The following article was written by Napoleón Gómez Urrutia, and originally published in Spanish, on February 16th, 2012 in La Jornada, Mexico City’s leading daily newspaper, considered by many scholars as one of the last remaining independent newspapers in the Americas.
On 19 February 2012, it will be six years since the tragedy which plunged the families of 65
miners into mourning, following a terrible explosion at the Pasta de Conchos coal mine in
the municipality of San Juan de Sabinas, Coahuila. Six years since the industrial homicide,
as I called it at the time, committed by the company Grupo México and its president
Germán Larrea, its board of directors led by Xavier García de Quevedo, and its
administrative council. They forced miners to work in utterly unsafe and inhumane
conditions, despite all the complaints filed, and the protests and strikes instigated by the
national miners’ union that it is my honour to lead, which aimed to pressure Larrea and
García de Quevedo into complying with their obligations as established in the collective
labour contract (article 68); in the Federal Labour Law (article 132, section 17) and in the
Political Constitution of the United Mexican States (article 123, section 14).
These have been six years of impunity, complicity and protection for Larrea and Grupo
México on the part of Vicente Fox’s and Felipe Calderón’s governments. None of the three
– Larrea, Fox or Calderón – visited the mine to give their condolences to the families and
much less to offer the technical, material and financial support that was required to rescue
the miners, leaving their families helpless.
What is more, on the fifth day after the explosion, the chemical engineer and supplier of
Grupo México in its private companies in San Luis Potosí, Francisco Javier Salazar, who
Fox named Secretary of Labour, along with the Grupo México administrators led by the
submissive García de Quevedo, hurriedly closed and sealed the mine, ordered the Army
to stop their rescue efforts, and then like true cowards they all left the area.
Those people were totally insensitive and clearly, perversely irresponsible: they
abandoned the miners without knowing whether they were still alive and without listening
to the protests, the deep hurt and the anger of the families and the national miners’ union
in the face of that heartless decision. The miners were left at a depth of only 120 metres,
where the bodies of 63 of them still lie. They wanted to prevent anyone finding out the
cause of the explosion and collapse in the mine or the awful safety conditions and the lack
of health and hygiene that prevailed, products of the complicit irresponsibility which stems
from the shared corruption of authorities and businessmen.
In order to put the miserable behaviour of Larrea and Grupo México into focus, we must
return to Chile in 2010 where, under a conservative government like the one that is
currently in power in Mexico, a successful operation ensured the rescue of 33 miners after
they were buried alive following an explosion and collapse on 5 August at the San José de
Atacama mine near San José de Copiapó. The area is mountainous and they miners were
700 metres down under hard rock, as opposed to the soft, flat terrain of Pasta de
Conchos. The miners there were found alive on the 17th day after rescue efforts began, as
opposed to in Pasta de Conchos when the miners were abandoned on the fifth day after
the tragedy and thus condemned to death. The political persecution of Mexican union
leaders based on false accusations began immediately after this. Larrea’s Grupo México
and Vicente Fox’s government conspired to create a smokescreen that would divert
attention away from their serious criminal negligence, but the rescue in Chile exposed
them to the world.
In Chile, the successful rescue mission lasted 69 days, but the same approach was not
taken in Mexico. Another aspect further illustrates the meanness of Larrea and his
partners: in Chile they negotiated compensation of almost one million dollars per worker,
while in Pasta de Conchos each family was offered a miserable and humiliating 75
thousand pesos, equivalent to around 7 thousand dollars. In contrast, in the Upper Big
Ranch coal mine in West Virginia, United States, where there was an explosion in April
2010 and 29 miners were killed, president Barack Obama visited the site of the tragedy
several times and each family received 3 million dollars in compensation.
Germán Larrea and his partners and associates are like bodies without souls, they have
no principles, no sense of guilt and much less any sense of personal, social, civil or legal
responsibility for their actions. Human life has no value for them.
As a result of this national and international disgrace, powerful international union
organisations have agreed to carry out, from 19 to 25 February this year, intense days of
action that will be more forceful than those of 2011, to denounce Felipe Calderón’s
government for its inaction, its repression and its violations of the International Agreements
on respecting the Right to Organise, Autonomy and Freedom of Association. The
arguments are self-evident: the situation of workers in Mexico has deteriorated, the
abusive protection contracts systems have spread further, the physical and legal
intimidation and the psychological torture of workers has intensified, with corporations and
government acting in complicity with one another.
The world is watching them and has condemned them. International union organisations
are mobilising with acts of protest at Mexican embassies and consulates and they are
writing letters to Felipe Calderón to pressure him to stop this aggression and to respect
labour and human rights. If no change is made, the actions will escalate until abuses of
power, corruption and constant violations of the rule of law are stopped. Those
businessmen, the National Action Party and Calderón must immediately set right their
actions against the Mexican people, before their time runs out and the condemnation of
them is sustained permanently until it brings them to justice.