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Case History: Alejandra Ancheita

About the situation

In August 2013, a number of articles have been published in various Mexican media outlets aiming to misrepresent the work of human rights organisation Proyecto de Derechos Económicos, Sociales y Culturales – ProDESC (Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Project). The Executive Director of ProDESC, human rights defender Ms Alejandra Ancheita, is mentioned by name in the articles.

About Alejandra Ancheita

alejandra ancheitaAlejandra Ancheita, the founder and Executive Director of the Mexico City-based ProDESC (The Project of Economic, Cultural, and Social Rights), is a Mexican lawyer and activist who leads the fight for the rights of the migrants, workers, and indigenous communities of her native country to dramatically raise their standard of living. Since founding ProDESC in 2005, Alejandra and her dedicated team have run strategic campaigns aimed at protecting the economic, social, and cultural rights of Mexico’s most marginalised people.

16 August 2013
Defamation campaigns against human rights organisation PRODESC

In recent weeks, a number of articles have been published in various Mexican media outlets aiming to misrepresent the work of human rights organisation Proyecto de Derechos Económicos, Sociales y Culturales – ProDESC (Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Project).

The articles have been written in relation to two parallel processes which ProDESC has been involved in for several years in relation to the actions of a Canadian mining company operating in Durango state. These processes involve the defence of the local community’s human rights, as well as those of the workers. ProDESC is an organisation, established in 2005, which aims to promote and defend economic, social and cultural rights. The articles that have been published falsely accuse ProDESC of being subservient to the National Mining Union and having initiated a lawsuit with the aim of gaining control over the unionised workers in the Canadian-owned La Platosa mine in the ejido (communal territory) of La Sierrita de Galeana ('La Sierrita').

The Executive Director of ProDESC, human rights defender Ms Alejandra Ancheita, is mentioned by name in the articles. Furthermore, the Minister of Labour and Social Welfare in Durango state, was quoted in a recent newspaper article stating that the lawsuit taken by the ejido against Excellon Resources is a form of political pressure designed to benefit the National Mining Union.

The fact that some of the articles are similar to the point of using the same phrases verbatim, is a strong indicator that they may not have been written by the journalists mentioned as the authors. This theory is further strengthened by the fact that these articles coincide in including completely false information about a supposed recent blockade of the mine by the workers. The articles in question use this false information to forecast economic harm to the local communities and the company. In addition to these unfounded claims, one of the articles makes the baseless claim that the legal action taken by the Ejido La Sierrita together with ProDESC is itself illegal.

ProDESC has been involved with the ejido residents since 2007, when it began to provide them with domestic and international legal support, advocacy and accompaniment due to an unfolding conflict between residents of the ejido and the Canadian owners of the La Platosa mine, the corporation Excellon Resources Inc. The residents were forced to sign a land rental agreement with the corporation in 2004, leasing their land below current rates after being threatened that their lands would be expropriated otherwise. In 2008, the ejido communities started a peaceful sit-in protest that resulted in a much improved contract between them and Excellon Resources in which the corporation pledged to establish and contribute to various social schemes and projects that would boost the development of La Sierrita.

In a separate process, during the autumn of 2010 ProDESC assisted the workers in the La Platosa mine to organise themselves to facilitate collective bargaining and to improve respect for their labour rights. The miners eventually formed a local chapter, Local 309, of theSindicato Nacional de Trabajadores Mineros Metalúrgicos, Siderúrgicos y Similares de la República Mexicana (SNTMMSSRM), the National Mining Union.

Since 2008, Excellon Resources has repeatedly failed to honour clauses in the land-rental contract and proved itself unwilling to enter into negotiations or dialogues of any kind with the ejido between November 2011 and July 2012, eventually leading to the community members starting a peaceful sit-in protest at the mine on 8 July 2012, which the workers attached to Local 309 joined on 10 July 2012 in solidarity. This protest also followed frustrated efforts by Local 309 to gain ownership of the collective bargaining rights at La Platosa mine, efforts which failed in a process marred with allegations of bribery and threats of violence.

On 29 August 2012, approximately 100 officers from various police and army forces forcibly cleared the part of the protest blocking the mine entrance. The mine thus resumed operations, however when members of the Local 309 union then attempted to resume their work, they were barred from entering the mining site and never allowed back in. The peaceful protest continued until 24 October, when a group of around 250 thugs who were witnessed taking orders from an Excellon Resources executive were sent in to break up the protest and burn the campsite. Eventually, in December 2012, the Reconciliation and Arbitration Board (JLCA), which is in charge of resolving labour disputes, sent a notice informing the workers they had been dismissed due to failure to turn up for work, even though they were actively denied entry by the corporation itself.
In light of the company’s refusal to comply with the lease agreement and the violent dispersal of the peaceful protest, ProDESC assisted the ejido residents in filing a lawsuit, currently ongoing, aiming to bring about the rescission of the lease agreement of 1,100 hectares of ejido land by Excellon Resources. The community is also claiming compensation for the damages caused by the repeated violations of the terms of the agreement.

Front Line Defenders is concerned that the articles containing baseless accusations and distortions of the work of ProDESC are directly motivated by their legitimate and peaceful human rights activities assisting the residents of La Sierrita and the La Platosa workers in their land and labour conflicts with Excellon Resources Inc. In the light of the precarious and violent security situation in which many human rights defenders in Mexico operate on a daily basis, Front Line Defenders fears that the articles and other actions mentioned here may have the result of making it harder or impossible for ProDESC members to carry out their activities in Durango state in future. Moreover, Front Line Defenders fears that staff members of ProDESC may be put at risk of violence if robberies and similar actions that have been targeting unionised miners, the ejido community and those who assist them are perceived as going unpunished.