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08/13/2013

Family of slain Mexican activist demands answers outside Canadian embassy

Abarca (mike) talks to Canadian embassy rep (female) in 2009

Anti-mining leader Mariano Abarca, with microphone, leads a protest outside the Canadian embassy in July 2009. Abarca was shot in the back at close range outside his house four months later. PHOTO BY TAMARA HERMAN


In a potential embarassment to Canada’s image abroad, the family of a Mexcan activist gunned down as he led protests against a controversial Canadian-owned mine in Chiapas plan to push for answers about his murder in front of the Canadian embassy in Mexico City this week.

The family of Mariano Abarca, along with local and Canadian human rights groups, will issue a report  entitled “Corruption, Murder and Canadian Mining in Mexico: The Case of Blackfire Exploration and the Canadian Embassy” at a news conference at the Human Rights Commission in Mexico City Tuesday, followed by a public event outside the embassy on Wednesday. 

As the Star reported last May, secret diplomatic documents suggest the Canadian embassy in Mexico provided “active and unquestioning support” to Calgary-based Blackfire  Exploraton before, during and after it became embroiled in controversy over the Abarca’s murder according to the report issued by MiningWatch Canada.

On Nov. 27, 2009, Abarca — who had warned before his death that “if anything happens to me I blame the Canadian mining company Blackfire” — was shot in the back at close range outside of his house.

At the time, the embassy reported to Ottawa that three men connected to Blackfire – one former contractor and two men still working for the company at the time as an employee and as a contractor – had been detained in connection with the assassination.

“Regarding the actions of former contractors and employees, we are unable to control what individuals do in their personal lives and their actions do not reflect upon Blackfire in the slightest,” the company told the Star last May.

Abarca’s family told MiningWatch that eventually a former Blackfire contractor, Jorge Carlos Sepulveda Calvo, was convicted of the murder and sentenced to 24 years in prison

 Shortly after the murder, Mexican authorities suspended Blackfire’s Chiapas operations for environmental violations, and the barite mine has not reopened. In 2011, RCMP raided the Calgary office of the company, alleging in a search warrant that Blackfire paid a local Chiapas mayor to ensure protection from anti-mining protesters.

According to MiningWatch, the emails and internal documents show that starting in 2007 and continuing after the murder, the embassy’s support and lobbying with the Chiapas state was “essential to the company’s success in starting the mine” even though Canadian officials were aware of what they called “difficulties” Blackfire had with the local population.

 Memorial march2

Memorial march in  November 2012 in Chiapas for Abarca three years after his killing.
PHOTO BY JENNIFER MOORE

 

Now the family – supported by Canadian groups such as the Council of Canadians, MiningWatch  and the United Steelworkers  --- wants more answers about the corporate and political response to the killing.

“The family of Mariano Abarca will present the report and seek a response from the Canadian Embassy to ensure justice is obtained in this case and that Canada adopts corporate accountability measures in accord with its international human rights obligations.” say organizers in a press reléase.

The events at the Human Rights Commission in Tuesday and in front of the Canadian embassy on Wednesday  will be broadcast live on a Mexican website. 

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Julian Sher is a foreign affiars and investigative journalist  for the Star and can be reached at jsher@thestar.ca and on Twitter @juliansher.

 

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