Many Americans are familiar with the term “blood diamond” or “conflict diamond,” which defines a diamond mined in a war zone and sold to finance an insurgency, an invading army’s war efforts, or a warlord’s activity—most commonly in Africa. Less commonly known; however, is “conflict gold.” Violent Mexican drug cartels are now fighting over revenues being paid to poor communities by corporations mining gold in areas of Mexico they have turned into war zones.
According to Reuters, the Canadian mining giant Goldcorp pays $3 million a year to the impoverished village of Carrizalillo in the Mexican state of Guerrero. The payment is rent for the land on which the gold mine rests. The mine sits in the middle of a cartel war zone—something Guerrero is known for. It is currently one of the most violent states in Mexico, and home to cartels like the Knights Templar, La Familia Michoacana, and the Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG).
Village leaders say Goldcorp is not doing as much as it could to protect them from the cartel battles over the rent payments. In response to Reuters’ questions, Goldcorp said it has held numerous meetings with authorities to seek better security outside the mine’s perimeters, in line with obligations under the standard. “Even though we can and do advocate with local authorities for the respect of human rights in the vicinity of our operations, we cannot take on the role of government,” said Michael Harvey, Goldcorp’s Latin America director for corporate affairs and security.
Making the situation more worrisome is the fact the conflict has direct ties to the 43 students who have been missing from the Guerrero city of Iguala. The students were reportedly abducted and likely executed by a local drug gang. Authorities describe a struggle between two gangs—“Guerreros Unidos,” who are being blamed for the students’ disappearance, and “Los Rojos”—over the mineral wealth that has split Carrizalillo into two factions. In November, 2015, a clandestine grave containing the bodies of at least eight cartel members was discovered within site of the mine. Villagers have experienced extensive extortion attempts, and many buildings bear bullet holes as signs of the recurring violence.
Both the Guerreros Unidos and Los Rojos are former subsidiaries of the powerful Sinaloa cartel, run by notorious kingpin and fugitive Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán. Per Reuters, several members of the gangs face U.S. charges of trafficking heroin from Guerrero state.
Goldcorp has acknowledged that the Los Filos gold mine is operating in a high-risk area:
“The violence carries both a terrible human cost to the communities, and a financial cost to Goldcorp as we are obliged to invest in additional security for our operations and personnel,” said Goldcorp’s Harvey. “It is essential to protect the jobs provided by legitimate investment so as to give community members economic opportunities other than crime.”
Despite ample evidence to the contrary, Goldcorp’s gold mining activities have been certified as conflict-free. Under the standard, companies operating in conflict zones must use their influence to avoid abuses by security forces and make them protect local populations. Village residents emphatically deny any sort of effective protection by Goldcorp is being provided. Nelson Figueroa, head of the village council, said, “We want them to provide more security. That’s what we’ve always wanted, we don’t want to live like this.”
Sylvia Longmire is a border security expert and Contributing Editor for Breitbart Texas. You can read more about cross-border issues in her latest book, Border Insecurity: Why Big Money, Fences, and Drones Aren’t Making Us Safer.