British Columbia’s debate over switching to proportional representation from first-past-the-post is about to get “mucho” interesting.
That is because a darling of the NDP’s biggest 2017 backer, the United Steelworkers union, has gone home to Mexico to take one of the 32 senate seats appointed by party leaders based on their party’s share of popular vote.
Napoleon Gomez Urrutia, 74, was on the list of at-large nominees submitted by the July 1 presidential election winner Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of the left-wing National Regeneration Movement (Morena).
El Universal newspaper reported Aug. 22 that Gomez’s lawyer, Marco Antonio del Toro, was traveling to Canada on Aug. 23 to bring “Napito” back home. “After many years, Mr. Napoleon will sleep and eat in his country. And of course, he will have immunity,” reported El Universal. Del Toro did not respond to theBreaker.
On Aug. 27, Gomez Tweeted his photograph in Mexico City, holding his identification badge and certificate, under the words “Senador de Mexico.”
On Aug. 29, El Diario reported that Gomez had arrived to begin his six-year term “to help reconstruct the country and fight against corruption.” His comments were brief, because he planned a news conference for later in the week.
Gomez fled to Vancouver in 2006. He led the Los Mineros union in exile after being accused by Mexican authorities of embezzling US$55 million from union members. He has maintained he is innocent. AltoNivel’s report on Gomez’s return noted that Canada has “increased its presence and exploitation in Mexican mines in recent years.”
Morena nominated Gomez on Feb. 18, the eve of the 12th anniversary of an explosion at a coal mine that killed 65 workers in Coahuila.
Several Mexican media outlets reported in early May that Gomez renounced his Canadian citizenship, which he gained in 2014. That was also the year that a Mexican court deemed the charges against him unconstitutional and cancelled an extradition application. But efforts continued to compensate miners.
On May 9, Mexico’s Federal Board of Conciliation and Arbitration (JCFA) ordered Gomez’s Los Mineros to pay US$55 million to the workers affected by the 2005 trust dissolution. The tribunal made a similar ruling at the end of February.
Oxford-educated Gomez succeeded his father as the union’s leader in 2000, but never worked in a mine. In 2013, the year before he became a Canadian citizen, Gomez published his memoir, Collapse of Dignity: The Story of a Mining Tragedy and the Fight against Greed and Corruption in Mexico. The foreword was written by USW boss and B.C. NDP backer Leo Gerard. Gomez blamed mining giant Grupo Mexico and the Mexican government for “industrial homicide.”
El Universal reported that 89 miners have died in Coahuila since the 2006 disaster. From 2008 to the third quarter of 2016, 311 miners died on the job in Mexico, according to government statistics obtained by the newspaper.
Elections BC’s database shows seven Gomez donations to the NDP, from 2009 to 2017, totalling $2,680.
Last September, Jerry Dias, president of Canada’s Unifor union, spoke at a Mexico City labour convention where he called on the Mexican government to let Gomez return safely.
British Columbias vote on electoral reform in a mail-in ballot from Oct. 22 to Nov. 30. The Independent Contractors and Businesses Association, a BC Liberal ally that represents non-union construction companies, failed in its bid for the B.C. Supreme Court to pause the vote on constitutional grounds.
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