Canadian Almaden Minerals still wants to mine gold and silver in the municipality of Ixtacamaxtitlán, in the state of Puebla. In February, the Supreme Court canceled two concessions the company held because the government had not previously consulted communities in the area. It was a historic decision for the rights of indigenous peoples. However, the highest court, after consultation, left the door open for reissue of the permits. Almaden, through its subsidiary Minera Gorrión, stated this Tuesday that it was “in the best position” for this to take place and to continue with the project.
The future of the controversial open-cast mine that Almaden wants to open is at stake. The landmark Supreme Court decision reaffirmed the right of indigenous peoples to prior, free and informed consultation on projects on their territory, a principle enshrined in ILO Convention 169 and repeatedly ignored by governments. Since this requirement was not met before the permits were granted, the court agreed with the Tecoltemi communitywhose territory was given in concession without being consulted, leaving the two mining concessions “insignificant”, covering more than 14,000 hectares in total.
Now, Almaden, which has invested some $40 million in prospecting and exploration work, is waiting for the Commerce Department to conduct the consultations so that it can later reclaim the concessions, as stated by the court in the ruling. “The company understands that the application process is still in full force and that it maintains its acquired rights,” it said in a statement. “Minera Gorrión is in the best position and will try to communicate with local authorities and communities so that consultations can take place.”
As the company acknowledges, The Supreme Court has not set a deadline to allow indigenous consultations to take place, giving the government ample room for maneuver. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador stated at the beginning of his six-year term that no new mining concessions would be granted. More recently, before the highest court ruled on the case, the Environment Secretariat called on ministers to decide in favor of the Tecoltemi community.
Almaden has been trying to distance himself from Tecoltemi, a small ejido worried about the mine’s impact on water supplies. The mining project is located a few miles from the claimant population, although the two concessions traverse part of its territory. The company said Tuesday it has “no interest in owning concession titles that may cover the land of the community that started this whole legal matter.” Almaden already tried to waive the part that ran through Tecoltemi during the trial to cancel the trial. The mining company’s request was rejected by the judge at the time.
Indigenous consultation is not the only obstacle facing the company. At the end of 2020, the Ministry of the Environment rejected the Environmental Impact Assessment (MIA), which Almaden had commissioned from a specialist adviser. Authorization is a requirement to proceed to the exploitation phase. However, the federal agency felt that the presented document underestimates the indigenous presence in the affected area, as well as the impact of the project on the ecosystem.
A year and a half after that rejection, Almaden has confirmed that the new MIA he is working on is “nearly complete” and that he hopes to introduce it once the government has held indigenous consultations. “Minera Gorrión reaffirms its commitment to the rule of law and to a mining project that will bring development and well-being to Ixtacamaxtitlán and Mexico,” he said.
Meanwhile, Tecoltemi and the civil society organizations that guided Almaden’s lawsuit remain vigilant to protect what they view as a historic victory for the indigenous peoples from the major mining projects. “These criteria are highly relevant because by being jurisprudence, and therefore mandatory, they strengthen the rights of indigenous peoples and communities in the country and help stop the imposition of mining extractivism in the areas,” they noted. June in a statement.
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