Volume 45 Number 179,
October - December 2014
Rural Social Actors and Mining Mega-Projects in Mexico
Roberto Diego Quintana*
Date received: January 28, 2014. Date accepted: July 28, 2014

This work deals with accumulation by dispossession, a process by which multinational corporations engaged in open-pit mining have availed themselves of the lands of farmers and indigenous peoples. Specifically, it is concerned with legislative, political and ideological factors, as well as the abuse of authority brought on by the current situation, in which nearly 17% of the national territory was under concession to these companies as of 2013. This is an attack on the communities and territories of farmers and original peoples, not to mention national sovereignty. With this in mind, this study proposes some potential strategies to defend the resources and territory from this dispossession.

Keywords: Mining, mineral resources, multinational corporations, farming communities, concession of permits.

Our defeat was always implicit in the victory of others; our wealth has always generated
our poverty by nourishing the prosperity of others – the empires and their native overseers.
Eduardo Galeano
Open Veins of Latin America


In less economically developed countries, the nation and the State, in all of their various forms and interpretations, tend to come under threat due to the fact that small and big capital is interested in availing itself of and exploiting natural resources in rural communities and regions where original peoples live. The apparent convergence of interests between agents who prioritize profits and figures entrusted with directing the fates of their people is unfortunate in many parts of the world, and even adheres to the neoliberal paradigm. Moreover, these are frequently countries whose rhetoric and ideologies would seem to offer alternatives to this model that might be better aligned with the interests of farmers and original peoples, but many of them are in conflict with the interests of those eager to do business with resources that, in principle, do not belong to them.

This work addresses accumulation by dispossession,1 a process by which mineral resources are held in usufruct by private initiatives, especially multinational corporations. The second section of this work will discuss the legislation and political ideology that led to a situation in which 17% of the national territory was under concession to these corporations as of the end of 2013 (Cabellero, 2013), violating the sovereignty of farming communities and indigenous people in Mexico. The final reflections of this work will propose some strategies to defend our resources and territory from this dispossession.


In the neoliberal age, the government has granted exploration concessions for multinational mining companies to look for minerals. Experts report that by 2013, 27,000 mining concessions had been granted, covering total surface area equal to 17% of the national territory, or around 32.5 million hectares. From another perspective, this figure represents one-third of community and communal lands, known as ejidos (Caballero, 2013).2

As of 2013, there were 2,611 mining companies, of which 301 are major multinational corporations, all in search of exploiting metallic and non-metallic minerals, including rare earth elements.34 , Many are in the exploration phase and few still operate with this technology. However, nearly all of them have had episodes of non-compliance, rebellion, conflict, vague clauses in lease agreements or breached contracts, promised agreements and distorted legal decisions. Concretely, this type of mining is leaving a trail of innumerable conflicts in the communities in which it is present, as well as social polarization and marginalization, loss of territoriality and damage to the environment and landscape of the native populations. On the contrary, mining companies walk away with impressive profits in the millions. According to González (2013), citing information from Miryam Saade:

Mexico is one of the four countries in Latin America with the greatest number of social-environmental conflicts caused by mining companies in terms of contamination, water restrictions or scarcity, lack of prior consultation with communities, territorial disputes, displacement of original peoples, changes in land use, violation of human rights and failure to comply with corporate social responsibility policies, not to mention income distribution resulting from mining activities, as reported in an Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) study.

One relevant example is the mining complex El Peñasquito in Mazapil, Zacatecas, the most productive open-pit mine in Latin America and the second-most productive globally, owned by the Canadian company Gold Corp, which has been exploiting the subsoil of the Cedros ejido, among others.5 In May 2009, 435 ejidatarios, communal land owners, and their families blocked the entrance to the mine, demanding fair payment for their exploited land and preventing over 3,000 workers from entering (Jiménez, 2009). The lives of these rural peoples have been forever changed. They have lost their farmlands and their territory, because the mine leases 6,000 hectares, including grazing lands, roads and even water, which is now scarce in their towns.6

In 19 years, the mine will obtain 13 million ounces of gold, which, at an estimated price of 2,000 dollars an ounce, will yield the impressive quantity of 26 billion dollars. In contrast, the ejidatarios will only receive a paltry income for leasing their lands: 50,000 pesos for each family for a period of 30 years (Valadez, 2009).

Territorial loss has been even greater for some, such as the town that, ironically, has given its name to the mine: El Peñasquito. Unfortunately, Gold Corp detected one of the richest metal veins right below their homes and community. This led to pressure and negotiations that resulted in the forced displacement of the Peñasco people, with all of their domestic essentials, animals and deceased from the cemetery, to a new rural town built by the mining company, with little thought given as to the types of homes suitable for this rural population (Panico and Garibay, 2010).

The sad story of these ejidos and their inhabitants is still ongoing. When the mining company stops exploring these sites, there will be enormous "craters," left behind. Peñasco will be left with a pit approximately 600 meters wide and 1,500 meters in diameter, while the crater in Chile Colorado will measure 550 meters wide and 800 meters in diameter. Pursuant to the applicable legal framework, all parties who signed the lease agreements shall be jointly responsible for any damage to the environment or landscape, and that means that when the mining company moves on, the original inhabitants will be left liable for repairing this damage.7

Now aware of what has happened in other places, inhabitants in as of yet unexplored regions have reacted to nascent signs of mining activities in their territories. Such is the case of the Tlamanca community in the municipality of Zautla, Puebla, and 32 neighboring communities, which, before initial works by the Chinese mining company JDC Minerals began, mobilized and attacked the facilities, giving an ultimatum to those who worked there to vacate the premises with their machinery and everything else. They were obliged to do so, and the Council for the Defense of the Tiyat-Tlalli Territory (land in náhuatl and in totonaco), created expressly for this purpose, was left waiting for the mining company to reappear with state police escorts, as has happened in other places before.

This Council initiated actions to prevent corporate investment that went against the interests of its residents in the region. At the end of January 2013, they mobilized to support members of the Olintla community who were opposed to the construction of a hydropower dam to be built by Grupo México, whose water and electrical power was to be sent to a new open-pit mine in the region. Enforcers directed by the PRI mayor, which supports Grupo México, tried to impede efforts by the Council to warn the population of the consequences of building this dam. Attendees at the meeting were practically kidnapped for various hours, under threat of lynching and having their vehicles burned. This situation reflects the tense and divisive climate that these types of foreign interventions are creating in a region where 22 mining and six hydroelectric projects are planned for development, according to the Association of Historians and Narrators of the Sierra Norte (García, 2013).

There are also regions under threat from open-pit mining developments in which awareness among the population has superseded efforts by multinational corporations colluding with federal, state and municipal governments and institutions to convince the populations that these projects are beneficial. This is the case of the Actopan region, where the Canadian mining company Gold Group Mining Corp is interest in exploiting gold, silver and copper in a mountain range known as La Paila. Environmental groups, academics and regional organizations have converged on the region to warn its population of the budding danger so that they can defend their own territory (Huerta, 2010).

This social-environmental debacle is not unique to Mexico. There are multinational mining companies in all corners of Latin America, regardless of the ideology or projects of the nation in question, that are coopting and corrupting national and local officials to gain access to mineral veins and deposits in the subsoil. Currently, there are open pits in Mexico, Guatemala and Chile, and even in countries with anti-neoliberal governments, such as Bolivia, Ecuador and Argentina. All of these "developments" have generated serious conflicts with the local populations.8 The paradox of this situation is that if we do the math on earnings and losses, with the exception of the mining corporations, who earn profits of around 80% of production costs, the rest of the actors involved do not seem to benefit substantially from this exploitation in any way (Garibay and Balzaretti, 2009).

Certainly, the series of mines shut down as a result of organized citizen action against their own governments is growing: Tambo Grande, Perú; Esquel, Argentina; Intag and Sacayaru, Ecuador; Wirikuta, Mexico. However, those that continue to operate despite citizen opposition, and even judicial decisions ordering exploitation to stop, as is the case of the San Javier mine in Mexico or Sipakapa in Guatemala, far outnumber the first group, as they have the implicit blessing of the government officials making these decisions.9

The predatory behavior of mining exploitation in Mexico could not be worse. These corporations are extracting the nation's non-renewable resources. That means that every gram of gold or silver extracted and taken out of the country is one gram less left to its inhabitants and future generations. As if that were not already enough, these companies do not pay for the ore they extract and export, because there is no cost associated with the amount of ore extracted and processed.10 Based on the terms of the agreements, the parties that have signed the concessions on behalf of the government are practically giving away the country’s natural resources because there is no price assigned to them, and this supposedly in return for generating a few jobs and modest income for the Treasury Ministry through a sort of "tax," calculated based on the number of hectares exploited and held in usufruct,11 with no distinction made for neither the type nor quantity of ore extracted.12

To give readers an idea of how disproportionate the figures are, the difference between what these mining companies earn and the taxes they pay in to public funds is even more enormous if we consider that each peso that multinational corporations paid for mining rights between 2005 and 2010 yielded, on average, 84.42 pesos, that is, a difference of above 8,000% (Fernández, 2012).13

It should also be added that the prices of the majority of precious and non-precious metals have continued to rise, further boosting the profits of these companies.

Looking at the value of mining and metallurgy production, federal government data reveals that between January and May 2011, the production value was 50.1% higher than in 2010, which can be explained by price increases for the various groups of metals and minerals: a) precious metals, b) non-ferrous industrial materials, c) iron and steel metals and minerals and d) non-metallic minerals. Some products have risen considerably, as is the case for precious metals, such as silver, whose value increased by 131.9% in the aforementioned time period and gold, which rose by over 35.9% of its value. The same is true of other types of ore, such as copper, with a 91.9% increase, iron at 27.5%, coal at 43.5% and sulfur at 63.9%, among others (Presidencia de la República, 2011: 249-254).

In particular, gold was notable, as its global market price reached new historical highs.

In 2010, the average annual price of gold was 1,224 dollars per ounce, representing an increase of 25.9% over its average 2009 price, which was 972.35 dollars. In 2011, gold prices continued to rise. According to indicators published by the British newspaper the Financial Times, focused on the stock market, the price of an ounce of gold (31.1034 grams) reached 1,710 dollars on November 28, 2011 and was expected to exceed 2,000 dollars an ounce (González, 2011: 12).

This situation, in which the executive power gives away its natural resources, international metal prices are booming and open-pit mining technology is improving, has led the Mexican Mining Chamber (Camimex) to declare that “never in the history of the country has as much gold and silver been produced as in 2010. These production volumes will allow the country to regain its first place ranking" (Camimex, 2011: 30-31). However, the chamber conveniently forgot that this production is not really national, but rather belongs primarily to multinational companies, and that the first place ranking they mention would belong to these companies, whose profits, and the very blocks of ore themselves, will mainly leave the country, as there are no restrictions on the repatriation of profits.14

From another perspective, rather than pride, the physical volume of gold obtained between 2000 and 2010 is cause for sadness, as it represents more than twice the amount extracted in the 300 years of Spanish colonization in Mexico. From 1521 to 1830, 191,825 kilograms of gold were extracted, while this figure rose to 419,097 from 2000 to 2010. For silver, more than half of the total extracted during the same time period was 56,144 kilograms and 33,465, respectively (INEGI, 2010: 3-4; Camimex, 2011: 76-77).


Our ruling classes have no interest whatsoever in determining whether patriotism might not prove more profitable than treason, and whether begging is really the only formula for international politics.
Eduardo Galeano
Open Veins of Latin America

This dramatic situation has resulted from the “sale" of natural resources that belong to the Mexican people, our nation, legally carried out by the federal government through the Ministries of Economy and Energy. However, the process is only dubiously legitimate, given the sham, and in some cases non-existent, prior consultation with residents that will be affected by these concessions, threatening the very foundation of the nation in nearly all of its facets.

Mexico’s national strategies and the changes required to better position in Mexico in a globalized world are certainly in conflict. While neoliberal governments have considered foreign investment amounts as a fundamental indicator of economic development, there are others who would seriously question how beneficial this foreign investment is and refer to it rather as the looting of natural, energy, genetic and human resources. This latter group would advocate for state and national investment and, if required, some foreign investment subordinated to the interests of the nation and its citizens.

Similarly, proponents of neoliberalism, and therefore the free market, have made radical changes to the Mexican Constitution and the legal framework derived therein to open all sectors to the national and international free market: financial, goods and services, land and water, labor and technology.

By contrast, there have been proposals to implement changes against these neoliberal trends, not necessarily by rejecting globalization, but rather by retaking control for the State and its citizens and regulating these markets to foster economic, social, political and cultural development of the nation in all of its diversity. Needless to say, these nationalist proposals15 have not gone further than the pages on which they are printed, nor have they resulted in constitutional amendments, laws or government actions of any type, due to the simple fact that it is proponents of neoliberalism who currently hold national political power.


The social contract established in the 1917 Mexican Constitution was a faithful reflection of the political and social diaspora of the post-revolution period. While it was being drafted, it was thought that the best way to piece together the shards of a broken society in the wake of the fratricidal struggle would be to smooth over all ethnic, cultural, political, legal and social differences. This concept of a homogenous society soon became embroiled in an authoritarian, omnipresent and strongly corporate State in which civil society and social actors had little or no say in how this "Philanthropic Ogre,16" which presented itself as the benefactor to all those it represented and protected, at least in name, behaved, while in fact, it manipulated, coopted, subjected and repressed its people, failing to acknowledge any of the basic rights the nation had granted itself through the so-called favorite sons of the Revolution.

With regards to the cases described above, we can look to Article 27 of the Constitution as an example of territorial and agrarian rights. This Article stipulates that “ownership of the lands and waters within the boundaries of the national territory is vested originally in the nation, which has had, and has, the right to transfer title thereof to private persons, thereby constituting private property" (Tribunal Superior Agrario, 1994: 7). As evidenced in this fundamental national principle, State control over land and natural resources, with the government as the representative, is maintained even after title is transferred to social or private hands. Moreover, to underline the situation, this same Article provides that the nation is vested the direct ownership of all natural resources of the continental shelf and the underwater shelf of the islands, of all minerals or substances formed in veins that are of a different material than the components of the earth itself, such as the minerals from which industrial metals and metalloid materials are extracted, precious stone deposits, rock salt and salt pans formed directly by sea water, byproducts of the decomposition of rocks, when underground works are required for their exploitation, mineral or organic deposits of materials that can be used as fertilizer, solid mineral fuels, oil and all solid, liquid and gaseous hydrocarbons, in addition to the space located above the national territory to the extent and under the terms stipulated by international law (Tribunal Superior Agrario, 1994: 8).

That is no small statement. But in light of the omnipresence of an entelechy like the nation, there appears to be no space for social actors and their concrete "motherlands."

Now, in the current neoliberal age, this text sounds anachronistic, but it was the consequence of the pre-revolutionary age nearly 100 years ago, a time in which nearly all indigenous and farming communities in Mexico gave up their lands and natural resources to companies and large ranches, known as haciendas, through legalized dispossession founded in the liberal amendments to the 1856 Constitution, such as the Lerdo Law, as well as economic liberalization through which mineral and oil resources ended up in the hands of foreign capital. It is not surprising, then, that the drafters of the 1917 magna carta sought to safeguard the country's land, water, territory and natural resources from private interests and the market, leaving its ownership and control in the hands of the State.

Paradoxically, despite the neoliberal reforms that began in 1982, which have carved out and patched up the 1917 Constitution to facilitate free market behavior and the flow of foreign capital into Mexico, the precepts described above have been left intact. This is certainly not a mere omission or coincidence.


Leaving ownership and control of natural resources in the hands of the State seems only to have made it easier for these resources to end up in the possession of multinational corporations. To do so, Mexican policymakers have had to navigate a complex structure of snakes and ladders to impede access, rights to usufruct and profits for some, while facilitating them to others. From a distance, the changes appear radical. In 1981, no foreigner of any type could legally and formally hold property in the country, but nowadays there are no limits, besides one's purchasing capacity and own judgment.

Orchestrating changes in the Mexican legislation to open the door to foreign investment in exploiting and/or holding usufructs of natural resources has required a great deal of work, because there are a broad variety of constitutional articles, regulatory acts, orders and other assorted mechanisms governing this area. Just to give the reader an idea, paving this steep legal landscape has required changes to Article 27 of the Constitution, which regulates ownership of land and natural resources, as well as its associated regulatory laws in the areas of: agriculture, forestry, water and mining. Changes have also been made to the General Law on National Assets, the General Law on Ecological Balance and Environmental Protection, the General Law for Comprehensive Waste Prevention and Management, the National Water Act, the Foreign Investment Act and the Civil Code, among others. These modifications have slowly worked their way down the ladder to smooth out any contradictions present in regulations, programs, functions and attributions in institutional organizational charts (López Bárcenas and Eslava, 2011).


Article 27 of the Constitution, described above, clearly provides that the innumerous resources described are the domain or direct property of the nation and, unlike the land, their ownership cannot be transferred to private parties. This state of affairs is emphasized in the Law on National Assets, which stipulates that these resources are subject to “the regime of the public domain of the federation" (Article 6, Paragraph 1) and shall exclusively be under the jurisdiction of federal powers (Article 9).

From the perspective of extreme nationalism, everything seems fine up to that point. The problem begins when the same Article starts to stipulate the ways in which these resources can be exploited, opening the door to concessions granted to private parties by the Federal Executive (read: President, Economy Minister and Energy Minister) and moreover, and pay attention here, "to companies constituted pursuant to Mexican laws," which does not mean Mexican companies, but rather any company, whether Canadian, Russian, Chinese, Chilean or some other nation, in compliance with the provisions of Mexican laws (López Bárcenas and Eslava, 2011). This wording gradually opens up the usufruct of natural resources to all multinational corporations, provided their legal documents are in order with Mexican laws.


The original and current version of Article 27 of the Constitution not only assigns ownership of natural resources to the State, but with regard to concessions, it also says:

The Nation shall at all times have the right […] to regulate, in the public interest, the utilization of natural resources susceptible to appropriation, in order to conserve them and to ensure more equitable distribution of public wealth, achieve balanced development and improve living conditions for rural and urban populations.

These safeguards would seem to make any concession subject to the social welfare of the population and the sustainability of natural resources. Unfortunately, these laudable principles have not gone beyond the words on the page. The concessions granted to multinational mining corporations have made it clear that profits are private, the distribution of benefits will not be equitable, natural resources will be damaged, balanced development will not be attained and the living conditions of residents will not improve.

Despite all of this, looking at mining as an example, the Regulatory Act derived from Article 27 of the Constitution provides in Article 6 that, “exploration, exploitation and profits from minerals or substances mentioned in this law shall be for public use (italics added in) and this use shall be preferable to any other use of the territory,” including agricultural, livestock and forestry activities carried out by the residents of indigenous communities, ejidos, and other rural cooperatives, which fundamentally sustain their ways of life.

This version of the text comes with a price, however, despite directly contradicting Article 27 described above, because by declaring mining a form of public use, it leaves rural communities without any legal defense to protect their lands from potential private exploitation. If these lands are declared to be under public use, it opens the door to potential expropriation if these communities cannot reach some sort of lease “arrangement” with the lucky multinational company that holds the concession to usufruct the lands that the state, in principle, granted to them as a community, ejido or private property. Here it should be pointed out that pursuant to the Constitution, public use is only justified when the activities are related to a public service or good, or when this good or service is of social or national use. It would seem that the concessions granted to private capital do not meet any of these requirements, in breach of the minimal social commitment still left in the Constitution and, more concretely, in Article 27. In reality, the State is encouraging private profits to the detriment of the common good and social property.17


Although the Mexican Constitution stipulates that natural resources should be safeguarded by the State, or the federal government, and ownership cannot be granted to individuals, this does not, in the end, mean they are very protected at all. If the State wants to exploit these resources directly, it can also grant concessions for their use and enjoyment to individuals, which can then use and enjoy these resources as if they were their own for their own enrichment.

Within the federal government, according to the Organic Law of the Public Federal Administration, the Ministry of Economy grants mining concessions with no regard for the public interest, which has been expressed by at least some of the communities directly affected by concessions. That is, there is no explicit indication that there the population that will either be benefitted or negatively impacted by the concession must be consulted in advance before that concession is granted. This "consultation," if conducted later on, tends to be for publicity purposes, highlighting the benefits and prosperity the concession will bring to residents of the place and hoping to prevent resistance. It also facilitates the consent required from local authorities for this type of exploitation, because although the mining concession is formally granted by way of the signature of the Ministry of Economy in the federal government, the other document required is a certificate changing the use of soil, usually from agriculture and livestock to mining, or wind power or tourism or urban, which, pursuant to Article 115, Section V of the Mexican Constitution, must be granted by local authorities, the mayor of the municipality. This person is obviously the weakest rung on the ladder, subject to innumerable pressures, who must authorize a multinational corporation to physically occupy a space in the municipality. It is from this requirement that local conflicts have arisen, because this official can sign the permit without any obligation to consult with citizens in the municipality prior to doing so to understand their opinions. The only restrictions are the uses and customs established in the place and international legislation, such as International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention 169, signed by the Mexican government, making it part of the current legal framework in the country, although it is really a nominal reference that has yet to be enforced.

In the case of mining, concessions are granted for a time period of 50 years, renewable for another 50. In reality, this adds up to no more and no less than 100 years.18 If that were not enough, concessions include exploration, exploitation and profits on all resources found within the surface under concession. That means that unlike in the past, the concession is not related to a certain metal, such as gold, silver or another material, but rather to a surface.19 That means that even if a mine intends to find gold, if it comes up with rare earth metals, there are no consequences for the terms of the concession.

The federal government, meanwhile, must assist the company in obtaining the usufruct or ownership of the land surface under which the deposits to be exploited are located. To do so, it will make use of all of its powers to convince the population settled on that land area to come to a good arrangement with the company that, in general, will seek to lease the land. If there is any reluctance or opposition from the local population, the Ministry of Economy, which granted the concession, can process the expropriation because, as already mentioned, Constitutional amendments have now given these mining activities the status of "public use."


Perhaps without seriously considering its implications, the Mexican government signed ILO Convention 169 in 1992, a legally binding international instrument on the rights of indigenous peoples and tribes. Because it has done so, the provisions of this Convention should supersede the Mexican Constitution and federal laws (López Bárcenas and Eslava, 2011).

If that were the case, one of the provisions of the Convention, which the Mexican government has not respected, is Article 15, whose second half stipulates: "Governments shall establish or maintain procedures through which they shall consult these peoples, with a view to ascertaining whether and to what degree their interests would be prejudiced, before undertaking or permitting any programmes for the exploration or exploitation of such resources pertaining to their lands."

In this sense, violations are the norm. The majority of stories told by members of original peoples regarding their experiences with mining companies, as well as wind power projects, dams and others, tend to communicate that they were not consulted in advance, nor were they given access to the information required to make an informed decision on the lease, sale or other implications of their land being expropriated.20

In cases where people have been informed, it is only after the fact, because the parties interested in the lands already had the federal government concession from the Ministry of Economy and the intention was rather to convince local authorities to sign the land use change document. In many cases, local officials have made the choice to sign this document on their own, and locals have only found out about the big changes that are about to impact them through rumors, or once exploration teams and machinery start arriving on their lands.

Another fundamental contradiction resides in the fact that the ways of life and territoriality of original peoples have not been respected. Convention 169 stipulates in Article 13 that: "Governments shall respect the special importance for the cultures and spiritual values of the peoples concerned of their relationship with the lands or territories […]”. It should also be clarified that in this case, territory is understood as the physical space assigned meaning and symbolism by human association, which includes not only land, but also the water, biodiversity, natural resources, air space and other relevant spaces for culture, myths and sacred rites.

At least in name, the various pieces of legislation derived from Article 27 of the Constitution do mention the right of original peoples to receive concessions to exploit the natural resources found on their lands. For example, Article 13 of the Mining Act provides: “When land is located in an inhabited area or region occupied by an indigenous group or community, and this group or community requests this land simultaneous to another person or people, the request made by the indigenous group or community shall receive preference in granting mining concessions to that land, as long as it meets the conditions and requirements stipulated in current laws and regulations.”

However, for this preference to be honored, not only does the original people group have to overcome an entire list of “obstacles,” requirements and conditions as stipulated by law, and more concretely in Article 13, but they also face another impassable barrier. The indigenous people or community must at least equal the best economic proposal presented by another competitor (López Bárcenas and Eslava, 2011: 30). It would be unheard of and unprecedented for a community of original people to be able to equal the offer of a multinational corporation for a mining concession.

In this way, unless an international court intervenes to keep the Mexican executive power in check, obliging it to adjust its laws and administrative bureaucracy to Convention 169, the best intentions of the government will only serve as a reference for what it could be and is not, with a glimmer of hope for the future.


In Mexico, territorial rights and private and social agrarian rights are constrained by the rights that the State has granted itself with regard to ownership and usufruct of national assets. In fact, it is the government, the political class, in a clear expression of its ownership, that currently exploits oil resources,21 while it is the Executive Power that grants concessions for natural resources to private enterprises, whether they are foreign or national. The most that people, who, by luck or fate happen to live on these resources, can aspire to is to obtain some compensation for their land, which, in general, is far below its commercial value, while the land can be expropriated in the name of public interest or granted through a lease, and the earnings will differ greatly from income earned by the lessors. The profits resulting from the exploitation of these resources will, in part, likely end up in the pockets of some of the public officials involved in these concessions, the public treasury, and, to a much greater extent, the accounts of private corporations graced with a government concession. The previous owners-possessors of the land will be dispossessed of the profits obtained from the exploitation of resources found below and on their land or, at best, and this is ironic, they may be involved in the subsequent exploitation of these resources as wage laborers in the very space and territory of their dispossessed land.

This is the Pandora’s Box of the case studies cited in this work, to which we could add numerous other similar examples of accumulation by dispossession, fundamentally made possible thanks to the concentration of power, control and domain of the nation-State over its national territoriality, failing to recognize the rights, including territoriality, autonomy, governance and citizen rights, of populations in various regions.

This situation alone casts doubt on the very social contract established in the national Constitution and would seem to call for reworking the nation itself under different fundamental principles that recognize and strengthen the rights of the citizenry, so that the diverse “us” can reclaim our rights, preventing the few from availing themselves of what belongs to everyone.

If the current legal framework persists, little can be done to prevent the Executive Power from continuing to grant concessions to private corporations. It is certainly time for Congress and the Supreme Court to act ethically and with nationalist motivations to push forward constitutional and legal amendments to control this dispossession, a process which by big capital is appropriating the resources of the nation, which, in principle, belong to all Mexicans.

Efforts can also be made on the local and regional level so that candidates committed to their fellow citizens and who will not buckle under the political pressure of the federal and state governments to authorize change of land use documents required for private corporations to descend on their territory can win local and mayoral elections, as well as elections for ejido and community property boards.

It will also be important that before these decisions are made, the residents of municipalities are consulted, and that the information offered is not tampered with, as ILO Convention 169 stipulates, and that these decisions are made in conjunction with all parties that may be benefitted or impacted by the choices made. That will include all residents of neighboring communities and in river basin regions, all communities within that river basin.

Along this line of thinking, it would be useful to adopt an overarching regional strategy. One approach that has helped some regions maintain control over their territoriality and put the brakes on interventions from private corporations is the territorial organization plan. If it is well orchestrated with citizen participation, including all actors and associations located in a territory, it can produce proposals as to what activities to develop, ranging from conservation to sustainable production. If this plan is approved by the municipality council, all future authorities will have to respect it. Moreover, if it is approved by legislative bodies and state executive branches and published in the Official State Gazette, in principal, any unilateral federal concession on this territory would be illegal.

Of course, all of this will require finding the bureaucratic, legal and administrative basis and loopholes to realize these efforts. The road will be bumpy, but there is no worse struggle than that which is never undertaken, as long as original peoples and other groups, whether rural or urban, can be granted their autonomy and territoriality. This path has already been traveled by social actors and organizations in the Cuetzalan region of the Sierra Norte of Puebla, and could very well be traveled by others in the future.


Caballero, José Luis (2013), “En busca del filo de oro”, El Economista, August 7.

Camimex (Cámara Minera de México) (2011), Informe anual de la Cámara Minera de México 2011, Mexico.

______ (2011), “La industria minera de México”, Mexico.

Christian Aid (2009), Socavando a los pobres: reformas tributarias mineras en América Latina, London.

Dirección General de Promoción Minera (2010), Estadísticas sobre explotación minera, Mexico, Secretaría de Economía.

Dresser, Denise (2011), El país de uno, Mexico, Editorial Aguilar.

Financial Times, Markets data, Indices gold (consulted November 28, 2011), tomada de González (2011:12), available at: <www.ft.com/ home/us>.

García, Fermín Alejandro (2013), “Olintla: lo que nos espera”, La Jornada, February 1.

Garduño, Roberto, and Enrique Méndez (2013), “Amagan mineras canadienses con abandonar el país si aprueban impuesto especial”, La Jornada, October 1.

______ (2013), “México, convertido en paraíso fiscal para mineras canadien¬ses”, La Jornada, October 6

Garibay, Claudio, and Alejandra Balzaretti (2009), “Goldcorp y la reciprocidad negativa en el paisaje minero de Mezcala, Guerrero”, Desacatos, no. 30, Mexico, CIESAS, May-Augst, pp. 91-110.

González, José de Jesús (2011), “Minería en México. Referencias generales, régimen fiscal, concesiones y propuestas legislativas”, Documento de Traba¬jo, no. 121, Mexico, Centro de Estudios Sociales y de Opinión Pública, Congreso de la Unión.

González, Susana (2013), “México, uno de los países de AL con más proble¬mas con mineras: Cepal”, La Jornada, October 20.

Harvey, David (2004), “El nuevo imperialismo, acumulación por despose¬sión”, The Socialist Register, Buenos Aires, CLACSO.

Huerta, Verónica (2010), “Ecologistas llaman a la población de Actopan a no dejarse engañar”, Radio Verinfo, August 23 (consulted November 6, 2013), available at: < http://www.radiover.info/nota.php?id=15659>

INEGI (2010), “Estadísticas históricas de México 2009”, Mexico, INEGI.

Jiménez, Paulina (2009), “Cierran mina de oro “El Peñasquito” por abusos de la empresa canadiense Gold Corp”, Zócalo Saltillo, May 26 (con¬sulted January 3, 2013), available at: <http://www.zocalo.com. mx/seccion/articulo/Cierran-mina-de-oro-El-Penasquito-por-abusos-de-la-empresa-canadiense-Gol>

López Bárcenas, Francisco, and Mayra Montserrat Eslava (2011), El mineral o la vida. La legislación minera en México, Mexico, Centro de Orientación y Asesoría a Pueblos Indígenas/Paz en el árbol/Red iinpim, A.C.

Méndez, Enrique, and Roberto Garduño (2013), “México, paraíso fiscal para compañías mineras canadienses, revela análisis”, La Jornada, October 17.

Meyer, Lorenzo (2013), Nuestra tarjeta persistente: la democracia autoritaria en México, Mexico, Debate.

Panico, Francesco, and Claudio Garibay (2010), “Minería y territorio: una mira¬da al conflicto desde Mazapil, Zacatecas (México),” Fronteras de la Historia, vol. 15-1, January-June, Colombia, Instituto Colombiano de Antropología e Historia, pp. 61-84.

Presidencia de la República (2011), Quinto Informe de Gobierno, Produc-tividad y competitividad, Sector Minero, Mexico; tomada de González (2011:3).

Puga, Javier (2013), “Semarnat defiende a la minera, acusa Tetela de Ocam¬po”, La Jornada de Oriente, October 31.

Ramírez, Peniley (2013), “Gas shale: la nueva mina de oro”, Reporte índigo, December 16 (consulted Dicember 24, 2013), available at:<http://www.reporteindigo.com/reporte/mexico/gas-shale-la-nueva-mi¬na-de-oro>

Saade, Miryam (2013), Desarrollo minero y conflictos socioambientales. Los casos de México, Colombia y Perú, serie de Macroeconomía del Desarrollo, San¬tiago de Chile, CEPAL.

Congreso de los Estados Unidos Mexicanos (1994), Legislación Agraria, Me-xico, Tribunal Superior Agrario.

Valadez, Alfredo (2009), “Mazapil: dorada miseria”, La Jornada, January 5.

* Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana, Xochimilco Unit, Mexico. rdq@correo.xoc.uam.mx

1 This term was coined by David Harvey (2004) to describe the process by which capitalist corporations, mainly multinational, in their search to maximize profits – once profit margins began to fall in economically developed countries –focused their investment on exploiting natural resources in less economically developed countries, plundering these resources from original peoples and farming communities that consider these elements to be natural resources.

2 These figures are from the Ministry of Economy. Other sources state that the surface granted in concessions is much larger, such as Peniley Ramírez (2013), who says the figure is 95.8 million hectares, practically half of the country. Méndez and Garduño (2013) offer nearly the same figure: 96 million hectares.

3 Of these projects, nearly 500 are associated with precious metals, 14 are polymetallic substances, 70 are for copper, 24 are iron ore and 16 are projects with other metals and materials, such as: germanium, cobalt, titanium, molybdenum, bismuth, tin, platinum, palladium, antimony, nickel, tungsten, zeolite-chabazite, barite, porphyry, borate, wollastonite and phosphorous rocks.

4 2010 data offers an idea of the nationalities of foreign mining companies: 75% are Canadian, 15% are in the United States, 3% in Australia, 2% in the United Kingdom and Japan and 1% in the People's Republic of China, South Korea, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Chile, India, Italy, Holland and Peru (Dirección General de Promoción Minera, 2010: 16-17).

5 The ejidos that leased the land include Mazapil, Cerro Gordo, Cedros and El Vergel. The Cedros ejido gave the most land.

6 Inhabitants of this place used a road called El Bordo to reach various ranches nearby, such as Las Mesas and Palmas, and the grazing lands. The land that the Cedros ejido leased to the mining company includes part of this road, and although negotiations stipulated that it would remain open for travel, the mining company had to build a large dam to store the water required to extract the metals. The conflict came when employees of the mining company closed the road. However, the dam was vital to the mine and, of course, the locals had to find another road to travel through what was once their territory (Panico and Garibay, 2010).

7 Article 70 of the General Law for Comprehensive Waste Prevention and Management provides that: “Owners of private premises and holders of concession areas whose soils are contaminated shall be liable for implementing actions to remediate this pollution when necessary […]”.

8 See the Web site “No a la mina” (No to the Mine): www.noalamina.org/

9 Ibid.

10 According to Christian Aid (2009), in an excellent study on taxation of mining corporations in Latin America, it is clear that countries are not receiving adequate tax payments for the extraction of non-renewable natural resources. The organization wrote that Peru, Guatemala and Honduras have some of the lowest taxes and royalties in the world, and pointed to Mexico, where taxes and royalties are not even charged.

11 During the first year of operation, these consortiums pay 5.70 pesos to use a single hectare; during the third and fourth years of the concession, 8.52 pesos. The number rises in the tenth year to 124.74 per hectare (Méndez and Garduño, 2013).

12 Article 263 of the Federal Rights Act indicates that holders of mining concessions shall pay every semester for each hectare or fraction in the concession a “duty on mining,” ranging from 5 to 111 pesos.

13 This apparent omission by the federal executive led the Policy Coordination Board of the Senate to an agreement by which the Senate invited the House of Representatives to, through its committees for Treasury and Public Credit and Energy, “comprehensively analyze the mining rights regime in the country.” The agreement approved by the Senate was: “mindful of the tremendous importance of this industry and considering that the assets exploited belong to the nation, and that the taxation on this industry is not related in any way to the production value, nor with the high prices of the industry, nor with the profits earned” (Senado de la República, ordinary session held on October 27, 2011), stenographic notes, taken from González, 2011: 13). At the end of 2013, the Congress debated whether to charge mining companies a tax of 7.5% of their income, but no agreement has been reached as of now, likely due to lobbying and threats made by multinational corporations to withdraw investments (Garduño and Méndez, 2013).

14 Gold Corp even has a runway in El Peñasquito. The gold bars produced with ore extracted from the Mexican subsoil is simply loaded onto planes and taken straight out of the country.

15 Citing two of the most recent: Denise Dresser (2011) and Lorenzo Meyer (2013).

16 Term used by Octavio Paz to refer to Mexico, magazine Vuelta, June 1987.

17 With regard to mining and public use, see López Bárcenas and Eslava (2011: 8-9).

18 Article 15, fourth paragraph of the Mining Act.

19 Article 15 of the Mining Act.

20 Out of irony, or perhaps sheer contempt for international legislation, the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources (Semarnat) saw fit to grant the mining company of Carlos Slim, Frisco, the power to conduct the consultation on building a mine in Tetela de Ocampo, Puebla (Puga, 2013).

21 In December 2013, the Enrique Peña Nieto administration managed to push the Congress into approving momentous changes to the Constitution, opening up oil resources to private initiatives.

Licencia de Creative Commons  Problemas del Desarrollo. Revista Latinoamericana de Economía by Instituto de Investigaciones Económicas, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México
is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License

Published in Mexico, 2012-2018 © D.R. Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM).
PROBLEMAS DEL DESARROLLO. REVISTA LATINOAMERICANA DE ECONOMÍA, Volume 49, Number 195 October-December 2018 is a quarterly publication by the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Ciudad Universitaria, Coyoacán, CP 04510, México, D.F. by Instituto de Investigaciones Económicas, Circuito Mario de la Cueva, Ciudad Universitaria, Coyoacán,
CP 04510, México, D.F. Tel (52 55) 56 23 01 05 and (52 55) 56 24 23 39, fax (52 55) 56 23 00 97, www.probdes.iiec.unam.mx, revprode@unam.mx. Journal Editor: Moritz Cruz. Reservation of rights to exclusive use of the title: 04-2012-070613560300-203, ISSN: pending. Person responsible for the latest update of this issue: Minerva García, Circuito Maestro Mario de la Cueva s/n, Ciudad Universitaria, Coyoacán, CP 04510, México D.F., latest update: January 9th, 2019.
The opinions expressed by authors do not necessarily reflect those of the editor of the publication.
Permission to reproduce all or part of the published texts is granted provided the source is cited in full including the web address.
Credits | Contact

The online journal Problemas del Desarrollo. Revista Latinoamericana de Economía corresponds to the printed edition of the same title with ISSN 0301-7036