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Mexico’s Mining Tradition, Today

By Karina Rodríguez Matus - Rodríguez, Matus & Feregrino


By Karina Rodríguez Matus | Rodriguez Matus & Feregrino - Wed, 08/11/2021 - 13:10

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Attacks against the mining industry in Mexico have become increasingly constant and radical in the past few years. Some people have even claimed that mining should be banned or declared illegal, alleging economic, social and ecological issues, yet they forget or ignore that banning is never the solution. Mining is the beginning of practically all productive chains, which translates into basic resource self-sufficiency for the country, and it has been a key player throughout Mexico's history.

We can affirm without doubt that mining has been one of the sectors with the greatest impact and transcendence in the configuration of current Mexico. The history of mining in the country dates back to pre-Hispanic times. The archaeological work conducted shows that clays and minerals were used for dyes; in the Sierra Gorda and Soyatal areas in Queretaro, cinnabar-mercury was exploited; and in the Balsas basin in Guerrero there is evidence of the use of gold, silver, copper, tin and lead. With the arrival of the Spaniards, mining gave momentum to colonization and was a crucial factor for technological progress. For example, the use of gunpowder and the development of steam engines, electricity and railroads were largely due to mining. Its economic contribution during the viceroyalty and the 19th century was essential for the country’s development and growth since it was not only the most important industrial activity but also practically the only one that had technological development and drove the rest of the productive activities, including agriculture and livestock. Wherever there was mining, there was economic growth.

The economic geography of the various regions of the country was influenced by the development of the mining industry. Cities such as Durango, San Luis Potosi, Guadalajara, Chihuahua, Guanajuato, Pachuca, Zacatecas, Parral and Fresnillo were founded precisely due to the flourishing of the mining industry and since then they have continued to grow and gain importance without being totally dependent on mining. Other places that did not reach the level of growth of such cities have been declared Pueblos Mágicos, or Magical Towns, because of their symbolic attributes, legends, history, transcendent events and daily life, i.e., “magic,” derived from each of their social and cultural manifestations. It is considered that 70 percent of the Magical Towns in Mexico had their origins in mining.

On the other hand, Mexico’s mining wealth has allowed the country to become one of the main worldwide producers of approximately 18 metals and ore, including silver, celestite, fluorite, arsenic, bismuth, cadmium, graphite, molybdenum, zinc, antimony, barite, lead, manganese, salt, gypsum, copper, feldspar and sulfur. The importance of silver production for the country is reflected in the fact that it has been a Top 3 silver-producer globally for many years and almost always in first place.

To forget or ignore that mining is an activity intrinsically linked to the history or development of the country is to ignore the very essence of our history. Past mining practices are not the same as current practices and the laws and circumstances have also changed. The past must be judged based on facts from the past and we must learn for the present and move forward toward a better future. As Winston Churchill said: "If the present tries to sit in judgement of the past, it will lose the future."

It is time to acknowledge that Mexico is a mining country with a mineral wealth that must be recognized and utilized to achieve the required development. Public policies on mining should be aimed toward strengthening the activity within the existing legal framework, the application of the rule of law and respect for the human rights of all individuals, including those whose continued existence depends on mining. Trying to ban mining would be like denying the very essence of the country, ignoring its history, limiting the present and postponing future development. Mexico, we repeat, is a mining country and we should be proud of that.

Photo by:   Karina Rodríguez Matus

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