Does the Canadian Government Have a Message for Mining-Affected Communities in Mexico?

October 25, 2017 | By admin | Filed in: MexicoHuman RightsIndigenous Rights.

Guest blog by Daniela Pastrana, Periodistas de a PIe
Journalists Network, @danielapastrana

Translated from the
original in Spanish
by Christian Filip

This month, during Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s visit to
Mexico, multiple videos circulated showing Mexican
women legislators acting like teenagers, pushing one
another aside in order to take a selfie with the
leader who has been promoting his government to the world
as feminist.

Radio Fórmula reporter, María Eugenia Rojas, went even further.
Using one of only two questions Mexican journalists could
ask at the end of a press conference with the Prime Minister
and the Mexican President, she asked about Mexico’s
position concerning what happened in Catalonia (completely
irrelevant to the moment) and then jokingly asked for a
photo with the Canadian Prime Minister. At the end of the press
conference, Rojas got her picture taken with Trudeau,
Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, and their wives.
With a big smile, she exclaimed, “I love him!”

Several Mexican journalists defended her attitude
– unacceptable in any serious news agency around the
world – arguing that there were no fundamental questions
to be asked. In other words, these journalists
were comfortable with the subservient role to which
Mexican journalism has been reduced after a century under the
authoritarian thumb of the Institutional
Revolutionary Party (known as the PRI, which returned to power
in 2012). 

But were there really no fundamental questions?

Three days after Trudeau’s visit concluded, a delegation of
Mexican human rights defenders flew to Canada to talk with
officials, parliamentarians, academics, and Canadian
society about everything the Mexican government insists on
hiding: that the country is experiencing
a massive and systemic human rights crisis
, hitting, above
all, Mexico’s indigenous communities, women, human rights
defenders and journalists.

The visit was organized by the Americas Policy Group
of the Canadian Council for International
Cooperation, including civil society organizations such as
Amnesty International, Peace Brigades International,
MiningWatch Canada, Nobel Women’s Initiative, United
Steelworkers’ Humanity Fund, CoDevelopment Canada, the Public
Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) and CUPE, among
others.  

The Mexican defenders that formed the visiting delegation
were Santiago Aguirre from Centro Prodh;
Gustavo Lozano from the Mexican Network of Mining Affected
People (REMA); Araceli Tecolapa from the José Morelos
and Pavón Human Rights Centre in Guerrero; María Martín
from JASS Mesoamerica; Professor María de la Luz
Arriaga; labour lawyer Arturo Alcalde; and Julia Quiñonez,
a maquiladora workers’ leader from Coahuila. They brought to
the discussion a range of issues pertaining to education,
labour rights, Indigenous communities, crimes against
humanity, forced disappearances, extrajudicial executions,
dispossession, murders of journalists and activists, and
gender rights violations.

Roberto Abel Jiménez García, leader of Section 22 of the
national teachers’ union (SNTE), was unable to
participate since the government of Canada did not give
him permission to enter the country. Lastly, I was invited to
discuss the situation of journalists in Mexico, something
within Canada’s area of interest. 

The three-day visit was filled with meetings with Canadian
unions, universities, parliamentarians, as well as a
press conference and interviews. Our delegation was able
to explain what is happening in Mexico and, above all, raise
an issue that directly involves Canada: large-scale
mining.

This is not a minor issue. Mining is an important source of
foreign exchange for Canada, and Canadian mining
firms control 840 of the 1,327 mining projects in Mexico
right now.

“Canadian companies are killing Mexican communities,” recounted
Gustavo Lozano from the Mexican Network of Mining Affected
People to Matt DeCourcey, Parliamentary Secretary to the
Minister of Foreign Affairs, who simply answered that he would
let his team know what the Mexicans had told him and that
he was disappointed that the delegation that just went to
Mexico did not receive this information. 

However, the most challenging meeting took place on October
18th at Global Affairs Canada (GAC). It was led by Kevin
Thompson, director of GAC’s North America Policy and Relations
division. There, for almost three hours, we spelled out
the reality that the Canadian government does not want to see.

Since I’m a journalist, I could not help but think that we
needed answers. So instead of merely exposing a
situation that, it seems to me, GAC officials should more
or less know, I left them with some questions: 

  1. Are you aware of Canada’s responsibility in Mexico’s human
    rights crisis?
  2. How can the Canadian government make mining companies
    accountable for violations of the human rights of Mexican
    communities?
  3. How do you incorporate the Canadian government’s guidelines
    on the rule of law and the rights of women into the trade
    sections in your embassies abroad?
  4. Does the Government of Canada have any messages for the
    families of people who have been murdered or forcefully
    removed from their land as a direct consequence of Canada’s
    economic diplomacy?
  5. The last one was not a question, but a scolding: How is it
    possible that the U.S. government, in spite of all its
    anti-Mexico discourse, came out more forcefully than Canada
    against the tenth murder of a journalist in Mexico this
    year, which took place just days before Trudeau’s visit?

The GAC officials tried to evade the issue and return to more
comfortable subjects for them, effacing Canada’s role
in the crisis and replying that Mexico does not readily
accept outside criticism and that the solution to the serious
crisis we had laid out is up to us.

But, those of us who participated in the Mexican delegation
know very well what the Mexican government is like
and what we must do in the face of this crisis. Every day,
human rights defenders in our country put their lives on
the line to confront a cynical and corrupt government that
pretends to take positive steps. What we need to know,
I insisted, is whether the Canadian government understands
the direct responsibility it has in the
widespread violence in Mexico. Above all, we want to know
what the Canadian government will do to hold Canadian mining
firms accountable, so they abide by international
standards and stop violating the human rights of Mexican
communities, as has been documented by the UN Working
Group on Business and Human Rights. What can Canada do to
prevent its economic diplomacy from cancelling out the
important work its embassy does in Mexico in support of local
civil society organizations that fight for human rights?

Canada must also look out for its own interests, responded the
foreign affairs official: “The reason why Canada is such a
prosperous country has to do with mining activity.”

This was the breaking point. As a group, the whole Mexican
delegation lined up behind the key message that we wanted to
deliver: there is no justification for Mexicans having to
lose more lives in order for Canada to get ahead. 

Just imagine for a moment: I have a neighbour who is
hardworking with all his business in order, and I can see
that his house is getting bigger. I cannot get angry about
that. Nor can I blame him for the fact that my house is dirty
and a mess. What I cannot accept is, taking advantage of
the fact that my house is falling down and my parents
are violent drunkards, that this rich neighbour takes our
food and leaves us his trash. That is what Canadian mining
firms are doing to Indigenous peoples in
Mexico, Gustavo Lozano and Araceli Tecolapa explained
to Canadian officials,  using other words.

It was not easy. But in the end, Thompson himself had to accept
that they did not know the full extent of the
situation. He committed to having a “deep discussion” with
the Canadian embassy in Mexico “on the services that it offers
to companies” and increasing direct communication with
Mexican civil society. He also said that foreign affairs will
seek to better understand the situation in order to
support well-behaved companies, but “with those that are
playing such a negative role, we have to take action.”

We do not really know what the actual results of the
delegation’s visit to Canada will be. We want to believe that
a crack was opened, allowing some light to enter in on the
dark Mexican panorama. In any case, after listening to
the interventions of the Mexican delegates and witnessing
the efforts of the Canadian civil society network, I am
certain that there were indeed fundamental questions that
needed to be asked of Prime Minister Trudeau during his visit
to Mexico.


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