The pipes have gone silent. Gone is the hum of water flowing through them to the world’s second-largest copper mine, just south of the U.S. border. Instead, in the normally empty desert here, tents and buses line the highway. Dust and smoke from cooking fires fill the air while hundreds of people listen to speeches and discuss the day’s events.
This plantón, or occupation, which began on March 18, has shut down most operations at the Cananea mine, which consumes huge quantities of water pumped from 49 wells across the desert in order to extract copper concentrate from crushed ore.
Many of the people involved in the plantón are miners who have been on strike since 2008, when they walked out because of dangerous working conditions. Two years later, the government brought in 3,000 federal police, drove miners from the gates and occupied the town. Since then Cananea has been operated by contracted laborers recruited from distant parts of the country. But the strike has continued, as miners struggle to survive in this small mountain town where the mine is virtually the only source of work.
Now, for the first time in five years, the mine is again paralyzed. This time, strikers didn’t stop its operation by themselves. Half the people with them are farmers — residents of the Rio Sonora Valley, angry over a toxic spill that upended their lives last August, causing health problems and economic devastation.
People in the towns along the river used to have little involvement with the miners, but the spill gave them common ground. This alliance between miners and angry farmers also includes a U.S. union, the United Steel Workers. Together they are challenging the Mexican government’s fundamental rule for economic growth — that workers’ rights and environmental protections must be subordinate to the needs of corporate investors.
RTFA. In the classic journalist genre of “from our reporter in the field” – AJAM has done a thorough job of reporting on the multi-layered conflict at the second-largest copper mine in the world.