Credit: Pie de Página
The ejido (community) of El Bajío is located in the municipality of Caborca, Sonora, in the coastal region of northeastern Mexico.
In 1997, the mine with the same name, owned by the Penmont subsidiary of Grupo Peñoles, was installed on La Herradura hill. For 16 years, the La Herradura, Soledad and Dipolos mines have been exploited for the extraction of gold and silver, which, far from generating any benefit, caused dust contamination and a negative impact on the morphology of the land (1).
They heard nothing more from the mining company until the 2000s, when it had already begun extracting gold from their lands. “But they didn’t have permission to do this”, says Erasmo Santiago, one of the ejidatarios (people who live in the ejido El Bajío) interviewed in the documentary “Tolvanera”, which present the history of this community. Grupo Fresnillo, through its subsidiary Penmont, began its works in the area at the La Herradura mine. In 2009 it extended its operations with the Soledad-Dipolos mine. Over four years it extracted 236,000 ounces of gold, making gross profits of 420 million dollars. The ejidatarios didn’t receive a penny. “It’s ironic because in a sense they were lucky that in the middle of the desert, on infertile land where nothing grows, they have something super valuable. But in the end there were violent repercussions for the people who collectively owned this land”, reflects Melgoza in an interview with newspaper El País.
In 2009, the collective owners filed a lawsuit with the agricultural tribunal, asking the mining company to remove itself from their lands. Magistrate Manuel Loya Valverde not only ruled in favour of the ejidatarios but in 2014, in an unprecedented decision, also ruled that the company had to return all the gold it had extracted and return the land to its original state. “Reparations have to begin with the restoration of the mountains, hills, water, air, flora and fauna that was there before”, reads the decision – a real blow for the mining company belonging to Mexico’s fourth richest man (2).
In December 2018, the members of the El Bajío ejido once again denounced the fact that that they had been threatened by the mining company Fresnillo Plc, the London-listed current owner of the Soledad, La Herradura and Dipolos mines. They affirmed that, despite having obtained a resolution in favour in 2014, the company continues looting the natural resources of the ejido, they keep intimidating people with the help of armed people.
To know more about the history of the situation experienced by the communities in the territory, documentary “Tolvanera” can be watched here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QK83YTxqryg
By Javiera Martinez and Holly Jones