Criminalization, Murder and Blackfire Exploration in Chiapas

Thousands march against mining in Chicomuselo, Chiapas and in memory of Mariano Abarca, killed on November 27, 2009 in connection with his resistance to Blackfire Exploration's Payback barite mine. Photo: MiningWatch
Thousands march against mining in Chicomuselo, Chiapas and in memory of Mariano Abarca, killed on November 27, 2009 in connection with his resistance to Blackfire Exploration’s Payback barite mine. Photo: MiningWatch

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.

Canadian Complicity

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

Timeline

Late 2007

Blackfire Exploration operated a barite mine in the municipality of Chicomuselo, Chiapas.

July-August 2009

Mariano Abarca was killed on November 27, 2009 in connection with his resistance to Blackfire Exploration's Payback barite mine. His epitaph on his grave in Chicomuselo, Chiapas reads: "Your example as an upright person and good father is the torch that lights up our lives." Photo: MiningWatch
Mariano Abarca’s epitaph on his grave in Chicomuselo, Chiapas reads: “Your example as an upright person and good father is the torch that lights up our lives.” Photo: MiningWatch

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.”

handcuffs▷ Undercover police detained Abarca in response to a complaint filed by Blackfire’s Public Relations Officer, Luis Antonio Flores Villatoro. The complaint alleged that Abarca was responsible for crimes of “illicit association, organized crime, attacks on communication routes, damages against the company and disturbing the peace, and threats against bodily integrity, as well as collective integrity and the integrity of state heritage.”

Abarca was released without charge for lack of evidence. In a videotaped interview recorded at that time, Mariano said that if any harm should befall him, his family, or other activists, the community would blame Blackfire.

Late summer 2009

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"
Thousands march against mining in Chicomuselo, Chiapas and in memory of Mariano Abarca, killed on November 27, 2009 in connection with his resistance to Blackfire Exploration’s Payback barite mine. Photo: MiningWatch

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.

November – December 2009

Ceremony to remember Mariano Abarca, killed on November 27, 2009 in connection with his resistance to Blackfire Exploration's Payback barite mine in Chicomuselo, Chiapas. Photo: MiningWatch
Ceremony to remember Mariano Abarca, killed on November 27, 2009 in connection with his resistance to Blackfire Exploration’s Payback barite mine in Chicomuselo, Chiapas. Photo: MiningWatch

handcuffs▷ On November 27, 2009, about four months after protesting the Blackfire mine in front of the Canadian Embassy, a male assailant shot Mariano Abarca in the back at close range in front of his house.

The three individuals detained immediately following the murder all had connections with the company, although almost none of those named by the Abarca family and activists closely following the conflict were ever investigated.

Just days later, the mine was shut down for environmental reasons.