Mining exploration is on the upswing in Baja California Sur, whose residents mostly farm or engage in the tourism industry. One proposed project in particular, the Los Cardones mine, currently owned by Invecture Group, a Mexican company, closely affiliated with Vancouver-based Frontera Mining Corporation, draws a great deal concern from the local communities. Covering more than 13,000 hectares of land, the anticipated risks of the proposed Los Cardones mine include contaminated ground and drinking water, cyanide pollution and high levels of dust laced with arsenic and heavy metals.
The proposed gold mine is situated only 65km southeast of the city of La Paz in Baja California, and within the Sierra de La Laguna Biosphere, a UNESCO protected area in Mexico. Invecture’s proposed plan also includes a tailings dam located just outside the biosphere reserve but close to area rivers. It poses a huge threat to the people of the rapidly growing state of Baja California Sur.
In August 2014, SEMARNAT, Mexico’s central environmental authority, gave Invecture initial approval for the project, reversing past denials. However, the approval came with many conditions, including obtaining permits from several other agencies – a response believed to be the result of widespread local and international opposition to the project. A coalition of 34 groups around the world, including Earthworks, urged SEMARNAT to deny permits for this mine.
Finally, in March 2017, a Mexican court ruled to repeal the authorization granted by SEMARNAT based on illegalities in the fractured 2014 permitting process. Invecture Group has appealed the court’s decision; a final ruling is pending.
2011 protest over Los Cardones (then called Concordia). Photo credit: Baja Insider
According to the Mexican civil society and environmental organization, Sociedad de Historia Natural Niparajá, “This decision is the result of the discipline, dedication and perseverance of the citizens and organizations of the Frente Ciudadano por el Agua y por la Vida, [Citizens Front for Water and Life] who through high-level legal and community strategies, have been able to ensure Baja California Sur remains free of toxic mining.” And while company has indicated that it was putting the development of Los Cardones on hold, local communities doubt that the company plans to permanently walk away from the project.
Meanwhile widespread opposition to large-scale mining in Baja California Sur continues to grow thanks to increased organizing and education by local environmental groups focused on protecting the Sierra de la Laguna and ensuring clean water for future generations. Continued pressure on both local and state officials is necessary to ensure the environmental impacts outweigh the debated economic and employment benefits championed by mine supporters.
“After 10 years and four proposed open pit mines, here in Baja California Sur we have shown that we have the knowledge and organization necessary to stop the development projects that will contaminate our aquifers and greatly impact our principal water sources and the center of biodiversity of the Sierra de la Laguna in the southern part of the state.” – Sociedad de Historia Natural Niparajá
A history of resistance
The resistance movement against the Los Cardones project dates back to the previous incarnation of the project – Concordia, then owned by Vista Gold Corp. On January 16, 2011 over 8,500 concerned citizens led by environmental organizers Quaayip of La Paz, Baja Sur en Peligro and Vista Gold No, made their position clear, “agua vale mas que oro –” water is worth more than gold.
In addition to a strong social resistance, Vista Gold faced considerable legal entanglements. In February 2010 SEMARNAT denied the last of three major permits needed to begin operation, citing insufficient information on the effects on biodiversity and erosion caused by the mine.
While Vista Gold had claimed to provide jobs, the quantity, just 300, paled in comparison to the agricultural sector, which provides employment for an estimated ten thousand people. Furthermore, the taxes incurred by the Mexican government (5.08 pesos or .30 cents USD per hectare of land used paid semiannual for only the first two years) are negligible given the profits Vista Gold was expected to bring in.
Other Threats In Baja California Sur – San Antonio project, Argonaut Gold
Since acquiring the San Antonio project in 2009, Argonaut Gold, and its Mexican subsidiary, Compania Minera Pitalla, have faced constant obstacles to securing the environmental and licensing permits to operate. The initial environmental impact report for proposed open pit gold mine, located just 18 km from the Sierra de la Laguna in the municipality of La Paz, was denied by SEMARNAT in 2012 due to a series of environmental, procedural and zoning problems.
In July 2016, Argonaut won a Federal Court ruling which stated that incompatibility with the regions zoning plan could not be used to deny the environmental permit. However, just four months later in December SEMARNAT once again rejected Argonaut’s environmental permit due to lack of adequate information about impacts on the aquifer as well as operation and closure plans. Argonaut continues to consider options for pushing the project forward including submitting another environmental permitting request as well as potential legal options.