TORONTO - Mexican and Canadian civil society groups are denouncing this week's violent attack on protesters at a mine owned by Canada's Excellon Resources.
The peaceful demonstration by Mexican landowners against Excellon was wiped out Wednesday when scores of thugs arrived aboard buses and proceeded to destroy and burn the camp's installations.
Photos and witness accounts of the destruction have emerged in extensive coverage of the incident by Mexican media, with estimates on the size of the group of thugs ranging from 180 to 300 men.
"This is another disgraceful chapter in the story of community conflict and injustice to local landowners that has characterized Excellon's presence in Mexico," said Ken Neumann, Canadian National Director of the United Steelworkers (USW).
"And it is another black eye for Canadian mining companies operating abroad," Neumann added.
Men, women and children from a communal landowners group known as Ejido La Sierrita have been peacefully and legally demonstrating outside Excellon's La Platosa silver mine for three months. The landowners accuse Excellon of breaking commitments to their community and refusing to negotiate a resolution to the festering conflict.
Mexican media coverage of Wednesday's incident includes witness accounts alleging the thugs who attacked the camp are members of a union viewed by critics as an Excellon-friendly "protection union." A leader of the so-called protection union was quoted in media coverage condoning the protest camp's destruction.
"The United Steelworkers denounces this violence and aggression against peaceful demonstrators whose goal is to protect their environment and lift their communities out of poverty," Neumann said.
"The ongoing conflict surrounding the Excellon Resources mining operations in Mexico should have been settled long ago. This deplorable situation could be resolved quickly and easily if Excellon would treat the landowners and workers with respect and dignity, and negotiate a reasonable settlement."
Neumann also denounced Canada's federal government for rejecting real accountability measures for Canadian mining companies operating abroad, particularly in jurisdictions where workers and communities have little recourse with their own governments and institutions.
"The travesty we are witnessing in Mexico is a further condemnation of the refusal by the Harper Conservatives to hold Canadian mining companies accountable for their actions abroad," he said.
Ken Neumann, USW National Director for Canada, 416-544-5951
Joe Drexler, USW Strategic Campaigns, email@example.com, 416-544-6009
Bob Gallagher, USW Communications, firstname.lastname@example.org, 416,544-5966, 416-434-2221
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Human rights groups and labour activists have raised mounting concerns in recent years regarding the activities of Canadian mining companies operating abroad. Canada's Excellon Resources Inc. is one such company.
- Excellon, which operates a silver mine in Durango Mexico, has been denounced by human rights and labour groups in Mexico, the U.S. and Canada for its role in a festering conflict with Mexican landowners and workers.
- Communal landowners and workers accuse Excellon of violating their rights and breaking agreements on issues including water treatment and environmental protection, economic benefits and union representation.
- Amid intimidation and irregularities, the National Union of Mine, Metal and Steelworkers (Los Mineros) - one of Mexico's few independent and democratic unions - lost an election to represent workers at Excellon's mine by a one-vote margin. Critics allege the union that purports to represent the mine's workers is one of Mexico's infamous, company-friendly "protection unions."
- After three months of peaceful demonstration by men, women and children from a communal landowners group known as Ejido La Sierrita, the protest camp outside Excellon's mine was attacked and destroyed this week by scores of thugs who were bused to the site.
- The landowners have taken legal action to try to rescind their lease of the land on which Excellon's mine operates.
- Excellon refused to fully participate in efforts at real dialogue with workers and landowners despite efforts by Canada's Extractive Sector Corporate Social Responsibility Counsellor. In explaining the company's withdrawal from the process, an Excellon official accused Canada's CSR Counsellor of bias.
- A complaint has been filed with the OECD alleging gross violations of the Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, to which both Canada and Mexico are signatory.
- A complaint has been filed with the Ontario Securities Commission over lack of disclosure allegations against Excellon.