I want to share a little about my father and his struggle against the mine in Chicomuselo, and why we have lodged a complaint in Canada to demand an investigation into the actions of the Canadian embassy in Mexico. My father, Mariano Abarca, had four children and ran a restaurant in Chicomuselo. He also played a role as an important leader of the community, especially when a barite mine owned by a Canadian mining company began to cause social and environmental harm in the community.
He was a founder of the Mexican Network of People Affected by Mining (REMA). The Canadian mining company Blackfire operated in our municipality from the end of 2007 until the end of 2009. The mine was shut down for environmental reasons a few days after my father’s murder and has not operated since. My father was a leader in the social movement opposing the mine.
In June 2009, he traveled from Chicomuselo to Mexico City with others from the community and with the support of Otros Mundos Chiapas to participate in a demonstration in front of the Canadian embassy. There, he spoke with a representative of the embassy. He talked about the company’s unfulfilled promises of work, about the damage the company’s trucks were causing to our homes and streets, and above all, the contamination of our rivers whose headwaters are in the Sierra Madre de Chiapas.
He also talked about a group of company workers who were armed and who were intimidating him and others.
About three weeks after returning to Chicomuselo, my father was detained by the police in response to a complaint filed by the mining company. The company made many false accusations against him, saying that he was involved in organized crime, was causing harm to the company, and was making threats, among other things. Otros Mundos and REMA alerted their networks, calling on them to express concern to the Canadian embassy. After eight days, my father was released without trial for lack of evidence. But he was still under significant risk and said that if anything were to happen to him, it would be the fault of the mining company.
Three months later, on November 27, 2009, a man shot and killed my father as he was sitting outside his restaurant.
All the people with ties to the murder were contracted by the mining company and, to date, there has yet to be a serious investigation. That’s why we have filed a complaint before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights against the Mexican government. We have also filed a complaint demanding an investigation into the actions of the Canadian embassy in Mexico. We filed this last complaint because we obtained documents —with the help of several Canadian organizations such as the Steelworkers, Common Frontiers, and MiningWatch Canada — from the Canadian embassy that reveal how much the Canadian embassy knew about the situation and did nothing to protect my father, all the while working to secure Blackfire’s operations.
This documentation reveals that even before the mine went into operation, the embassy knew that the company was having difficulty reaching agreements with the community. From then on, the embassy exerted diplomatic pressure on Chiapas state officials to move the mine into production. The documentation further shows that once in production, the embassy closely monitored the media in Chiapas about the ongoing protests and knew about the deep discontent of the people. All of this should have been a clear warning sign for the embassy.
Instead, these documents reveal that a member of the Canadian embassy dismissed [our concerns], saying that we were trying to blackmail the company for more money. Following my father’s visit to the embassy in Mexico City in July 2009 and his subsequent arrest in August 2009, the embassy received 1,400 letters from all over the Americas expressing great concern for his whereabouts and for his life. But instead of responding with concern for my father’s safety, the embassy passed along information to the Mexican authorities in an attempt to dispel any doubts regarding the legitimacy of the mine.
Although we do not have a complete record of the embassy’s meetings with our government, we do know that the embassy sent a delegation to Chiapas in October 2009, only a few weeks before my father’s murder. Embassy officials did not talk with us, nor with any of the organizations involved, such as Otros Mundos. Rather they met with the state government to raise concerns about possible royalty increases charged to Blackfire and petitioned state officials to quell protests. Less than six weeks later, my father was killed by the Canadian mining company.
We are not saying that the embassy had my father killed. But by denying him the necessary security, and by working only on behalf of the company, we consider that they put him at greater risk. If they had acted differently, things could have been different. My father might not have been killed. This is why we went to Ottawa in February 2018 to file a complaint with the public service integrity commissioner and why we continue to insist to the federal court that there must be an investigation into the role of the Canadian embassy in this case. My father is not coming back. But we believe that this process can set an important precedent for the struggles of other communities who are in danger because they are fighting to protect their environment and health from the enormous damage caused by mining.
The above testimony was given by José Luis Abarca in Spanish during the October 5, 2021 roundtable “What does the murder of activist Mariano Abarca in Chiapas, México say about Canadian government accountability?” Access the roundtable here.