El Triunfo natural protected area in Chiapas. El Triunfo natural protected area in Chiapas.

Mining in Chiapas: unregulated ecocide

Citizens' group charges lack of government oversight, impunity

Mining companies operate without oversight in a natural reserve in the southern state of Chiapas, committing ecocide and showing little regard for the concerns of local residents, according to an investigation by a citizens’ group.

The organization Impunidad Cero (Zero Impunity) found that unregulated mining in and around El Triunfo Biosphere Reserve has contaminated water sources, causing health problems for local residents and endangering the ecosystem’s rich biodiversity.

Twenty-five mining concessions operate in the vicinity of the reserve, in an area that is twice the reserve’s size.

“Mining in Mexico: impunity, human rights violations, ecocides and lack of transparency” by Ana Ávila claims that the mines operate with neither federal government regulation nor oversight. It also established that neither the Economy Secretariat (SE) nor the Environment Secretariat (Semarnat) — the federal agencies responsible for the mines — publish any information about the projects, the concessionaires or the environmental impact of mining in the area.

In addition, it highlights a generalized lack of transparency in the mining industry: it is difficult to locate information in the public interest and there are contradictions in official data.

A conflict broke out in 2015 when residents realized that some of the mines operating just outside El Triunfo didn’t have agreements with the local community landowners or ejidatarios.

A member of Rema, a network of people adversely affected by mining, said they went door to door in the municipality of Acacoyagua to establish which landowners had reached agreements with mining companies and which hadn’t.

Three mines became the focus of residents’ anger, the group said, but by that time they had already caused significant environmental damage. After being exposed to and consuming the water of two rivers contaminated by mining, residents of Acacoyagua developed rashes that over time became ulcers. Fish also died and women gave birth to babies with lesions on their skin.

A local doctor calculated that the death rate from cancer rose from 7% to 22% between 2005 and 2015.

“All kinds of cancer, but mainly of the liver, became the primary causes of death in the area,” Juan Velázquez said at the end of 2016.

Despite contamination affecting up to 400,000 people, residents’ concerns have been given scant attention by the mining companies. They have failed to recognize the damage that has been caused by their extraction of titanium, the investigation found, and no toxicology studies have been completed.

A lack of government oversight has been a significant factor in their conduct and one government agency was even an impediment to shedding light on the extent of the damage.

A researcher from a Chiapas university tried to get funding from the National Council of Science and Technology (Conacyt) to document and measure the water contamination caused by mining in the area, but her submission was unsuccessful.

The mining industry contributes around 3% of Mexico’s gross domestic product.

Source: Milenio (sp)

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