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Mining could topple community-managed forests in Mexico: New film

  • Community residents in the state of Puebla in southeastern Mexico are concerned about the exploration for gold currently underway in their region.
  • Mining concessions currently cover around 30% of the state.
  • Opponents of the project say it will sap vital water sources and destroy the local economy, which is currently based on sustainable management of forests for timber, farming and ecotourism.

Local forest managers in southeastern Mexico are sounding the alarm that their livelihoods are under threat, as companies press for access to the region’s gold, silver and other minerals.

“They are going to sit here for 15 or 20 years, and they are going to take the gold and silver,” said a member of a local cooperative in a new short film. “They are going to leave us infertile lands, lands without life.”

The film Tesoro Vivo (Living Treasure) by the If Not Us Then Who project follows communities in the region of Sierra Norte de Puebla through their daily lives and as they protest the tidal wave of mining sweeping through their homeland and the exploration for a new gold mining project that is underway. Mining concessions cover nearly 30% of the state of Puebla, where Sierra Norte is located, the project says. Only three other countries in the world have more mining concessions than Mexico.

Some residents argue that their community-managed forests amount to a renewable resource, one man in the film said. With foresight and planning, they provide for the well-being of their families, the man added. The filmmakers did not identify the people interviewed to protect their safety.

But the Ixtaca gold mining project threatens that foundation of their “rotating” economy.

Using a “grind the hills” strategy, as one man described it, the mining process not only levels the mountains of Sierra Norte, it siphons off valuable water. By his calculations, the approach requires 100,000 liters (26,000 gallons) to “wash” a single gram of gold. He figures that if the Ixtaca mine goes into operation, it will use 5 million liters (1.3 million gallons) of water per day.

The communities would rather focus on the livelihoods that their forests, farms and ecotourism can provide, according to the film. And one community member said she is skeptical about promises from the company and government officials that the mine will bring jobs and improve the local economy.

“We know that this is not true,” she said. “It resolves it for them, but it leaves the community in greater conditions of poverty and misery.”

A map of the Mexican state of Puebla. Image by Yavidaxiu via Wikimedia Commons (Public domain).

Already, mining companies from Canada, the United States and Mexico hold concessions in the state of Puebla. Holding back yet another, for which the permit has reportedly been approved, presents a formidable challenge, another resident said.

“We are in danger because we are fighting against the government and a big company that leaves them millions of pesos, millions of dollars,” he said.

But, he added, they have little choice if they want to ensure the forests survive to support the next generation.

“That’s why we are making an effort to leave a good life for our children,” he said.

Banner image of a pine forest in Sierra Norte de Puebla, Mexico, by AlejandroLinaresGarcia via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0).

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