Public Policy on Mining, Environment and National Sovereignty

Thematic Coordinator: Rodolfo García Zamora



With the external debt crisis in 1982, the Mexican government opted for a radical change in the model of development, and opted for the opening of the national economy, the reduction of State and the privatization of different state companies and for deregulation of different economic activities.

For 35 years this model, presented as a modernization of the economy of the country, has transformed the state’s role in the development process, converting it into the promotion of actions to guarantee and protect the interests of investors and transnational corporations (including Mexican transnationals).

Mining has had a dominant role in this reorientation of economic activity, reviving mechanisms of dependence and subordination to foreign and Mexican corporations, leading to the overexploitation of the country's mining resources, with major negative environmental impacts and serious damage to communities in the territories where mining concessions exist. Resistance movements have often been repressed by the police and military forces. More than 120 environmental conflicts related to mining are currently active in the country reflecting the huge socio-environmental costs and a situation in which the State has effectively renounced regulation of this activity, as well as the protection of the environment and indigenous and rural communities in the regions where this activity is carried out.

Faced with this situation, and facing the change of administration in 2018, it is important to promote a broad national debate on the national project, the role of natural resources, energy and the environment, and, particularly in relation to the territories and communities affected by mining.

Between 1988 and 1994, the Mexican government sought to institutionalize foreign investment, trade and exports as the anchor of the national economy, for this reason the Constitution was modified and the North American Free Trade Agreement was signed. As part of these reforms the Mining Law was modified, placing said activity as a "preferred activity" above any other activity or interest. In 2013 this characterization was granted to other extractive activities, with the argument that this
strategy would generate annual GNP growth of 6%, yet it has barely managed to reach 2%.

Mexico is situated in a territory with rich and varied mineral resources. Under the new mining law, according to data from 2014, they have developed 888 exploratory and operational mining projects with foreign capital operated by 268 companies from different countries, with the operational projects having an extendable term of 50 years. Both types of concessions constitute 112.82 million hectares-- equivalent to 57.4% of the national territory. For the year 2014, the Secretary of Economics reported the existence of 3,832 transnational capital companies dedicated to this activity.

New technologies for the exploitation of minerals allow the reuse of deposits that were no longer profitable with open-pit mining, with high water consumption and high impacts (waste, destruction and contamination of soils and bodies of water, removal of forest cover and destruction of biodiversity), many of them irreversible. Open pit mining definitively changes the structure of the soil and watersheds, affecting and polluting the soils, the bodies of water, as well as the flora and fauna of the areas where plant cover is completely lost. This is in addition to the displacement and destruction of hundreds of communities.

The contributions of mining to local development are non-existent. According to Fundar, in 76% of the municipalities with production of gold and in 87% with production of silver, the poverty level of the population is greater than the national average. For every thousand dollars acquired by the mining corporations, the communities affected by mining received, through their state and municipal governments, 15 cents. Such are the sums of the Fund for Regional and Sustainable Development of Mining States and Municipalities (Mining Fund), which represents 0.015% of the total value of metallic mining production in 2014.

The fiscal contributions of mining are shaky: in 2016 they were barely $2.509 million pesos, 0.32% of total tax revenue, while the value generated by metal mining production in 2014 reached $14,765 million dollars--transferred mostly to Canada, the United States and England.

The unsustainability of mega mining in Mexico can be seen in the massive and accelerated destruction of the earth, in air pollution, in the water footprint, the enormous use and destruction of millions of cubic meters of water and in the extreme social disarticulation. In the case of Sonora, Grupo México and in the case of Zacatecas, the Gold Corporation, they consumed more water than the entire population of each entity. In addition, rivers, wells and groundwater were contaminated without any sanction or thorough remediation.

The water removal by the mega mining furthers the introduction of official water privatization, which explains how 197 mega-mining projects have deprived 10% of the national population of access to water resources, according to figures from CONAGUA y Cartocritica. Faced with this enormous dispossession, which puts the future of large sectors of the national population at risk, collective support for the citizens' initiative "General Law of National Waters" is fundamental.

The contamination of aquifers with heavy metals and other toxic substances means that millions of cubic meters of water mixed with toxins spill into the subsoil, water bodies and water tables. In addition, solid waste is generated that in 2014 reached 10,748 million tons of waste rock resulting from the extraction of gold, silver, copper, lead and zinc.

The ideological strategy and corporate policy, advanced by state institutions, promotes an apologetic dominant discourse of modernization in which the actions of depletion and pollution of natural resources and ecosystems, displacement and dispossession local communities are concealed, and the protests and the privatization of resources such as water are criminalized.


It is fundamental that in the electoral conjuncture of 2018, candidates for the Presidency of the republic commit to decree a moratorium to new mining concessions and set an expiration date for the concessions that have already been granted for projects of exploration and mining throughout the national territory, as has been done in Costa Rica.

Promote a citizens initiative for reform and additions to Article 27 of the Political Constitution of the United Mexican States and Article 6 of the Mining Law to restore the preferential role of national sovereignty, the public good and human rights over mining and extraction of hydrocarbons.

Promote a new Mining Law that empowers the states with the greatest impact from mega-mining to establish an ecological tax that permits anticipating and facing the ecological impact from the start of activities until the end of projects, in order to avoid environmental destruction on the scale that mining has caused in Sonora, Zacatecas and other locations.

The Congress of the Union, the Senate and the judiciary should play a key role in the solution of more than 120 with active environmental mining conflicts and in the construction of a normative framework of true regulation of mining activity, subordinating it to interests of local communities, the development sustainable and national sovereignty.

Require that the three powers of the Mexican state commit to carry out comprehensive studies on ecological impact of mega-mining in the states with the greatest presence of this activity, considering the impacts environmental costs, remediation costs and prevention of damage to the environment and to the human health, before agreeing on the validity of these projects. These studies must include the direct participation of the affected communities, institutions of higher education, environmental organizations and state and corresponding federal institutions.

Guarantee public access to information on all actions, impacts, income, taxes, transfers, contracts, purchases and concessions made by mining corporations in the country.

Integrate research on mining, natural resources and the sustainable development of Mexico as a priority of the National Council of Science and Technology (Conacyt). It is proposed that it have the necessary technical and financial support to take advantage of the networks of researchers in the country and abroad, the Global Network of Mexican Talents Abroad and of NGOs recognized for the seriousness of their studies and findings at the national and world levels.

Establish citizen observatories States on mega-mining, natural resources and sustainable development in each state, with the support of institutions of higher education and the respective congresses, to carry out the diagnosis and regulatory proposals, monitoring and evaluation of these activities and the design of post-extraction policies and post-development workers, in accordance with the conditions of each location.

Ensure that it is the municipalities and the communities affected by the mega mining who decide on the use of mining taxes until now applied unilaterally by the Development Secretariat Agrarian, Territorial and Urban (SEDATU) and state governments, prioritizing actions to confront the ecological impacts of mining, its impact on public health and proposals for sustainable integral human development.

This section was developed with the collaboration of Francisco Cravioto, Rolando Cañas, Marisol Aburto Zepeda, Federico Guzmán López and Selene Gaspar Olvera.