A group of Mexican and Canadian organizations has filed a complaint against the Canadian embassy in Mexico in connection with the unsolved homicide of an environmental activist in Chiapas more than eight years ago.
Mariano Abarca was shot and killed outside his home in November 2009, a year after he helped organize a three-month blockade of a mining project in Chicomuselo that was operated by now-defunct Canadian company called Blackfire Exploration.
The group, made up of organizations that include the Committee for Human Rights in Latin America and MiningWatch Canada, accuses Canadian embassy staff in Mexico City of turning a blind eye to human rights violations that ultimately cost Abarca his life.
The embassy was more interested in helping Blackfire overcome the protests than protecting human rights and upholding good corporate behavior, the group charges.
Less than two months before Abarca’s death, Canadian embassy personnel traveled to Chiapas to meet with local officials to help Blackfire overcome the opposition to its open-pit barite mine located near the state’s border with Guatemala.
“Embassy made the point that Blackfire is a significant Canadian investment in Chiapas and its treatment will send a signal to other foreign investors, both Canadian and non-Canadian, as to the attractiveness of Chiapas as an investment location,” an embassy trade official wrote in an October 2009 email.
In the complaint filed Monday with the Office of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner of Canada (PSIC), the group called for an investigation into the embassy’s role in the case.
At a subsequent press conference in Ottawa, the lawyer for Abarca’s family told reporters that the group believes the dangers faced by the activist and other residents of Chicomuselo were increased by the conduct of embassy staff.
“We believe that the acts and omissions of Canadian diplomats put the life and well-being of Mariano Abarca — who had gone to the [Canadian] embassy for support — and other people at risk,” Miguel Ángel de los Santos said.
“The Canadian embassy could have used its influence to protect the life and well-being of Mr. Abarca and other residents of Chicomuselo, but it did the opposite,” he argued.
The activist’s son, who also traveled to Canada, also argued that the embassy had been negligent.
“My dad went directly to the Canadian embassy to request its support, because he and other residents were receiving threats from Blackfire employees,” José Luis Abarca said.
“He was detained on false accusations made by the company. The embassy had knowledge of all this, nevertheless, it gave its support to the company and pressured authorities in Chiapas to protect Blackfire’s interests,” he added.
Abarca opposed the mine project on the grounds that it was harmful to the environment and bad for the local community.
Ten days after his death, the federal Environment Secretariat shut down the project, citing factors that included pollution and the spread of toxic emissions.
But even after the closure, the Canadian embassy continued to support Blackfire by providing advice on how to take legal action against the Mexican government, a Chiapas organization that supported the complaint said.
The Canadian government said yesterday that it would fully cooperate with any investigation. But that could still be months away.
A spokeswoman for the integrity commissioner said it would take up to 90 days to decide whether the agency would proceed with an investigation. Blackfire Exploration has long denied any involvement in Abarca’s death.