Gold mining fuels cartel violence in Mexico
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Gold mining fuels cartel violence in Mexico

Gold lust is fuelling a vicious cartel feud in rural Guerrero, the embattled Mexican state where 43 student-protesters were ‘disappeared’ late last year.

In the village of Carrizalillo, where the Canadian mining giant Goldcorp has operated its Los Filos mine since 2007, residents are caught between the rival antagonisms of two criminal factions: Guerreros Unidos and Los Rojos. The village of 1000 inhabitants receives the annual equivalent of $3 million in rent from the corporation, making it a target for extortion and intimidation.

Former residents of Carrizalillo told Reuters that in the beginning Los Rojos sought to extort mine workers, contractors, and landowners, as well as influence the affairs of unions, village councils, and cooperatives.

Last year, however, Guerreros Unidos encroached on their turf and a violent power struggle ensued. Pitched gun battles terrorized Carrizalillo and four mine workers were kidnapped in March 2014. Three of them were subsequently found dead in a mass grave.

An ongoing feud

In October 2014, police crackdowns brought an end to the Guerreros Unidos occupation, but hostilities have continued. Last month, eight bodies were recovered from unmarked graves near the mine, thought to be victims of the on-going ‘tit-for-tat’ feud.

Speaking to Reuters, Goldcorp’s Latin America director for corporate affairs and security, Michael Harvey, claimed the corporation is doing everything it can:

“Even though we can and do advocate with local authorities for the respect of human rights in the vicinity of our operations, we cannot take on the role of government.

“The violence carries both a terrible human cost to the communities, and a financial cost to Goldcorp as we are obliged to invest in additional security for our operations and personnel.”

Goldcorp – which has received several awards from the Mexican Centre for Philanthropy and the Alliance for Corporate Responsibility (CEMEFI) – is a signatory of the Conflict-Free Gold Standard. Part of its remit is to ensure that extraction activity “does not fuel unlawful armed conflict or contribute to serious human rights abuses.”

As a major conflict zone in Mexico’s failing drug war, the state of Guerrero has long been the scene of both unlawful armed conflict and serious human rights abuses. Where impoverished local farmers have substituted illicit crops of marijuana for the more lucrative commodity of opium, cartels have warred for control of the region.

Corrosive cartel influence

Their influence has proved as corrosive to government institutions as it has to society at large. In November 2014, Guerrero made international headlines when 43 students were abducted in Iguala. It was widely alleged that the mayor of Iguala, his wife, and local state security forces were involved in the disappearance, along with the Guerreros Unidos cartel.

In Mexico and beyond, activists protesting the disappearances continue to rally under the slogan: ‘It was the State.’

In Carrizalillo, meanwhile, some residents claim that members of state security forces are complicit in the violence and variously allied with the cartels.

According to Reuters, the community has written to Goldcorp and the authorities on several occasions asking for help, to no apparent avail.

Other examples

One mining corporation that has taken its corporate responsibility seriously is Torex Gold, also based in Guerrero. Following a spate of violence and kidnappings, it has agreed to pay for police check posts and patrols.

Speaking to Reuters, CEO Fred Stanford said:

“The communities were vulnerable and in some ways the reason they have something to steal is because we’re there. The activity we bring is disruptive to the fabric of their society and they’ve welcomed us in. We appreciate that and we can do our bit too to help them.”

Whether or not Goldcorp follows by example remains to be seen.

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Canadian mining projects in Latin America pit people against profit – but there is hope