Mexico Arrests 3 Mine Workers in Activist’s Death

MEXICO CITY — Authorities in southern Mexico arrested three local workers of Canadian mining company Blackfire Exploration Ltd. in connection with the killing of an anti-mining activist, Chiapas state prosecutors said.

The Chiapas Attorney General’s Office said Monday it had “cleared up” the case of the Nov. 27 killing of Mariano Abarca, an activist who was demanding that the Blackfire barite mine in the town of Chicomuselo be closed. Barite is used to produce drilling fluids.

In a news release, Chiapas state prosecutors said Jorge Carlos Sepulveda Calvo, who worked as a weekend driver for Blackfire, allegedly shot Mr. Abarca four times at point-blank range as the activist stood in front of his house.

The alleged shooter was identified by witnesses, and tested positive for having recently fired a weapon, investigators said in the release.

Prosecutors allege in the release that on the night of the shooting, Caralampio López Vázquez, a driver and translator for an official at the Blackfire mine, was waiting for Mr. Sepulveda on a motorcycle to flee the scene.

The third detainee, Ricardo Antonio Coutiño Velasco, ran a hauling service and occasionally worked for Blackfire, the attorney general’s office said in the release. The office didn’t specify his alleged role in the killing.

The office declined to say where the three men were being held or how they could be contacted. The three men have legal representation, a state official said, but declined to name their attorneys and said the three men wouldn’t be available to comment.

The prosecutor’s office declined to say when the three detainees would be brought before a judge to face formal charges. In Mexico, that step usually happens within 72 hours of an arrest, but can take longer.

In a statement, Blackfire, of Calgary, Alberta, said it condemns any form of violence, and offered condolences to the families “that have suffered as a result of criminal acts.”

Blackfire said its operations “contribute to Chicomuselo’s and Chiapas’s economic and productive development.”

Chiapas’s Environment and Housing Ministry said it temporarily closed the Blackfire mine on Monday, because it was operating without required permits. The closing is separate from the Abarca investigation, according to the state official, who declined to say when the mine might re-open.

Mr. Abarca was a member of a Mexican group known as REMA that opposes mining, which it says damages the environment and threatens the health of local communities.

Since June, Mr. Abarca had led regular protests in Chicomuselo against the Blackfire mine, and was briefly arrested after the company accused him of damages to its operation, REMA said on its Web site. He was released after 10 days, according to the group.

The arrests last week preceded an official visit to Mexico by Canadian Governor General Michaëlle Jean, who planned to meet with Chiapas Governor Juan Sabines, Tuesday. Ms. Jean met wi th Mexico’s president, Felipe Calderón, on Monday.

REMA said Governor Sabines visited Chicomuselo in September and spoke with activists.

Source: Wall Street Journal

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