Pasta de Conchos Family Organization (OFPC) focuses its fight against coal extraction activities carried out under irregular conditions, or where relevant legislation has not been properly applied. Created in 2006 to demand the rescue of the bodies of the 65 miners who were trapped in the Pasta de Conchos Mine, the organization denounces the situation of impunity with which violations and abuses of human and environmental rights are met, advises those health or assets have been affected by mining, and inspects the security and labor conditions in the mines.
Coahuila, located on Mexico’s northern border, is characterized by the so-called “Zona Carbonífera” (Coal Region), which occupies 15,000 square kilometers in the northern part of the state. The region contains 95% of the country's coal reserves and generates around 10% of the national energy through coal extraction, from which 7% of the Federal Electricity Commission’s power is generated. Because of all this, the presence of extractive industry is very visible in the municipalities of the region, whether through legal, illegal, irregular or industrial mining. By 2013, the Centre for reflection and action on labour rights (CEREAL) had described the area as a "red light", due to the situation of irregularity that it identified in "pocitos" and in gravel and sand mines. Coahuila has also been identified as a high-risk zone for the defense of human rights, and as one of the states with the greatest number of attacks against defenders.
In April 2015, OFPC opened an office and library in Cloete, in the municipality of Sabinas, with the purpose of advising those who’s health or property had been affected by the exploitation of coal in the area. According to the testimonies of the local population, several mining companies have undertaken open pit mining, which has important impacts on the lives of the inhabitants, damaging the property and environment of hundreds of families that inhabit the town of Cloete. According to OFPC, these activities do not respect the Environmental Impact Manifesto of 1996, which determines that "activities of exploration or extraction of coal cannot be carried out within the lands of the urban area located at a distance of 350 meters from the last house of the towns of Sabinas, Villa de Agujita and Villa de Cloete, Coahuila”.
Since the opening of the office in Cloete, OFPC members have peacefully defended their right to health, housing, education and a healthy environment, protected through what are known as economic, social, cultural, and environmental rights; demanding compliance with existing laws for their protection and for the protection of the environment in the context of mining extraction. Because of this work, members of OFPC have suffered harassment and threats, and have faced criminalization processes. In an interview with PBI, Cristina Auerbach explained the situation in Zona Carbonífera; the reasons why the OFPC was created; its role in the protection and promotion of the labor rights of the miners, of the communities and of the environment in the area; and the important role that the people of Cloete play in the struggle to protect their homes and to defend their rights.
"I’m only defending my home”
The economy of the Zona Carbonífera is little diversified, and is thus very fragile. Water is wasted in extraction mines and treatment plants. Small scale employment is common in the villages – we hire each other for small scale construction, cleaning, to cook, etc. The population of this region has health issues. It’s not just the miners who breathe dust from the mines, we are all permanently breathing dust; the region has more particles in the air than Mexico City, and that gives us an idea of the magnitude of the health problem we have. In this way, all the complaints that were filed with the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) are about the issue of coal mines, and include the right to health, environment, life and personal integrity. However, as in many cases, it seems that the CNDH is ignoring the conflict, because the complaints were filed two and a half years ago and CNDH has not issued any recommendations.
Cloete is a small mining town. According to its development plan, the municipality of Sabinas made the decision to extract the coal, which would entail the disappearance of Cloete. The plan was in line with the incursion of the businessmen, who exercised a lot of violence against people. For example, the police would detain people, who were then handed over to a business, and their security guards brutally beat them so that they would leave their home and the town, and they could then have access to the coal. Cloete is the result of privatization 20 years ago and the result of a state that operates in favor of dealers and entrepreneurs under the excuse that they will foster `development` with the energy reform.
Coahuila is a very sexist state, and the mining sector is also sexist, but in the case of coal mining, being so dangerous, has taken to the extreme the attributes associated with masculinity (strength, courage, heroism, etc.). Therefore, publicly, we women are accused of being 'conflictive old women' and of 'not caring for our families', which makes the work of women defenders more difficult. Every time we do something to stop an open pit mine in Cloete, they attack us; they defame us; they open criminal investigations about us; they accuse us of dispossession. This is because the coal that comes out of Cloete is delivered to the state government that, in turn, sells it to the CFE, and so we are accused of causing millions of pesos of losses. Despite the violent reaction of businessmen, politicians and governments, we have managed to get some of the companies out of town, we have managed to cancel concessions and prevent them from returning to work. The people of Cloete, especially the women who live next to the pit mines, have become human rights defenders to protect their homes and their people. We believe that the fact that the defenders in the coal region have a comprehensive vision has made it possible to address the mining problem in all its aspects, for the first time in history we took on coal extraction. And yes, the great achievement is to have decreased the deaths in mines, but there is still a lot to be done. Now miners are poorer than before, every time they are registered with less salary, they are still very sick, many work in clandestine or illegal mines, without even being registered with the Social Security Institute.
OFPC is a great effort of very few people. We do not know how many we are. But we do know that we are in all mines, in all towns. Distances, poverty, and the organizational inexperience of more than two hundred years, and especially the fear after the era of the "Zetas” Cartel, make it very difficult to think of meetings of the entire organization, but we have other mechanisms to communicate, to create relationships, and to progress in our agenda. Our motto is "to do everything we can, whenever we can, because our life is worth more than coal.” So, with this idea of the future, we have a lot of fun together, we have a library for adults and another one for boys and girls, and we built three greenhouses. We are recognized as a very successful organization, but we believe that it is a tremendous success because we are not the government, we are not the unions and we are not the companies; and if all those who have the duty and responsibility to act fail to do so, to prevent miners from being killed and villages from being illegally destroyed, we will not be moving forward.