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Workers from Section 65 of the National Mining Union (Los Mineros) this week announced plans to shut off access to Mexico’s largest copper mine Buenavista del Cobre, located in Cananea, Sonora and owned by mining giant Grupo México. The blockade will begin on Dec. 1, coinciding with the inauguration date of the new left-wing President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO).
“We’re looking to recover our collective labor contracts, which was stolen by Grupo México,” Sergio Tolano, Secretary General of section 65 of Los Mineros told Reuters.
The blockade extends from over a decade-long conflict between the union and the operator. In June 2007, the union began a strike at the mine that went on to last for three years. After an order by the federal arbitration conciliation board ruled the blockade illegal, the strike was disbanded, the workers fired and operations at the mine resumed in 2010.
But after AMLO’s election, Napoleon Gómez, national leader of Los Mineros, was sworn in as a Senator. The union believes that, with a left-wing government in power and the union leader holding a senate seat, this time the blockade will carry much more weight. “Now we have a new incoming government that backs workers,” Tolano said.
Buenavista del Cobre is ranked as the fourth-largest producing copper mine in the world and the second-largest in terms of reserves, with estimated reserves of 27 million tons of ore grading 0.69 percent copper, 3.3 percent zinc and 33.4 million ounces of silver. In 2017, it produced 510,000 tons of ore.
The relationship between AMLO and Grupo México owner Germán Larrea has been rocky. It was reported that, prior to the election, Larrea sent an email to Grupo México’s 50,000 employees imploring them not to vote for AMLO. But after the President-elect seemed to guarantee investment certainty for executives in Mexico, an effort at reconciliation was made. “I tell Germán Larrea that I do not hold a grudge against him, that I do not hate anyone,” said López Obrador during a rally in May. Larrea went on to congratulate López Obrador after his election win.
However, last week a Morena Senator presented a bill that would obligate miners to seek permission from the communities around mining projects before beginning operations, which caused Grupo México stock to plummet on the BMV. After hitting a monthly high of MX$49.82 on Nov. 7, the stock hit a low of MX$37.77 on Nov. 26, but began to edge up to MX$39.97 on Nov. 28. Morena holds a majority both in the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate so the bill is largely expected to pass.