Community landowners in the northern state of Durango are seeking support from the federal government in defending their rights in a years-long dispute with a Canadian mining company.
The ejido, or community-owned land, of La Sierrita de Galeana in the municipality of Bermejillo sits on silver, lead and zinc deposits, which for over a decade have been extracted at the Platosa mine by Excellon Resources Inc.
The ejidatarios have claimed for years that the mining company has violated human and property rights.
According to a report by the newspaper El Universal, Excellon started operations in 2005 on 27 hectares under a 30-year permit and after making a single payment of 1.2 million pesos (about US $130,000) to the people of La Sierrita.
After the mining firm committed several violations to the original agreement, a new one was reached in 2008.
The Temporary Occupation Contract gave the mining company a lease on 1,100 hectares for a yearly fee of 5.5 million pesos (over $400,000), to be adjusted annually according to the country’s inflation rate.
The new contract contained several clauses that the ejidatarios claim were once again violated to some degree, including those concerning financial, social and environmental issues.
In September 2012, the community filed a complaint before an agrarian court demanding that the 2008 contract be rescinded. Last year, the court agreed.
According to the ruling, the mining company had to return the 1,100 hectares to the community landowners and pay them a penalty of 5.5 million pesos.
The court also determined that the ejido had to pay Excellon over 5.6 million pesos. The 1,100 hectares have since been seized by the judicial authority pending completion of the payment.
La Sierrita residents believe that the court’s resolution favored the company over the rights of Mexicans.
In an open letter addressed to President Enrique Peña Nieto, the non-governmental organization Project for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (Prodesc) urged that Mexico’s development adhere to the highest international human rights standards, avoiding abuses towards indigenous and farming communities.
In its letter, the NGO offered as an example the case of the ejido La Sierrita, and asked Peña Nieto for support.
Prodesc sent the letter after it learned that the Canadian Chamber of Commerce in Mexico and Canada’s Minister of International Trade, Chrystia Freeland, had requested a guarantee of certainty for the investments of Canada’s mining companies.
The organization observed that what uncertainty there is is to be found among community landowners in the states of Chihuahua and Durango, where Canadian companies have mining interests.
Prodesc believes that the seizure of the 1,100 hectares of La Sierrita by the agrarian court, and making its return conditional on a payment it sees as unfair, was unconstitutional. The letter also said that the ejido had filed for an injunction against the court’s decision.
Excellon said in a prepared statement in November that it welcomed the court’s ruling, observing that construction of the mine had been contingent on conditions “that the ejido never satisfied.”
“We continue to make meaningful cooperative investments in our local community of Bermejillo and look forward to re-engaging with the ejido La Sierrita on fair and transparent terms in due course,” said Excellon CEO Brendan Cahill.
The legal dispute has been a source of concern for some local residents, who fear it will lead to the mine’s closure and the loss of 900 direct and indirect jobs and social programs funded by the mining company. Many demonstrated outside the agrarian court in Torreón in October.