Canadian mine digs up gold, Mexico town digs up bodies

Carrizalillo (Mexico) (AFP) - The Mexican villagers found the latest clandestine grave among bushes off a dirt path, a short drive from a Canadian-owned gold mine in the country's gang-plagued south.

Last week's grim discovery in Carrizalillo unearthed a hip bone and the skeletal remains of an arm and fingers, wrapped in plastic and a purple cover, according to AFP journalists taken to the site by local people.

It was the fifth shallow grave and eighth human remains found since late October, adding to the sense of insecurity of villagers, who say the money to be made at the mine has attracted a violent drug gang.

"Where there is honey, there are bees," Ricardo Lopez, the 59-year-old cooperative leader chosen by the village to manage the lands, told AFP.

The mountain carved out by the open-pit mine, operated by Canada's Goldcorp, is visible from the village of more than 1,000 people. Its gates are guarded by police.

In operation since 2007, the mine employs 2,600 people from surrounding communities, producing more than 250,000 ounces of gold last year.

While Carrizalillo residents are grateful for the work, they say the newfound wealth has brought deadly shootings, kidnappings and extortion rackets.

Residents blame the mayhem on the Guerreros Unidos, a gang engaged in turf wars in the region against their rivals, Los Rojos.

This is not the only Guerrero town to have endured violence after a company dug for gold.

A two-hour drive away, residents of the fishing town of Nuevo Balsas say shootings and kidnappings surged after another Canadian mining firm, Torex, discovered a gold deposit nearby in 2012.

- Violence costs lives, money -

Carrizalillo's latest shallow grave was found by a farmer on November 17. Nelson Figueroa, the town's top elected official, said he reported it to federal investigators the next day, but was told that they were short-staffed.

The site was not cordoned off when AFP journalists visited on November 20. A week later, investigators had yet to arrive, said the 34-year-old Figueroa.

The attorney general's office did not respond to requests for comment.

Locals felt safe while troops patrolled the village for two weeks this month.

Now that they're gone, Figueroa said, "there's fear that people will come back to kill villagers."

The cooperative leader Lopez's 39-year-old son, a former head of the miners' union, was gunned down just 50 meters from a mine entrance as he drove home at 7:00 pm on August 2.

Since then, Lopez has asked the mine to pay for armed escorts for employees between Los Filos mine and their homes, but he said Goldcorp has balked.

"Goldcorp is very concerned with the level of violence in the communities surrounding the Filos Mine. We continue to encourage the Mexican authorities to do their utmost to combat this violence," Michael Harvey, regional director for security at Goldcorp, told AFP in an email.

The violence, Harvey said, carries a "financial cost to Goldcorp as we are obliged to invest in additional security for our operations and personnel."

Harvey refused to disclose details about security or the financial contract with the village.

- 'Almost like war' -

Figueroa said the Guerreros Unidos came guns blazing in June 2014 and rang the village bells to call a meeting, telling people that they would "clean" out members of rival gang Los Rojos. Six people were killed.

The gang members made miners buy them food, fuel for their cars and phone cards. One 25-year-old mine worker said he forked over 1,000 pesos ($60) per week -- nearly half his wages.

Nobody could leave town without permission.

"It's as if we were all kidnapped," said Juan, a 27-year-old mine machinery operator who, like most, declined to give his full name for fear of reprisals.

In October 2014, federal forces raided Carrizalillo. An entire family fled, leaving behind clothes and toys that were left gathering dust.

In March this year, gunmen fired on Figueroa's home as well as those of neighbors. After that, he covered his windows with cement.

Two women and a young man were killed in the village that day, Figueroa said.

In a separate incident that same month, three miners were kidnapped elsewhere in the region and found dead.

On October 28, federal police tried to arrest Lopez, but dozens of townspeople prevented them from doing so.

A National Security Commission official told AFP that authorities are investigating why the officers wanted to arrest Lopez and checking allegations that the police were accompanied by a Guerreros Unidos member.

Carrizalillo and Nuevo Balsas, the fishing town prey to similar violence, are both close to Iguala, the city where 43 college students were abducted by local police and allegedly killed by the Guerreros Unidos.

In Nuevo Balsas, fishermen formed a vigilante force two years ago to fight off La Familia Michoacana drug cartel.

Canada's Torex signed an agreement with state authorities in September to fund a permanent police presence in the communities surrounding its Media Luna mine.

Carrizalillo is waiting for troops to return.

"We have homes without windows, with steel doors," said Figueroa, who as well as his elected duties also drives a mine truck. "It's almost as if we're in a war."