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The Defense of the Land: San Jose del Progreso

Attacks against land are constant, and in Mexico even more so since NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) went into effect in 1994. NAFTA changed laws so drastically that it sometimes seems like the government was in a rush to hand over the territory to the highest bidder, the one that offered them the most crumbs.

Thanks to NAFTA, corporations have more freedom than ever to exploit Mexican people and Mexican natural resources. Ever since 1994, the government has passed numerous reforms and neoliberal laws that benefit multinationals (the most recent ones regarding energy, education, financial, agriculture, and communications) and that facilitate the oppression of citizens who don’t agree with the government or who fight to defend their rights.

Fortunately, all throughout Latin America groups have organized, mostly indigenous groups, which fight to defend their land, their dignity, and life itself.

Defense of Land

When I asked Carmen what land defense means, she said it’s the defense of everything. It’s the defense of wind, sun, earth, water, minerals, flora and fauna, human rights, and all of the people who inhabit a place. It’s also the defense of values, traditions and the culture of a people. It’s the continuous struggle to protect everything that mother earth gives us. It’s the struggle to continue living in harmony with the world in a sustainable way.

Carmen is an indigenous woman, and leader of a Oaxacan organization which defends the rights of indigenous peoples and mother earth. Defending land is part of her daily life.

The work of land defenders is absolutely essential. The development model which capitalism imposes has accelerated the destruction of the world and the domination of resources by a limited group of people. This “development” prioritizes short term profits and not the well-being of people or nature.

A concrete example: San José del Progreso

Oaxacan organizations which work to defend the land recently published a report on the Civilian Observatory Mission to San José del Progreso which took place at the end of 2012.

San José del Progreso is a Zapotec indigenous municipality located in Oaxaca state, which in the last eight years has been embroiled in an alarming social conflict brought about by the presense of a Canadian mine in its territory.

During the first months of 2012, two members of the Coordination of Peoples of Ocotlan Valley, Bernardo Vázquez Sánchez and Bernardo Méndez Vázquez, who had participated in the opposition to the mining company Cuzcatlán-Fortuna Silver Mines over the previous seven years, were killed…

In the report, the organizations were able to document the negative effects of the mine in the region, as well as the numerous violations of rights suffered by its residents. These violations still enjoy impunity, as the government continues to favor the company over the local residents. The government justifies its support for the mining company with the argument that the mine will bring “development” to the region.

The extractive economic model is based on the accumulation of capital thanks to the disproportionate extraction of communal resources. It presupposes that private companies, which have the capital to pay for the plundering of minerals, acquire the right to do so anywhere in the world, all in order to promote “economic development” and not the well-being of people who live on the land where the minerals are found. Under this model, people, animals, and plants are considered dispensable exchange value.

But the residents of San José know that this “development” model will only benefit a very small group of foreign investors, while the local population suffers negative impacts that the mine has on the environment and the community.

Mining is an economic activity encouraged by governments and large transnational corporations which has systematically violated the human rights of communities where such projects are realized. For these reasons, it’s considered one of the economic activities with greatest social, cultural, economic and environmental impacts.…The temptation to acquire minerals such as gold and silver launched the colonization, pillage and exploitation of underground riches in the Americas. This historical pattern is one of the driving forces of global capitalism. Mines and underground places in which metals such as gold, silver, titanium and copper are found. These are used to produce products and exchange values, offering enormous riches to the owners of companies who extract it.In order to extract the desired minerals, pulverized rock is combined with toxic chemical reactions such as cyanide (used in the lixiviation process) and the “xantatos” (used in the flotation process), among others. Huge amounts of water and electricity are required for this process. Once the mine is depleted, poisons remain in the mine as well as deposits, which are a source of pollution for future generations that will live in the region in the coming decades.

We invite you to read the entire report.

And what about us?

So what does land defense have to do with us? We must think about our role in this problem: how we benefit from these dynamics, and how we can work in true solidarity.

With money, privilege and power comes an attitude of arrogance, and the erroneous idea that we deserve to have anything at the price that we determine (even though there are things which don’t belong to us and which don’t have a price!).

This phenomenon can be seen on a micro and a macro level. One only needs to visit the Oaxacan coast or the streets of Brooklyn, New York. People with money buy homes from original peoples and marginalized peoples, open new businesses thanks to their access to technology and capital, and slowly displace original inhabitants.

On a bigger scale, we can see multinational corporations which bribe politicians, who then hand over permission to exploit natural resources and destroy nature at a speed never seen before. The San José del Progreso report gives us a clear glimpse into the impacts that this has on communities.

We must reflect upon the laws in our country which allow the exploitation of others on a global level. We must take our money out of companies that make their profits at the cost of marginalizing communities and groups of peoples. We must change our consumption habits and only buy what’s truly necessary. We must stop buying products from companies that profit off the destruction of the environment and social conflicts. We must learn to be better tourists, better neighbors, and better citizens. We must invest our efforts and capital in bettering our own communities.

When we stop putting a price on the most sacred things that life offers us, such as communal resources, our values, our homes, only then will we be exercising true solidarity.


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