Synopsis: A long-term conflict between Ejido Huizopa and two Canadian companies: Minefinders and later Pan-American Silver Corp. Ejido land was sold to Minefinders under questionable circumstances and the company proceeded to relocate the community and expand to a far greater land area than originally planned. Multiple cyanide spills have contaminated the local water supply and sparked further community resistance. Opponents of the mine have faced violence from unidentified perpetrators and state security forces. The ejido appealed to the government in 2012, asking it to investigate Minefinders for theft of property, environmental damages, and the violation of workers’ labour rights.
The Canadian company Minefinders has been present in Chihuahua, Mexico since 1994.[i] In 1996, Minefinders formally signed an agreement with Ejido Huizopa to begin construction at Mina Dolores. (An ejido is a plot of land collectively owned and managed by the community.) The company proceeded with exploration until May 9, 2006 when it signed an agreement with the ejido that allocated 1,200 hectares of land for the mine.[ii] Major conflicts initially arose in 2007, when residents of Ejido Huizopa fired their ejido leaders, claiming that the leaders were corrupt and signed over rights to community land without discussing it with residents.[iii] At the same time, members of the ejido retracted the agreement with Minefinders and denounced the presence of Mina Dolores, with many arguing that adequate consultation had never taken place.[iv] The text of the agreement gave the company rights to operate on 1200 hectares of ejido land, but by this time the company had appropriated nearly triple that amount without consent and were operating on 3,498 hectares of the 86,000 belonging to Huizopa. This expansion of the project was never lawfully approved by the ejido. To accommodate the project, Minefinders also relocated the entire ejido from their original location, which covered 788 hectares, to a new area of only 4 hectares. Community members state that they initially agreed to sell part of their land only because Minefinders tricked them and were not completely honest with their future plans for the land.[v] [vi]
Residents of Ejido Huizopa initially did not want the mine to leave the area; instead, they fought for increased communication and more transparent negotiations with Minefinders in order to create a more equal relationship.[vii] Representatives of the ejido have expressed three demands for the company: the establishment of a Commission for Environmental Protection, a community development plan, and an economic development plan. These three demands touch upon the problems that community members state have plagued the area since the arrival of the mine. The major concerns are environmental damages due to cyanide use and open pit mining practices, lack of open communication with residents of the ejido, and Minefinders using more land than initially agreed upon.[viii]
Community members had asked to start an open dialogue with Minefinders but had continually been denied by the company. These denials led community members to begin a blockade of Mina Dolores on May 24, 2008 to pressure Minefinders and local authorities to negotiate with them. The police tried to break up the blockade on May 27 using tear gas but failed to remove protesters. This confrontation led to the arrest of two ejido leaders and injuries to two local women.[ix] Representatives of the ejido were allowed to present their three demands (stated above) to Minefinders on June 4, although no changes resulted from that meeting. Minefinders responded with a counter-proposal on June 14 that community members perceived as inadequate and therefore did not accept.[x] There was no definitive end to the protest and demonstrators successfully impeded mining activities for over a month, shutting down the mine on two separate occasions.[xi] The blockade remained in place for one year and five days. Soldiers traveling to and from the mine site in attempts to break up the blockade used company trucks.[xii]
Environmental impacts are another major concern for members of Ejido Huizopa. In 2007, the community appealed to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to investigate accusations of soil and water contamination at Mina Dolores.[xiii] These fears intensified on June 4, 2010 when there was a cyanide spill at the mine. Representatives from Minefinders stated that the spill was cleaned up before any damage could be done.[xiv] A 2012 appeal to the government was launched by community members to verify that Minefinders was meeting environmental standards established by its permitting.[xv] After yet another cyanide spill in 2013, the community demanded government intervention to end the devastation of their land linked to mining.[xvi]
In 2012, the Mina Dolores was sold from Minefinders to Pan-American Silver Corp.[xvii] Resistance from local communities has continued, delaying a planned expansion of the mine first announced in 2014.[xviii] The company proceeded with the expansion in 2015, building new heap leaching facilities that will increase the mine’s use of cyanide.[xix] In December 2015, an employee of the mine was killed after being crushed by heavy machinery.[xx] EJOLT reports medium levels of unrest in the community, characterized by continued demonstrations and blockades in the streets.[xxi]
Finally, forces tied to both Minefinders and Pan-American Silver have been accused of violence on multiple occasions. In 2008, schoolteacher Dante Valdez Jimenez was violently assaulted in front of his students, allegedly for his anti-mining views. Amnesty International released a statement condemning the violence.[xxii] The community’s 2012 appeal to the government also demanded an investigation of Minefinders for theft of property and the violation of workers’ labour rights. Local government officials have been accused of being complicit in targeted suppression and even kidnapping of protestors. The 2013 report that called attention to cyanide damage associated with the project also demanded an end to violence from police and security forces, including “kidnappings, beatings, and abuse”.[xxiii] [xxiv] There is considerable drug cartel activity in the area and state police and are heavily militarized as part of the war on drugs. As recently as 2011, cartels were alleged to control access to the roads leading to the mine, creating a tense political climate.[xxv]
-Last updated: February 6, 2017
[i] Avery, Christopher, and Mauricio Lazala. 2008. “Respuesta PRODESC a Minefinders.” accessed November 30. https://business-humanrights.org/sites/default/files/media/bhr/files/Respuesta-Prodesc-a-Minefinders-18-jul-2008.pdf.
[ii] Cevallos, Diego. 2008. “Peasants Seek Ways to Block Canadian-Run Mine in Mexico.” accessed May 25. http://www.infosud.org/Peasants-seek-ways-to-block,3409.
[iii] Ahni Shertow, John. 2008. “Mexican Farmers Say Mine will Destroy Grazing Land.” Intercontinental Cry, accessed November 30. https://intercontinentalcry.org/mexican-farmers-say-mine-will-destroy-grazing-land/.
[iv] Cevallos, 2008.
[v] Paley, Dawn. 2011. “Militarized Mining in Mexico.” Dominion Paper, accessed November 29. http://www.dominionpaper.ca/articles/4301.
[vi] Avery and Lazala, 2008.
[vii] Asamblea Permanente del Ejido Huizopa. 2008. “Boletine de Prensa: Ejido Huizopa Responde a Empresa Minera Minefinders.” accessed November 30. http://www.prodesc.org.mx/?p=380.
[viii] Avery and Lazala, 2008
[ix] La Jornada– de la redaccion. “Subsidiara de Minera Canadiense Deja Plantados a Ejidatorios de Chichuahua.” accessed November 30. http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2008/06/02/index.php?section=estados&article=037n1est.
[x] Avery and Lazala, 2008
[xi] Minefinders Corporation Ltd. 2008. “Minefinders Reports Delay to First Gold and Silver Pour at Dolores.” accessed November 30. http://www.24hgold.com/english/news-company-gold-silver-reports-delay-to-first-gold-and-silver-pour-at-dolores.aspx?articleid=292865.
[xii] Paley, 2011.
[xiii] Referente. 2015. “Huizopa, Madera: un Conflicto Entre Mina y Ejido.”, accessed May 25. http://referente.mx/@referente/huizopa-madera-un-conflicto-entre-mina-y-ejido.
[xiv] Red Mexicana de Afectados por la Mineria. 2010. “Derrame de Cianuro de Minera Canadiense Minefinders Envenena Rio Tutuaca.” accessed November 30. http://www.olca.cl/oca/mexico/mineras032.htm.
[xv] Referente, 2015.
[xvi] EJOLT: Environmental Justice Atlas. 2014. “Dolores (Minefinders) Usurpa Tierras en Huizopa, Chihuahua.” accessed May 25. https://ejatlas.org/conflict/dolores-minefinders-usurpa-tierras-en-huizopa-chihuahua.
[xvii] Pan-American Silver Corp. 2016. “Our Operations: Dolores.” accessed May 25. http://www.panamericansilver.com/operations/mexico/dolores/.
[xviii] Northern Miner. 2014. “Pan American Silver Defers Dolores Expansion.” accessed May 25. http://www.northernminer.com/news/pan-american-plans-defers-dolores…/1003130858/.
[xix] Pan American Silver Corp. 2015. “Pan American Silver to Proceed with Dolores Pulp Agglomeration and Underground Expansion Project.” http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/pan-american-silver-to-proceed-with-dolores-pulp-agglomeration-and-underground-expansion-project-503356591.html.
[xx] El Diario de Chihuahua. 2015. “Aplasta Retroexcavadora a Juarense Mientras Trabajaba en Madera.” accessed May 25. http://diario.mx/Estado/2015-12-01_d6650210/aplasta-retroexcavadora-a-juarense-mientras-trabajaba-en-madera/.
[xxi] EJOLT, 2014.
[xxii] Paley, 2011.
[xxiii] EJOLT, 2014.
[xxiv] Villalpando, Ruben. 2011. “Ejidatarios de Chihuahua Exigen Revisar Caso de la Minera Dolores.” accessed May 25. http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2011/12/31/estados/024n1est.
[xxv] Paley, 2011.