SAN CRISTOBAL DE LAS CASAS, Chiapas — Protests against a Canadian-based mining company linked to a Mexican murder investigation escalated Friday as more than a thousand people took to the streets to honour a slain anti-mining activist.
About 1,500 protesters marched through the town of Frontera Comalapa, some 20 kilometres from Chicomuselo where Mariano Abarca Roblero was gunned down last month.
Protesters blame his death on Calgary-based Blackfire Exploration, a company that Abarca Roblero said was a chronic polluter. Blackfire has said it is not connected in any way with Abarca Roblero’s death and denied it has caused any environmental harm.
Organizers said Friday’s protest was about more than the activist’s slaying and was also meant to give a voice to other social issues.
“The reason for the march was for everything that happened to Mariano because there’s a lot of insecurity, impunity, militarization and police presence,” said organizer Gustavo Castro.
“This wasn’t exclusively a protest against Blackfire but against the criminalization of social protest, and violence, and Mariano’s case is an example of this.”
The number of people at Friday’s protest far exceeded the turnout at similar events against Blackfire held in front of the Canadian Embassy in Mexico City and during Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean’s Dec. 9 visit to the region.
The protest was the latest in a series of actions meant to draw attention to Canadian companies with mining operations in Mexico.
The demonstrations began days after Abarca Roblero was shot outside his home in southern Chiapas on Nov. 27.
He had been an outspoken critic of environmental practices at Blackfire’s barite mine, saying the company was contaminating local resources.
Mexican police arrested three people in Abarca Roblero’s death, all of whom have ties to Blackfire. The news galvanized the activist’s supporters, who had consistently blamed the corporation for his slaying.
Company President Brent Willis has denied all such claims, saying Blackfire is in no way connected with Abarca Roblero’s death. Allegations of pollution are also groundless, since the Mexican mine is run in an environmentally responsible way and is held to Canadian standards, he has said.
Willis also said Blackfire has tried to work with local members of the community, many of whom appreciate the company and the employment and local business opportunities it brings.
The company invited protesters, including Abarca Roblero, to come to the site to see environmental safeguards in place, but none would come, he said.
Since Abarca Roblero’s death, supporters have launched protests across the country during which they vowed to force Canadian mining companies out of Mexico.
Organizers say death threats are commonplace and anticipate they will encounter more violence as their campaign continues.