Thursday, December 7, 2023

Puebla mine dispute goes to court; decision could make legal history

Indigenous residents of a town in Puebla hope to make legal history this month in a court case against the federal government that involves a Canadian mining company.

A non-governmental organization has filed a complaint on behalf of some residents of Tecoltemi, a Nahua community located in Puebla’s sierra region, against the Secretariat of the Economy (SE), arguing that local water sources have been contaminated by exploration activity on gold and silver deposits.

The case is related to concessions held by Minera Gorrión, a Mexican subsidiary of Canada’s Almaden Minerals.

A lawyer for the complainants told the news agency Reuters that for the first time in Mexico a court will rule whether the federal Mining Law – which prioritizes mining over other kinds of land use – is constitutional.

Itzel Silva of the Fundar Center for Analysis and Research said that previous cases have only recognized indigenous people’s right to consultation before a mining project begins.

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“That’s why this case is so important,” she said. Silva added that a ruling in favor of the residents could set a legal precedent for other cases in which complainants are attempting to overturn the law prioritizing mining activities over other land use.

The case will be heard at a federal court in Puebla.

Federal officials didn’t respond to requests for comment on the case while a spokesman for Minera Gorrión told Reuters that the company has abided by all the rules set by environmental regulators.

The dispute dates back to 2003 when Minera Gavilan, another Mexican subsidiary of Almaden Minerals, was awarded a 27,000-acre parcel of land in Puebla. In 2009, the company was granted a concession for another site of about 7,400 acres.

Both sites, which encroach on land claimed by the Tecoltemi residents, were later transferred to Minera Gorrión.

Víctor Martínez Lobato, an indigenous leader, said that residents were not consulted about the two concessions.

A protest against the mine two years ago.
A protest against the mine two years ago.

“The effects [of mining] on the air, on the water, worry us,” he said.

The Fundar Center sued the Economy Secretariat in 2015 on behalf of the residents and the following year, Minera Gorrión decided to return about 17,000 acres of land to the Mexican government.

The current case has divided Tecoltemi because some residents work for the mining company.

“Employment . . . dictates who is in favor or against the mine,” said Diana Pérez, a lawyer at the Mexican Institute for Community Development.

Those fighting against Minera Gorrión have a 2016 report by PODER, a citizens’ group, to support their claim that water has been contaminated.

“The company carried out water monitoring without due authorizations and made drill holes deeper than allowed, affecting the water table,” said PODER researcher Isabel Clavijo.

Minera Gorrión rejected the reports’ findings and has emphasized the economic benefits that its activities bring to Ixtacamaxtitlan, the municipality in which Tecoltemi is located.

Source: Reuters (en) 

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