To keep the peace: assassination, bribery and free trade

On August 17, 2009, Mariano Abarca Roblero, a human rights activist in the Mexican state of Chiapas, was picked up by state security forces and held on suspicion of disturbing the peace, and "organized crime.

On August 17, 2009, Mariano Abarca Roblero, a human rights activist in the Mexican state of Chiapas, was picked up by state security forces and held on suspicion of disturbing the peace, and “organized crime.” He had helped to organize a blockade on a public street to prevent Calgary-based mining company Blackfire Resources from running heavy trucks through a school district, disturbing classes and causing houses to crack and crumble.

Abarca Roblero was one of the leaders of a group opposed to a Blackfire mine in the town of Chicomuselo. There was nothing to connect him with organized crime, but adding gangsterism to his charges gave police the power to hold him for six months without charge. They reminded him of this before letting him go after eight days with a warning to keep quiet about the mine.

On November 23, 2009 Abarca Roblero filed an affidavit in Chiapas court alleging that he was arrested at the behest of mine management in order to silence him, and that he and other activists had received death threats which appeared to originate with senior mine officials. On November 27 he was gunned down in front of his house by a man on a motorcycle, who turned out to be a mine employee. A week after Abarca Roblero’s death, Chiapas environmental authorities closed down the mine.

After the assassination, a delegation representing Canadian human rights organizations and the United Steelworkers union visited the area. Speaking for the group, Rick Arnold of Common Frontier said, “What we found during our investigation was a community devastated by the ever-present intimidation, violence, bad mining practices, environmental destruction, and legal harassment.”

On July 20, 2011, an RCMP team raided Blackfire’s Calgary offices with a warrant obtained through the Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act, based on allegations that the company had bribed a local mayor “to keep the peace and prevent local members of the community from taking up arms against the mine.” The company paid Julio Cesar Velazquez Calderón a bit more than $1,900 over time – a small fortune in Chiapas – but balked when he demanded they buy him a night with his favourite Playboy playmate.

According to Mining Watch, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade records released last week under an access to information request “show the embassy received 1,400 letters expressing dire concern for Abarca’s life following his arrest in August 2009. One month earlier, Abarca had complained to an embassy official that Blackfire workers were armed and intimidating mine opponents. Nonetheless, when embassy officials visited Chiapas weeks before Abarca’s death, they appear only to have inquired into concerns about the security of Blackfire’s investment.”

In fact, Rick Arnold reports, the newly released records also show that “mere days after a damning report about the company was circulated to the highest echelons of the Canadian government, Canadian authorities sought advice for the company about how to sue the state of Chiapas under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) for having closed the mine.”

Now Infinito Gold, another Calgary-based mining firm, has announced its intention to sue Costa Rica under a 1999 Foreign Investment Protection Agreement, demanding $1 billion in compensation for a Supreme Court decision to shut down Las Crucitas, its planned open-pit gold mine. The trade protections in a FIPA are more-or-less the same as those in NAFTA.

The mine got the go-ahead from former Costa Rican president Oscar Arias in 2008, just days after his Arias Foundation received a mysterious donation from Canada of $200,000. Arias lost office in 2010, and the current administration doesn’t concur with his view that the Las Crucitas mine is “in the national interest.”

There have been no reports of armed thugs or assassinations connected to the Las Crucitas project – Costa Rica isn’t Chiapas, and the mine doesn’t actually exist – but Infinito has been throwing its legal weight around, allegedly “strong-arming” the judiciary to overturn two Supreme Court decisions upholding a ban on open-pit mining, and using the courts to harass university professors and others critical of the project.

When a Canadian corporation uses violence, intimidation, or legal harassment to bully the government or the people of a poor country, the reputation of all Canadians suffers, unfairly. When our elected government knowingly offers support and advice to a bully company, we are all responsible, and our reputation deserves what it gets. If you would like to travel to Costa Rica some day, maybe today would be a good day to speak out against predatory Canadian corporations abusing trade and investment treaties.

Al Pope won the Canadian Community Newspaper Award for best columnist in 2013. He also won the Ma Murray Award for Best Columnist in B.C./Yukon in 2010 and 2002.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A Copper Ridge resident clears their driveway after a massive over night snowfall in Whitehorse on Nov. 2, 2020. Environment Canada has issued a winter storm warning for the Whitehorse and Haines Junction areas for Jan. 18. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Winter storm warning for Haines Junction and Whitehorse

Environment Canada says the storm will develop Monday and last until Tuesday

Maria Metzen off the start line of the Yukon Dog Mushers Association’s sled dog race on Jan. 9. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
Mushers race in preparation for FirstMate Babe Southwick

The annual race is set for Feb. 12 and 13.

The Yukon government is making changes to the medical travel system, including doubling the per diem and making destinations for medical services more flexible. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Subsidy for medical travel doubled with more supports coming

The change was recommended in the Putting People First report endorsed by the government

Chloe Sergerie, who was fined $500 under the <em>Civil Emergency Measures Act</em> on Jan. 12, says she made the safest choice available to her when she entered the territory. (Mike Thomas/Yukon News file)
Woman fined $500 under CEMA says she made ‘safest decision’ available

Filling out a declaration at the airport was contrary to self-isolation, says accused

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: Your Northern regulatory adventure awaits!

“Your Northern adventure awaits!” blared the headline on a recent YESAB assessment… Continue reading

Yukoner Shirley Chua-Tan is taking on the role of vice-chair of the social inclusion working group with the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences’ oversight panel and working groups for the autism assessment. (Submitted)
Canadian Academy of Health Sciences names Yukoner to panel

Shirley Chua-Tan is well-known for a number of roles she plays in… Continue reading

The Fish Lake area viewed from the top of Haeckel Hill on Sept. 11, 2018. The Yukon government and Kwanlin Dün First Nation (KDFN) announced they are in the beginning stages of a local area planning process for the area. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Local area planning for Fish Lake announced

The Government of Yukon and Kwanlin Dün First Nation (KDFN) announced in… Continue reading

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

Fire damage, photographed on Jan. 11, to a downtown apartment building which occurred late in the evening on Jan. 8. Zander Firth, 20, from Inuvik, was charged with the arson and is facing several other charges following his Jan. 12 court appearance. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
More charges for arson suspect

The Inuvik man charged in relation to the fire at Ryder Apartments… Continue reading

The grace period for the new Yukon lobbyist registry has come to an end and those who seek to influence politicians will now need to report their efforts to a public database. (Mike Thomas/Yukon News file)
Grace period for new lobbyist registry ends

So far nine lobbyists have registered their activities with politicians in the territory

The Government of Yukon Main Administration Building in Whitehorse on Aug. 21, 2020. Some Yukon tourism and culture non-profit organizations may be eligible to receive up to $20,000 to help recover from losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Details released on relief funding for tourism and culture non-profits

Some Yukon tourism and culture non-profit organizations may be eligible to receive… Continue reading

Most Read