The story of a gold mine project in Baja California Sur took a strange twist yesterday when a La Paz municipal director tearfully explained she had been pressured into granting an approval for the controversial mine.
The director of urban and ecological development, challenged by mine opponents to explain why she had signed off on a land-use change to permit the Los Cardones mine to go ahead, said she had been harassed into doing so.
Members of the Citizens’ Front in Defense of Water and Life visited Socorro Icela Fiol Manríquez in her office yesterday morning after hearing the municipality was moving ahead with approvals for the mine.
She claimed that municipal general secretary Marco Antonio Núñez Rosas had pressured her into signing, but told mine protesters and reporters she intended to revoke that approval.
Today it was reported that both Núñez Rosas and Fiol Manríquez have since met with the Citizens’ Front, where the former said that no mines have been granted any authorizations for land-use change.
It also surfaced yesterday that Desarollos Zapal, the company developing the mine, had applied for changes in permitted land use on July 10, yet municipal officials have been denying that such an application had been received.
The open-pit gold mine, which would be located within a buffer zone of the UNESCO biosphere reserve Sierra de la Laguna, was first proposed in 2009. But concerns over its possible effects on groundwater and the fact that it wasn’t seen to be compatible with the area’s main economic driver, tourism, led to protests against the project.
The federal government responded by rejecting it.
A year later the project was revitalized, but once again it failed to win approval due to community opposition.
It came back as Los Cardones in 2012, a 423-hectare project that would extract 40 tonnes of gold over 10 years and provide 2,200, jobs according to its developer. The mine would source its water through a desalination plant, thereby avoiding tapping into local aquifers, and use a closed-system cyanide process to prevent environmental contamination, according to a report in late 2013 by Geo-Mexico.
But the Environment Secretariat, Semarnat, said no to the application based on the mine’s failure to meet legal requirements to operate in a reserve’s buffer zone.
Desarollos Zapal submitted a new proposal which evidently met all the requirements necessary for Semarnat, for it approved the mine last August. However, the company backed off in October, declaring that conditions were not favorable for the project to proceed, citing community protests.
U.S.-based Vista Gold owned the project for several years before selling it to Invecture, a Mexican company, in October 2013, which is developing the mine through its subsidiary, Desarollos Zapal.
Invecture has been linked in several reports to Grupo Salinas, owner of TV Azteca, Grupo Elektra, Banco Azteca and many more firms.