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“I have kidney problems too”

Last December, Brent and I visited Cerro de San Pedro on a caravan for social and environmental justice heading to the UN climate talks. We heard directly from community members impacted by the mine which has literally taken the top off a historically and cultural significant mountain right beside the community.  We promised then to raise awareness in Canada of what is happening and  put pressure on NewGold and the Canadian government for better regulation of Canadian extractive industries abroad.

Today i was outside the NewGold shareholders meeting. I was there with others in solidarity with the ongoing opposition to the Cerro de San Pedro open pit gold and silver mine.

You can read a press release about today’s action here.

We were handing out leaflets, had banners and pictures of the mine. We called Ruric, an organizer with Frente Amplio Opositor (FAO) opposing the mine who addressed the crowd. He shared that he was very happy to know that people were here in solidarity sharing the message in Canada and calling the company to account. He spoke about ongoing oppression to those opposing the mine and ongoing concerns about the impacts it is having.

You can watch a video of community members talking about the mine here.

There has been a long legal battle fought over the mine which resulted in a 2009 decision that ordered the mine closed without potential ofr appeal. Based on the decision, a Mexican envrionmental enforcement agency declared that the mine had been operating ilegally since 2005. The company has obtained injunctions to allow it to continue.

While handing out leaflets I ended up speaking with James Currie, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of NewGold. After some back and forth discussing what the concerns were in which I raised the potential contamination of water by cyanide and heavy metals and concerns over increased illnesses after the mine began operating,

Mr. Currie asked me to name someone who was sick in Cerro de San Pedro. So I did. Armando Mendoza – as highlighted in the video referenced here, he has problems with his kidneys Mr. Currie’s response? Well – he has kidney problems too! He also tried to convince me that mining companies were heavily regulated abroad and, paraphrasing here, it would be very difficult for them to act unethically. Our conversation ended with him offerring to arrange for me to take a tour of the mine to hear their side of the story, their facts. I wonder whether Mr. Currie would be willing to take Teodora Rocha Perez’s offer in this video of staying in her home for a week, breathing the air and drinking the water.

Enrique Rivera Sierra also addressed the crowd and raised a question during the shareholder meeting. 

Enrique Rivera was a legal councilor for the FAO who worked on several legal suits regarding the mine as well as an organizer of the opposition to the mine. In April 2006 he was gravely beaten on the streets of Cerro de San Pedro. He claims that the aggressors were employees of MSX (subsidiary of NewGold). Since this incident he was placed under constant police surveillance and subject to an alleged harassment campaign by local officials. On May 1st 2007 he was called to represent the 5 students incarcerated for their participation in a protest against the mine. At this trial he learned that the police tortured them in order to try and obtain signatures to a document denouncing him and his activities. Later, his residence was surrounded by the state policy and he went into hiding and then smuggled out of the country to Canada. He now lives in Montreal having successfully filed for refugee status in Canada based on the clear evidence of the persecution he faced in Mexico that also involved state and federal agents. 

 This will certainly not be the end of solidarity with those opposing the mine in Mexico. We will continue to monitor what is happening in Cerro de San Pedro, raise awareness challenge NewGold and demand better legislation that holds Canadian extractive industries abroad accountable to human rights and best practices.