Mexican Police Attack Cananea Mine, Beating and Arresting Striking Miners

updated 3:48 p.m.

As many as 2,000 Mexican Federal Police and Sonora State Police, supported by helicopters, invaded the Cananea copper mine Sunday night around 10 p.m., firing tear gas and attacking and beating miners who were defending the mine, according to news reports.

With the police having cleared the mine, managers from Grupo Mexico, the mine owner, took control of the facilities. The company reported that it had 2,000 “contractors” ready to go to work as soon as it was safe to do so.

A small fire broke out in a building on company property. The government says there were no injuries. An eyewitness report states that police fired guns and that one member of Local 65 of the Mexican miners union was wounded. No miners had any weapons, according to the report. The eyewitness adds that after the police took the mine, a meeting of the local union was immediately called, during which a Steelworkers member was speaking when police entered, breaking windows and firing tear gas without regard to the men, women, and children present. The USW, a U.S. and Canadian union, has supported the Cananea struggle for years.

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The Mexican Miners and Metal Workers Union (SNTMMRM) has had control of the mine since it went on strike three years ago over health and safety issues. A Mexican court ruled in February that the strike was over and that miners had to leave the mine, but for four months they have refused to do so.

Police had reportedly went to the mine to execute arrest warrants against union leaders, among them Sergio Tolano Lizarraga, general secretary of Local 65, and Juan Gutierrez Ballesteros, delegate to the National Executive Committee of the union.

The strike at the Cananea mine, which once produced 40 percent of Mexico’s copper, has reportedly cost the company $1.35 billion. The strike forms part of a larger struggle between the independent-minded and militant Mexican Mine Workers Union on the one hand and Grupo Mexico and the Mexican government on the other.

Dan La Botz is editor of Mexican Labor News and Analysis.