By Magaly Herrera.


A peasant town in central Mexico has declared war on the world's richest man, Carlos Slim, to prevent him from operating a gold and silver mine that threatens the environment.

The precious metals are in La Espejera mountain in Tetela de Ocampo, a town in the mountains of Puebla state, where the Mexican billionaire's Minera Frisco obtained a 50-year mining license.

"We are waging war, but if Slim wants to listen to us, we will look for his good side to convince him not to affect or kill my community," the president of the grassroots organization Tetela Hacia el Futuro, German Romero, told Efe.

The project is still in the exploration stage, with production not slated to begin until December, when the federal and municipal governments will issue the permits.

Gold and silver production from the 10,000 hectares (24,691 acres) of the mountain covered by Minera Frisco's license will pollute the nearby rivers that supply water to some 40,000 people, Romero said.

"We are not afraid to take on a gentleman who is so poor that the only thing he has is money. They will commit ecocide and genocide because they will pollute our rivers, from which we drink water, with mercury," the community activist said.

If Minera Frisco obtains the operating permits for La Espejera, the lives of residents in five nearby towns will be threatened, as well as the ecosystem of a forest, Sergio Mastretta, a representative of environmental group Puebla Verde, said.

There will be no negotiations with Minera Frisco over the permits for a change of use or the license for the mine, Tetela de Ocampo Mayor Marco Antonio Uribe told Efe.

"For us, there is no price they can pay to bring misfortune to our people," Uribe said.

Tetela de Ocampo's approximately 25,000 residents grow apples, peaches, chili peppers and hydroponic tomatoes.

Minera Frisco "is a company that picked the wrong place," resident Hector Lazaro said. "We don't want its money or its jobs."

The Puebla state legislature is working on an agreement to ask the federal government to investigate whether Minera Frisco got special treatment to conduct exploration in the mountains of Puebla, as alleged by local officials, residents and grassroots organizations.

Congressman Lauro Sanchez Lopez said recently that he would try to stop the mining project, contending it was "not viable" due to the environmental impact.

"Carrying out a project of this nature there is terrible, it's not viable because that is one of the few areas with biodiversity that is intact," Sanchez Lopez, a member of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, told the El Universal newspaper.

The mining company arrived in the area three years ago, but it is not clear if it filed an environmental impact statement for the exploration phase, Environment and Natural Resources Secretariat officials said.

Minera Frisco will only need an environmental impact statement to start production of precious metals in the area.

"We don't care about the gold, we want the water and to live in peace," the 60-year-old Lazaro said. EFE