SAN CRISTOBAL DE LAS CASAS, Mexico — More than 2,000 people toting signs that read “No to Mining” and “Respect Mother Earth” took to the streets Tuesday in just the latest — and largest — of a series of protests aimed at an embattled Canadian mining company.
The march was held in Chicomuselo, a small community near the Guatemalan border where anti-mining activist Mariano Abarca Roblero was shot and killed last month outside his home.
Abarca Roblero was a vocal opponent of a barite mine operated near his home by Calgary-based Blackfire Exploration Ltd., and had repeatedly accused the company of damaging the water supply and acting without consulting the local population.
Three people, all of them former or current employees of Blackfire, have been arrested in connection with the killing. Blackfire has insisted it is not connected in any way with the death and has denied causing any environmental harm.
“The march was convened by the Catholic Church here in Chicomuselo,” said protester Sinar Diego Ruiz.
“The Church is demanding justice and clarity, and at the same time they’re seeing themselves as being part of the struggle because the Bible and Jesus say that nature and life need to be protected. And from that point of view they (have) the same ideals as Mariano Abarca Roblero.”
An estimated 2,500 people participated, carrying signs, using noisemakers and shouting chants. Some came from communities hours away to attend.
The march wound its way from the town’s entrance, past the office of local mayor Julio Cesar Velazquez Calderon and to the local church, where a mass was held. Afterward, protesters gathered in the town square.
The slain activist’s son, Jose Luis Abarca, met the protesters and said he was pleased with the show of solidarity.
“The Church was always on my father’s side,” Luis said. “During mass they would refer to what my father was doing and that we needed to support him, that he couldn’t do it alone. They knew we had to unite together.”
Blackfire president Brent Willis has denied any connection to the death of Abarca Roblero, saying the company is not responsible for the actions of former or current employees outside of work hours.
Willis has also denied claims by the activists that the mine’s activities harm the environment; he has inisted that Blackfire has complied with Mexican environmental laws to the letter.
The mine has been closed since Dec. 7, when the government of Chiapas decided to shut it down temporarily due to environmental concerns.