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Ours, or mine?

24 March 2013

In 1992 the Salinas Administration undid one of the cornerstones of the Mexican Revolution.  Although the ten-year revolution had institutionalized the theory that the natural resources of the nation belonged to the nation (and should be managed for the welfare of the nation), Salinas’ Institutional Revolutionary Party turned the theory on its head.  Following the neo-liberal script being laid out throughout the Americas, the mining industry was opened to foreign concessionaires on terms not seen since Don Porfirio was run out of the country.  Prior to 1992, Mexican mining was owned by Mexican firms, which at least meant most of the money earned from exploiting limited resources, stayed in the country.  After 1992, mining activity increased dramatically, but with the bulk of the profits going to Canadian coupon-clippers.  While the mining firms can point to creating 300,000 direct jobs, they overlook not just the job losses in agriculture, but the social and mercury_miningwebcropenvironmental costs (disrupted and displaced communities; toxic waste in the drinking water; air pollution and more) that have been “socialized” — left to the Mexican government — or, more commonly, simply written off as a cost of doing business.  For the Mexicans, not the coupon-clippers.

As throughout the hemisphere, the mining operators pay a pittance of land use fees (from 0.36 to 1.08 US$ per hectare) for the rights to exploit Mexican silver, bismuth, lead, gold, copper and other minerals.

Mining operators will tell you they invested 7 billion dollars in Mexico last year, but that doesn’t mean that Mexicans (even rich Mexicans) are receiving 7 billion dollars,  nor that 300,00 Mexicans have decent jobs.   While the foreign companies also pay income tax, given the vagaries of the Mexican tax code, nowhere near the 22 billion dollars they pull out of the ground (and out of the country) every year.  Nor paying for the lost jobs in other sectors (although the toxic wastes left behind, especially by strip mining operations, does create work for oncologists and hospice nurses).

With more mining operations — and more social conflict (and more disease and death and ruined agricultural districts) — every year, and growth in the industry only limited by the obvious fact that minerals are a non-renewable resource, a more equitable mining law is overdue.

Two proposals — one drafted by the government, and another drafted by labor, agricultural  and environmental groups — are being put forward.  And… naturally… the government proposal (which wouldn’t bring Mexico back even to the Colonial standard of a twenty percent royalty on the deposits) would likely include SOME royalties and SOME consideration of social and environmental costs racked up by the mostly Canadian and U.S. based firms.  The alternative proposal (and good luck with that) would end strip-mining, and leave much more of the profits in the local community.

(More from InterPress Service:  Emilio Godoy, “Civil Society Seeks to Influence Mexican Mining Law Reform“)

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