Territorial Defence and Strategies to Fight Against Mining Companies

Mexican Network of Mining Affected Peoples (REMA)/
Mesoamerican Movement against the Extractive Mining Model (M4)

            Based on our day-to-day experiences, people from Indigenous and campesinos communities, those involved in processes of resistance and territorial defence against domestic or foreign mining companies that operate according to the logic of the Extractive Mining Model (EMM), are fully aware of the accelerated and sustained impact of serious harms from mining to community health and the environment. This results from a system that not only oppresses and injures peoples and communities, but also abuses and overexploits the environment, going beyond its own limits to impose processes, mechanisms, or activities, which are not determined by local residents, and abruptly or gradually dispossess peoples from their territory.1

            The monstrosity of the Extractive Mining Model (EMM) does not leave room for coexistence as it negates and liquidates pluriethnicity, cultural diversity, biodiversity, as well as agriculture, which previously guaranteed peoples their way of life. In its place, the EMM exposes lands to economic speculation that increases hunger. Similarly, social and political coexistence is gradually disarticulated through the fostering and creation of divisions taking advantage of local power structures to destroy the social fabric of communities, giving way to impunity, individualism, and dispossession. In other words, the current mining model dismantles whole societies through the occupation, destruction, and contamination of the land, leaving it lifeless. The land is then abandoned once its riches have been exhausted.

            The same thing occurs in terms of the environmental harms created cynically in the name of monetary progress. This includes atrocious modifications to the landscape and all that this implies for ecosystems and biodiversity, especially when contamination extends beyond the borders of the extractive projects. Further, the mining model appears to have an insatiable impulse to expand where laws have failed to deter. If the EMM has a guiding concept of ‘inherent ethics or economy’ it is driven by the principal operating imperative of “maximum exploitation for the highest profit.” In this way, it is compelled “to take everything” and, as a result of its activity, destroy the pre-existing landscape and everything in it.

            The EMM is developed according to the imposition of external control over a given territory. As a result, it uses practices linked to dispossession based in environmental and human exploitation that are carried out through mechanisms to ensure control, such as land purchases or the ability to rent resources, and the implementation of fear using assassins, public and private security forces, and bribery as the favoured financial strategy to monopolize and appropriate territory and everything related to it. Researcher Claudio Garibay, et al (2010), describe this as “Negative Reciprocity,” or “the effort to obtain something with impunity without giving anything in return.” In this way, this model openly and frankly abuses and violates human and collective rights, and is propped up by the power structures to such a degree that it is capable of breaking and manipulating regulations and laws to condone its actions at the local, municipal, state, and even the federal level. Its lack of respect, disdain for, and violation of international laws, conventions, and treaties related to collective and individual human rights is notorious.

            The EMM also ensures its ‘inherent ethics or economy’ through discursive means, however contradictory they may appear. It argues that mining is green or sustainable, as if the natural commons—in this case minerals—are inexhaustible or renewable, or worse, that the environmental harms it creates are even minimally repaired by 30%. In this context, it uses public relations and markets the creation of indicators, norms and codes of conduct that are created and developed by companies such that, the industry is certified and lauded at the national or international level with clean industry prizes given its “adequate practices” in environmental terms. We do not understand how companies obtain these certificates when they have destroyed aquifers, whether through indiscriminate use or destruction of watersheds, when superficial or underground water supplies have been contaminated with cyanide, heavy metals or other contaminants, and when they have contaminated the air with hydrogen cyanide or heavy metals that people, plants, and animals absorb or ingest.

            Discourse about Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) also stands in contrast with the confrontations, resistances, and opposition that this model encounters around the world, especially in Latin America. The EMM feels obligated to incorporate in its discourse notions of “progress and cutting edge developments,” but always does so in the absence of any real action linked to the environment, health and, human rights.2

            Those of us who are confronting the EMM know that it is a complex and difficult fight for corporate accountability with these companies that operate in collusion with corrupt governments, lax and incomplete laws, tremendous media power, and support of national armed forces, including organized crime groups that operate alongside them. Not only does this preclude the possibility of obtaining justice and help entrench impunity, but it also leads to the criminalization of social protest,3 with leaders and opponents being punished in diverse ways.

            But the problem does not stop here. On the contrary, it would appear that company efforts against their opponents are just a distraction, giving them an ideal position to hide the extent of the harms generated in the areas in which they are installed. In other words, with or without opposition, the principal legacy of this model is the health and environmental harms, not progress and development that companies falsely promote. These environmental and health harms can lead to death and environmental liabilities that may endure for centuries, such as in the case of tailings ponds or acid mine drainage.4

            In this context, the Mexican Network of Mining Affected Peoples (REMA, its initials in Spanish) and the Mesoamerican Movement against the Extractive Mining Model (M4) have developed various strategies for the defence of life, which aims at preventing companies from appropriating the natural commons. It is important to mention that each strategy is born of the experiences of many communities that, in a certain manner, “constitute the essence of political ecology and the necessity to mobilize those who are affected now and who may be affected in the future in order to achieve social and climate justice and reaffirming the self-determination of peoples.”5 We are talking about our and many other societies that struggle for its human and global rights because we refuse economic segregation and the schizophrenic imposition of mercantilist forms of life.

            REMA and M4 are composed of community groups, NGOs, women’s groups, mine workers, grassroots associations, national and international networks, and groups of activists that, with the collaboration of committed specialists, are transcending local struggles with global efforts. While in every corner of the planet the same laws and mechanisms are being adopted in order to impose globalization. We are the most staunch opposition to the EMM and, as such, are building our own understanding of the situations affecting us, among other things, including why we must leave behind official agencies and academics that operate in collusion with the EMM. We aim to bring forth the urgent need to establish mechanisms for corporate accountability for the means by which these companies operate, behave, and generate harms.  

            In this regard, we already have tremendous evidence––legal, social, economic, cultural, productive, from the natural commons, labour, as well as health––that demonstrate the serious and irreparable harms that mining companies are creating around the world, especially in Latin American countries where legal frameworks are insufficient and made to suit these companies so that they can extract and obtain unimaginable riches. It is worth underlining that much of the mining legislation in Latin America has been influenced by Canada, a country that has become the principal financial reference point for the mining sector. Meanwhile, those politicians who have collaborated in the creation and promotion of mining policies in favour of corporations have demonstrated their singular interest in continuing to be colonialist, “post-modern” predators, and racists.

            Finally, it is important to mention that the central focus of the defence strategies that REMA and M4 promote share the aim “that women and men from peoples and communities of Mexico have various options to organize, socially and legally, so that the struggles that they carry out, or will carry out, will be as strong as possible when they face mining companies and the predatory extractive model,” and it is in this way that they will defend life and territory.

            The great majority of the options that we share here are based on or supported by the legal and constitutional framework of Mexico. But they also make use of international treaties and the assertion of collective and agrarian rights, as well as economic, social, cultural, and environmental rights, which if applied in time make it less easy for companies to enter our lands.

            In general, we have five strategic lines of action:

  1. Territories free of mining are guided by the assertion and demand respect for individual and collective human rights. This includes regional and local assemblies; community consultation and free, prior, informed and culturally-appropriate consent before any mining activity; decisions made by local community assemblies; local statutes and internal regulations; constitutional injunctions against mining concessions; and municipal council commitments to declare their territories free of mining and to deny permits for land-use changes related to mining.
  2. Communications and documentation to demystify the mining model, mobilize, develop campaigns, inform the media, build international alliances, and disseminate urgent actions and complaints.
  3. Document health and environmental harms with community health promoters toward corporate accountability for the harms documented.
  4. Strategic alliances and integrated defence, including alliances with other social movements defending life and territory, as well as with international human rights organizations and other networks to bring attention to our struggles, to build collaboration with dissident academics, and raise attention in the media.
  5. Promote ways of life outside of the capitalist model, including community processes based on sovereignty, self-determination, self-management, autonomy, adequate management of the natural commons, and a reconceptualization of territory and the natural commons.

Each strategy is based on a concrete idea and action, which may be used on its own or as part of an integrated strategy depending on the organizational capacity within each community. As well, there are regional, state, and international strategies in which each organization participates according to their local circumstances, such as the campaign ‘Goldcorp Makes Me Sick,’ which was shared in each of the countries participating in the M4, although health harms were documented only in those countries where Goldcorp has a mining project.

            Nonetheless, participants in all countries could make use of the documentation produced by way of developing protocol. For example, a guidebook developed to share among groups in Mesoamerica has improved local groups’ ability to document health harms related to mining. In Mexico alone, legal action has resulted in some 2000 communities that have declared themselves free of mining. Six of these have brought constitutional injunctions with the aim of definitively cancelling mining concessions. These injunctions have been coordinated so far between communities in five states in Mexico.

            Despite the extractive mining model having the law on its side, these strategies for territorial defence have been very helpful for organization, media, and legal processes against it. Given how aggressive and crude this model is in terms of human rights violations, we are further convinced that by continuing to organize we will continue to make gains to halt its expansion, as long as directly and indirectly affected communities take up the initiative to do so.

Mexican Network of Mining Affected Peoples (REMA) and
Mesoamerican Movement against the Extractive Mining Model (M4)


Dr. Juan Almendares of Honduras has put it this way: “The processes of colonization, re-colonization and neo-colonialism have deep violent roots: historic structural or symbolic roots that are expressed in the reproduction and expansion of the capitalist system. It has been five centuries of pain and suffering characterized by social inequality, injustice, racism, sexism, authoritarian patriarchy, invasion and pillaging of the natural commons, as well as the expropriation of territories and culture.”
J. Almendares, Rev. Ecología Política #37  
Criminalization is expressed through administrative and legal persecution, the raiding of offices, direct or hidden assassinations, preventative or military states of exception, smear campaigns, threats, intimidation and processes of dismissal and firing, among others.
Environmental liabilities are numerous, but the most dominant impacts include: deforestation, loss of soils, loss of water supplies, air contamination, accumulation of solid and liquid wastes contaminated with heavy metals that are dangerous to human health and the environment and that are left behind by mining activities. The risk that these entail and their potential impacts are proportional to the size of a given project.
J. Almendares, Rev. Ecología Política #37