Calgary-based Blackfire Exploration operated a barite mine in the municipality of Chicomuselo, Chiapas in late 2007. In late 2009, the mine was shut down for environmental reasons days after the murder of environmental activist Mariano Abarca.
The criminalization and murder of Mariano Abarca in November 2009 in connection with Blackfire Exploration’s Payback mine in the municipality of Chicomuselo, Chiapas, illustrates how criminalization can be a precursor to targeted violence. Not only did Blackfire play a direct role in the criminalization of Abarca, but the response of Canadian authorities reveals how the acts and omissions of the Canadian state can contribute to – or fail to address – repression and violence, as well as the ensuing pursuit of justice
Blackfire Exploration operated a barite mine in the municipality of Chicomuselo, Chiapas.
Mariano Abarca participated in a delegation that traveled from Chicomuselo to Mexico City to protest in front of the Canadian Embassy.
Abarca he was videotaped speaking to an Embassy representative when he stated that the company had broken its promises to provide work to everyone in the Ejido Grecia; that infrastructure in Chicomuselo had been damaged by the company’s trucks; and that the community was highly concerned about environmental contamination given the importance of the rivers that flow from the Sierra Madre highlands of Chiapas.
On film, Abarca further alleged that Blackfire was using some of its approximately 40 workers as ‘shock troops’ against protesters. He concluded by stressing that community members who spoke out about problems were at personal risk: “Some of us in the movement have received threats and we don’t think it’s fair that foreigners come in creating conflict, while taking the wealth back to their country.”
Late summer 2009
After Abarca’s detention in August, the Canadian Embassy started to gather information and facilitate communication between parties. Its approach, however, was geared towards dispelling doubts over the legitimacy of Blackfire’s operation and promoting the company’s account of the protests.
There is no evidence that they tried to speak with affected community groups and activists directly involved in the conflict; instead they raised concerns with the state government about possible increases in royalty payments levied on Blackfire.