New Gold Mine San Xavier and the Frente Amplio Opositor (FAO) a la Minera San Xavier (Opposition Front), San Luis Potosí (SLP)
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About 10 km from San Luis Potosí (SLP) is the New Gold San Xavier Mine on what used to be a small town and right up against and continuously encroaching against the town of Cerro San Pedro, about 1000 people. It is currently owned by a Canadian Company.
SLP is about one million people but it feels much smaller. It is calm and tranquil with beautiful old Spanish architecture and no buildings over about three or 4 stories. People spend a lot of time in the historic squares exercising, walking, shopping, eating and generally relaxing. The weather was warm and a bit chillier in the evening requiring a jacket of some sort. I felt fine as well wearing a jacket during the day.
There seemed to be excellent bus service and I was able to take a bus from the airport.
People are friendly and helpful. When taking the bus from the airport to the central city, the bus driver helped me load my luggage, and when walking from the bus to find my lodging, Lucy, a hairdresser helped me with my luggage as well, refusing to accept even the smallest token of my appreciation.
San Luis is in a semi dessert region of Mexico, very arid, with intermittent scrubby trees, cactus, and agaves of various types.
The violence of drug dealers is not as prevalent here as in Juarez or Monterrey, Chilo Altareal, another member of Rural Coalition/Coalcion Rural, informed me, and in fact in the five days I was there, I saw only a very tranquil, charming, cultural and friendly town with beautiful architecture, good food, low prices, and a good place to live with lots of live and recorded music. But others complained of the corruption of the president trickling down through all levels of government and the hardship of most of the Mexican people living without health care and many social services on only $5 dollars a day if they were a regular worker to $10 a day if they were a professional.
At a café in SLP on the eveining of Novemeber 26th, the night before people started arriving for the caravan, I met some of the F.A.O., a group of about 15, mostly men with maybe three or four women, and one child, who were organizing activities to try and get the mine closed down and as well who were organizing to receive the participants for the LaVia Campesina Caravan 1. There are actually about 15 groups in SLP alone organized against the mine. I met and spoke with Antonio Ortiz de La Sanscha and Juan José Hernández Estrada of Pro San Luis Ecológico, or the Pro San Luis Ecological Group, and the Pobladores de San Pedro, or the People of San Pedro as well as the F.A.O.
Fortunately for me, the day before the Caravan was scheduled to leave, Novemeber 27th, James del Tedesco, an immigrant from France to Mexico, and member of the FAO and Mario Martinez, an engineer and another member of the FAO as well as La REMA (Red de los Afectados por la Minera) or a network of those affected by the mine, took me along with reporters and cameramen from Telesur, a Venezuelan TV Station, to visit the mine and Cerro San Pedro, the town right on the edge of the mine.
The mine itself is a gold and silver mine and has been operating since about the 1500’s; the Conquistadors initially started it. Now there is very little gold or silver left in the mine, however, the mine continues to operate at great environmental and social cost. In about one ton of dirt, there is only about 1 cm cubed gold or silver found. Under such standards the mine would be closed in Europe. Now as was explained to me it continues to be sold and resold primarily for speculation. It has changed owners and names many times for that reason.
It is a strip mine or “a cielo abierto,” (open to the sky) as they call it in Spanish. Among other chemicals used in the mine is cyanide or cianura which is very poisonous. As well, the mine uses over 1 million liters of water a day--and all this in a semi-dessert region of Mexico. The water table in the area has been constantly dropping and is now at about one half its normal level.
Zapatilla, a small town that was situated where the mine now is, was destroyed by the mine, but the mine rebuilt it a short distance away. There, the mine reportedly pays the inhabitants to compensate them and I was told all but one of these town inhabitants favor the mine. There is much concern about water and air pollution from the chemicals used in the mine on these inhabitants as well as the inhabitants in San Luis themselves and the neighboring town Cerro San Pedro and concern for what has been deemed the irreparable damage to the flora and fauna of the ecosystem upon which the people of the area depend to live. (La Minera candiens, La Jornada/ SLP December 2009)
The mine company currently operates the mine without the legal permits required. (La Minera candiensa, La Jornada/ SLP December 2009). The Mexican government under the leadership of President Vicente Fox and other authorities have refused to stop it. Furthermore the mine continues to encroach upon surrounding land that it does not own with any repercussion.
Cerro San Pedro, a small town of about 1000 inhabitants is about 400 years old and made totally of stone from the area—tan and beige colored. It is beautiful. There is a gorgeous town square with a beautiful old church in the middle. Mario Martinez shared his house with us where he visits on the weekend. He lives most of the time in San Luis. His family has owned that house continually for 400 years; it is charming and well kept with bougainvillea and other plants on the patio where there is also an outdoor stove. Inside, all is stone as well and there are two bedrooms, living room, kitchen and dining room. There is a beautiful view from the roof.
The mine has encroached on the land coming right up into the village even though it has not title to those lands. The mine has fenced off areas of land right up to the walls of the peoples’ homes, areas where the people would picnic are now fenced off by the mine, even though it does not own that land. The people however have cut holes into the fence so they can still enter and I saw these holes all along the yards and yards of 8 to 10 ft. fences topped with barbwire.
Armando, Mario’s neighbor, and a member of the Pobladores de San Pedro, and Mario also described physical intimidation and destruction by the miners as they ostensibly seek to get the 1000 inhabitants of San Pedro to move so the miners can take more and more of this land. Armando and Mario both talked of how the town has seen no benefit from this mine; rather it has led to destruction of their home where they only seek to live their daily lives peacefully. They spoke of violence against the people themselves, constant encroachment on their town, and constant threat and intimidation. There are as well rumors of apparent suicides of leaders of opposition to the mine that are reported to have been actually homicides by the miners. Every Monday through Friday at 3 p.m., the mine sets off explosions which rock the village.
The case of the New Gold Mine is furthermore a common one throughout the world and Mexico. Similar conflicts, similar processes, dispossession of land and the destruction of communities and their underlying ecosystems exist also in other areas of the world and Mexico as we heard along the caravan, including in Guerrero, Chiapas, Oaxaca, and Chihuahua, other cities in Mexico. (La Minera candiens, La Jornada/ SLP December 2009)