Article from Mexican Labor News & Analysis
Published by UE International.

Date published: July, 2016

Web version:


Since the Spanish conquest mining has been a major industry in Mexico. Today mining and mineral processing represent 4 percent of the country’s GDP. Mining companies control about 12 percent of the national territory and employ 351,000 workers.

Mining goes on in all but two of Mexico’s political entities: the Federal District and the State of Quintana Roo. Mines are found in all of the others. Sonora has 163; Chihuahua, 101; Durango and Sinaloa, 73, each; Zacatecas, 50; Jalisco, 41; Oaxaca, 32; Baja California, Nayarit and Guerrero each have 15; Guanajuato has 11; Michoacán y San Luis Potosí have 12 each, Chiapas has nine; Coahuila, eight; the State of México, seven; Puebla, six; Nuevo León and Querétaro each have five; Baja California Sur and Colima each have seven; Hidalgo has three; finally, the states of Morelos, Tamaulipas and Veracruz each have two.

Neoliberal Counter-Revolution Encouraged Mining

Mexico began to end its nationalist economic system and liberalize its economy in the 1980s, encouraging more foreign investment in mining. Since the passage of NAFTA in 1994, there has been a tremendous expansion of mining in Mexico. Canada represent 75 percent of all investment in mining in Mexico, followed by the U.S. and Mexican companies.

Billions of dollars have been invested and billions of dollars in profits are being extracted from Mexico by mostly foreign capitalists. As one corporate guide to mining published in 2013 states, Mexico is “…a mining-friendly jurisdiction. For the mining sector, restrictions on foreign ownership of Mexican companies have been removed. Mining-specific royalties and taxes were revoked in the 1990s to attract international investment in the mining industry…. Unlike other Latin American jurisdictions, Mexico does not currently have any specific mining taxes.”

While Mexico once strongly regulated the mining industry, the guide states, “…in the 1980s, Mexico began a wave of significant economic changes that would continue over the following decades. In line with the changing economic landscape, the regulatory framework was simplified to attract foreign investments.” By 2014, Mexico had granted more than 25,000 mining concessions, principally to foreign investors, but also to wealthy Mexican capitalists.

Bribery-and Murder? While the laws and regulations tend to favor mining companies, the companies still find it necessary to bribe local officials sometimes to insure that they will have no political problems. A Royal Canadian Mounted Police investigation into the Blackfire company’s Mexican subsidiary found documents indicating that it paid US$20,000 to Mayor Julio Calderon of Chicomuselo, Chiapas, in exchange for his promise to prevent anti-mining activists from shutting down the company’s barite operation.

The RCMP investigation did not look into the November 2009 murder in Chicomuselo of an anti-mining activist, Mariano Abarca. The United Steel Workers, Common Frontiers, and MiningWatch Canada has published a pamphlet dealing with the Blackfire scandal which involves bribery and murder.

Environmental Issues

Mexico is an arid country where water is scarce and precious, but foreign and domestic mining companies use enormous quantities of water in the mining and processing operations. Some 417 companies grouped into 230 conglomerates use 436.6 million cubit meters of water each year. Geostatisticians estimate this is enough water for the needs of 3.2 million people in a country where 13.8 million people have no access to water in their homes.

Mining produces many dangerous byproducts and human rights activists in Mexico complain that mining companies often poison communities with their toxic waste. There are protests against mining companies in small, rural communities throughout the country. Conservationists and environmentalists also protest against the companies whose claims frequently abut national environmental reserves.

Environmental disasters like these have a disastrous impact on local communities:

• [New Internationalist] On 6 August 2014, copper-producing company Buenavista del Cobre, a subsidiary of Mexico’s largest mining corporation Grupo Mexico, spilt 40,000 cubic metres of copper sulphate acid into public waterways near Cananea, in the northern Mexican state of Sonora. The toxic leak has affected seven communities, home to more than 24,000 people.

Mexico’s Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources Juan José Guerra Abud called the spill “the worst environmental disaster by the mining industry in modern times”. The company reports that high concentrations of heavy metals, including iron, aluminum and zinc, were released in the copper sulfate solution. PROFEPA, Mexico’s federal environmental protection agency, estimates that environmental damage from the accident will cost more than $134m.

• [Telesur] A Canadian mining company spilled an estimated 1,200 gallons of toxic waste into a river in the central Mexican state of Guanajuato, Mexican media reported on June 13, 2015.

The leak into the Cata River in Guanajuato City at the site of Great Panther Silver's mining operations was caused by a rupture of an eight-inch pipe transporting mining tailings, leaking the toxic mud-like mining waste into the river.

Labor Issues

Mining companies in Mexico have also worked together with the government in an attempt to weaken or destroy the National Union of Mining and Metal Workers (SNTMMRM) also known as los mineros. The government brought false charges against the union’s leader Napoleón Gómez Urrutia, driving him to seek refuge in Vancouver, British Columbia. President Felipe Calderón’s administration working with the Grupo Mexico company succeeded at a long and bitter struggle in driving los mineros out of the large copper mine at Cananea and replacing them with strikebreakers from the official or government “charro” union, Confederación de Trabajadores de México (CTM).

President Enrique Peña Nieto’s government works closely with domestic and foreign mining companies to further their interests, even though they threaten the environment, local communities, and workers. It will take a combined labor, community, environmental, and political movement to break the haughty power of the mining corporations.

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