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International human rights delegation investigates Canadian mine in Oaxaca

I have been in San Jose del Progreso in Oaxaca, Mexico this week on behalf of the Blue Planet Project with Brent Patterson as part of a human rights delegation called the “Mision Civil de Observacion Justicia para San Jose del Progreso.” The Mision is aimed at investigating tensions surrounding yet another Canadian mine in Mexico.

Yesterday, we visited the Cuzcatlan mine owned by Vancouver-based Fortuna Silver, which is at the heart of major conflicts within the community. Just this year, two anti-mining activists have been killed. Others have received death threats after participating in protests.

The company’s statements are at odds with the accounts of community members who have described rising social conflict, contaminated water sources and adverse health impacts since the mine began its operations in September 2011.

The company points to its corporate values, which are prominently displayed throughout the office. According to their value statement, Fortuna Silver values the environment, their workers and neighbours.

It must be noted that as a social justice organization on a human rights mission we too have values and principles, which shape our observations and conclusions.

1. The Blue Planet Project values water as a human right, which requires all people everywhere to have access to safe, clean drinking water and sanitation services without discrimination.

2. We believe that as a commons, water must be protected in the public interest from commodification and all forms of privatization and contamination.

3. We value the rights of indigenous peoples, support the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and work in solidarity to demand that the right to Free Prior and Informed Consent be upheld.

The human right to water

Community members we spoke to are concerned about water contamination as a result of the mining operation. There have been accounts of sheep dying, skin diseases and a rise in the number of miscarriages, which members of the community attribute primarily to water contamination. There were also accounts of wells drying up and concerns expressed in relation to contamination of groundwater and surface water sources.

The mining company has assured us that their operations do not have any adverse impacts on water resources. They state that they do not use any toxic substances in their processing and that they recycle water. The operations manager described the mine as a “paraiso” or paradise in this regard.

In the face of these major contradictions in the accounts of the mining company and members of the community, the Mexican state has an obligation to investigate and ensure that the human right to water is protected and respected. A corporation cannot be permitted to self-regulate.

The Canadian government also has legal obligations to ensure that Canadian corporations are not threatening the human right to water of communities abroad.

Water as a commons

1. The mining company’s use of large quantities of rainwater is an enclosure of the water commons.  This water, used in large quantities is not returned to the hydrological cycle intact.

2. The mining company runs a community water treatment plant in Ocotlan as a private-public-partnership  (P3), which it describes as a service to the community.  This gives the company automatic access to 600 cubic metres of water per day.

This represents a privatization of an essential community service and loss of public control over this service. The mining company’s automatic access to 600 cubic metres of water is a commodification of local water supplies. It is not clear that there has been any process to obtain community consent for this P3 project.

Rights of Indigenous People

As an indigenous population, the people of San Jose del Progreso have a right to Free Prior and Informed Consent. The mission spoke to many community members who claimed they were not consulted about the mine. Despite claims by the municipal authorities that the consent of the community has been obtained, they have provided no proof nor any information as to how the consent of the community was obtained. To the contrary, the Mission has gathered numerous testimonies of community members who maintain that they have not consented to the mine. The failure on the part of authorities to obtain the consent of the community renders the Cuzcatlan mining operation illegal.

In addition to supporting the call for justice for the people of San Jose del Progreso at the municipal, state and federal levels, the Blue Planet Project calls on the Canadian government to hold Fortuna Silver accountable for its social, political and environmental impacts in San Jose del Progreso.

The situation in San Jose highlights the need for legislation that would enable non-citizens impacted by Canadian mining to seek legal recourse in Canadian courts. In this regard, the Blue Planet Projects supports Bill C-323, which will empower Canadian courts to hear cases like that of San Jose del Progreso where a Canadian mining company is implicated in human rights violations.