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Child prostitution: The scourge of Colombia’s mines June 2, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Canadian Mining, Colombia, Human Rights, Latin America, Mining, Women.
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Roger’s note: When this story was sent to me in Spanish by Carmen I began an Internet search to find it in English, and here it is.  Knowing that Canadian mining companies are notorious for various abuses in Latin America and Africa, I suspected that the mines referred to in the article has a Canadian connection.  A further search led me to a Canadian Mennonite site’s (http://mennocolombia2013.wordpress.com/tag/mining/) report of its mission in Colombia, from which I excerpt the following:

Three different ministry groups spoke of the sobering reality of life in the villages:

  • dilapidated housing,
  • extreme poverty,
  • ecological devastation of pristine jungles and polluted rivers clogged with toxins – all from Canadian Mining firms operating in the area.

 

colombian-girls

Prostituted girls on the streets of Medellín, Colombia. The crime-pocked streets of that cocaine-infested city are not the only places in that land where children are sexually exploited and enslaved, as El Tiempo’s sub-editor, Jineth Bedoya Lima, reports:

Mireya’s life has been so rough, violent and bitter that at 13, she already feels 40. A night of “bad business” left her with a scar that outlines her right eyebrow, runs down her cheek, and ends near her mouth. “I had 72 stitches, but I worked on the scar with mortician’s paste, and it doesn’t look so bad,” she says, looking at herself in a tiny piece of glass that she uses for a mirror.

Her days are full of glue, which she sniffs to forget the hunger and the abuses of the clients, or the long work days with drunken miners and assailants in the clandestine camps in the lowlands of Atrato, between Murindó (Antioquia) and Carmen del Darién (Chocó).

In these ancestral lands copper and gold aren’t the only things being exploited. There are bodies which have not even reached their maturity, which are also being used by human trafficking networks, forced prostitution, and sexual exploitation. But that’s not all. El Tiempo has also documented how, in mining regions throughout Colombia, criminal groups are doing a parallel trade which does not limit itself to extortion or deforestation.

Behind the mining titles which have generated so much controversy in the last year, behind illegal mining and armed groups taking advantage to maintain a source of financing, there is a crime which no one has attacked and which, for those regions, is practically part of the landscape. Officials assured us that wherever there are masses of men, there is prostitution, and since it is the oldest profession in the world, there is no cause for alarm.

But the truth is that dozens of girls, none of them over 16, have been enslaved sexually and are now part of a statistic that no one has clearly counted. There is no plan on the part of the state to save them from exploitation.

Mireya began travelling by bus every Wednesday from a corner in the neighborhood of Cuba, in Pereira, when she was 11 years old. Her mother, who is in jail for selling bazuco [cocaine paste] and marijuana in a “stewpot” in the centre of the city, sold her to a man who was recruiting “workers”. That was in March of 2011. “I don’t know how much money Mona [Mireya's mother] got, but she packed a t-shirt for me, some underwear, a pair of shorts, and she gave me a thousand pesos to tide me over along the way.” That day Mireya began her journey, from the hands of the man who bought her, into horror and abuse.

Her story just flows, as if she were telling what had happened on a bad day and remains paradoxically imbued with a profound innocence. Her youth helps her to rise above the assaults she suffers, because she believes that this is the life she “must” live. The girl only nods her head when asked if she knows that she has rights and that the law is supposed to protect her.

After several days’ journey, in March 2011, Mireya was brought together with 11 other minor girls. She remembers that “one of them had just turned nine years old and still talked baby talk”; the five who were virgins were separated from the group and on Saturday night, were brought to four miners. “They were more or less old. First they made us drink aguardiente [hard liquor, similar to whisky], and later…it all began.” No tears. This girl’s words are only laden with desperation.

One could say that Mireya is a survivor of what is happening in one sector of Careperro. This mountain is home to one of the largest gold deposits, and experts say that it is the entryway to a gigantic vein of copper that crosses the Andes, all the way from Chile.

There are now 16 legal mining titles in the zone, which span territories of black and indigenous communities, most of them in the hands of a US-based company, where there is a relative degree of control. However, around the illegal mines, which have no legal title, there are camps on the weekends which play host to young girls and teens who are offered in mobile brothels.

“In the towns where the mines are, near the municipal offices, the brothels are outside the towns, in houses, and it’s easy to control them, but in the mines which are in the middle of the mountains, you can get away with anything,” said an army official of the zone.

And one of the bottlenecks of the problem is which responsibility each authority bears. “We’re not competent to deal with minors. That’s the responsibility of the police,” said the soldier. Meanwhile, the police say that the mines are in rural areas difficult to access, which are the jurisdiction of the army. So the prostitution networks can operate widely, without problems, and with an often permissive attitude from the civil authorities.

But this is not only a problem in the border regions of Chocó and Antioquia. In Córdoba, in the area of Nudo de Paramillo and in Ayapel, there are also centres of sexual exploitation. And in the northeastern zone and the valley of Cauca, near the gold mines, there is another critical point.

The final point is in Guainía, where the extraction of coltan has also unleashed a wave of prostitution, which is not new but which in recent months has affected several indigenous communities, because their girls have ended up being exploited.

The paradoxical thing about this illicit growth is that no functionary wants to talk about it publicly, “because there are no documented cases”, but when one turns off the recording device, they acknowledge the problem and even tell stories of what goes on in their zones.

How do these networks of sexual exploitation and forced prostitution function near the mines? A source from Army Intelligence has been documenting for several months how from Cartagena, Pereira, Medellín, Armenia and Cali, there are “hooking offices” moving minors and prostitutes up to 26 years of age.

The most alarming thing is that these criminal networks have built encampments near the mines, to “offer entertainment services to the workers”. They tell this to the girls to justify the abuses.

“The information is fragmented because the interviews we’ve managed to do have taken place in security centres, and we have to admit it: at the moment we take into custody a demobilized guerrilla, a prisoner or an informant, the first priority is to ask about illegal groups, drug or weapons trafficking. But rarely or never do we pay attention to women’s issues,” admits an investigator.

His frankness makes clear that there is no plan to confront the problem.

From the testimonies of several young girls and teenagers, El Tiempo has reconstructed the routes the exploiters take for “supplying” the demands of hundreds of miners who, according to the police, spend all their weekly earnings on liquor and prostitutes, many of them underage.

One route is the one between Cartagena and Antioquia. The intermediate point where the girls are collected is in Turbaco; there, generally, a bus takes the “express route” to Caucasia, and from there, they travel in public vehicles to Nechí, El Bagre, and Zaragoza.

“Last November 8 we had a situation at a checkpoint with several minor girls. They were heading for El Bagre (near Cauca), in a minibus. When we asked them why they were there, they claimed they were just passing through; later they said they had signed on as waitresses on a finca [large estate], but we already knew what was going on. We turned them over to the police, and they, in turn, to the ICBF. That’s all we know,” said a soldier. Even now he doesn’t know what happened to the girls.

Another infamous route for girls runs from Cartagena to Córdoba. Some get off at Ayapel; others, in the city of Montería and from there, to Valencia and Nudo de Paramillo. The modus operandi is the same: a bus or minibus, a fake story, and in the end, a camp or a house for abuse.

From Medellín there is another route, which carries girls to Chocó, or northeastern Antioquia, to Segovia and the Cauca valley, and from Medellín and Pereira to the edges of Antioquia and Chocó.

The authorities are also investigating what is happening to indigenous girls in the coltan-mining zone of Guainía, as well as the likely sale of minors, by their parents, in the emerald-mining area of Boyacá. But the drama of these girls is not only in the camps where they are enslaved and abused.

The chain of horror begins in the same streets where they are recruited. In the centre of Medellín, for example, the “Convivir” (extortion gangs) get paid a percentage of the girls’ earnings for letting them stand on a street corner. The girls are offered security in case a client doesn’t pay, and if they make trouble while under the influence of glue fumes, they are beaten and kicked out of the block. But these delinquents, who claim to maintain control of the streets, are the same contacted by the heads of the networks who seek “merchandise” to traffick into the mining areas.

“Without a doubt, most of the trade in the mines is controlled by the Urabeños. They buy girls in Cartagena or Medellín. Their own mothers offer them, and they make money off them,” says one of the investigators documenting cases. And in Antioquia, there is a name which everyone knows and remembers painfully: Jhon Jairo Restrepo, alias “Marcos”, formerly of the Carlos Alirio Buitrago Front of the ELN guerrillas. Now he is the chief of the Urabeños in the northeast, and one of the victimizers of girls and women.

But civil authorities claim not to know anything about him. At least, so says the mayor of Segovia, Jhony Alexis Castrillón, who would only say that “in this town there is no prostitution, because the women are very hot and don’t need to be paid.”

The same saddening response comes from various other entities of the state: “There is no sexual exploitation here,” said a functionary of the Centre for Attention to Victims of Sexual Violence (CAIVAS), to the police in Medellín.

And the case of “Marcos” in Antioquia repeats itself in Chocó with three men who each have four aliases, and who have taken it upon themselves to provide the “services” of minor girls in the camps less than three kilometres from the mines.

“They picked me up in Pereira, they took me on a bus to Chocó, all the way out into the jungle. I was there for two months in the camp. Four other girls travelled with me, but I never saw them again, I don’t know what happened to them…” says a 15-year-old girl, who was just 14 in the middle of 2012, when she was taken to the Atrato valley.

“Mile”, which she says is her street name, keeps looking around her as she speaks. Her sadness is evident as she tells what those eight weeks were like. “The guy who picked me up in Bolívar Square told me I would have food and a bed, and that I’d be paid at the end of the month. And I did have that, but at the end of the first two weeks, Leo (as she calls the man) passed me a hundred thousand pesos and told me that was the payment.

The next month, the same thing happened. “Mile” decided to take a risk and asked one of the miners, who was heading to Pereira, to take her along, and that she wouldn’t charge him anything for going to bed. He agreed. “The bus stopped before arriving in Pereira, the guy was asleep, and I stayed behind, I didn’t go back…”

She decided not to return to her city for fear that Leo would come back to kill her, and now she is on the streets of Medellín. Her body bears the marks of clients, thieves and drunks, who forced her at knifepoint to comply with any number of aberrant requests.

“Lots of things happen in the mines. In many parts of the country lots of things happen, but here the authorities and everyone say that we’re the whores…I, for example, feel like I’m not a person anymore…this happened to me and there’s nothing I can do.”

Translation mine.

I cried while I was translating this, much as I did during the last chapter of The Table Dancer’s Tale, which is also full of stories of girls prostituted by their own parents. Many of them are well under legal age, too. The difference between Mexico and Colombia is that the Mexican girls tend to work out of established houses, bars and nightclubs, which are more or less controlled environments, within the reach of local police; the Colombians are subjected to truly horrific conditions, in jungle encampments near the mines, which are in remote mountain locations and thus so much harder to escape. The police and the army both turn a blind eye, and only rarely intercept a “shipment” of human “merchandise” bound for the mining camps. How hard do the authorities need to be hit over the head to realize that this is a pervasive problem? Or are girls just so disposable in Colombia that literally anything goes, and that it’s “normal” for their own mothers to sell them to mafiosi? Do they rationalize the situation the way one brothel keeper in the stories of Gabriel García Márquez did, by writing over the doors of the establishment that the girls worked there because “they are hungry”? How many more girls are going to be exploited before someone makes the necessary political and economic changes that will make prostitution unprofitable for the traffickers who enslaved them?

Profits Over Water: ‘State of Seige’ Declared in Guatemala May 5, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Environment, Guatemala, Human Rights, Latin America, Mining.
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Protests over mining project that threatens local water supply met with martial law decree

- Andrea Germanos, staff writer

In a crackdown on mining protests, Guatemala declared a 30-day “state of siege” on Thursday in four areas of the country, suspending people’s constitutional rights and sending in hundreds of police officers and thousands of soldiers following weeks of violence.

Military force enters the town of Jalapa. (Photo: @AndrinoB)

Reuters reports that

Guatemalan President Otto Perez [Molina] announced the move in an effort to quell protests targeting the mine belonging to Canadian miner Tahoe Resources Inc. Two people have been killed in the demonstrations.

The company’s security guards shot and wounded six demonstrators on Saturday, said Mauricio Lopez, Guatemala’s security minister.

The next day, protesters, who say the Escobal silver mine near the town of San Rafael Las Flores will contaminate local water supplies, kidnapped 23 police officers, Lopez said.

One police officer and a demonstrator were killed in a shootout on Monday when police went to free the hostages, said Lopez.

BBC adds:

The government said on Thursday it was outlawing gatherings in the towns of Jalapa and Mataquescuinlta, and the areas of Casillas and San Rafael Las Flores.

A decree allows them temporarily to make detentions, conduct searches and question suspects outside the normal legal framework.

The Associated Press reports that the government’s decree also restricts “freedom of movement, the right to bear arms, freedom of association and demonstration.”

While protest over the mine has been escalating in the past several weks, MICLA (McGill Research Group Investigating Canadian Mining in Latin America), explains that resistance to the mine goes back years to the project’s approval, which “triggered a great deal of resentment amongst the local communities who claim they were neither informed nor consulted about the mining project.”

Protesters say the Escobal silver mine, owned by Canadian-based Tahoe and located near San Rafael las Flores, threatens their water supply.

Tahoe contests that the project “is being constructed to the highest environmental and social standards and it brings needed employment to the area and millions of dollars in annual royalties and taxes.”

“I don’t intervene because I’m poor and I have to work to support my family but the truth is that the mine does affect us when it comes to the environment,” Xalapan resident Mariano Lopez Escobar told the Associated Press. “Although, it sounds like that with an order from the president for the mine to start working there isn’t much one can do.”

“Unfortunately this government has been very much pro-business, and most of these businesses are foreign, mostly Spanish, American and Canadian,” Rob Mercatante of the Guatemalan Human Rights Commission told German news agency Deutsche Welle. “They’ve received such a warm welcome from the administration that some feel the justice system is now being used to punish community leaders for upholding their rights.”

Perez Molina has been been under fire from human rights defenders for being “directly involved in the systematic use of torture and acts of genocide during the long civil war in Guatemala—as an ‘intellectual author’ and as a ‘material author.’” And last month, during the trial for U.S.-backed, School of the Americas-trained Efrain Rios Montt, a former soldier testified that “soldiers, on orders from Major ‘Tito Arias’, better known as Otto Pérez Molina … co-ordinated the burning and looting, in order to later execute people” during Guatemala’s dirty wars of the 1980s.

“To Get the Gold, They Will Have to Kill Every One of Us First” Tribal Leaders Fight Gold-Hungry Investors February 11, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Ecuador, Energy, Environment, First Nations, Latin America, Mining.
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By Alexander Zaitchik

http://www.alternet.org, February 11, 2013

Ecuadorian officials want to sell gold-laden land to China, but not without a fight from the legendary Shuar tribe.
 Of the thousands of “Avatar” screenings held during the film’s record global release wave, none tethered the animated allegory to reality like a rainy day matinee in Quito, Ecuador.

It was late January 2010 when a non-governmental organization bused Indian chiefs from the Ecuadorean Amazon to a multiplex in the capital. The surprise decampment of the tribal congress triggered a smattering of cheers, but mostly drew stares of apprehension from urban Ecuadoreans who attribute a legendary savagery to their indigenous compatriots, whose violent land disputes in the jungle are as alien as events on “Avatar’s” Pandora.

The chiefs — who watched the film through plastic 3-D glasses perched beneath feathered headdress — saw something else in the film: a reflection. The only fantastical touches they noticed in the sci-fi struggle were the blue beanstalk bodies and the Hollywood gringo savior. “As in the film, the government here has closed the dialogue,” a Shuar chief told a reporter after the screening. “Does this mean that we do something similar to the film? We are ready.”

Three years after “Avatar’s” Quito premiere, declarations of martial readiness are multiplying and gaining volume throughout the tribal territories of Ecuador’s mountainous southeast. The warnings bare sharpest teeth in the Shuar country of the Cordillera del Condor, the rain forest mountain range targeted by President Rafael Correa for the introduction of mega-mining.

In recent years, the quickening arrival of drills and trenchers from China and Canada has provoked a militant resistance that unites the local indigenous and campesino populations. The stakes declared and the violence endured by this battle-scarred coalition is little-known even in Ecuador, where Correa has made muscular use of state security forces in arresting activists and intimidating journalists who threaten his image as an ecologically minded man-of-the-people. This repression has only intensified in the run-up to Correa’s expected reelection on Feb. 17.

My guide to this simmering “Avatar” in the Amazon was a 57-year-old Shuar chief named Domingo Ankuash. Like many elder Shuar, Ankuash does not appear to be blustering when he says he will die defending his ancestral lands in the province of Morona-Santiago, which borders Peru. Early in my month traveling the Condor, he took me deep into the country for which he is prepared to lay down his life. After a steep two hours’ hike from his village, we arrived at a forest clearing of densely packed earth. Through the trees and hanging vines, a 40-foot waterfall replenished a deep rock-strewn lagoon. The cascade is one of thousands in the Condor cordillera, a rolling buffer between the cliffs of the eastern Andes and the continental flatness of the Amazon basin.

“We have been coming to these sacred cascades since before the time of Christ,” said Ankuash, preparing a palm-leaf spread of melon and mango. “The government has given away land that is not theirs to give, and we have a duty to protect it. Where there is industrial mining, the rivers die and we lose our way of life. They want us to give up our traditions, work in the mines, and let them pollute our land. But we will give our lives to defend the land, because the end is the same for us either way.”

Beside the bright melons, Ankuash unfolds a frail map of the Condor to come. The industrial future overlays the natural present in a dense geometric circuitry that blots out the region’s rivers and mountains with a patchwork of oddly patterned boxes, as if some madcap Aguirre had gerrymandered the jungle. Rafael Correa’s PAIS Alliance was elected in 2007 with heavy indigenous support, but the map’s vision is the president’s own. His economic development plan, enshrined in a series of controversial laws and strategic declarations, centers on prying Ecuador’s southern rain forests of their rich placer deposits of base and precious metals, which fleck the Condor’s soils and loams like the stars of the universe. Ecuador, Correa has declared, can no longer be “a beggar sitting atop a sack of gold.”

To help him grab these shiny metals, Correa has invited foreign mining firms to deforest and drill much of the country’s remaining pristine forests. Not far from where Ankuash and I are sitting, a Chinese joint venture led by the China Railway Corp. is building infrastructure for an open-sky copper mine with the “Lord of the Rings”-sounding name of Mirador. To the north and east of the Chinese concession, the Canadian gold giant Kinross is prepping its 39 lots, including the envy of the industry, Fruta del Norte, believed to be Latin America’s largest deposit of high-grade gold. These projects are merely the first wave; others wait in the wings. Together they threaten more than the Shuar way of life and the sustainable agricultural and tourist economies of Ecuador’s southern provinces. The Condor is a hot spot of singular ecological wealth and a major source of water for the wider Amazon watershed to the east. What happens there is of global consequence.

But there’s no international outcry on the horizon to concern Rafael Correa and his commercial partners abroad. What they face is a local security problem. It is the same security problem known to regional colonial powers dating back to the Inca. As Correa has always known, and as the Chinese are learning, the Condor is ancestral home to 8,000 Shuar, the most storied warrior tribe in the annals of colonialism in the New World.

“The strategy is to unite the Shuar like the fingers of a fist,” Ankuash tells me as I prepare to dive into the icy waters of the lagoon below. “The forest has always given us everything we need, and we are planning to defend it, as our ancestors would, with the strength of the spear. To get the gold, they will have to kill every one of us first.”

*   *   *

Among the tribes of the Amazon, only the Shuar successfully revolted against Inca and Spanish occupation. The Incan emperor Huayana Capac led the first attempted conquest of Shuar territory in 1527, an adventure that ended with his rump army bestowing gifts in retreat. The first European to follow Capac’s footsteps, Hernando de Benavente, ran briskly ahead of Shuar arrows back to Lima, where he complained to the Royal Court of “the most insolent [tribe] that I have seen in all the time that I have traveled in the Indies and engaged in their conquest.” Years of gift-bearing Spanish peace missions eventually won Shuar acceptance of trading posts at Maca and Sevilla del Oro. But these were never tranquil. “The Shuar are a very warlike people [and] are killing Spaniards every day,” observed a visitor to the outposts in 1582. “It is a very rough land, having many rivers and canyons, all of which in general have gold in such quantity that the Spaniards are obliged to forget the danger.” Some Shuar, he noted, worked the mines in exchange for goods, but did so “with much reluctance.”

The most famous case of Shuar “insolence” occurred in 1599, when the Spanish governor of Maca demanded a gold tax from local Indians to fund a celebration of the coronation of Philip III. The night before the tax was due, Shuar armies slaughtered every adult male in the Spanish hamlets and surrounded the governor’s home. They tied the governor to his bed and used a bone to push freshly melted gold down his throat, laughing and demanding to know if he had finally sated his thirst. According to the Jesuit priest and historian Juan de Velasco, the “the horrendous catastrophe” at Maca caused “insolences and destructions” by the “barbaric nations” up and down the Andean spine of New Spain. For the next 250 years, the Spanish mostly stayed away. Occasional attempts by Jesuit missionaries to reestablish contact were met with a welcome basket of skulls pulled from the shrunken heads of gold-hungry Spaniards.

Most people have heard of the Shuar, even if they don’t realize it. They are the storied Amazonian “head shrinking” tribe. Each of a long succession of enemies have learned firsthand of their tzantza ritual, in which the heads of slain invaders are removed at the collarbone, relieved of their skulls, and shrunk by seasoned boiling in a multi-day ceremony. Tzantza is just one of many rituals rooted in a cosmology of animist spirits. Collectively, these spirits are known as Arutam, a shape-shifting pantheistic godhead whose name loosely translates as “soul power.” Atop a bridge leading to Shuar territory in the southern province of Zamora-Chinchipe, I encountered an oversize statue of Arutam in human form wielding a staff astride a giant toucan, redolent of the dragon-like beasts of “Avatar.”

If James Cameron’s fictional Na’vi of “Avatar” reflect the essence and predicament of one real-world tribe, it’s the Shuar. While they do not expect an action-hero savior to fall from the sky, they recognize that avoiding further bloodshed and protecting the Condor ultimately depends on getting the attention of the wider world, and quickly.

“The world needs to know what is happening in Ecuador, because the destruction of the Condor will have effects for the Amazon, and what affects the Amazon affects the planet as a whole,” said Ankuash. “The world must understand the Condor is not an ordinary patch of jungle.”

*   *   *

The biologist Alfredo Luna walks with a limp and a cane, the legacy of a plane crash in the Condor that killed two of his colleagues nearly 20 years ago. The plane was carrying a team assembled by Conservation International to conduct the first and only systematic study of the Condor’s hydrological system and the abundant flora and fauna it supports. The team’s findings catapulted the Condor into the elite ranks of global hot spots as ranked by conservation significance. A synopsis of these findings is the subject of a slideshow Luna gives around the world in an attempt to catalyze the conservation community. “The Condor combines the diversity of the Andes and the Amazon in the middle of cloud forest,” Luna said one evening at an NGO office in Quito, pausing his presentation on the image of a marsupial species recently discovered in the Condor. “There is more diversity of life in one hectare of the Condor than all of North America combined.”

Luna stresses that his slideshow only hints at the majesty of the Condor’s biodiversity. “Researchers have just scratched the surface,” he said. What is known is that the Condor breathes with more than 2,000 vascular plants and flowers, including 40 unique varieties of orchid. It is home to hundreds of endemic species of birds, reptiles, amphibians and mammals, dozens of which were new to science when first cataloged by Luna’s team. “Unleashing industrial-scale mining in the region is a catastrophe equal to using the Galapagos Islands as a bombing range,” said the biologist. “Its flora has enormous potential to benefit man. So much of it, we’ve only seen from helicopters. Before we even know what’s there, they’re going to destroy it.”

The Condor’s ecological riches are a consequence of unusual wetness. The mountains of the Condor sit on massive aquifers containing a fair chunk of the continent’s fresh water. This water trickles out of innumerable crevices and pours forth from countless cascades. The streams feed famous rains. The volume of rain produced in the Condor’s water cycle is enormous, says Luna, thanks to a unique commixture of altitudes, endemic soils, and solar and wind patterns. The heavy rainwater feeds dozens of small rivers that wind east into the Rios Zamora and Santiago, which sustain the region’s agricultural economy. These eventually merge with Peru’s Marañón River, a major tributary of the continental Amazonian watershed.

The amount of water pulsing through the Condor, says Luna, makes laughable government and industry claims that large stores of toxic mining waste can be contained in tailing ponds, and that samples of the region’s wildlife can be preserved in greenhouse Arks for future replanting. “The Condor cycle is supported by at least two dozen kinds of fragile soils and vegetation cover,” he said. “This web of microclimates will not survive the violence of major mining. It all begins with the rain and the rivers, and the mining will affect rainfall, drying up and contaminating important hinges in the larger Amazon River system. The fools don’t understand that disturbing one part disturbs the whole.”

*   *   *

Shuar life in the Condor remained largely unchanged until well into the last century. Regular contact with the modern Ecuadorean state began at mid-century, when the government began a settlement program in what it called tierra baldia — “no man’s land.” Thousands of mestizo farmers were moved into the mountains and given plots of land. With them came state schools, paved roads, cattle ranching, artisanal miners and frontier towns. Beginning in the 1960s, a new character began appearing in these frontier towns: the wildcat geologist seeking El Dorado. Drawn by the old myths and encouraged by the new infrastructure, they surveyed the mountains, broke rock, sifted soils and bagged samples. “They always said they were studying the flowers,” remembers an old Shuar woman who served many first-wave geologists at her roadside grill, where she sells fish baked in leaves that sweeten the meat. “They walked around with maps and little axes. They came from many countries.”

The samples they took revived the legend of Condor gold. In the 1990s, the first mining concessions were handed to politically connected firms. The World Bank funded a geological survey of the region that turned up traces of more than 300 minerals. International mining juniors were lining up to find the biggest deposits in 1995 when the country went to war with Peru for the third time in half a century, suspending exploration. The Shuar lived along the disputed border and played an important role in the war, reinvigorating their reputation as the Gurkhas of the Amazon. In multiple Shuar villages, veterans of the war spoke of decapitating Peruvian soldiers they killed in jungle firefights and carrying the heads back home for skinning and shrinking. “The tzantza ceremony protects against us from further invasion and shows that we do not kill lightly,” explained a Shuar veteran named Patricio Taishtiwiram. With a twinkle in his eye, he added, “It also makes us feel like we are winning.”

The foreign mining firms who set up exploratory bases in the Condor after the war probably did not know the tzantza is a living tradition. But they knew enough about the local population to stay low and mask their purpose. “They came in very quiet, always changing names as they grew,” said Tarcisio Juep, a 50-year-old Shuar from a village near the proposed Mirador site. “First it was Gemsa, then Billington, then the Canadian ECSA, and now it’s the Chinese ECSA. They never asked permission. They never explained their plans. Then some years ago they told us they had bought the land, that mining was coming, that they’d give us jobs, that they would be the only jobs. It was a crime in pieces.”

In 2005, Corriente went public with the scale of the Mirador project. The Canadian firm announced it would build an open-pit copper mine dwarfing anything in Ecuador’s history. The mine required hollowing out one of the region’s largest mountains and clear-cutting several others. A massive tailing pond would hold the 200-plus million tons of toxic effluvia generated over the mine’s 18-year lifespan. The site designated for the waste sits half a mile from the Rio Quimi, a tributary of the Rio Zamora, whose waters support the local agricultural economy on their way into the Amazon basin. Roads and bridges are being built for 18-wheel truck traffic to carry hundreds of tons of copper concentrate on a daily nonstop loop between the mine and a port on Ecuador’s Pacific coast. (Such projects receive much of President Correa’s “populist” infrastructure spending.)

Corriente announced its plan coated in absurd assurances that the mine and the waste pool were nothing to fear. The company even claimed that after the mine had closed, the tailing pond could be converted into a “resort lake” for swimming and water sports. Corriente printed up leaflets showing people swimming in the crystal waters of this man-made lake that once contained millions of tons of cancer soup. “They think we are stupid and will believe their children’s stories,” said Ankuash, the Shuar chief. “But even our children can see through them. We know what oil drilling has done in the north of Ecuador. We know what industrial mining does. We are in contact with our indigenous friends in Chile and Peru and have learned from them. We know the companies will come in and take all the minerals, leaving devastation behind. Wherever companies are most active, the communities are weakest. Where people used to help each other, they begin to think only of themselves. Families are not as strong. Correa’s mining policy will be the end of everything. Already the exploratory drills are polluting the water.”

In Tundayme, the community closest to the Mirador site, the old agricultural economy has withered. “The exploratory machines create dirty runoff by drilling huge 7-foot holes,” said Angel Arebelo, a farmer who last year moved to the nearest frontier town to drive a cab. “You can taste it in the rivers of the Quimi Valley. It is just beginning. Eventually everyone here will die from the chemicals.”

“We used to grow our own food, corn and yucca, and sell the rest in Pangui. Now they come here to sell,” said Eva Correa, a young Shuar mother in Tundayme. “Everything is upside down. They took our land away and now we need money, but the company pay is not enough and the work is dangerous. The new model is not working.”

One afternoon, I stopped by ECSA’s two-story mirrored-glass corporate office, which sits at the end of El Pangui’s short and dusty commercial strip. In the lobby, a poster showed Chinese managers and local employees in hard hats working together. Another poster featuring bright green frogs advertised the company’s sponsorship of an environmental-photography contest. I was directed to the office of Ruth Salinas, ECSA’s garrulous light-skinned communications officer. She dismissed the idea that mining would undermine local agricultural and tourism and launched into a rant against the Shuar. “The Indians can’t lecture anyone on the environment!” she huffed. “They hunt, you know? They fish with poison leaves that ruin the rivers. They cut down trees. They only want money from us, but they are not responsible enough to use it. They don’t do anything but grow yucca and drinkchichi beer.”

As I got up to leave, she reached into a box and handed me some ECSA literature. One of the pamphlets had on its cover a pretty indigenous girl in traditional dress, squatting by a stream. Above her it said, “Copper: A New Era for the Nation.”

*   *   *

In October 2006, mestizo and Shuar leaders organized the first action against the introduction of mining in the south: a peaceful march to the Mirador site. The protesters didn’t get far before trucks blocked their path and unloaded dozens of ski-masked men armed with rifles, machetes, sticks, and knives. The organizers of the march were badly beaten. “That was the turning point,” said Ricardo Aucay, a local farmer and leading figure in the local resistance. “The company started the chaos, the mess, the vengeance and the hatred.”

A group of Shuar communities next declared a “mining sweep” of their territory. They gave a Corriente subcontractor until November 1 to vacate the village of Warints, where it had set up a base. When the deadline passed, hundreds of Shuar swept into the camp from the forest side at dawn. They trapped company managers inside while the women and children used long spears of chonta wood to block rescue helicopters from landing. The mining staff was only allowed to leave the following day with their equipment. The Shuar army continued by foot to a site near the main Mirador complex, where they slipped past a military guard and took over the buildings. After a three-day standoff, all of the company’s machines were hauled away on military trucks. The state responded by militarizing the other mining camps. Throughout the area, road protests erupted that blocked mining traffic with burning tires, boulders, and bodies. The protests escalated in response to news that a massive dam and power lines were being built near Macas to provide Mirador with cheap energy. Spreading beyond rural hamlets, a general strike was called throughout the southern provinces.

On November 12, the government of Alfredo Palacio announced a suspension of Corriente’s mining activities and agreed to discuss turning the Condor region into an ecological and tourism reserve. Corriente and its subcontractors simply ignored the decree. On December 1, after the state made clear it was with the company, hundreds of protestors again marched to the Mirador site. While attempting to cut razor wire that had been placed in their path across a narrow bridge, police and private security units attacked. The tear-gas-beclouded battle lasted one hour. Bullets rubber and real ripped through several protestors amid Indian war whoops, chants of “Ecuador!” and old mestizo women crying, “Teach them with your blood, Oh Lord!”

Among the dozens of protestors arrested and beaten was the anti-mining prefect of Zamora-Chinchipe, a Suraguro indian named Salvador Quishpe. Six years later, Quishpe remains in office and organizes with the seven-party alliance contesting Correa in February’s election. “Quito has slowed down payments to the province as punishment for my position on mining,” he told me one afternoon in his home on the outskirts of Zamora. “But money isn’t all. They don’t have enough to pay off the conscience of the entire country. More conflict is coming.”

Those who fought alongside Qichspe echo his conclusion. Vinicio Tibiron was shot through the chest at the bridge protests and expects to be shot at again. “It will be wars throughout the region,” Tibiron told me over a bowl of yucca beer at his remote Shuar village of Ayantaz. “They will send police and military, and we will gather our weapons. Outsiders have always called us savages because they could not conquer us. If they continue, their actions will compel us to show them savagery, to act like the Indians we are.”

Sitting near and observing us is a thick middle-aged woman named Mercedes Samarent, herself a veteran of several violent clashes. “They will be fighting all of us,” she said, holding up a machete. “The men have their weapons, and we have ours.”

*   *   *

Rafael Correa was elected president in the weeks following the bloody bridge protest. Upon taking his oath, his left-wing PAIS Alliance fulfilled a campaign promise and convened an assembly to draft a new constitution, Ecuador’s twentieth. Burning questions of indigenous rights and environmental protection, it seemed, would be addressed democratically before the entire nation.

The constituent assembly gathered in the western town of Montecristi toward the end of Correa’s first year in office and ratified 500 articles. Among them were reforms allowing the president to run for a second term and dissolve Congress. But the bits that made international news, and promised a resolution to the mining conflict in the south, was the surprise enshrining of the Indian concept of sumak kawsay, or “good living in harmony with nature.” Ecuador’s new constitution also formalized the rights of nature itself. It was with nature’s new constitutional rights in mind that the assembly temporarily suspended all mining activity until the passage of a new mining law, which the president promised soon.

Correa, meanwhile, had pivoted away from the indigenous rights rhetoric of his presidential campaign. In televised speeches, he dismissed Indians as backward “donkey-riders” who were blocking access to the country’s “pot of gold.” Fatal road protests from Zamora to Quito flared back up as it became clear that Correa’s forthcoming mining and water bills would ratify and expand industrial mining and water privatization. After running clashes with police in which a Shuar schoolteacher was killed, the government attempted and failed to shut down the Shuar radio station, Arutam.

In January 2009, Correa reactivated hundreds of mining permits and granted foreign companies access to indigenous territory and resources in any projects he deemed “in the national interest.” All of this occurred just before the start of the Mining World Fair in Ontario, where Correa administration officials told the gathered, “In Ecuador, large-scale exploration has begun.”

The primary target for this message was and remains China. Ecuador is a serial defaulter with a radioactive credit rating, and Correa’s entire economic program is dependent on loans from China in return for wide access to its minerals. As in Venezuela and Bolivia, China has become a happy lender of last resort, offering Quito a credit line of up to $10 billion in long-term, low-interest loans collateralized with the stuff in the ground. Where Western development banks once attached strings of political, economic and regulatory reform, the China Development Bank wants the resources. Toward this end, China has become Latin America’s biggest banker with $75 billion loaned since 2005 — which is more than the World Bank, the IDB and the U.S. Export-Import Bank combined. Beijing’s top regional borrowers are Ecuador and Venezuela, where Hugo Chavez has described his nation’s oil as “at the service of China.” As of this writing, Ecuador’s debt to China approaches a quarter of its GDP.

Mirador is just one of a number of recent Chinese strategic investments in Latin American mineral reserves. The firms Zijin, Minmetals and Chinalco have snatched up the largest copper mines in Chile, Peru and Mexico. But Mirador is the prize. The concession is estimated to hold up to 11 billion tons of copper, with a large secondary store of gold. Adding another layer of strategic depth to the holding, the contract includes rights to the waste rock, possibly a signal of Chinese expectations that the site contains uranium and even molybdenum, a coveted rare earth suggestive of Avatar’s unobtainium.  Even before estimates had been made of Mirador’s bounty, Chinese gentlemen are said to have lurked among Zamora’s dirt-floor provincial gold markets, examining bags of rock and sand brought in by small-scale miners in rubber boots, who understood the Chinese had interests beyond their ken.

*   *   *

On the morning of my return north to Quito, I attended an environmentally themed panel discussion in a swank downtown hotel. Vandana Shiva, the globetrotting Indian anti-GMO and water-rights activist, was the star. Shiva had just returned from an official tour of Rafael Correa’s showcase conservation project, Yusani National Park. Flanked by the leaders of Ecuador’s largest indigenous groups, Shiva praised the president for his vision and happily announced her acceptance of a post as “goodwill ambassador” to Yasuni. Her comments were more suited to an international audience than an Ecuadorean one. She seemed taken aback when local activists challenged her on Correa’s mining policy and an emerging corporate police state in the southern provinces. Shiva isn’t alone in praising Correa without knowing much about his policies. John Perkins, author of “Confessions of an Economic Hit Man,” penned a column for CommonDreams.com gushing about a “new consciousness” in Correa’s Ecuador that “honors the dream of the people of the forests.”

The indigenous groups that supported Correa in 2007 do not share Perkins’ enthusiasm. Nor does the seven-party left-wing alliance campaigning against him. The leading figure of this alliance is Alberto Acosta, Correa’s former minister of mines and the first president of the 2008 constitutional assembly. “There is nothing new in Correa’s development plan for the next century. He has simply replaced Uncle Sam with Uncle Chen,” Acosta told me after a campaign stop in Zamora. “He cites the dependency school theorists, but his idea is the same center-periphery economic model of exporting raw materials. The government is thinking short-term about sustaining its social programs and political position at the expense of long-term sustainable industries. There’s a modern parallel to the Conquistadors, who gave the indigenous mirrors for gold. It’s happening again.”

Those who have organized against Correa’s policies have not fared well. If they’re lucky, they are merely harassed. More than 200 other non-violent activists end up in court and face serious jail time. “Like a dictator, everyone in government repeats his pro-development themes and slogans: Responsible mining, man over nature, Indians versus progress,” said Fernanda Solis, a weary-eyed campaign coordinator for the Quito group Clinica Ambiental. “There is no independent judiciary. The three powers of government are acting with Correa and everyone knows it. Because Correa represents the left, opposing him opens you up to the charge of supporting the U.S., or the old right that bankrupted everyone. He’s betrayed the new constitution and proven himself a neoliberal with redistributive touches. He’s avoided pacts with the U.S. but has sold the country to China.”

Last March, Solis helped organize a 370-mile march from Zamora to Quito under the banner, “For water, for life, for the dignity of the people.” Seven thousand people walked boisterously under enormous flags of indigenous rainbows and Popular Front red. Correa’s government issued the permit request only after he organized a counter-protest to meet the marchers in Quito. In a radio address that described anti-mining Indians as tools of “the old right,” Correa mobilized his supporters against what he warned was an indigenous-led coup attempt.

Amid stacks of reports in her cluttered office, I asked Solis about the upcoming election, as well as the narrowing political route open to the opposition through international forums such as the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

“Correa will win reelection and nothing will change,” she said. “Like the Mapuches in Chile, it is going to get violent.”

*   *   *

When I last saw Domingo Ankuash, he was celebrating the birth of his latest grandson, whose name is Espada, or sword, but which he defined with a flourish as lanza de Guerra. He was also organizing two summits of anti-mining forces, including a meeting of Shuar and their ancestral enemies, the Achuar, living on both sides of the Peru-Ecuador border. The first summit concluded with a statement citing the 2008 Constitution and urging the world to take notice: “We warn the country and the world that the government intends to militarize the Amazon region to promote the interests of mining and oil companies. The Cordillera del Condor and the rest of our territories are inalienable, indefeasible, and we state our decision to defend them to the end.” Similar declarations continue to emerge like smoke signals from across the Condor. A recent statement of the Yaupi village declares, “We will not take a step backward in defending our territories. Interlopers will be submitted to the punishment of our ancestors. Any such bloodshed will be on the Government’s hands.”

The hour of renewed escalation may be near. Last month, Ecuador’s indigenous organizations filed legal action in Ecuadorean courts; they are currently preparing another suit for international bodies citing conventions on indigenous consultation. Both are seen as acts of desperation, final attempts at a peaceful solution few expect. The state, meanwhile, is already spending China’s money, and developing budgets on the expectation of more to come. Other international mining firms, having been told Ecuador’s south is open for business, are lining up on the door.

The Shuar are not without an alternative plan. They say they can develop the region sustainably with agriculture, small-scale ranching, dairy, and regulated small-scale traditional mining. “Industrial mining is not sustainable,” said Ankuash. “The gold and the copper will be gone in a few years, leaving behind nothing but poisoned earth for our people. We can have an economy here without destroying nature and the culture. We are open to the world. Let the people come here and see the native way — the bears, the monkeys, the trees, the cascades.”

And the visions. Some Shuar villages have taken advantage of growing Western interest in ayahuasca, the potent hallucinogen and healing plant used throughout the Amazon. As we walked back from the waterfall to Domingo’s village, I saw what looked like an apparition: a young blonde woman in a white cotton dress sitting by the river directly under a beam of sunshine. She had traveled from Berlin for a week-long ayahuasca regimen under the guidance of a local Shuar shaman named Miguel Chiriap. She pointed me down a nearby path, at the end of which I found to a large open-air structure of wood and thatch. Sitting on one of a dozen pillows arranged in a circle was a young herbalist from Hull, England, named David. One of several westerners at the retreat, he was paying hundreds of dollars a week to work with Chiriap, he glowed with the kind of serenity earned from drinking ayahuasca 15 consecutive nights. He was surprised and saddened to learn he was sitting in the middle of a soon-to-be exploited mining concession. “It would be a shame to see all this ruined,” he said. “It’s paradise, isn’t it?”

The government continues to exploit the promise of paradise even as it prepares to annihilate the reality. Police cars and tourism posters in Los Encuentros, the company town of Kinross Gold, display scenes of nature above the slogan “Jewel of the Amazon.” When I met with the mayor of El Pangui, a nervous little yes-man from Correa’s ruling alliance, he dutifully muttered industry lies while sitting beneath yellowing tourism posters touting the area’s pristine forests, roaring cascades, dew-kissed orchids, and smiling Indians.

The dissonance between Ecuador’s tourism pitch and the imminent destruction of the south followed me back to Mariscal, Quito’s hostel district. There, a Jumbotron lords above the clubs and cafes day and night, beckoning backpackers south with high-definition images of happy natives and brightly plumed birds of paradise. “This,” declares the a slogan on continuous loop, “is Ecuador.”

I spent much of my last day in Ecuador drinking coffee at a café with a good view of this Jumbotron. After a month in the south, the slick nature montage appeared to me as the billboards in dystopian science fiction, a sunny, high-tech tourism version of “War Is Peace,” or Latin versions of the electronic messages projected into the dark, rainy worlds of “Blade Runner” and “Children of Men.” I was pulled out of this reverie by the appearance on the screen of a giant pixilated toucan. With wings spread wide, the bird reminded me of the Arutam statue above the bridge in Zamora-Chinchipe. As told to me by a Shuar shaman named Julio Tiwiram, the image of Arutam and the toucan comes from a bit of tribal folklore dating to first-contact with the Conquistadors.

Arutam, who lives in the rivers, the trees, the fish and the flowers, would also like to recline, Zeus-like, on a golden throne high above the mountaintop mists. One day, foreigners “with beards and large eyes” came into the area seeking food. But what they really coveted was Arutam’s golden throne. After eating their fill, the strangers searched for Arutam’s treasure. To thwart them, the spirit hid the throne deep inside the mountains. He told the Shuar to stay vigilant, that the strangers must be kept out, by force if necessary. The bearded men could not be trusted, he said. They would take everything and leave them nothing with which to live. He warned them that though he hid the gold, they would one day return. Arutam then mounted a giant toucan, looked in the direction of the Condor’s highest peak, and flew away.

Alexander Zaitchik is a freelance writer in Brooklyn, NY. 

Unified Latin America Challenges Failed US/Canada Policies on Drug War, Cuba, and Finance April 16, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Cuba, Drugs, Foreign Policy, Latin America.
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Roger’s note: I love the photo that accompanies this article.  Obama and Clinton, do they not appear to be dinosaurian?  They think they are huge and powerful and indestructible, at the same time as they are on their way to extinction.  The two great leaders of the Democratic Party, staunch defenders of the Monroe Doctrine in the twenty-first century, custodians of the collapsing American Empire.  Our only hope is that they don’t bring the rest of the world down with them.

Published on Monday, April 16, 2012 by Inter Press Service

‘Last Summit of the Americas without Cuba’ sees alternative rise to challenge hegemony of US policy

  by Constanza Vieira

CARTAGENA DE INDIAS, Colombia – “What matters at this summit is not what is on the official agenda,” said Uruguayan analyst Laura Gil, echoing the conventional wisdom in this Colombian port city, where the Sixth Summit of the Americas ended Sunday without a final declaration.

Latin American nations say there may not be another summit unless the US overcomes its objections to Cuba. (AFP)

The Fifth Summit, held in Port of Spain, the capital of Trinidad and Tobago, in 2009, had a similar outcome.

At the Sixth Summit, which opened Saturday Apr. 14, the foreign ministers failed to reach prior agreement on a consensus document.

Key points of discord were the continued U.S. embargo against Cuba and Argentina’s claim to sovereignty over the Falkland/Malvinas Islands, a British overseas territory in the South Atlantic.

Gil, an expert on international relations who lives in Colombia, told IPS that “a consensus on drugs seems to be forming among the countries of Latin America.”

“These three issues are precisely the ones that are dividing the hemisphere in two, or confronting the countries of Latin America with the United States and Canada,” she said.

“The Summit of the Americas process is in crisis. What the Sixth Summit clearly shows is that certain issues cannot be put off any longer, particularly that of Cuba,” excluded from the Americas summits due to pressure from the United States, she added.

In Gil’s opinion, “there will not be another summit without Cuba. Either Cuba is included, or there will not be a summit at all. The absence of (Ecuadorean President Rafael) Correa is a red alert,” she said, referring to the Ecuadorean president’s promise not to attend any further hemispheric meetings to which Cuba is not invited.

According to the expert, “Colombia positioned itself as a bridge, able to facilitate relations between contrary ideological blocs. But from this position, Colombia cannot work miracles.

“This summit reminds us that ideologies are still a force to be reckoned with. The limitations are plain to be seen,” she said.

The Venezuelan ambassador to the Organization of American States (OAS), Roy Chaderton – a former Venezuelan ambassador to Colombia and the U.S. – told the Colombian radio station RCN Radio: “This is a rebellion by Latin American democracies against U.S. and Canadian hegemony.”Canada and the United States were left in isolation in a vote on a resolution to put an end to Cuba’s exclusion, which was split 32 against two, at a meeting of foreign ministers that was to approve documents to be signed by the presidents.

Canada and the United States were left in isolation in a vote on a resolution to put an end to Cuba’s exclusion, which was split 32 against two, at a meeting of foreign ministers that was to approve documents to be signed by the presidents.

In addition to Correa, Haitian President Michel Martelly and Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega were also absent, having sent last-minute cancellations. Ortega led a rally in Managua in solidarity with Cuba Saturday Apr. 14.

On Saturday morning it was announced that Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez would not be attending the summit, due to the treatment for his cancer.

At the end of the first day’s meetings, the countries of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) released a declaration in Cartagena stating that they would not attend any further summits without the participation of Cuba.

ALBA is made up of Antigua and Barbuda, Bolivia, Cuba, Dominica, Ecuador, Honduras, Nicaragua, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Venezuela.

The host’s speech

At the opening ceremony of the Sixth Summit, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos did not mince words. He exhorted delegates “not to be indifferent” to the changes occurring in Cuba, which he said were ever more widely recognized and should be encouraged.

“It is time to overcome the paralysis that results from ideological obstinacy and seek a basic consensus so that this process of change has a positive outcome, for the good of the Cuban people,” he said.

“The isolation, the embargo, the indifference, looking the other way, have been ineffective,” Santos said.

As for Haiti, the poorest country in the hemisphere, Santos recommended supporting the agenda of the Haitian government, instead of pushing “our own agendas.”

He also said that “Central America is not alone.” Organized crime must be combated, but anti-drug policy should be focused on “the victims,” including “the millions” locked up in prisons, Santos said.

This summit will not find an answer to Latin America’s calls for facing up to the failure of the war on drugs, “of this I am completely certain,” he said.

Militarization marches on

U.S. President Barack Obama let it be understood that his country would tolerate flexibilization of Latin American anti-drug policies, saying “I think it is entirely legitimate to have a conversation about whether the laws in place are ones that are doing more harm than good in certain places.””I know there are frustrations and that some call for legalization. For the sake of the health and safety of our citizens – all our citizens – the United States will not be going in this direction,” Obama said on Saturday.

But he flatly rejected legalization.

“I know there are frustrations and that some call for legalization. For the sake of the health and safety of our citizens – all our citizens – the United States will not be going in this direction,” Obama said on Saturday.

He also announced that the U.S. government would increase its aid to the war on drugs led by “our Central American friends” and pledged “more than 130 million dollars this year.”

Colombian expert Ricardo Vargas of Acción Andina, a local think tank, summed up the U.S. position: “‘You may decriminalize drugs, but that will not eliminate the mafias. And we will be there’,” with a military presence as soon as drug shipments cross the borders, he told IPS.

The People’s Summit

From another part of the city of Cartagena, Enrique Daza, the coordinator of the Hemispheric Social Alliance, a movement of social organizations that organized the Fifth People’s Summit, held in parallel to the Summit of the Americas, announced their “satisfaction” at the same time as President Santos received a standing ovation in the auditorium where the heads of state were gathered.

“They were not able to keep our demands hidden,” Daza said at the close of the counter-summit.

On the positive side, the People’s Summit proposed independent integration within the region, and knowledge and respect for the contributions of indigenous people and peasant farmers to the art of “good living” and a culture of peace.

The alternative summit rejected the United States’ “imposition of its agenda” at the Summits of the Americas, and demanded an end to militarization based on the pretext of the war on drugs, which in fact ends up criminalizing social protest, he said.

In its final declaration, the People’s Summit castigated the United States and Canada for insisting on the promotion of free trade treaties with other countries of the continent.

Canada came in for heavy criticism for fomenting a “predatory model” for the operations of its mining companies in Latin America. “The rights of investors cannot take precedence over the rights of people and of nature,” the final declaration says.

The gathering of social movements, left-wing groups and human rights, indigenous, environmental and women’s organizations also launched a veiled attack on socialist governments in Latin America.

While recognizing the efforts of bodies such as ALBA and the fledgling Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), the declaration expressed that “progressive and left-wing” governments in the Americas should take steps against the extraction of natural resources and the concentration of land ownership.

On the positive side, the People’s Summit proposed independent integration within the region, and knowledge and respect for the contributions of indigenous people and peasant farmers to the art of “good living” and a culture of peace.

© 2012 IPS North America

 

Fidel Castro attacks Stephen Harper over environmental damage from oilsands April 11, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Cuba, Energy, Environment, Latin America.
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                    Former Cuban President Fidel Castro, seen here late last month, has criticized Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper over "irrparable" environmental damage from Alberta's oilsands.

Former Cuban President Fidel Castro, seen here late last month, has criticized Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper over “irrparable” environmental damage from Alberta’s oilsands.

                    L’Osservatore Romano Vatican/GETTY IMAGES file photo
Roger’s note: a bill before the Canadian parliament last year that would have held Canadian mining companies accountable for crimes committed overseas was defeated, largely thanks to the Liberals.
                            Image

                            By Oakland Ross                                 Feature Writer   Toronto Star, April 9, 2012
Canada may be Cuba’s leading source of tourists, an important economic partner, and one of just two countries in the region never to have broken off diplomatic ties with the island — the other is Mexico — but Fidel Castro says he doesn’t even know Stephen Harper’s name.

In a column that appeared Monday in Granma, official organ of the Cuban Communist Party, the island’s former ruler says he believes the Prime Minister goes by the name Stephen Harper — but it’s hard to be sure.

In other words, Stephen Who?

Devoting his 1,100-word column almost entirely to Canada and its alleged shortcomings, Castro, 85, finds much to criticize and lament about this “beautiful and extensive country.”

Are we a colony, a republic, or a kingdom? According to the man with the famous beard, we apparently don’t know ourselves — and neither does he.

Worst of all, however, is the human and environmental damage that Castro says is being inflicted upon many Latin American countries by rapacious Canadian mining companies.

“I became really depressed when I deepened my understanding of the facts about the activities of Canadian transnational companies in Latin America,” writes Castro.

He implies that Canadians, of all people, ought to know better than to exploit the natural and human resources of other countries, considering what the United States is supposedly doing to Canadians.

“I knew about the damage that the yanquis are imposing on the people of Canada,” Castro writes, in reference to the development of the Athabaska oilsands in northern Alberta. “They are obliging the country to seek petroleum, extracting it from large extensions of sand impregnated with this liquid, causing irreparable damage to the environment.”

That experience makes it all the more reprehensible, he suggests, when Canadian mining companies turn around and cause “incredible damage” to “millions of people” in the search for “gold, precious metals, and radioactive material” in Latin America.

Showdown in Peru: Indigenous Communities Kick Out Canadian Mining Company September 21, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Latin America, Canada, Peru.
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Written by Benjamin Dangl
Wednesday, 21 September 2011 11:56
 

Source: The Dominion

 

Earlier  this summer, an anti-mining Indigenous movement in Peru  successfully  ousted a Canadian mining company from their territory.  “In  spite of  government repression, if the people decide to bring the fight  to the  bitter end, it is possible to resist the pressure of mining and  oil  companies,” Peruvian activist and journalist Yasser Gómez told The Dominion.

The  David and Goliath scenario of this anti-mining uprising  highlights the  vast economic inequality that has beset Peru. The  country’s economy  has been booming for the past decade, with a seven per  cent growth  expected this year—one of the highest growth rates  internationally.  Sixty-five per cent of the country’s export income  comes from the  mining industry, and investors are expected to spend over  $40 billion  in the next 10 years on mining operations.

Yet  this growth has not benefited a large percentage of the  population.  The poverty rate in Peru is just over 31 per cent; in the  countrysde,  two in three people live under the poverty line. Today,  there are over  200 communities organized against mining across Peru.

On  June 5, left-leaning presidential candidate Ollanta Humala  defeated  right winger Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of ex-president and  human  rights violator Alberto Fujimori. Humala, who won resounding  support in  the poor countryside, promised to redistribute wealth by  increasing  taxes on the lucrative mining industry.

But another political force, from the grassroots, may end up being a powerful force of change under Humala.

In  May and June of this year, hundreds of local residents in Puno   organized road blockades, strikes and protests to demand that the   government rescind a concession to the Vancouver-based Bear Creek Mining   Corporation. Activists also called for an end to future mining   concessions in their area, due to the industry’s impact on the   environment.

According  to Bear Creek, at the time of the protests the  company had already  invested some $25 million in the mine. Company  Director Andrew  Swarthout said the mining would not impact on Lake  Titicaca (a massive  fresh water lake shared by Bolivia and Peru) and  would create  approximately 1,000 jobs. But local residents were not  convinced.

Walter  Aduviri is the president of the Front for the Defense of  Natural  Resources in Southern Puno, and a leading organizer in protests  against  Bear Creek and mining in general in the area.

“It  is as though we, the Aymaras, do not have any politicians or   representatives in the congress,” Aduviri told a reporter from the   Peruvian newspaper La Republica.   He critiqued outgoing president Alan García, who he says governed only   for those who have money. “We do not ask for money, we ask for respect   for our rights, our property and territory,” said Aduviri.

“The  president [Alan García] has sold off our territory without  consulting  us,” Paolo Castro, a farmer who joined the protests against  Bear Creek  told Al Jazeera.   Farmer Alejandro Tucuuhami agreed, telling the news outlet, “We know   that in European countries, for example, mining contaminates a lot, so   that’s why they want to send the mines to underdeveloped countries.”

Indigenous  campesinos on the Bolivian side of the border began road  blockades in  solidarity with the Peruvian activists. Overall, the  blockades put a  standstill to inter-country traffic, stopping hundreds  of trucks, local  passengers and tourists.

On  June 24, following seven weeks of strikes, protests, road  blockades  and bloody police repression of activists, then President  García broke  with Peruvian political tradition and heeded the demands of  the  protesters by cancelling the Bear Creek contract, and putting a   three-year hold on future mining deals for the region. In addition,   recently inaugurated Ollanta Humala has pledged to move forward on   legislation that will make community input necessary before mining   operations anywhere in the country can proceed.

Just  hours after García overturned Bear Creek’s concession, a  conflict  erupted at the airport in Juliaca, north of Puno. There,  activists  protesting other mining operations and a hydroelectric plant  occupied  the airport only to be attacked by police who shot and killed  five  protesters. Major English media outlets inaccurately reported that   García’s decision against Bear Creek was linked to the massacre at the   airport, when in fact the airport protest was linked to separate proposed mining and hydroelectric projects.

Jennifer Moore, the Latin America Program Coordinator of MiningWatch Canada, told The Dominion that García’s decision to annul the concession “is an important   indicator of the strength of local organizing that we have been seeing   for awhile in Peru.” Moore said García has been “extraordinarily bent on   handing out mining concessions without consulting with local   communities first.”

In  response to García’s decision, Bear Creek has applied for a   constitutional injunction against the Peruvian government. Swarthout   contends that the cancellation of the concession is unconstitutional and   in violation of foreign investment laws. Moore noted that it is   plausible that Bear Creek could use the Canada-Peru Free Trade   Agreement, signed in 2009, to challenge the loss of their concession.

The  wave of strikes and conflicts that have swept across Peru in  recent  months, along with the election of Humala, are likely to have a   long-standing impact on the regulation and taxation of the multinational   extractive industry in Peru. On August 23, at the time of this  writing,  the Peruvian congress signed into law a bill that requires  mining and  oil companies to consult with Indigenous communities before  constructing  extractive projects. Humala now has to sign the bill into  law for it go  into effect.

The  people’s victory in Puno against Bear Creek may set the stage for  a  new struggle in the country that will test the political will of   Humala, and challenge social movements to pressure from below.

Benjamin Dangl is the author of Dancing with Dynamite: Social Movements and States in Latin America and The Price of Fire: Resource Wars and Social Movements in Bolivia (AK Press). He edits TowardFreedom.com, a progressive perspective on world events, and UpsideDownWorld.org, a website on activism and politics in Latin America. Email Bendangl(at)gmail(dot)com.

No Justice, No Peace: Canadian Mining in Ecuador and Impunity April 27, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Ecuador, Energy, Environment, Human Rights, Latin America.
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Written by Carlos Zorrilla and Cyril Mychalejko   
Tuesday, 26 April 2011 21:20
 
Violent paramilitary attack in Junin. Photo by Liz Weydt. Intag residents lose much more than a lawsuit against the Toronto Stock Exchange and Copper Mesa  

On December 2, 2006, 14 paramilitaries armed with 38-caliber guns and pepper spray fired into a group of unarmed Ecuadorian campesinos from a community that has been resisting a copper mining project for over a decade. Thankfully no one was killed, but there were several injuries, not to mention the psychological suffering caused by such a vicious attack.

This assault led three of the local campesinos from Intag, Ecuador to file a lawsuit against the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX) and Copper Mesa Corporation, the Canadian mining company responsible for hiring the “security firm” that sent the paramilitaries to intimidate the anti-mining residents of the region.

“I ask the noble people of Canada,” said Ramírez when she filed the lawsuit in March 2009, “that you demand from your elected authorities significant changes in your national legislation so that what has happened with Copper Mesa in Intag will never happen again, not in Intag nor in any other part of the world.”

John McKay, a Liberal Member of Parliament from Canada, actually introduced legislation that would have been a concrete first step in holding Canadian mining companies accountable for their behavior overseas. Bill C-300 would have sanctioned the Canadian federal government to investigate human rights and environmental complaints filed against companies with the authority to cancel any governmental funding if found guilty. While some activists and NGO’s leveled criticism against the bill for being too tepid, most supported the legislation. Unfortunately the Canadian government, largely perceived to be in the pockets of the mining industry, did not and the bill was voted down. Catherine Coumans, research coordinator for MiningWatch Canada, has charged the government with “aiding and abetting” the industry’s inhumane, if not criminal, behavior.

Injustice and Impunity Continues

Last month, when three judges at the Court of Appeals in Canada ruled against the three Intag residents, a lot more than a lawsuit was lost. The court basically said that people overseas have no right to sue a Canadian institution or company for human rights violations in Canadian courts. Their statement to the world reaffirmed what many communities effected by Canadian mining projects in the developing world already know: institutions like the TSX and Copper Mesa will never be held accountable for human rights abuses and environmental destruction they fund and carry out.

“Do Canadians really want to have their legal system on the one hand authorize Canadian mining companies to go abroad to developing countries, and then on the other hand totally absolve the directors in Canada of any responsibility whatsoever for human rights abuses those companies may perpetrate there?”asked Murray Klippenstein, legal counsel for the Ecuadorians, who is also legal counsel for a widow in Guatemala whose husband was murdered by the head of security of a Canadian mining subsidiary because of his outspoken concerns about the activities of the company.

But the ruling also produces another very unsettling effect, or better put, reinforces a widely-held belief in the extractive industry resistance movements overseas: that it is a waste of time, energy and funds to try to use the judicial system in order to have their rights recognized and communities protected. The implications are troubling.
 
Oil contamination in the indigenous Kichwa village of Rumipamba. Photo courtesy of www.ChevronToxico.com.One example to illustrate this point is the infamous Chevron-Texaco case where 18 long years had to pass before the 30,000 Ecuadorian indigenous and campesino plaintiffs got a favorable sentence in an Ecuadorian court for their lawsuit based on the grave health impacts from years of petroleum extraction- and contamination- in the Amazon. The destruction has been such that it’s been labeled a “Rainforest Chernobyl”. But even now the case could be held up in courts for an additional decade from appeals, meaning that many of the plaintiffs will have died before the possibility of collecting what is due them.
 
Canadians don’t hear too much about the environmental destruction and social upheaval their oil, gas and mining industries are spreading overseas. In spite of countless reports of human rights violations all over the world, Canadian corporations have been very successful at greenwashing the news back home and replacing it by images of the “socially responsible” Canadian corporate citizen bringing wealth and development abroad.
 
However, if the lawsuit contributed to the company being expelled from the TSX, as it was on February 2010, leads to its bankruptcy, and as a result pressures the judicial system in Canada to open itself up to legitimate lawsuits brought by communities overseas against their extractive industries, then it was very much worthwhile. If, in the long run, it will contribute to bringing about legislative reforms that will effectively reduce or stop the murders of anti-mining activists, like what happened in El Salvador and Mexico, and other human rights, social and environmental abuses, then it will have been a major victory. Much depends on how much information is able to filter through to the average Canadian, and what it will take to get them outraged to demand such changes.

Valley near Junin. Photo by Carlos Zorrilla.Another Victory for the Mining Industry

Added to this failing of the justice system in Canada, the same week saw the superior court in Quito throw out my (Carlos Zorrilla) lawsuit against film producers working for Ecuacorriente for criminal libel. Unfortunately, this was also no major surprise given the state of the judicial system here. I had initiated a criminal lawsuit against Chinese-owned Ecuacorriente for a 45-minute documentary film paid for by the company where they falsely linked me to anti-mining violence in the south of the country.

 
The question that begs answering is: When the judicial system so utterly fails to guarantee minimum justice in cases of clear abuses by transnational corporations, or when the litigation is economically so out of reach for the majority of effected people, what other route is there for communities to seek justice? (The costs of the Canadian case was over a $100,000, although luckily it was all pro bono thanks to the law firm Klippensteins in Toronto.)
 
Communities understand, not only at a gut level but also through experience, that they are politically and legally outmatched by powerful corporations with deep pockets and decades of experience thwarting justice by manipulating the court systems. Rulings such as Ramirez vs. Copper Mesa only reaffirm this belief.

Therefore, many communities could read into the defeat of the lawsuit that their only practical (and affordable) solution to the threats that mining and other extractive industries pose on their rights, land and cultures lies in physically standing up to these projects – even at the risk of being labeled terrorists or saboteurs. Ramirez vs. Copper Mesa will reinforce the idea that direct, physical resistance is the only way to prevent community members from being murdered, indigenous cultures from being annihilated, and the environment from being decimated. This, at a time when special laws are being enacted in countries rich in natural resources, such as Ecuador, to judicially categorize acts of civil disobedience as terrorism. As of today, there are nearly 300 activists in Ecuador facing terrorism and sabotage charges for standing up to mining and other extractive activities that threaten the livelihood, or well-being of communities and the environment.  Over half of these targeted activists are indigenous, including the leaders of the most important indigenous groups in the country. Ironically enough, this happens in the context of Ecuador’s progressive Constitution, which recognizes that nature has rights, and that Ecuadorians have the right to a good life (Sumak Kawsay). Take away the only effective tool that communities and indigenous people have to protect these rights from transnational corporations and you have the making of a major, and sustained, human rights nightmare supported by the State.

This is why the court decision in Canada matters, not just in Ecuador, but throughout the world.

 
Carlos Zorrilla is director of DECOIN, Defensa y Conservación Ecológica de Intag (Intag Defense and Environmental Conservation). Cyril Mychalejko is an editor at www.UpsideDownWorld.org. He worked as a human rights observer in solidarity with the mining resistance in Intag.

Military Coups are Good for Canadian Business: The Canada-Honduras Free Trade Agreement March 4, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Foreign Policy, Honduras, Human Rights, Latin America.
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http://upsidedownworld.org/main/honduras-archives-46/2930-military-coups-are-good-for-canadian-business-the-canada-honduras-free-trade-agreement
       
Written by Todd Gordon   
Tuesday, 01 March 2011 20:51
 
Source: The Bullet
Last week Canadian negotiators met with their Honduran counterparts in Tegucigalpa to discuss a free trade agreement (FTA). Negotiators from the two countries last met in Ottawa in December. According to the Honduran press, an agreement is close to being completed. This marks an alarming development in the efforts of the Canadian state and multinational corporations to deepen their relations with Honduras following the military coup of June 28, 2009.

The trade agreement with Honduras is part of Canada’s broader political and economic engagement with Latin America, driven by the desire to “lock in market access” (to quote Foreign Affairs and International Trade’s economic policy strategy) in the region for Canadian corporations. Canadian companies have expanded into the region at a considerable pace over the last 20 years, particularly in mining and banking. Canada is now the third largest foreign investor nation throughout the hemisphere south of the United States. Control for the size of their respective economies, and Canadian companies have a higher investment orientation to the region than those of the United States.

Property Rights vs Human Rights

Trade agreements, with their strong protections for the rights of foreign investors, including the ability to sue governments, offer great security for the private property and profits of Canadian capitalists, human rights be damned. And indeed, signing trade agreements with gross violators of human rights is becoming a bit of an art form for the Canadian state. In 2008, Canada concluded trade agreements with Colombia and Peru. Colombia has the worst human rights record in the hemisphere, and accounts for two-thirds of the trade unionists assassinated in the world annually. The implementation legislation of the Peruvian agreement, meanwhile, was passed in the Canadian parliament two weeks after the Peruvian security forces attacked an indigenous blockade, killing at least 50 protesters. The blockade was set up to protest the Peruvian government’s free trade policies and its goal of opening indigenous land to mining and oil and gas investors.

And now Canada is about to sign an agreement with Honduras, whose citizens still live under the large and menacing shadow of the military coup against left-of-centre president, Manuel Zelaya. Concluding a trade agreement with Honduras is an important achievement for the Canadian state – payoff for the strong support it has given the Honduran coup forces centred among the country’s political, military and economic leaders.

Supporting a Coup, Again

The military removal of Zelaya was the second successful coup in the hemisphere since Peruvian leader Alberto Fujimori‘s autogolpe in 1992 (for background on the Honduran coup see Greg Grandin’s articles at www.thenation.com and my article “Acceptable Versus Unacceptable Repression“). The first successful one was the 2004 overthrow of Haitian president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, which Canada also supported diplomatically, economically and militarily (that’s Canada’s “whole of government” approach to foreign policy in action for you). This makes Canada two for two in successful coup support so far this century (and we’re only a decade in!).

Of course, the Canadian state hasn’t come out and said “we support the coup,” and nor should we expect it to. But it has ignored the well-documented repression meted out against the Frente Nacional de Resistencia Popular (“Frente”). It also argued against Zelaya’s return from exile before he snuck back into the country only to be holed up in the Brazilian embassy. It then criticized him for returning. Canada, along with its American counterparts, pushed the San José-Tegucigalpa Accord, which was signed by Zelaya and the coup forces and allowed for the ousted president’s return to office. But the return to office was on terms that would’ve effectively made him little more than a figurehead president unable to pursue his reform agenda had the coup forces actually followed through with the agreement, which they didn’t. That reform agenda was in fact fairly moderate. It did include, though, a proposed vote the day of the coup on whether to proceed with a referendum during presidential elections on establishing a constituent assembly to rewrite the constitution. The prospect of constitutional reform was the final straw for the country’s oligarchy and was consistently misrepresented by international media as a power grab.

Current President, Porfirio Pepe Lobo, subsequently won the sham election five months after the coup amidst ongoing repression of anti-coup media and the Frente, which boycotted the elections. International election observers refused to participate, arguing that there was no possible way free and fair elections could take place in such a situation. But Canada, despite initially stating it wouldn’t recognize the elections unless constitutional order had been restored, including the return of Zelaya to the presidency, quickly backtracked and hastily recognized the new Lobo regime. Most countries in Latin America still haven’t recognized the Honduran government.

Following the election, Canada has positioned itself, along with the U.S., as the Lobo regime’s biggest ally. It has pushed (thus far unsuccessfully) for Honduras’s reintegration into the Organization of American States and stressed at every opportunity that Honduras was entering a new period of democracy. This was made clear in press releases issued by Peter Kent when he was Minister of State for the Americas, and during Kent’s and Ambassador Neil Reeder’s various meetings with Honduran political and business leaders.

When the Lobo government, as part of its international public relations campaign to demonstrate its support for national reconciliation, established its Truth Commission to look into the events surrounding the coup, Canada quickly offered up financial support and a commission member. But the Truth Commission has been derided by human rights activists inside and outside of Honduras due to, among other things, the fact that repression is ongoing and the Frente is boycotting it. A network of Honduran human rights organizations, known as the Human Rights Platform, has established its own alternative truth commission. The Canadian member of Lobo’s Truth Commission, meanwhile, is former diplomat, Michael Kergin, who happens to be employed by one of Canada’s biggest corporate law firms, Bennett Jones, which just happens to specialize in investment law and mining.

As Canadian officials worked to improve Honduras’s public image, they pushed for stronger access to Honduran resources and protection for Canadian investors. Not long after Lobo’s election, Reeder and Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) head for Honduras, Daniel Arsenault, set to work arranging meetings between Canadian mining executives and Lobo and members of his cabinet. Reeder, Arsenault and other Canadian representatives also discussed with a Breakwater Resources executive possible strategies to influence the development of a new mining law for the country (which is still pending). Canadian porn mogul (of “Adult Video” fame) turned real estate developer, Randy Jorgensen, has also enjoyed direct access to Lobo in his quest to build retirement properties for Canadian snowbirds on contested Garifuna land on the country’s north coast.

Moving Toward a Trade Agreement

In August, 2010, Reeder was promoted (for job well done! no doubt) to Director General for Latin America and the Caribbean in Foreign Affairs and International Trade (FAIT). He was replaced by new Ambassador, Cameron Mackay. Mackay’s appointment was likely influenced by a desire to advance trade negotiations between Canada and Honduras. His CV for FAIT, which should give you a good idea of the role the Department envisions for the Canadian embassy, includes stints as a member of Canada’s Permanent Mission to the World Trade Organization; trade and economic relations officer; senior trade policy officer (WTO); Trade Policy and Planning Division; deputy director of the Regional Trade Policy Division; and director of regional trade policy for the Americas.

Honduras was originally part of the Central American Four (CA4) multilateral negotiations with Canada, which also included Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua. But having built up its political capital as an ardent ally of the coup and post-coup Honduran regimes, and knowing Lobo is a strong supporter of foreign investment and free markets, Canada started negotiating with Honduras independently of the rest of the CA4 this past December. Talks appear to be moving along fairly quickly.

Representatives of the mining industry excitedly talk up the opportunities for increased investment provided by a FTA. Exploration has stalled since Zelaya placed a moratorium on new exploration activities and in the absence of a new mining law. The president of La Asociación Nacional de Minería Metálica en Honduras (Anaminh), Santos Gabino Carbajal, says that “without a doubt it [the FTA] will increase investment.” He adds that 90% of investment in Honduras’s mining sector is Canadian.

Last January, 2010, Carlos Amador, an activist organizing against Goldcorp (a Toronto-based gold mining company with a shoddy rights record and assets in Honduras and beyond) told me that the majority of exploration permits waiting for the green light in Honduras belong to Canadian companies. An FTA is likely one important step in opening the floodgates to Canadian mining capital, and will almost certainly lead to a sharp increase in community-company conflict as small farmers, indigenous peoples, campesinos and others defend their land and ecologies from predatory Canadian mining multinationals.

Maquila investors are also touting the benefits of the FTA. Early in February, Canadian company Gildan Activewear, one of the largest T-shirt and sock manufacturers in the world, announced it was closing its last North American factory in Alabama, and that it would be investing more than $100-million (U.S.) in a new sock factory in Honduras. Gildan is one of the largest maquila investors in the country, with a track record of terrible working conditions and union busting. Gildan also had 7 meetings between June, 2010 and mid-January of this year alone with Canadian politicians and FAIT representatives, which were officially registered with Ottawa’s Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying and labelled under “International Trade.” (The official registry, it must be noted, obviously doesn’t record informal meetings and electronic communications between companies and state representatives, which are not infrequent).

Bloody Violence of the Lobo Regime

The FTA negotiations are rapidly moving forward despite ongoing human rights abuses in Honduras. According to the Comité de Familiares de Detenidos Desaparecidos en Honduras (Committee of Family Members of the Disappeared of Honduras, COFADEH), a leading human rights organization in the country, there were 1,071 documented violations of human rights (including arbitrary detentions, threats of physical harm, torture and assassinations) during the first four months alone of the Lobo regime. During Lobo’s first year – a year, Canada claims, of reconciliation and democratic renewal – there were 64 targeted assassinations of activists in the Frente.

As many as 20 campesinos in the Bajo Aguan organizing to regain land taken illegally from them by a wealthy landowner, Miguel Facussé, were assassinated in 2010 by police, the army and Facussé’s own security forces. Ten journalists were killed in 2010 – though the government claims the killings are unrelated to their work despite many being critics of the coup – leading Reporters Without Borders to declare Honduras to be one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists. And in the last year and half, 31 members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered community have been murdered, some of whom were known members of the Frente, while the community in general is known to oppose the coup.

These are not the signs of a country healing its post-coup wounds through a process of national reconciliation and dialogue. This is premeditated bloody vengeance against people who dare speak out against an illegitimate government. What we’re seeing is not the end of the coup and the return to democracy, but the consolidation of the coup and state terror under the shallow blood-stained veneer of democracy. And one of the Honduran government’s best allies, Canada, is about to conclude a free trade agreement with it.

In the case of the Colombian FTA, Canadian leaders, while downplaying the scale of the human rights catastrophe in the Andean nation, nevertheless were forced by critics of the Agreement into defensively arguing that the deal will improve human rights. An absurd claim, to be sure, since foreign investment in countries like Colombia and Honduras is based in part on the opportunities provided by the systematic repression of peoples’ rights. Mining companies, for example, benefit from the dispossession of campesinos or indigenous peoples of their land and resources. The trickle-down theory of human rights is about as historically accurate as the trickle-down theory of economics. But in the case of Honduras, Canadian officials say nothing about the repression of anti-coup, anti-mining or labour activists.

Toward a New Resistance

Clearly social justice and international solidarity activists in Canada have our work cut out for us. Not enough people (in Canada at least) know about Canadian political and economic connections to the Honduran coup forces, or of Canadian imperial practices in general.

But I’ve also met a lot of people in a number of Canadian cities in recent months who understand that Canada isn’t the benign defender of human rights on the international stage our leaders make it out to be. Some of these folks are already getting involved in solidarity work with people affected by Canadian mining multinationals, or are challenging the increasing presence of these companies on their campuses (such as the Goldcorp Centre for Contemporary Arts at Simon Fraser University or the Munck Centre for International Affairs at the University of Toronto). Some have been engaged in Haiti solidarity activism. In Toronto, a fledgling Honduras Solidarity Committee has been formed that is seeking to build a fight against the FTA and Canadian support for the Honduran coup forces.

Spaces are beginning to open up to challenge the various manifestations of Canadian imperialism. Conversations are slowly beginning between activists in different parts of the country about their work. Honduras needs to be part of that conversation, and part of our efforts to begin reaching new layers of people who are open to the idea of organizing against the plundering international activities of Canadian companies and the terrible foreign policy record of the state. The FTA isn’t fait accompli, even though we should expect the Liberals to side with the Tories and support it (as they did with the Colombian FTA). It still has to go through parliamentary hearings and debate. There is time, then, to organize, to raise awareness and to build solidarity with the people of Honduras. •

Todd Gordon teaches political science at York University. He is the author of the recently published Imperialist Canada. He can be reached at // <![CDATA[
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Ethical mining bill defeated after fierce lobbying October 28, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Human Rights, Foreign Policy.
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BILL CURRY

Ottawa— From Thursday’s Globe and Mail
Published Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2010 7:22PM EDT
Last updated Thursday, Oct. 28, 2010 12:09PM EDT

The House of Commons has defeated Liberal legislation aimed at encouraging Canadian mining firms to act ethically abroad after a fierce lobbying battle that pitted the industry against its international and domestic critics.

Human rights and environmental advocates had argued that the bill would help prevent corporate abuses abroad and recounted accusations of rape, corruption and violence against the industry during parliamentary hearings.

More related to this story

Mining firms called the allegations disturbing lies and “hogwash” when they presented their case against the bill. Industry officials said ethical guidelines are already in place and warned the measures would cost jobs and give their critics a forum for frivolous accusations.

The Corporate Accountability of Mining, Oil and Gas Corporations in Developing Countries Act, a private member’s bill, was defeated 140-134 on Wednesday evening because not enough opposition MPs showed up to support it.

The bill was put forward by Liberal MP John McKay in response to persistent stories about conflict between Canadian mining companies abroad and local populations. Even though it was sponsored by a Liberal, 13 of Mr. McKay’s colleagues did not attend the vote. Four NDP MPs, primarily from mining-dependent ridings, were also absent.

The federal registry of lobbyists shows dozens of meetings took place over the past year as the Mining Association of Canada and individual mining firms knocked on doors of cabinet ministers, public servants and opposition MPs to express concern over the bill.

It was a large amount of lobbying for a bill from a backbench opposition MP.

“The lobbying from industry has been massive,” said Mr. McKay, the Scarborough-Guildwood MP. “The amount of money they have been spending on killing this bill is extraordinary.”

The legislation would have forced the government to create guidelines on corporate accountability standards for Canadian mining, oil or gas activities based on human rights, social, health and safety and environmental standards.

It would have also set up a system in which any individual could file a complaint with the Canadian government, which could dismiss it if it found it to be frivolous, or investigate and publish a written report. Mining companies had argued that the complaint process could tie up investment and time unnecessarily. Mr. McKay said he was disappointed by the vote and does not expect the issue will be dealt with again in the current Parliament. The mining and prospectors industry praised the result and stressed that it already has strong rules for the overseas operations of Canadian-based mining companies.

Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff, who had said earlier in the day that the bill had problems, was among the 13 Liberals not in the House for the vote. Canadian investment in mining and energy abroad is worth about $80-billion a year and more than 75 per cent of the world’s exploration and mining companies are headquartered in Canada.

Yet powerful forces also lined up to support the legislation.

Six hours before Wednesday’s vote, Mr. McKay e-mailed all MPs in the Commons with a letter of support from U.S. Democratic Senator Ben Cardin, who said the bill is similar to new measures included in the Wall Street Financial Reform package approved this year by Congress.

Ecuador: Mining and the Right of Way April 9, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Ecuador, Environment, First Nations.
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Written by Jennifer Moore   

 

www.upsidedownworld.org, Wednesday, 25 March 2009

 

ImageIndigenous leaders delivered a lawsuit in Quito last Tuesday before Ecuador’s Constitutional Court asking that the country’s new mining law be declared unconstitutional. The case is the next step that the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) is taking to try to put the brakes on large scale metal mining which has achieved unwavering support from President Rafael Correa’s administration.

“The burning issue in our province and on our ancestral territories is mining,” said Angel Awak, President of the Shuar Federation of Zamora Chinchipe. “It is going to contaminate the rivers and result in social conflict.”

Ecuador has been an oil producer for more than forty years. Now that oil reserves are running low, the Correa administration views metal mining as a future source of state revenues. However, even before any large scale project has reached production, indigenous and non-indigenous communities alike are divided over whether it will result in net benefits or net destruction.

CONAIE’s lawsuit alleges that the mining law is unconstitutional for having failed to consult with indigenous organizations whose territories will be affected by the activity. It also criticizes as “absurd” a final disposition in the law that defines it as superior to others.

“The constitution clearly states that organic laws (the highest category of laws in Ecuador before international conventions and the political constitution) can only include those that regulate personal rights or norms pertaining to state institutions,” explained Lawyer Wilton Guaranda from the Regional Human Rights Advisory Foundation in Quito, and one of the signatories on the case.

With this legal status, Guaranda believes that the mining law becomes a “barrier” limiting judicial decisions and the development of new laws, such as those to regulate water and nature.

Awak’s biggest concern is water, a right achieved in the 2008 political constitution that Ecuadorians overwhelmingly approved in September and that government representatives affirmed this week during the Fifth World Water Forum in Turkey.

“Mining companies consume millions of liters of water,” said Awak, “which effectively privatizes it.” He envisions that the precious resource could become scarce and speculates that they will end up having to buy back water from the companies. “We will struggle so that our water is not privatized.”

ImageHowever, Canadian companies situated in Awak’s home province and hoping to develop some of Ecuador’s biggest gold and copper deposits have already secured government approval. The same day that CONAIE presented its lawsuit, both Vancouver-based Corriente Resources and Toronto-based Kinross announced that they have received notice fromthe Ministry of Mines and Petroleum to resume exploration work following a suspension on all large scale mining.

From chaos to closer alignment between Correa and Canadian interests

“The rules of the game are clear for everyone now,” Undersecretary of Mines Jose Serrano said speaking to Reuters. “The mining decree has been fulfilled…it can’t be revived.”1

But what is most clear is the importance of Canadian investment to Correa.

All large scale mining was suspended last April when the National Constituent Assembly passed a mining decree that ordered the Ministry of Mines and Petroleum to revoke most mineral concessions for reasons such as failure to consult with communities, or for overlap with protected natural areas and sources of water. It also gave the government 180 days to rewrite the mining law.

At the time, Correa met with Canadian investors and explained that the decree was necessary “to put the sector in order,” which had been open to speculation and weak regulation since legal reforms were implemented following a World Bank sponsored study in the 1990s.

But in addition to the controversy that the new law has generated, application of the mining mandate has also been limited. Most notably, Copper Mesa Mining (formerly Ascendant Copper Corporation) in the northwestern Intag valley lost two of its main concessions for failure to consult with local communities. In contrast, companies such as IAMGOLD, Corriente, Kinross, and International Minerals maintain key holdings in the south despite heated conflicts over similar complaints.

In the case of Corriente Resources, its suspension dates back to late 2006 when violent repression of local protests was carried out by state security forces making use of company installations. With such issues yet to be fully investigated and Corriente now on the verge of selling its project to an industry senior, Correa continues courting Canadian business leaders.

With assistance from the Canadian Embassy, investors met with Correa in February to discuss how to deepen relations across various sectors including mining, tourism and hydroelectric generation – also necessary for large scale mining. Correa gushed to the national press afterward saying that “Canada has always been a good friend of Ecuador.”

In a possible new offense to delegitimize the CONAIE, he added that he has invited Canadian Ambassador Christian Lapointe to bring indigenous leaders from Canada to Ecuador “so that they can testify for themselves, because here some of the leaders of our ancestors have taken up the flag of anti-mining.” He called such leaders “false” adding “they are just radical indigenous leaders,”2 even if they represent about 90 percent of first peoples across Ecuador.3

“In the mining sector,” he added, “they are the best investments, they respect the environment and our laws the best.”4 This simplistic claim is backed up with images of Ecuador’s small scale and artisanal miningsector which is short on investment and environmental controls, and long on devastating impacts to rivers and local communities.

Top-of-the-line technology will prevent any future disasters, he argues, echoing industry promises while calling activist concerns over watercontamination “absurd.”5

Foolproof technology?

But groups protesting large scale metal mining have heard these promises before.

“We will use the latest technology…[and] The steel being used meets international norms…which will diminish the risk of rupture in case of seismic movements,” recalled Quito-based environmental organization Accion Ecologica in a press release entitled: “You were warned, the OCP spill confirms that secure technology does not exist.”6

The privately-owned Heavy Crude Pipeline (OCP) was built in 2003 after years of multi-sector opposition. As another major contract that benefitted Canadian investors, the OCP faced its first major accident on February 25. The company says a tremor caused the spill which dumped approximately 14,000 barrels of oil into the Santa Rosa river in Orellana Province.

The pipeline travels from the Amazon region to the coast, crossing 94 seismic fault lines and 6 active volcanoes.7 Designed to boost oil production previously limited by the capacity of the state-owned SOTE pipeline, Canada’s EnCana was the country’s biggest investor at the time of its construction with a 31.4 percent share in the $1.2 billion project.8

For lawyer Wilton Guaranda “the accident is clear evidence that the geographic and natural conditions of Ecuadorian territory are not compatible with such a highly contaminating and toxic activity.” He added that the CONAIE is considering a lawsuit against the OCP consortium.

“This event should be cause for reflection so that a much more critical examination takes place of the natural reality of Ecuadorian territory to really determine the costs and benefits of [mining],” said Guaranda, “not just in relationship to the environment but alsowith regard to its social dimensions to know whether or not in the long term it will provide us with the opportunity for development and progress, or if this will become a barrier so that we have to obtain international loans or other debts in order to recuperate the nature that has been affected.”

So far, Minister of Mines and Petroleum Derlis Palacios has congratulated company remediation efforts while asking social organizations to be “a little more objective with the hope that certain communities or leaders don’t try to benefit from this misfortune by making a business out of it.”9


Good living before big business

But for communities living in constant conflict over mining whose benefits and protections are stacked on the side of big business, leaders like Angel Awak are trying to avoid unnecessary risk.

Awak sees greater potential in ecotourism and micro-credit programs for small farmers over the long term and adds that their wealth and well being is in their territory: “When the Shuar have territory, they have everything they need, they can hunt, they can fish, they have the river and all of the elements that are necessary for the Shuar to live well. This is what we want to defend so that our youth are also conscious of this and work to defend the natural environment.”

Explaining that this is what “Sumak Kawsay” or right living means for the future of the Shuar nation, he said the government should be behind them.

“We are not saying anything beyond the law. Rather we are demanding that our rights be respected within the framework of the constitution,” he said, noting that Sumak Kawsay is a central principle of Ecuador’s new Carta Magna.

However, given Correa’s current stance and his likely success in upcoming national elections at the end of April, social-environmental conflicts over mining are anticipated to grow with groups promising to halt projects at the local level. A response from the Constitutional Court to the CONAIE’s lawsuit is anticipated within six to twelve months.

Notes:

1. Reuters, 10 Mar 09 “Ecuador lifts ban on miners, sees them as priority”

2. President Rafael Correa, National Radio Address, 31 Jan 09

3. Kintto Lucas, IPS 22 Jan 09, “Los indigenas vuelvan al camino de la protesta” http://www.ipsnoticias.net/nota.asp?idnews=91081

4. El Comercio, 19 Feb 09 “Ecuador desea la inversion Canadiense”

5. President Rafael Correa, National Radio Address, 18 Oct 08

6. See: http://www.biodiversidadla.org/content/view/full/47723

7. Lorna Li, June 25th 2007, “Ecuador’s OCP Pipeline – A False Promise of Wealth”

8. Dr. Leslie Jermyn, 2002 “In Whose Interest? Canadian interests and the OCP crude oil pipeline in Ecuador”

9. EFE, Mar 5th 2009 “El ministro Palacios habla del buen manejo en la solución al derrame de crudo en la Amazonia”

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