleagues need a long breath. The concession around his home was originally awarded for several decades – until 2051.