Chiapas: Residents Denounce the Reactivation of Mine in Chicomuselo Under Intimidation and Without Environmental Permit

Nañi Pinto

On January 5, thousands of inhabitants of the municipality of Chicomuselo, located in the Sierra Madre de Chiapas, held a demonstration to demand an end to the violence “unleashed by organized crime that seeks to impose mining in the region with the complicit silence of the authorities,” remarked spokespersons from the Chiapas town during the mobilization.

The protest takes place in a context of increasing violence in the region, located on the border with Guatemala, where the presence of organized crime has increased in recent years resulting in clashes between armed groups and against the military, as well as disappearances and executions.

The demand of the residents, who marched accompanied by ejido and community representatives, is due to the fact that since the middle of last year they recorded the illegal reactivation of a barite mine located in the Santa María ejido.

On October 16, 2022, the inhabitants reported the entry of several trucks into the municipal capital to transport mining material. One day later, the inhabitants of the Santa María ejido noticed that these trucks were already in the place where they had been extracting the barite material, without the inhabitants’ knowledge of the mining activity.

Thousands of residents in Chicomuselo demonstrated against the violence and mining that destroys the social fabric in the southern region of Chiapas.

Through the mobilization that they called “March for Life”, the inhabitants of Chicomuselo highlighted that the activity in the mine is related to the concession granted to the Canadian company Blackfire Exploration Ltd, which was established in the Grecia ejido in 2009 for the extraction of ore used for drilling oil wells and for the same mining sector.

According to a communiqué from the inhabitants of Chicomuselo, the mining operation carried out more than 15 years ago in communities of the municipality was done without prior and informed consultation, “mainly affecting groundwater, rivers, streams, mountains, the health of the population and the community fabric that characterizes the communities of our region; a situation that led us to live under threats, harassment and persecution.”

Operations in the Grecia ejido were halted after the murder of defender Mariano Abarca, who was assassinated on November 27, 2009 after having opposed the extractive industry.

After the closure of the mine, a legal dispute arose with the Canadian mining company, who demanded the payment of almost 800 million dollars as compensation. At the same time, Abarca’s relatives pointed out the involvement of businessmen, local officials and members of the Canadian embassy in the activist’s murder.

Mariano Abarca played an important role in the organization against the canadian mining in Chicomuselo.

The concession with title 225159, called La Revancha 2 Fracc A, whose holder is Tristán Canales Reyna, a Blackfire front man, and whose surface area is connected to the Grecia ejido, is still in effect and represents the concession with the largest amount of land covered in the municipality with a total of 11,387 hectares.

Paramilitaries, in Collusion with the Mining Company

The population of Chicomuselo points out that since 2017 the Canadian company made a change in the concession title to now call itself “Barita de Chiapas” and, with this, to restart the illegal exploitation of the mineral in the Santa María ejido.

To this end, the spokespersons maintained during the march, “the mining company has taken advantage of the violence exercised by organize crime group called MAIZ, which has traveled through the communities with long guns to intimidate the population and warn them that if they oppose mining, they will harm them and, in passing, they have begun to charge ‘floor fees’ to business and transportation in the municipality.”

The inhabitants of Chicomuselo emphasized their concern that mining extraction is carried out in collusion with organized crime and in a context of militarization, “with Chicomuselo being the headquarters of the Army’s 101st Infantry Battalion, which leads one to presume that a counterinsurgency strategy is being applied in order impose mining.”

For their primary demands, the population of Chicomuselo is demanding from the  three levels of government the “cessation of toxic mining and  projects of death, and the closure of the Santa Maria mine and the cancellation of the mining concessions of ‘Barita de Chiapas’ and/or BlackFire.”

In October 2022, through a document released by members of Modevite, residents of Chicomuselo pointed out the existence of 12 current and 2 expired concessions in the region.

Through a review of the database provided by the Ministry of Economy in 2022, the Avispa Midia team found a total of 15 concessions in Chicomuselo. Of these, four were cancelled. The remaining 11, which are still in effect, cover an area of 18,857 hectares of mining concessions in the Sierra Madre de Chiapas municipality. 

Without Permission

In September of last year, members of Modevite denounced the increase in violence against land defenders and residents of Chicomuselo due to the presence of companies and individuals interested in restarting mining operations in localities such as El Naranjo, Nueva Morelia, Santa María, Ricardo Flores Magón, Grecia and Benito Juárez.

At that time, they argued that once again the prior consultation process has not been carried out, nor have the environmental impact studies been carried out. As a result, they filed an environmental complaint with the Federal Attorney General’s Office for Environmental Protection (Profepa), which argues that there are no safe conditions to carry out the investigation due to the wave of violence and insecurity that is occurring in the region.

“This omission by Profepa and other authorities activates the risk for our communities and for those of us who care for and defend our territory (…) We have not had an effective response to this delicate situation that is occurring in the municipality, we know that there is no mining permit in Chicomuselo and yet they are being carried out without the corresponding authorities taking action,” they stated in a communiqué.

In the complaint presented to Profepa, the residents argue that the mining extraction is illegal and is being carried out through intimidation, harassment and threats. At the same time, they demanded that the state and federal governments issue an official declaration stating that there is no permit for the reactivation of mining concessions in the municipality of Chicomuselo.

“As Pueblo Creyente (Believing People) and Modevite we have exhausted all legal means in accordance with the law to stop this extractive project with the municipal authorities who have not responded to this problem that we are experiencing. We have been in dialogue with the current administration with the that for it fulfills its campaign promises and proclaim the municipality of Chicomuselo free of mining, but it has only resulted in a nice discourse to win applause, but without a real commitment to the struggles and resistance of the people,” said the spokespersons during the mobilization.

This article was published in Avispa Midia on January 10th, 2023. English translation by Schools for Chiapas.

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