Canadian Economic Interests and the Mining Model in Mexico

Community meeting in Chiapas, Mexico with Gustavo Castro; Photo: MiningWatch
Community meeting in Chiapas, Mexico with Gustavo Castro; Photo: MiningWatch

Mexico is both the Canadian mining industry’s country of choice for investment outside of Canada and one of the most dangerous places in the Americas to defend collective rights to land, water, food sovereignty and autonomy, or to be a journalist covering these struggles. Since the US-backed War on Drugs began in 2006, official sources within Mexico have reported over 150,000 homicides and 24,000 disappearances, though official numbers are bound to be much higher given that most violent crimes go unreported.

‘All Human Rights for All’ (REDTDT by its initials in Spanish) notes little or no interest within the state to investigate or sanction perpetrators, a result, in the network’s view, of high levels of corruption, impunity and collusion of public authorities with organized crime, other criminal groups, and national and foreign corporations. This context of corporate extraction, organized crime and government collusion create a context where activists must risk their lives to fight against extraction on their territories.

The Legal Context

In 1994 President Carlos Salinas de Gortari signed the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and the US (NAFTA), opening up Mexico’s resources and economy to Canadian and American corporate extraction, including from Canadian mining interests.

A US Border Patrol agent looks through binoculars for undocumented migrants. In the foreground a yellow sign with an outline of a family fleeing is captioned 'Caution NAFTA At Work."
A US Border Patrol agent looks for undocumented migrants trying to enter the US. NAFTA-provoked economic crises and provisions allowing for the selling off of previously collectively owned land have resulted in increased displacement within Mexico, as well as migration across the northern border. Photo: Joe Raedle/Newsmakers

Details of NAFTA

▷ Reforms to the mining law opened up areas that were previously limited to national capital. Until 2013, mining companies did not have to pay any royalties for mineral extraction.
▷ Introduced provisions that allow foreign corporations in Mexico to sue or threaten to sue the state when government decisions run counter to their interests.
▷ Further reforms enabled collectively held lands to be rented, which was of particular interest to mining companies, given that over 50% of Mexican territory is collectively held by agricultural associations called Ejidos and by Indigenous communities.

Who was behind it?

▷ Mexico’s president President Carlos Salinas de Gortari (1988-1994)
▷ US President George Bush Senior (1989 – 1993)
▷ Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney (1984 – 1993)
▷ US President Ronald Reagan (1981 – 1989), who began the push for a neoliberal North American trading zone with the Trade and Tariff act of 1984

Recent Developments

▷ The rise in precious metals prices since 2000 has attracted a myriad of Canadian mining firms, big and small. From 2001 to 2012, the number of foreign mining companies in Mexico rose by over 700%.
▷ In 2014, Amnesty International observed that a new mechanism for the protection of journalists and human rights defenders has been poorly implemented and badly resourced. They also produced a special report about an “out of control” escalation in the use of torture and other forms of ill-treatment by police and armed forces.

Spotlight on Indigenous Rights

a bright, multicoloured tapestry of two birds

According to the 2015 National Commission for the Development of Indigenous Peoples, 21.5% of Mexico’s population self-identifies as Indigenous. The Mexican constitution guarantees indigenous peoples the right to self-determination, autonomy, education, infrastructure and no-discrimination. Many mining projects take place on Indigenous territory, against the opposition of those territories’ Indigenous peoples, thereby violating their constitutional rights to autonomy and self-determination.

Canada’s Role

As of 2014, 184 of 268 of foreign mining companies in Mexico have offices in Canada, about 70% and Canada has greater mining assets in Mexico than in any other country in the Americas, outside of Canada.

According to Mexican investigator Claudio Garibay, Canadian company Goldcorp’s operations exemplify a broader predatory mining model characterized by ‘negative reciprocity’: “the intent to obtain something with impunity and without giving anything in return.”

two men and two women from behind overlooking an open pit mine
Land defenders overlook Goldcorp’s Los Filos mine in Guerrero, Mexico


▷ Goldcorp rents land from three Ejidos in Guerrero for its Los Filos operation, which will irreparably damage the land from the open pit and underground operation. Garibay observes that the company presents itself as a benevolent philanthropist contributing to community programs, but even in economic terms alone, the asymmetry is staggering. According to 2009 figures, for every $992.85 USD that Goldcorp projects in net profits, it pays $7.15 in rent to local communities.

▷ In October 2013, Mexican legislature’s approval of a 7.5% royalty on profits from mining. Canadian companies and the Mining Commission of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce repeatedly declared in the press that they would stop investing in Mexico if the measure was implemented.

▷ In early 2013, Canadian Ambassador Sara Hradecky publicly intervened on behalf of Esperanza Resources whose open-pit gold project is hotly contested in the state of Morelos, where environmental groups, state and federal environmental authorities, and the state Governor oppose the project given potential environmental impacts and its location only a kilometre from the popular archaeological site called Xochicalco.

Case Studies: Criminalization and Murder of Land Defenders in Mexico

A large crowd of people moves down a tree-lined street towards the camera. A banner in the center of the crowd reads "We do not want miners in Chicumucelo"

Criminalization, Murder and Blackfire Exploration in Chiapas

Calgary-based Blackfire Exploration operated a barite mine in the municipality of Chicomuselo, Chiapas in late 2007. In late 2009, the ...
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