The Fight Against Chemours in Durango, México

Written by Yusef El-Baz
In the eastern edge of the state of Durango in northern Mexico, working-class communities in the region known as La Comarca Lagunera are waging an ongoing fight against the U.S. multinational chemical producing company Chemours. La Comarca, an industrialized desert region, includes the cities of Gómez Palacio, Durango, Torreón, and Coahuila.
Chemours is closely connected to imperialist capital via Carlos Slim’s Frisco Group and the Canadian mining giant Gold Corp.[1] Chemours was spun off from the U.S. chemicals giant Dupont in 2015 in order to avoid the legal and financial consequences of Dupont’s polluting activities in various U.S. states, including Ohio, North Carolina, Delaware, and New Jersey.[2] Notably, Chemours itself was forced to leave the United States after it violated numerous labor and environmental regulations.[3] In 2016, Chemours solicited the rights to build a sodium cyanide plant in the southern Mexican state of Guanajuato. The company unsuccessfully attempted to convince the local residents with promises of employment and swore to their commitment to safely producing and transporting 65,000 tons of sodium cyanide with the help of their advanced technology. In response to this corporate scheme, the residents of San Luis de la Paz, Guanajuato organized protests and their own investigation teams to expose and throw Chemours out.[4]
Mining operations have accelerated dramatically in Mexico in the years since the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994. This process continues under NAFTA’s successor, the USMCA, which went into effect earlier this year. To put the size of the total lands handed over to mining interests into perspective, mining operations in Mexico cover an area roughly equal to the combined size of the states of Mexico, Veracruz, Aguascalientes, and the Yucatán Peninsula. The control of wide swaths of land by mining corporations is, not infrequently, the byproduct of what amounts to acts of theft carried out with the blessing of all levels of the government. In the state of Durango, mining operations cover about 17 percent of the state’s territory. Mining bosses exploit low wages while contaminating the surrounding communities and natural environment [5]
In 2017, after being driven out of Guanajuato, Chemours received the rights to build their sodium cyanide plant in the outskirts of Gómez Palacio, Durango, in order to supply the surrounding mining operations with a projected 65,000 annual tons of sodium cyanide. Sodium cyanide is a toxic chemical used to separate precious metals from the rocks they’re embedded in. The company’s original assessment of the area completely erased the existence of the local inhabitants in order to facilitate the licences they needed to build their plant, ignoring the twenty-two different communities with approximately 20,000 people located in this area.[6] This region contains various protected natural areas and subterranean water channels, all of which stand to be damaged, along with local residents’ health, as a result of the production process at the sodium cyanide plant.
Chemours tried to bribe, as they did in Guanajuato, the surrounding communities in Gómez Palacio to accept the plant’s construction. They promised hundreds of jobs, gave people food, and offered large sums of money and housing in order to coax the townsfolk to leave the area. Chemours paid off local politicians, state investigators, and other officials in order to seduce the people with fraudulent documents and lies – and, in the case that this didn’t work, to use intimidation.
An organic set of community leaders stepped up in order to counter the company’s plans. While the company built its own committee of local residents in order to legitimize the operation, its opponents organized a coordinating committee and community assemblies to decide the path forward in their relationship with Chemours. This led to the formation of the Frente Unidad de los Pueblos de la Laguna en Defense de la Vida, el Territorio, y el Agua (United Front of the Peoples of the Laguna in Defense of Life, Land, and Water), an organizing front composed of workers of various industries, including education and agriculture, as well as industrial workers from La Comarca Lagunera. In general, the area’s working class has a profound intergenerational relationship to their land.
Initially, el Frente placed their faith in the courts in hopes that their struggle would be resolved through Mexican law. Given the obviousness of Chemours’ lies about the lack of nearby inhabitants or the safety of producing tens of thousands of tons of sodium cyanide, the movement expected a legal resolution to this fight. It was in el Frente’s organizing assemblies where its members decided to take the route of direct confrontation and mobilization. In 2019, MORENA, the president’s political party, tried to buy off a group of Frente leaders by sending them to the capital where Guadiana Tijerina, a MORENA senator and landowner from Durango, argued to members of el Frente that Chemours should be allowed to open in order to provide employment opportunities to the community. El Frente collectively determined, on the basis of its analysis of the bourgeois state’s maneuvers to neutralize its struggle against Chemours, that no bourgeois party would determine its policy.
With the support of local educators organized in the Coordinadora Nacional de los Trabajadores de la Educación (CNTE) – the radical and militant teachers’ oppositional current within the bureaucratic SNTE, the national teachers’ union – el Frente began to organize protests and blockades against the continued construction of the Chemours plant. La CNTE continues to be a vanguard element in el Frente, the constituent body that best expresses the solidarity and militancy of this fight. The role of CNTE in the fight against Chemours occurs against a backdrop of an ongoing struggle in defense of public education and working-class families, where CNTE and local educators organize for improvements in working and learning conditions for the surrounding community, including the constitutionally guaranteed right to free public education, which is often violated when families are compelled to pay for students’ supplies, school resources, and even, in some cases, teacher salaries.
The International Worker’s League (IWL), the international organization the Corriente Socialista de los Trabajadores (CST) is affiliated to in Mexico, plays an important role in this struggle. As a revolutionary organization, it recognizes the significance of this anti-imperialist struggle in defense of human life, the natural environment, and water.  The IWL and the CST emphasize the importance of workers organizing independently of Mexico’s political parties and the significance of uniting various sectors of the working-class in this common fight. Beyond this, these socialists have built an international campaign against the imposition of Chemours in Gómez Palacio and for the liberation of its political prisoners, bringing to bear the names, words, and voices of activists and revolutionaries from everywhere that the IWL has comrades.
The state, led at the time by a governor from the Partido de Acción Nacional (PAN), enacted heavy repression and extortion against the movement in Gómez Palacio. This was exemplified on March 9, 2018, when hundreds of people protested against Chemours, only to be beaten by batons and tear gassed. In total, nearly fifty people were arrested, including children.[7] El Frente immediately organized a campaign that led to the faster release of their arrested comrades, an act which has strengthened the authority and legitimacy of its movement, given that El Frente refuses to leave stranded any comrade who is intimidated or taken in by the state. In response to the continued fight on behalf of the communities surrounding Chemours, the local government in Gómez Palacio was compelled to publicly apologize for repressing protesters in March 2018. In addition, the local government promised an inquiry into the fraudulent manner in which Chemours received the green light to build the sodium cyanide plant.[8]
Given the lack of results with the protests, petitions, and lobbying of state officials to meet their needs, El Frente subsequently intensified their efforts. The group organized encampments at two sites surrounding the company starting in late July of 2020. These encampments, or occupations, are inhabited by a rotating list of activists, including children, who take it upon themselves to provide security, information, political education, and the daily necessities of life. Initially, company agents would send people to intimidate the supporters, until el Frente enforced a no pass zone for state or company authorities, effectively instituting themselves as an alternate institution of working-class power that sought to fight for the security and dignity of its communities. As winter approaches, the need to stay warm, healthy, and alert is beginning to exert great pressure on the occupation’s strength.
The local government, now under the newly formed MORENA party of Andrés Manuel López Obrador, promised that under their watch Chemours would not be completed. Such pledges – which have been continuously reiterated over the past three years – have, up until this point, turned out to be empty promises.  In a statement in November on the Chemours debacle, AMLO declared – not without cynicism, given the vast mineral extraction existent in Mexico – that no licences would be provided to companies that polluted the environment.[9]
While el Frente has stopped the construction of the toxic plant, it calls for its complete removal. The local government’s response, given at a protest organized by el Frente in late October, is to state that the local government “acting within the margins of the law” and that, as such, Chemours’ existence is outside of their control. This is despite the fact that the local government knows that the company’s operational license remains expired. Leaders of el Frente have stated that, if their demand for the full closure of Chemours isn’t fulfilled, they’re willing to escalate their actions. Most recently, the city council voted in favor of a resolution which stated that, given the illegality of Chemours’ presence in Gómez Palacio, local residents will have the last word on whether or not to allow Chemours to build on their land.
As the struggle against Chemours develops in Mexico, it is important that revolutionaries in the United States strengthen ties with our comrades in struggle and build on the tradition of cross-border proletarian solidarity between workers and revolutionaries on both sides. As socialists who live and organize within the belly of the beast, we carry the responsibility of doing everything in our power to limit and eventually destroy this system of imperialism.
Mexico’s current government, for all its talk about defending national sovereignty, continues to be a puppet state subordinate to the political, economic, and military needs of the United States, as evidenced by the struggle over the Chemours plant. Its response to the coronavirus pandemic, its treatment of Central American, Carribean, and African migrants, all bear the marks of imperialist domination. The fundamental problems faced by Mexicans cannot be disconnected from the reality of living in a nation whose wealth and sovereignty lie in the hands of Wall Street and the White House.
The incoming Biden Administration will, no doubt, continue this reality for Mexicans – both for those in Mexico and for those living in the United States. While we have yet to witness the Mexican and immigrant working-class enter into political struggle with the same magnitude and ferocity since the 2006 upsurge in the immigrant rights movement, immigrant workers have resisted and struck against conditions imposed by the bosses and the state in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. The last wave of Black Lives Matter protests included moments of solidarity between Black, Latinx, and other workers of color, against both the brutal police violence inflicted on Black people and the deportation of immigrants at the hands of immigration agents and local police forces, who collaborate to repress, detain, and deport undocumented workers.[10] The Latinx and immigrant working class in the United States is a key strategic force for socialism.
The political, economic, and health crisis we face – along with the strikes, uprisings, and social movements in response to them – have laid the basis for continued solidarity between citizen and undocumented workers. U.S.-based socialists must nourish our international relationships with our Mexican and Latin American comrades through amplifying and supporting their struggles – and through seeking to forge a program and organization to carry through the socialist revolution on an international level.

[1] Corriente Socialista de los Trabajadores, “¡Fuera Chemours, fábrica de muerte!,” LIT-CI, July 21, 2020.
[2] Alexander H. Tullo, “Chemours sues DuPont over environmental liabilities,” Chemical & Engineering News, July 2, 2019.
[3] Violation tracker listing for Chemours, Good Jobs First (Accessed November 2020).
[4] “Tras protestas, empresa desiste de instalar planta productora de cianuro en Guanajuato,” Proceso, May 31, 2017.
[5] “¡Fuera Chemours, fábrica de muerte!”
[6] Ibid.
[7] “Represión y Criminalización en torno al ilegal Proyecto ‘Chemours Laguna,'” Movimiento Mesoamericano contra el Modelo extractivo Minero, March 15, 2019.
[8] “Ediles gomezpalatinos aprueban punto de acuerdo en atención a demandas de inconformes con la instalación de la planta de Chemours,” Local government website for Gómez Palacio, Durango, Novmeber 12, 2020.
[9] “‘No se entregarán permisos a empresas que dañen el medio ambiente’: AMLO,” Red Es Poder, November 10, 2020.
[10] Nicole Narea, “How ‘abolish ICE’ helped bring abolitionist ideas into the mainstream,” Vox, July 9, 2020.

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