PRELIMINARY STATEMENT OF THE CIVILIAN OBSERVATION MISSION “JUSTICE FOR SAN JOSÉ DEL PROGRESO”
PRELIMINARY STATEMENT OF THE CIVILIAN OBSERVATION MISSION
“JUSTICE FOR SAN JOSÉ DEL PROGRESO”
From November 19th to 21st of this year, 19 local, national and international civil society organizations carried out the Civilian Observation Mission “Justice for San José del Progreso”, with the aim of documenting and raising awareness about the human rights violations being committed against the population of this town in the Mexican state of Oaxaca, including the risks facing community human rights defenders who oppose the presence of the Cuzcatlán mine and seek to protect Ocotlán Valley residents’ right to their land.
The Mission interviewed victims, families, women, neighborhood representatives, young people and children in San José del Progreso. Participants also met with Municipal President Alberto Mauro Sánchez and representatives of the Treasury, Health Department, Public Works Department, and pro-mining group “San José Defending Our Rights”.
The Mission visited various areas affected by the mine’s activities and by the conflict that the mine has generated in the community, including the offices of the Cuzcatlán mining company itself (subsidiary of the Canadian mining company Fortuna Silver); the tailings dam constructed as a place to deposit toxic waste from the mine; the site where community activist Bernardo Méndez Vásquez was murdered; an area that contains graffiti with death threats against another murdered human rights defender, Bernardo Vásquez Sánchez; as well as visiting and carrying out interviews in the neighboring towns of Maguey Largo, El Cuajilote, and San Pedro Apóstol, where residents have formed the United Peoples for the Defense of Water.
On the third day, the Mission met with authorities involved in the San José del Progreso mine as well as human rights defenders.
Overview of the situation
The mining concession in San José del Progreso was granted by the Secretary of Economy for a period of 50 years, yet according to interviews carried out with members of the United Peoples of the Ocotlán Valley (CPUVO) and local authorities,1 the mining company never consulted the assembly of citizens of San José del Progreso, meaning that the company did not obtain the population’s consent to establish the mine. The mine has instead been imposed by the government (including actions by state and federal authorities) with the collusion of the Commission of Common Goods of San José del Progreso, represented at the time by Quintín Vásquez Rosario, who met with 13 government departments and federal authorities. Additionally, ex Municipal President Óscar Venancio, who was killed in June of 2010, gave the mining company a permit in May of 2009.
Having interviewed both pro- and anti-mining sectors of the population residing in the area of the Cuzcatlán mine, the Civilian Observation Mission documented a climate of insecurity, fear and internal divisions in San José del Progreso, including within families, tearing the social fabric of this town. The most severe conflict is precisely between those individuals who oppose the mine and those who support it.
According to the interviews carried out, there is a close relationship between the mining company and the municipal authorities, who have bought the support of many people through money and social programs.
Municipal and state authorities supplied scant information about the resources donated by the mining company, or those corresponding to the municipal or state government. According to the CPUVO, the company and the municipal government are planning to construct 26 dams. Concerns over this information have heightened tensions in the community.
Municipal President Alberto Mauro Sánchez informed the Mission that the mining company had given 13 million pesos during 2011-2012 to support public works projects in San José del Progreso, but the citizenry does not know what has been done with these resources.
In the ejido(commonly held land) of San José del Progreso, the government has implemented the Program to Certify Land Rights known as PROCEDE, which transformed the commonly held territory into private property, favoring the mining company in terms of acquiring parcels of land. The company pays 2 million pesos each semester to the federal treasury for 53,000 hectares of concessioned land.
Meanwhile, opponents of the mine face threats, attacks, detention, murder, and other acts of intimidation. Those interviewed state that the responsibility for such attacks lies with the Municipal President. The victims of violent attacks who have been wounded include: Bernardo Vásquez Gómez, Guadalupe Andrés Vásquez Ruíz, José Martínez Sánchez, Rosalinda Dionisio Vásquez, Álvaro Andrés Vázquez Sánchez, Martín Hernández Arango, Celso Vásquez Sánchez, Salvador Vásquez Martínez, Domingo Villanueva, Jorge Sánchez Hernández, Bertín Vásquez Ruíz, Pascasio Pérez Manuel, Carlos Sánchez Pérez, and Abigail Vásquez Sánchez. In addition, Bernardo Méndez Vásquez and Bernardo Vásquez Sánchez have been murdered. All of the above-mentioned victims are or were members of the CPUVO.
The Mission documented the physical and psychological effects that persist in many of these victims. Members of the CPUVO denounce having been detained by the state police for protesting against the mine, without arrest warrants, and under circumstances that included torture, fabrication of false criminal charges and excessive use of force. All were set free between one week and two months afterwards. The justice system has been inefficient and has not responded by investigating or punishing such abuses, exacerbating the population’s lack of trust in its institutions.
Interviewees told the Mission that in the case of victims wounded by firearms, the medical attention provided by state authorities has been insensitive, negligent, and late, putting at risk the lives of these members of the CPUVO.
Women interviewed by the Mission denounced that in the case of the Community Health Center there is a practice of discriminating against members of the CPUVO, who are denied medical attention and medicine, while the mining company’s members receive attention.
There is currently a problem of lack of communal governing structures, reflected in the absence of a Commission of Common Goods or a Vigilance Council. Citizens denounced that the mining company financed the campaign of the current Municipal President during the 2010 elections, such that the municipal government responds to the company’s interests and governs in favor of a minority of the population, who have been co-opted by donations from the company.
The municipal authorities currently work out of a private office located in front of the mining company’s Community Relations Office.
In terms of the impact of the mine, residents denounce the excessive noise produced by the machinery, which causes hearing problems and prevents the residents from sleeping. Further, the white dust produced by the explosions and the grinding of the rocks (especially at night) is causing skin allergies in children.2
Those interviewed also spoke of damages to houses caused by explosions from the mine, which occur every day at 6:45am and 6:45pm. For instance, the home of Mrs. Dominga Gopar Ruíz has fissures in the floor, walls, and roof.
In terms of environmental impact, the citizens denounced that they can no longer bring their animals to drink water from the Coyote River due to the yellowish tinge of the water since the arrival of the mining company, as well as stating that the water levels have gone down significantly in all the wells. They likewise report that hardly any corn can be grown near the mine, milpa(mixed) crops no longer grow, and the earth has become infertile.
Women, young people, and children in particular expressed their concerns over the presence of armed groups presumably financed by the mining company, whose members regularly get drunk and discharge firearms into the air at night.
In general, there is a tangible sense of conflict and violence among young people, affecting religious, political, and cultural interactions in the community, even across bloodlines.
Boys and girls from San José del Progreso repeatedly told Mission members how they had been forced to change their routines and were no longer permitted to play with children from the opposing group. Children from the pro-mining group tease anti-mining children in school by showing off the fruits of the economic benefits of supporting the mine. The children interviewed drew pictures of armed employees of the mining company, clouds of grey and dried-up crops.
In short, the conflict provoked by the mining company’s arrival has had a powerful impact on the lives of women and children, who are constantly worried over armed people from other groups and communities. The children are not permitted to leave their own community and the smallest fights become cause for deep concern for parents.
In this context, the actions of the pro-mining organization “San José Defending Our Rights” are another concern. According to interviewees, this organization works to manage and implement projects sponsored by the mine.
Everyone interviewed shared the view that the Municipal President and the mine are the material and intellectual authors of the violent acts perpetrated in the community since 2011.
Additionally, the mining project continues to expand its exploitation of the mineral resources of the area by moving into new communal lands of San José del Progreso, taking advantage of the absence of local communal authorities.
For their part, residents of neighboring community Maguey Largo denounced that the mining company pressured them during 2011 on several occasions, offering them cash, the construction of an auditorium and the paving of their highway in exchange for them not to protest against the mine. The women of the community also spoke of possible health effects of the mine, mentioning the unusually high number of miscarriages (11) in the last two years.
In the case of El Cuajilote community, the women opposing the mine have denounced a lack of attention by the Opportunities Committee, the Police Agent, the municipal authorities, and even that children have been denied medical attention and thrown out of the Community Health Center, for not having cooperated (donated) to support its construction. In this community as well there is a clear internal division cutting across religious, political, cultural, and social interactions.
The Mission expresses its disapproval of the imposing attitude of Municipal President Alberto Mauro Sánchez, who on November 20, 2012, approached the members of the Mission in an intimidating manner when they were stopped in front of the mine to take pictures; the President demanded that they clear the way.
The state (Oaxacan) authorities3 and the state Human Rights Defender’s Office recognized the grave situation in San José del Progreso, including the existence of human rights violations such as the lack of consultation with the community and other ongoing violations. The state Defender considered that the situation in San José del Progreso is unsustainable and that there is a lack of information regarding the current state of affairs. However, the state government argued that mining concessions fall within the jurisdiction of the federal government.
A representative of the mining company, Javier Castañeda, stated that the Cuzcatlán mine was not responsible for the conflict in San José del Progreso and argued that members of the church incite the local population. The Mission asked Mr. Castañeda why the company had not consulted with the community and he responded that the company possessed the necessary municipal and federal permits to operate.
The organizations that participated in the Observation Mission express our deep concern for the level of vulnerability for human rights defenders in the Central Valleys of Oaxaca.
We call for the following:
1) From the federal government: the cancellation of the San José mining project and the immediate departure from San José del Progreso of the Cuzcatlán mine, subsidiary of Canadian company Fortuna Silver, as well as the reparation of the social, environmental, and cultural damage done by the mine.
2) From the Oaxacan state government: urgent measures to reconcile the community of San José del Progreso and to reconstruct the damaged social fabric of the community, so as to avoid future loss of life.
3) From the State Electoral and Citizen Participation Institute and the Rural Prosecutor of the Congress of the State of Oaxaca: conditions and guarantees of a transparent and democratic election process for municipal and rural authorities, in which the mining company should not be involved.
4) From the Cuzcatlán mining company: that in the short term, it move its Community Relations Office and avoid sending dump-trucks and heavy load vehicles through the downtown area of San José del Progreso.
5) From the Human Rights Defender’s Office of Oaxaca: a Recommendation for the protection of human rights defenders in San José del Progreso.
Oaxaca de Juárez, Oaxaca, November 22, 2012
Colectivo Oaxaqueño en Defensa de los Territorios (Servicios para una Educación Alternativa EDUCA A.C., Servicios del Pueblo Mixe, Ser Mixe A.C., Centro de Derechos Indígenas Flor y Canto A.C., Centro de Derechos Humanos Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez Centro Prodh A.C., Unión de Organizaciones de la Sierra Juárez de Oaxaca, UNOSJO S.C.), Bachillerato Intercultural Ojo de Agua, Centro de Análisis e Investigación FUNDAR A.C., La Asamblea Veracruzana de Iniciativas y Defensa Ambiental LA VIDA, Tequio Jurídico A.C.; Consorcio para el Diálogo y la Equidad de Género-Oaxaca A.C., Council Of Canadians, Movimiento Agrario Indígena Zapatista MAIZ, Servicio Internacional para la Paz SIPAZ A.C., Colectivo Casa Chapulín CACITA, Comité de Defensa Integral de Derechos Humanos Gobixha AC (CODIGO DH), Hij@s de la Tierra, Witness For Peace, Swefor.
1 Human Rights Coordinator of the State of Oaxaca; Oaxaca State Human Rights Defender’s Office; Permanent Human Rights Commission of the Congress of the State of Oaxaca.
2 For instance, Fany Daniela, Dulce María, and Karen Itzel Vásquez, girls who show skin irritation in the last 3 months.
3 The Mission met with the following authorities of the state executive branch: Human Rights Coordinator of the State of Oaxaca, Public Security Department, and Health Services Department.