While on UW’s School of Environment, Enterprise, and Development trip to Mexico, we visited La Mancha lake in the state of Veracruz.
La Mancha is a two hour ride from the capital city of Xalapa where we were originally staying, so we had planned to stay overnight.
When we finally arrived at the beach shore just in time for sunset, the place looked mesmerizing.
La Mancha is located in the coastal plains of the Gulf of Mexico. The place is uniquely located between ocean and mountains, where the Atlantic Ocean meets the lake, and is the third most biodiverse area in Mexico.
The area is particularly known for North American and Alaskan migratory birds.
The La Mancha Ecotourism project was started in order to protect the region from being taken over by Canadian gold mining companies. Most of the infrastructure has been built from biodegradable materials.
The site creates temporary jobs and employs the local community members, who are mostly farmers, fishermen, and cattle ranchers.
For many of us, the talk we had with Adán Vez Lira, the leader of the project, was eye opening.
Having listened to him so passionately protect the land motivated us to take action where we could.
He spoke about how mining economies pose a threat to the biodiversity and different ecosystems present in the area.
Along with community members of the region and various academia, Adán’s research had proved that the existing biodiversity would be majorly affected if an open pit mine were to be set up in the region.
However, the mining companies have done their own research and falsely claimed that the region is a dead zone with no biodiversity, and thus conducting mining activities would be harmless.
As Adán mentioned, there is a need for fair, unbiased environmental impact assessment, and so the academic community had undertaken the task of contesting the false assessments supported by the government.
The community had tried all legal means of preventing mining companies from entering – however, the mining industry had already bribed their way into getting permits and approvals through the federal government, which had already given full permission to a Canadian mining company to begin operation.
The ecotourism project at La Mancha was created so that tourism could generate enough money for the government to realize the importance of the area.
Since the area is located on the bank of the Atlantic Ocean, if mining were to take place, the most immediate impact will be water pollution, which would disrupt Mexico’s entire ecosystem, and by extension also that of North America as a whole.
Adán implored us to question why open pit mining is illegal in many countries, including Canada, yet Canadian mining companies are allowed to exploit a mineral rich, but biodiverse region in Mexico.
For international companies it is easy to relocate and close down their operations if anything goes wrong, whereas the local community has only ever known this one place, having lived most of their lives there.
As Canadians, Adán urged us to raise these issues with the Canadian government and denounce them for allowing these mining companies for acting contrary to Canadian law when abroad.
While we saw many incredible sustainability initiatives in Mexico, we were reminded daily of the severe injustice and corruption facing environmental and human rights activists across the country.
We will not soon forget the country’s cruel brutality against those who are brave enough to speak out against corruption in local governments.
In April, we were devastated to learn that Adán Vez Lira had been killed on April 8th, while riding his motorcycle in Actopan, Veracruz.
Adán is the country’s third environmentalist that has been killed in 2020.
Earlier this year, Isaac Medardo Herrera Avilés and Raúl Hernández Romero – both connected to one of Mexico’s largest butterfly reserves – were also murdered.
They protected the monarch butterflies and land from illegal logging in the violent state of Michoacán.
Amnesty International reported that in 2019 at least 12 land defenders were killed in Mexico and called for investigations into their deaths, and to hold those responsible accountable.
Amnesty International has also requested meetings with President Andrés Manuel López Obrador to discuss protection of the defender’s human rights and an end to corruption – a platform the President explicitly ran on during his election. Their requests have gone unanswered.
As the demand for minerals and timber grows, corruption from various groups continues to rise.
The land and water that communities and animals are dependent on for food, shelter, and income is being stolen before their very eyes.
If those who are speaking out on environmental issues and injustice are being killed, who will be left to defend them?