WhyHunger’s Tristan Quinn-Thibodeau reports from international climate justice delegation organized by La Via Campesina to Mexico in 2010.
WhyHunger’s Global Movements Program Outreach and Partnerships Coordinator, Tristan Quinn-Thibodeau, went to Mexico as part of an international climate justice delegation organized by La Via Campesina to coincide with the official climate talks (COP 16) taking place in Cancun. The first leg of his journey was a caravan from San Luis Potosí in the center of the country to Mexico City, stopping along the way in communities impacted by climate change and environmental destruction. His first report follows.
On the first day of the caravan, we departed from San Luis Potosi and headed to Cerro San Pedro, a large mountain that is now a large mine for gold and silver. Cerro San Pedro is the symbol of the state of San Luis. It was a large mountain visible from tens of miles away, rising above the high mesa desert. Now it is a pile of rubble. The town of San Pedro was once a vibrant mountain town, but is now ghost town. The school is closed because there are not enough children to study there. The Canadian company NewGold, which owns the mine, uses cyanide to mine the gold and silver from San Pedro, which seeps into the groundwater, causing obvious health problems. Besides destroying the symbolism of the mountain and polluting the soil and groundwater around it — near many small farms on the plains — open-pit mining also releases tons of carbon into the atmosphere.
Many of Mexico’s environmental problems can be traced to the implementation of NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement between the US, Mexico, and Canada, in 1994. One of the conditions of Mexico’s inclusion in NAFTA was the removal of legal protections of communal land. In the 15+ years following Mexico’s entrance into NAFTA, there have been enormous land grabs of this formerly communal land. What is now the case is that NewGold is mining San Pedro without an explicit permit and violating environmental laws by using toxic chemicals, yet the Mexican government does nothing.
We marched up the mountain to visit the town of San Pedro and heard rousing speeches by citizens from the town, indigenous leaders from nearby areas engaged in similar fights against corporations that have taken over communal land and are extracting resources and causing massive ecological damage, and international delegates. As mentioned above, NewGold is a Canadian company — and in fact almost 70 percent of mining companies are Canadian — and many members of our delegation were from Canada. They expressed their shame at seeing a Canadian flag with a skull and crossbones which read “Made in Canada” and pledged to tell the story of San Pedro back in Canada. They were sure that Canadians would not support such reckless mining within Canada and would be outraged to know that this is occurring in Mexico.
The pollution of the groundwater from the mine had caused high rates of leukemia in the community of Cerro San Pedro, and I can only imagine that it also affected the small farms I saw near the mountain. With the importance of water for agriculture and for human health, it was shocking to see projects which were so destructive of already stressed water systems. The leaders from the other communities we visited on Day 1, Delores Hidalgo and Salamanca, also told us of the importance of water for their community and the difficult work they had to do to protect those water sources. Without water, we have nothing.
For additional reports from Mexico by Tristan Quinn-Thibodeau, see:
On the Road with La Via Campesina in Mexico: Day 2
On the Road with La Via Campesina in Mexico: Day 3