There is much cause for celebration in the Mexican community of Cerro de San Pedro. Local residents, with the help of the Frente Amplio Opositor (FAO) and their supporters and affiliates in Canada have succeeded in getting the open-pit gold and silver mine operated by Vancouver’s New Gold shut down.
Profepa agent barring the gate of the Cerro de San Pedro mine on Wednesday
On Wednesday, agents of the PROFEPA, Mexico’s environmental protection agency, shut down mining operations in accordance with decisions rendered by the Ninth Circuit Administrative Court and the Federal Tribunal of Fiscal and Administrative Justice. This move came after inaction and denial by the company following the ruling and by the persistence of activists and even politicians including NDP leader Jack Layton to get them to respect the ruling against them.
Since the mine first opened in 2006, the FAO and others have been very vocal, arguing that not only was it destructive to both the environment and the community (in terms of their health and heritage) it was also illegal. They have performed many actions both in Mexico and Canada, some dealing specifically with the situation in San Pedro and others with the abuses of the Canadian mining industry in a broader international context. Many of these actions included a strong theatrical component and the group even inadvertently got Montreal’s Mount-Royal protected from mining interests in the process.
Members of the FAO from Mexico performing an action in Montreal in 2007
In October, Mexican officials finally listened and nullified the environmental impact statement obtained by New Gold predecessor Metallica Resources which led to the forced mine closure earlier this week. This prompted a major drop in the price of New Gold stocks and the company has since gone into major damage control mode, arguing that the closure is just a temporary setback and the mine will be up and running again soon.
Cerro de San Pedro just before a mining explosion after the mine was ordered shut
One tactic supporters of the mine have used in the past is violence. Enrique Rivera Sierra, a human rights lawyer now living in Montreal, fled Mexico to seek refugee status in Canada after he was severely beaten by paramilitaries for his support of the FAO.
For a while yesterday, it looked like history had repeated itself as allegations of attacks by miners against residents and members of the FAO surfaced. It turns out that fortunately so far there have only been verbal confrontations. Still, given New Gold and its predecessor’s track record on these issues, activists in Mexico and Canada are on high alert and the situation in Cerro de San Pedro is more than a little tense.
The media spotlight on New Gold may be what keeps members of the FAO in Mexico safe, the same people who, in turn, have now succeeded in keeping the community safe from the mine. While this is huge news for Cerro de San Pedro, it is just one small step towards dealing with the Canadian mining industry, though it is an important one.