Mexican Village Exemplifies Indigenous Struggle to Protect Land from Mining

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Meg Lumsdaine is currently serving as Pastor for Evergreen Mennonite Church in Kirkland, Washington

In the soft glow of porchlight on a balmy subtropical night, our family stood among a crowd of thirty or so local residents who had gathered there in the village of Zacualpan to bid us farewell. We had spent the day in this rural community of indigenous Nahua people in west-central Mexico – listening to and learning from their stories, laughing together and sharing pain, building friendships, and together seeking a ways in which concerned people could support their resistance to a massive gold strip-mining project that has been proposed on the village’s nearby communal land. The majority of Zacualpan residents are adamantly opposed to this mine, because of the severe contamination to their land and water that they believe it would inflict, and the devastating implications it would have for the health of the people.

Our visit to Zacualpan early this Spring followed an intensive series of meetings with a range of Mexican government officials by an international delegation in which we participated, organized by REMA, la Red Mexicana de Afectados por la Mineria (the Mexican Network of Those Affected by Mining). Approximately 20 participants came from 18 different organizations – including nonprofits and universities – in several parts of Mexico, as well as from Canada, the United States, New Zealand and Italy. My husband Peter and I represented Evergreen Mennonite Church in the state of Washington. We felt that the church’s presence in this delegation was an important addition.

The Indigenous Council for the Defense of the Territory of Zacualpan (CIDTZ) reports that REMA has documented a serious case of what can take place as a result of modern mining activities, citing the case of Carrizalillo, a community in the Mexican state of Guerrero. A multinational mining company called Goldcorp operates on 85% of Carrizalillo’s Ejido (or community co-op) territory, and after eight years of mining the little that has not been destroyed is contaminated. According to studies undertaken, up to 70% of the population is affected by illnesses related to mining operations and virtually every family has at least one member affected. REMA has also drawn attention to how mining attracted organized crime to the community – a situation so bad that in April nearly half of Carrizalillos families fled, displaced by violence, assassinations and extortion from organized crime.

The Nahua people in Zacaulpan sustain themselves largely through a combination of farming on communally owned land, a variety of service jobs, and eco-tourism. The Ojo de Agua – a manantiel or mountain spring, which provides water for their community as well as for city residents in Colima, is a source of great pride and concern in Zacualpan. Visitors to the beautiful spring and its natural pools, and to the little restaurant that the townspeople built there, have generated significant eco-tourism revenue for the community. Yet those who are angry with opponents of the proposed mine have sought to hinder access to the spring by setting up another blockade on the side-road that leads to the spring. The only way that Ojo de Agua can now be accessed by community members is to descend a long, rugged, winding, and sometimes steep trail that drops from Zacualpan into the adjacent river canyon. Members of the community must make this journey on a daily basis while carrying down supplies for a base camp there – set up to protect the spring and facilities from further vandalism by pro-mining vigilantes.

That evening we made our way back up the canyon trail by twilight and walked down cobble-stone streets to the house where we would say our good-byes. Just before departing, we had a time of gift-giving. We presented them with a small tapestry that we had purchased at a recent MCC Relief Sale. The tapestry blended shades of blue and purple in such a way as to represent water. We told them that this was a gift from our congregation, symbolizing the fact that water was a gift from God that belonged to all of God’s people. It was then that one of the leaders of the community, Rosalina – a woman whose husband has received death threats because of his refusal to be bought off by the mining corporations – took a necklace off of her neck. As she placed the necklace in my hands, she said to me, “May this give you protection”. As I wear it now, it reminds me that we are all responsible for the protection of one another – of our land, of our water, of our children.
first of a two-part series by Meg and Peter Lumsdaine

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