Mexico has the least strict mining regulations among the three countries that make up the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), making it attractive for Canadian and U.S. miners at a great human and environmental cost.
Besides cheaper labor and less employment regulations, foreign mines in Mexico also enjoy much less strict environmental laws, compared to those of its northern neighbors, according to a report called “Taking Stock: North American Pollutant Releases and Transfers” and prepared by the Environmental Cooperation Commission (CCA).
According to the report, “significantly smaller amounts of pollutants are reported by mines in Mexico than by mines in the United States and Canada,” because of the lack of an “on-site disposal reporting category; and the exclusion from the list of reportable substances of key pollutants typically associated with mining activities.”
The report compares the environmental laws of the three countries taking into account the restrictions on pollutants used and registered by miners up to 2013, finding out that Mexico prohibits and registers much less toxic substances than its northern neighbors.
In 2013, the mining guild reported only eight toxic substances used and released into the environment to the Mexican authorities, while on the same year the mining sector in the U.S. and Canada reported 59 and 63 respectively.
The 140 pages, available in Spanish, English and French, was based on each countries' Pollutant Release and Transfer Registers (PRTR), recommended by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) for governments to “implement and improve databases about chemicals including inventories of emissions, with the co-operation of industry and the public.”
Mexico's RETC considers only 104 pollutants and takes into account metal, lime and cement mines, besides every activity that spills waste into federal waters and those which handle dangerous residue.
On the other hand, Canadian law recognizes 346 subsentnces as pollutants and includes every mining activity, except surface and lime mines that produce less than 500 thousand tons, while the U.S. identifies 675 pollutants and takes into account coal, metal and non-metal mineral mines.
The difference in regulations makes Mexico very attractive for northern miners. Out of 290 mining companies operating in Mexico, 211 are Canadian that are allowed in the south what they aren't in their own country.
For example, Mexico doesn't hold miners accountable for manganese, zinc or copper emissions, while Canada and the U.S. do, but they all require them to report on lead, arsenic, nickel, chromium, cadmium, cyanide and mercury.
Besides representing a great environmental problem for Mexico, mines are often the source of social conflicts that lead to tragical events.
Manuel Gaspar Rodriguez, an environmental activist and social leader that opposed open cut mining and electrical projects in the state of Puebla, was murdered on Monday after receiving anonymous death threats by phone.
Rodriguez's case is just one of many in Mexico. According to a report published by the Mexican Center for Environmental Law (Cemda), twenty-nine environmental activists were killed in Mexico between July 2016 and December 2017.
Seventeen of the attacks were related to mining and land grab, followed by infrastructure projects in 14 cases. Hydroelectric projects, water administration, real state projects, renewable energy, transgenic crops and illegal logging issues.
According to the Mexican Network of Those Affected by Mining (Rema), mining has caused more than 15,000 social conflicts in Mexico.
One of them involved the Canadian mining company, Torex Gold, and its Media Luna gold mine in the state of Guerrero. Workers staged a strike in November 2017, with three workers having been killed since.
Elsewhere in the state of Guerrero, Canadian Gold Corp, another Canadian mining company, raised tensions when it illegally purchased land in the city of Carrizalillo.
Yet another case involving a Canadian mining company, Canadian Esperanza Silver, sought to destroy the Xochicalco archaeological site, as well as communal lands located on the El Jumil hill in Tetlama, Morelos.
Also, there is the ongoing case in Chicomuselo, Chiapas, which led to the murder of anti-mining activist Mariano Abarca in 2009, who was fighting against the impacts of Canadian mining company Blackfire Exploration.