Vancouver mining company opponent killed in Mexico pipeline clash
Canada's embassy in Mexico City faced protests yesterday over the killing of a prominent opponent of Vancouver-based mining company Fortuna Silver, Mexican media reported.
Bernardo Mendez Vasquez, a member of the Coalition of United Peoples of the Ocotlán Valley (COPUVO) in the Mexican state of Oaxaca, died on January 19, a day after he and another demonstrator were shot in a skirmish over a water pipeline in the town of San José del Progreso.
Opponents of the mine were protesting a pipeline they allege was diverting scarce water from their village to the controversial Trinidad mine, operated by Fortuna Silver's subsidiary company, Cuzcatlán. Three people have died since the mine was established in confrontations between the mine's backers and opponents in the town of San José del Progreso.
The shoot-out occurred when local residents accused Cuzcatlán company of cutting off their water supply, according to Noticias, Oaxaca state's largest newspaper.
“The bloody events occurred at noon on Wednesday,” the newspaper reported, “when a group of inhabitants of San José del Progreso, Ocotlán of Morelos and the Coalition of United Peoples of the Ocotlán Valley (COPUVO) protested against the mayor of the community, Alberto Mauro Sánchez Muñoz, and Cuzcatlán mining company for the work they are doing which caused the water to be cut off.”
COPUVO claimed the pipeline was drawing water from a deep well without the local population's consent, in an area which has suffered water shortages over the past decade, and channeling it to the Trinidad mine, reported La Jornada, Mexico's second-largest national newspaper.
But a spokesperson for Vancouver-based Fortuna Silver denied the water pipeline had anything to do with its Trinidad mine, and insisted the tensions were a regrettable escalation of divisions which predated the company's arrival in the area.
“This was a municipal pipeline – nothing to do with us,” said Ralph Rushton, spokesperson for Fortuna Silver in Vancouver. “We have no connection or association with the acts committed, or the funding or installation of the drinking water pipeline that was the subject of confrontation – absolutely nothing to do with Fortuna Silver.
“We're one of the largest employers – and one of the largest taxpayers – down in that part of Oaxaca. It's an unfortunate part of our presence there that, from time to time, our name is dragged into, pulled into or used in local political situations. But this particular incident was nothing to do with us.”
Fortuna Silver employs roughly 450 people, Rushton said, approximately half of them local residents of the area. He added that the company recently repaired a local sewage treatment plant and consults with the communities in the area.
“We consult with the community every step of the planning and development of the project,” he told the Vancouver Observer. “We maintain close relationships with all the communities around there, and do what we can to improve the situation economically.”
While several leading Mexican newspapers identified the water pipeline as mine-related – claims Rushton dismissed as “misinformation” – three of Mexico's largest national newspapers (El Universal, La Jornada and Milenio) reported that, in any case, the confrontation stemmed from tensions directly related to the Trinidad project.
“In the town where the shooting occurred, the population is divided into two groups, one that supports mining by a Canadian company and one that opposes it,” wrote El Universal, Mexico's largest newspaper. “The dispute between the two groups started in the community on June 19, 2010, when mayor Venancio Oscar Martínez Rivera was murdered.”