Esperanza Salazar: fighting mining concessions in a climate of violence

Today we had the pleasure to interview Esperanza Salazar, one of the speakers that will attend “Beyond Good Business” on October 26. Esperanza is the general coordinator for Bios Iguana, a Mexican organisation that operates in the province of Colima against the governmental imposition of a mining concession for the company Gabfer to extract gold in indigenous communal land. Bios Iguana is also part of the Red Mexicana de Afectados por la Mineria, an environmental group that works with local authorities to educate the population on the risks of mining operations. Here’s what she told us about her work:


What is your personal experience with regards to the relation between extractivism and human rights?

My experience with the Red Mexicana de Afectados por la Mineria has proven the close link between the extraction of natural resources and the violation of human rights. The main problem is the lack of a free, informed and culturally appropriate consultation with the local people before setting up a mining project. So far, there are 27,000 mining concessions in Mexico, and none of them has been obtained through a consultation with the landowners.

What have been the most destructive consequences of mining activities in Colima?

The dispossession of indigenous land – like in the case of the iron mining company Peña Colorada, in Ayotitlán. Those who refused to leave their land have been harassed, threatened, and deprived of their water sources. 35 people have been killed and 3 are missing in the attempt to defend their lands in Colima and Jalisco.

How do you define human development? Do you think that the extraction of natural resources could be used to sustain human development?

Human development is based on the well-being of peoples and families. Unfortunately, the extraction of natural resources rarely brings any improvement in people’s lives. On the contrary, extractive projects often cause pollution, violence, community division, cultural destruction, loss of water sources and biodiversity.

How could local people benefit from the extraction of natural resources?

For centuries, local communities in Mexico have benefited from natural resources. The mining projects that have been carried on recently, however, are of a different kind. They are just a brutal way to make money and bring benefits to corporations. Local communities don’t need such projects; their land already offers them everything they need for their well-being.

Throughout the years, Bios Iguana has faced an enormous amount of threats. What measures have been taken in response to this climate of violence?

The close relationship we have with national (REMA, MAPDER) and international organisations (M4, Miningwatch, CEDHAL, Frontline Defenders, LAMMP, UDEFEGUA, MAB, among many others) means that there are always eyes on Bios Iguana and what happens in Colima. The cooperation with national and international organisations has given us protection while helping us stop the construction of the mine.

We have already reported the violence to the national and federal departments of human rights, as well as filed criminal complaints that have received no answer. We have also filed complaints with UN Special Rapporteurs and signed a petition with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

What role does the government play in this scenario?

The national government is the one providing facilities to the mining companies while openly supporting the group that promotes the mine in the community. The federal government, on the other hand, is trying to change the status of communal land through the Agrarian Attorney, to make it easier for companies to access the territory.

Both the national and the federal government have been fostering community divisions and criminalised the social protest.

What is, in your opinion, the best way to promote a constructive dialogue between the parts involved?

The only way to promote a dialogue is to respect the self-determination of indigenous people and their decision to declare their territory mining-free. You cannot start a constructive dialogue when 200 hectares on land have already been given in concession to mining companies for the next 50 years, with possible extension for another 50 years. And all this without even consulting the local community.

What are your expectations on “Beyond Good Business”?

I love the idea of sharing my work with that of other women and learn what other people are doing to better defend their territory.

 

(Interview by Camilla Capasso)

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