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Canadian Mining in Mexico

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Issue: 54 Section: Photo Essay Geography: Latin America Mexico Topics: Mining

September 25, 2008

Canadian Mining in Mexico

A close-up look at the impacts of gold mining in San Luis Potosí

by Tatiana Gomez

Photo: Tatiana Gomez

In the Mexican village of Cerro de San Pedro in the State of San Luis Potosi, local residents have been fighting a battle against an open pit mine owned by a Canadian corporation and run by its Mexican subsidiary, Minera San Xavier (MSX). According to Jose Antonio Motilla, who is part of the Broad Opposition Front (FAO) to MSX, the open pit mine is a historical, legal, and environmental crime.

Cerro de San Pedro is a historical centre. Spaniards settled in the area in 1592, which led to the establishment of the City of San Luis Potosi and the founding of the state of the same name. Known for its wealth in ore, as well as for its historical and natural significance, the village of Cerro de San Pedro was short-listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The open pit gold mine is now owned by New Gold Inc, whose head office is in Vancouver, British Columbia. Until a June 2008 merger, the mine was owned by Metallica Resources, and before that by Glamis Gold, both Canadian corporations. The village of Cerro de San Pedro stands at the foot of the mine.
According to Motilla, the mountain is being collapsed by implosions. Gold and silver are then extracted from the crushed rock using a technique known as cyanide heap leaching. Heap leaching at the Cerro de San Pedro mine requires an estimated 32 million litres of water daily. Juan Carlos Ruiz, an FAO organizer, is concerned that the mine is polluting an aquifer that supplies much of San Luis Potosi's drinking water.
According to company documents, the mine has reserves of 1.5 million ounces of gold and 62 million ounces of silver. Gold occurs in the ore at a rate of 0.55 grams per tonne.
The FAO has been waging a legal and political battle against the company with the aim of shutting down the mine, which they claim is operating without proper permits.
Don Armando, a resident of Cerro de San Pedro, has been at the forefront of the resistance movement. He lives with the impact of the open pit mine on a daily basis: the breakdown of the village's architectural structures, the noise generated by the extraction, and the air pollution from vast dust storms.
The dust storms, resulting from explosions, the collapsing of the mountain, and constant heavy truck traffic are part of the mine's ecological impact. Residents of the nearby town La Zapatilla, many of whom are employed at the mine, are also affected by the dust, which often covers the entire village.
The FAO, which now has a sister organization, FAO-Montreal, is undertaking a popular education campaign to raise awareness of the situation in Cerro de San Pedro and of the role of Canadian mining companies in Mexico. The history of Mexico is one of colonizing forces seeking to extract mineral riches from under Indigenous and Mexican soil. Anti-mining activists argue that this latest wave of extraction, carried out by Canadian mining companies, continues the same colonial pattern.
A sign in the village reads: "400 YEARS OF GLORY IN POTOSI, MSX GET OUT OF HERE," commemorating the long history of the village and demanding the withdrawal of the company. According to a report written by the Coordinating Committee of the Public Referendum on Cerro de San Pedro/San Xavier, residents voted 97-99 per cent against the mining project in Cerro de San Pedro in a statewide public referendum held in October 2006. The project moved ahead anyway.

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The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.

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