Minera Frisco, controlled by Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim, has been given the green light to search for gold in Mexico. In a controversial decision, Mexicos Ministry for the Environment and Natural Resources (Semarnat) approved an environmental study last week authorizing Friscos Las Espejeras mine to conduct gold exploration activities. The October 3 authorization, which does not include gold extraction, will last two years and begin this month.
The mine suspended gold exploration last February when workers abandoned the site as a result of mounting protests by locals and environmentalists. The population of Tetela de Ocampo, where Las Espejeras is located in the mountains of Mexicos east-central state of Puebla, strongly opposed the project, according to a poll conducted by Commission for Dialogue with Indigenous Peoples, a newly created governmental body designed to settle disputes with local communities.
Tetela hacia el Futuro (Tetela Towards the Future), a grass-roots group that was formed to oppose Las Espejeras mining, expressed surprise and outrage at Semarnats environmental approval. The group accused the Mexican government of ignoring the local populations concerns. Academic and environmental reports have documented that exploration at Las Espejeras represents a threat to biodiversity and the social fabric, the group said, and warned against devastating consequences for the environment and quality of life if it is allowed to continue.
In light of the generalized opposition by locals, Commissioner for Dialogue with Indigenous Peoples Jaime Martínez Veloz, asked Semarnat to suspend the authorization to avoid a political, social and legal confrontation.
Arturo Elías Ayub, Slims spokesperson and son-in-law, did not respond to an e-mail asking for comment.
Frisco owns nine mines in Zacatecas, Sonora, Chihuahua and Puebla. The mines produce and sell lead-silver concentrates, zinc concentrates, copper concentrates and copper cathodes, and gold and silver rods. At the close of 2010, Frisco had a total of 2,716 employees. Current numbers are not available on Friscos website.
In recent years, Slim has increased his mining assets and is planning a significant expansion in the short term. Frisco bought Canadian AuRico Golds mine in the state of Chihuahua for $750 million in 2012. According to the Mexican Chamber of Minings 2013 Annual Report, this year Frisco will launch five new gold mining projects in Mexico, two in Chihuahua, and the rest in Zacatecas, Aguascalientes and Baja California. José Humberto Gutiérrez, Friscos Chairman, estimated investment for 2013 between US$600 million to US$700 million.
In 2011, Mexico joined the worlds top 10 gold producers, mining three times what it produced 10 years earlier more than other heavyweights in the region, including both Chile and Argentina. Slim is the worlds second richest man. Forbes currently pegs Slims net worth at $67 billion, a drop from Forbes $73 billion estimate in March 2013.