Letter from El Barzón to Canadian Embassy in Mexico

Apr 23, 2013

Letter from El Barzón to Canadian Embassy in Mexico

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Below, a letter sent from members of El Barzón to the Canadian embassy in Mexico on October 31, 2012, following the assassinations of Ismael Solorio Urrutia and his wife Manuela Martha Solís Contreras. Click here to read the feature story about mining and murder in Chihuahua, Mexico, in this issue of The Dominion. Haz clic aquí para ver la carta en español. Click here to download the English version.

October 31, 2012

Her Excellency Sara Hradecky, Ambassador of Canada to Mexico

Dear Madam Ambassador,

On Monday, October 22, the leader of the grassroots organization “El Barzón”, Ismael Solorio Urrutia and his wife Manuela Martha Solís Contreras, both tireless defenders of human rights and economic, social and environmental rights in the northern state of Chihuahua since 1992, were assassinated. He was an engineer in agronomy and she was a primary school teacher; they were the parents of three children: Ismael, Erick and Uriel.

Regrettably, these assassinations are not unrelated to citizens and companies of the country you so honourably represent, since they are the consequence of public campaigns that members of El Barzón have carried out over the past year in the municipalities of  Namiquipa, Buenaventura  and Ahumada, Chihuahua, in defence of water in the Rio del Carmen basin and against the mining company El Cascabel, a company closely related to the Canadian mining company MAG Silver, located in the Ejido Benito Juárez of Buenaventura where Ismael and Manuelita lived.

Defence of Water

Since the 1950s, the Las Lajas dam was build on the Rio del Carmen, Water District 89 was created, and a decree was issued imposing a total ban in the hydrological basin that prohibits the perforation of new wells and any attempt to retain water. Concessions to surface and underground water were delivered to ejido members, agricultural community members and small-scale landowners.

However, a group of persons—in the majority Canadian citizens members of the Mennonite community—have made indiscriminate and illegal use of the water from the river and its tributaries, have carried our illegal perforation and electrification of wells, have illegally cleared more than 35,000 hectares of land in the Chihuahua desert to open up to cultivation. These acts put at risk the viability—already precarious—of the region, seriously affecting producers with historic, legal and recognized rights to use of water in the basin, as well as the urban population in the region.

Defence of the environment and against open-pit mining

Six years ago, the Canadian mining company MAG Silver and and its partner company Minera Cascabel, illegally purchased 40 common use rights in the grazing area of the Benito Juarez ejido, in the municipality of Buenaventura (the total number of ejido members is 398). The ejido assembly refused the permit to carry out mining exploration on two separate occasions. Despite the decision of the assembly, the mining company has continued with exploration, causing environmental damage and conflict in the region.

By agreement of the ejido assembly members, research was conducted on the mining company’s activities and the following illegal acts were detected:

Violations of environmental legislation:

·      Violation of NOM 120 of the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT)

·      Perforation of 400 exploration wells at a depth of 400 meters, below the water level, which is prohibited by environmental laws

·      Activities lack a study of the vulnerability of the aquifer as required by law

Violations to agrarian law

·      Falsification of two acts of the ejido assembly to certify common use lands in the National Agrarian Registry in the name of three of their employees

·      Exploration activities without permission from the Ejido Assembly

·      Illegal purchase of common-use lands

For six years the mining company has illegally carried out exploration on ejido lands, not only perforating the earth, but also the community through corruption, hiring thugs, etc.

In the case of water, more than a year ago mobilizations of organizations and producers from the ejidos and agricultural communities as well as small property owners have reached a series of agreements with state and federal authorities to carry out inspections and oversight, the immediate closing of unlicensed use of surface and underground water, cancellation of the supply of electricity to illegal wells and the reorientation of subsidies for irrigation systems to the water users in the basin with historically recognized rights.

The responses of the Mexican federal and state governments, of the transnational corporation and of the Mennonite community have led to:

·      Distorting the problem to make it seem as if it were a conflict of interests between individuals

·      Feigning negotiations while ignoring the fundamental denouncement of El Barzón, in the sense that these are VIOLATIONS OF ENVIRONMENTAL AND HUMAN RIGHTS AND OF MEXICAN LAWS

·      Smear campaigns orchestrated by the government of Chihuahua against El Barzón and its grassroots leaders

·      A media campaign to discredit El Barzón and in particular Ismael Solorio, which paved the way for his assassination

We denounce before you the corruption promoted by the transnational company and certain Mennonite Canadian citizens among government officials, at the federal level in the SEMARNAT, PROFEPA, CONAGUA, Agrarian Office, National Agrarian Registry, Federal Commission of Electricity, and especially the state government of Chihuahua.

We know that one of your responsibilities is to protect the interests of the citizens of your country abroad, but this should not including condoning the commission of crimes or violations of human rights.

As Mexican researcher and writer Carlos Montemayor said in 2008: “There is a notable contrast between the humanist, political, social and cultural grandeur of Canada and the Canadian mining companies, which have become an example of brutal depredation and inexcusable illegality. The ecological, economic and social damages they cause in various regions of the world and of Mexico is an example of how an admirable country can produce savage transnational companies that trample the principles so aptly expressed by Justice Lamer when he ruled that the use of the land is limited to uses “that do not destroy the ability of the land to sustain future generations of the same aboriginal peoples.”

Given these facts and their grave nature, we thank you for your attention to this matter and we request of your Embassy:

·      That you investigate, monitor and sanction MAG Silver for any and all violations of human and environmental rights committed in Mexican territory;

·      That the Canadian Embassy in Mexico guarantee and protect the human rights of the community Ejido Benito Juárez and the organization El Barzón with Mexican authorities and Minera El Cascabel / MAG Silver in Chihuahua so the members of the community can oppose the operations of the mine without fear of violence or discrimination for defending the land and water.


 El Barzón

Alfonso Ramírez Cuellar, Martín Solís Bustamante, Gabino Gómez Escarcega, Joaquín Solorio Urrutia, Luz Estela Castro Rodríguez, Heraclio Rodríguez Gómez