President López Obrador has been accused of spreading misinformation after getting his numbers wrong in a conversation about mining with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
The president said Monday that he told Trudeau during last week’s North American Leaders Summit that mining concessions covered 60% of Mexico’s territory.
“I spoke to him about what [past governments] did with mining companies, how in the neoliberal period … they gave them 120 million hectares. I told him that our country has 200 million [hectares] and they granted concessions for 60% of the area of the national territory,” he told reporters at his regular news conference.
“There were very few mining companies that were using the concessions to extract minerals; the majority of national and foreign companies were dedicated to financial speculation,” he added.
López Obrador said that Trudeau – leader of a country that is the largest foreign investor in Mexico’s mining sector – was very interested in what he told him.
But data shows that the figures he cited are incorrect. Economy Ministry statistics show there are 24,066 current mining concessions and they are spread across 16.83 million hectares of land. Mexico’s total land area is 197 million hectares, meaning that mining concessions extend across about 8.5% of national territory.
Citing data from a Mexican Chamber of Mines report, the newspaper Reforma said that active mines and their plants and other facilities cover less than 0.1% of Mexico’s territory.
Lawyer Alberto Vásquez, who specializes in mining, said López Obrador’s sharing of his “other information” with a foreign leader showed he has no interest in knowing the reality of the mining industry.
(“Tengo otros datos, or “I have other information” is the president’s favorite catchphrase when confronted with information that portrays him and his government in a negative light.)
Vásquez said López Obrador was “flippant” with the information he conveyed to Trudeau and warned that it would generate uncertainty and affect foreign investment in the mining sector, undermining the North American free trade agreement.
“It’s a message that doesn’t just go directly to Trudeau as prime minister; it’s a message that permeates among Canadian investors, CEOs and businesspeople who can confirm the difficulties there are to obtain mining licenses and permits in the country,” he told Reforma.
López Obrador has proudly trumpeted that his government hasn’t offered any new mining concessions since it took office in late 2018.
Vásquez also said that speculation on mining concessions came to an end 15 years ago.
Patricia Vivar, another lawyer who specializes in mining matters, noted that while Canada is Mexico’s main partner in the mining sector, most concessions have gone to Mexican companies such as Peñoles and Grupo México, the nation’s biggest miner.
Juan Pablo Gudiño Gual, founding partner and general director of mining sector consultancy IGUAL, also said that López Obrador’s remarks to Trudeau and his public dissemination of them will discourage investment.
“His statement is unfair because mining has increased gross domestic product growth,” he said.
With reports from Reforma