BUSINESS

Excellon Mexican Mine Protest: Canadian Mining Company Bulldozes Camp

10/26/2012 04:41 EDT | Updated 12/26/2012 05:12 EST
proDESC

UPDATE: The chief operating officer of a Canadian mining company personally participated in the tearing down and bulldozing of a protest camp in Mexico, says a press release from a Mexican activist group.

Robert Moore, the chief operating officer of Excellon Resources, "directly participated in the action against the landowners, pulling down the fence that the landowners had set up to protect their camp," said a statement from the Project for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ProDESC).

The activist group said the camp — which was set up by villagers and union members near the La Platosa mine because of what the protesters say is Excellon's failure to live up to agreements with the community — was not on Excellon property and had the blessing of the landowners.

UPDATE II: Excellon Resources is disputing ProDESC's claim that the protest encampment taken down at the La Platosa mine was on private property. Company executive vice president Brendan Cahill told The Huffington Post Canada on Monday the land where the protest camp was located belongs to Excellon, and the company has been using the terrain since 2004.

Cahill also disputed ProDESC's assertion that company COO Robert Moore had participated in the camp's takedown. Cahill said Moore arrived at the worksite last week as he usually does, only to be confronted by two newly-built fences that blocked the access to the mine from the road. Cahill said it was those two fences that Moore participated in removing.

Canadian mining company Excellon Resources said Friday it hopes that peace has been restored to its Mexican mine after it dismantled a protest camp it says was set up on property it owns.

The land is near a busy access road that is being built to transport ore to a nearby production facility.

"Hopefully the situation has stabilized...and we're going to work hard to make sure it doesn't happen again," Brendan Cahill, executive vice-president of Excellon Resources, said in an interview Friday.

The Toronto-based company said it bulldozed an encampment Wednesday that grew during a three-month protest that was sparked after workers selected one union over another.

Cahill said union members affiliated with the non-governmental organization ProDESC blockaded its La Platosa mine which produces silver, lead and zinc and launched a "smear campaign" because of its unhappiness with the union vote and changes being pushed through by the government against mining unions.

The battle came to a head early Wednesday after more than 50 employees starting their shift confronted 30 to 50 protesters and asked them to stop their activities. About 150 women from the neighbouring community also voiced their displeasure with the protest, he said.

Supporters of the protesters claimed that government officials stood by as 180 men used heavy equipment to gut the camp on private property and burned temporary housing.

The company denies it was responsible for anything being burned.

"The men who destroyed their camp had arrived at the site in several buses. Most of the men, who were armed with sticks and rocks, arrived from the neighbouring state Zacatecas," the protesters said in a news release.

In May, communal landowners and workers at the La Platosa mine filed a complaint accusing Excellon (TSX:EXN) of violating labour rights and failing to comply with a land use contract.

They claimed Friday that they were defending "their human rights to land autonomy and freedom of association."

"Despite the fact that La Sierrita was a community that said 'Yes' to mining and signed a mutual land contract with the company, Excellon has failed to comply with the agreement and refused to resolve the landowners' concerns," stated Alejandra Ancheita, executive director of ProDESC.

"Similarly, workers have been denied their rights to freedom of association and have been intimidated and pressured to not sign on to the democratically run Local 309 of the National Mining Union."

The blockade will mean that Excellon won't "make any money at all" in the third quarter, Cahill said. Excellon's earnings slipped to about $500,000 in the second quarter from $5.5 million at the start of the year.

Excellon resumed production at the mine on Oct. 16 and is starting to ship ore to its processing centre.

Cahill said the company removed the camp because the protesters had threatened to once again blockade access to the mine.

"It wasn't safe for the people who were encamped there, if wasn't safe for our drivers so it had to be removed."

Excellon said it has the support of local communities and workers who welcome the jobs and money that has allowed hotels, restaurants and markets to spring up near the mine. Excellon says La Platosa is one of the lowest cost, silver producers in Mexico that provides 250 jobs and income for 380 families, 50 jobs at its mill at Miguel Auza and hundreds of other jobs across the country.

Besides the local interunion battle, mining companies across northern Mexico are getting caught in the crossfire of mining union dissatisfaction with government reforms as the party elected in July transitions to power in December.

"There's this opening where unions are basically fighting for their lives," Cahill added.

He said the union driving the protest used to be a major mining union in Mexico but its influence has diminished because of its violent tactics.

Meanwhile, Excellon announced the appointment of Mexican businessman Oliver Fernandez to its board of directors. The founder of a company that offers microcredit loans to unionized government employees in Mexico was a professional tennis player who captained Mexico's Davis Cup team.

On the Toronto Stock Exchange, Excellon's shares closed up a half cent to 42.5 cents in Friday trading.

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