Mining as a Development Factor in The Sierra Juárez in Oaxaca:
an Ethical Evaluation
Mario Enrique Fuente and David Barkin

During the age of New Spain, the extraction of gold and silver was one of the motors of colonization and dominance. That was the case for the territories in Ixtlán de Juárez, in the Sierra Juárez. Since independence, the extraction of minerals continued with ups and downs, but always dependent upon foreign influence, particularly North American and British. There are reports that the La Natividad mine, located in land belonging to the Capulálpam de Méndez community, was formally exploited since the end of the seventeenth century and until the beginning of the nineteenth; more than a million ounces of gold and 23 million of silver were extracted. At the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth, the process of electrification for various mines throughout the country intensified, including those in Ixtlán and La Natividad in Sierra Juárez (Coll and Sánchez, 1998: 188-9).

At the end of the twentieth century, there were important changes made to the extraction processes in the La Natividad mine, such as the following adjustments, according to the Committee for the Defense of Natural Resources of Capulálpam de Méndez:

In 1993, under the argument of a supposed fall in productivity in the main seam, the Mining Company of La Natividad dissolved the labor union and carried out a massive firing;
Later, in 1993 and 1994, with the support of two foreign companies (Asarco and Santa Regina), the Mining Company of La Natividad began to explore the northern part of the Capulálpam de Méndez lands. The community was not consulted nor informed of this exploration. From 1995 to 2002, these works continued (exploration and exploitation) on a lower scale inside the mine.
In 2002, the Mexican government ceded the majority of the mining concessions in the region, 54,653 hectares to Continuum Resources Ltd., a Canadian company. The objective was to initiate prospecting works. At the same time, from 2002 to 2004, the mining company insisted on exploring these deposits; and
In 2004 the name of the company Continuum Resources Ltd. Began to appear more openly as the main investor for exploiting silver and gold mining resources in La Natividad and silver and lead in Talea de Castro.

Unlike the vision of the Mexican government and the mining companies, the community of Capulálpam de Méndez, Oaxaca saw the value of the mining industry for development differently. This fact became clear in 2002, when the Mining Company of La Natividad established formal contact with the community to seek authorization to carry out studies to verify the results obtained in 1993 and if relevant, initiate exploitation of silver and gold deposits. The mining company’s request was made before the Commission for Communal Property of Capulálpam de Méndez. The Assembly denied authorization.

The rejection was linked to the community’s decision about the cultural and natural importance of their territory. As such, given the community’s cumulative experience with the impact of the mining industry and the strong risks for their own heritage, their evaluation of the situation was significantly different than the purely economical viewpoint offered by the Mexican government and the mining companies.

Specifically, the decision of the Capulálpam de Méndez community was based on the risks and deterioration in their access to water, both in the reduction of sources of water supplies as well as the contamination generated by the works. Among the actions carried out by the community during the process of mining concessions, the following stand out: a) formalization of the respective complaints made before the authorities concerning relevant regulations, mainly the Federal Environmental Protection Office and the National Water Commission; b) formation of the Committee for the Defense of Natural Resources, created by the assembly in conjunction with municipal and communal authorities to follow up on complaints; c) various regional forums in 2005 and in 2012, forum held with the municipal and communal authorities of the municipalities of the mining area bordering the Río Grande where contaminants were dumped; and d) formalization of a law suit against the Mining Company La Natividad for the ecological damage done to the community.

The community’s lawsuits against the government can be summarized by those made against various bodies of the Mexican government on August 17, 2011 before the Senate Chamber. Each of the bodies has different responsibilities, but as a whole, they did not inform the community inhabitants of various issues linked to the mining projects, such as the following:

  1. Ministry of Economy, about the situation caused by the mining concessions granted to the companies “Mining Company of La Natividad and Annexes,” “Sundance,” “Continuum Resources” and “Fausto Calvo Sumano.”
  2. Federal Environmental Protection Office, regarding: a) the situation of the lawsuit on environmental impact from 2006 and May 2011; b) compliance with the 17 measures ordered upon the “Mining Company of La Natividad and Annexes, S.A. de C.V.”7 to determine the effects of possible authorization for this mining company to restart operations.
  3. The demand that the Mining Company of La Natividad and Annexes and the company Sundance pay restitution for damages done to the community heritage.
  4. National Water Commission, regarding the fact that the Mining Company of La Natividad and Annexes and the company Sundance refused responsibility for the high risk dumping of contaminants into the Río Grande section belonging to the Papaloapan mining area.
  5. From the Attorney General’s Office regarding ongoing prior investigations 34/ueidaple/da/6/2008 and 35/ueidaple/da/6/2008 derived from a complaint before the Commission for the Environment and Natural Resources.

7 From the Administrative File pfpa/oax/47/0325-06, from which the Administrative Industrial Inspection document No. 260 was derived.