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The Fight to Keep Toxic Mining—and the World Bank—Out of El Salvador September 24, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in El Salvador, Environment, Latin America, Water.
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Roger’s note: Free trade agreements between North American industrialized nations and third world Latin American nations are inherently unequal and designed to promote and protect mega-corporate interests.  Specifically, they enshrine in law the right to capital investment regardless of damaging effects to workers and to the environment.  Corporate and military interests on both sides of the “partnership” use their clout over (ownership of?) the respective governments to enter into these legally binding agreements.  The NAFTA agreement between the U.S., Canada and Mexico has had the effect of destroying small corn farming in Mexico,which is in part responsible for the massive migration of Mexicans to the U.S.  Cf. my 2003 article in the L.A. Times:  http://articles.latimes.com/2003/nov/20/opinion/oe-hollander20

 

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Hundreds of protesters recently gathered at the World Bank to shame a gold mining firm’s shakedown of one of Central America’s poorest countries.

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elsalvadormining-a
Complete with a giant inflatable fat cat, protesters rally outside the World Bank in support of El Salvador’s right to ban toxic mining along its principal watershed. (Photo: Ron Carver / Institute for Policy Studies)

For miners, investors, and artisans, few things are more precious than gold. But for human life itself, nothing is more precious than water.

Just ask the people of El Salvador.

Nearly 30 years ago, the Wisconsin-based Commerce Group Corp purchased a gold mine near the San Sebastian River in El Salvador and contaminated the water. Now, according to Lita Trejo, a native Salvadoran and school worker in Washington, DC, the once clear river is orange. The people who drink from the arsenic-polluted river, she says, are suffering from kidney failure and other diseases.

On September 15, Trejo and more than 200 protestors—including Salvadoran immigrants, Catholic priests, trade unionists, and environmentalists—gathered in front of the World Bank to support El Salvador’s right to keep its largest river from suffering the same fate as the San Sebastian River. The event was co-sponsored by a raft of organizations, including the Institute for Policy Studies, Oxfam America, the AFL-CIO, the Teamsters, Friends of the Earth, the Sierra Club, and the Council of Canadians, among others. Over the past few weeks, similar protests have taken place in El Salvador, Canada, and Australia.

Mining for gold is not nearly so neat and clean as the harmless panning many Americans learned about as kids. Speakers pointed out that gold mining firms use the toxic chemical cyanide to separate gold from the surrounding rock, which then leaches into the water and the soil. And they use large quantities of water in the mining process—a major problem for El Salvador in particular, which has been described as “the most water-stressed country in Central America.” Confronted by a massive anti-mining movement in the country, three successive Salvadoran administrations have refused to approve new gold mining operations.

That’s where the story should end. But it’s far from over.

An Australian-Canadian mining company, OceanaGold, is suing the Salvadoran government for refusing to grant it a gold-mining permit to its subsidiary, Pacific Rim. Manuel Pérez-Rocha, a researcher at the Institute for Policy Studies, explained the situation: “Oceana Gold is demanding more than $300 million from El Salvador. They are saying, ‘If you do not let us operate in your country the way we want, you must pay us for the profits that you prevented us from making.’”

That sounds absurd, but it’s true: The company is claiming that under the Central American Free Trade Agreement, it has the right to sue the Salvadoran government for passing a law that threatens its bottom line.

El Salvador is now defending its decision to prevent Oceana Gold/Pacific Rim from operating the “El Dorado” mine near the Lempa River before the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes, a little-known World Bank-based tribunal.

As several protesters pointed out, El Salvador’s decision is grounded in its need to protect its limited water supply. More than 90 percent of the surface water supply in El Salvador is already contaminated, and more than 50 percent of the country’s 6.3 million people depend on the Lempa River watershed for their water.

Francisco Ramirez, a Salvadoran who grew up in Cabañas, the region where the El Dorado mine would operate, spoke from experience about this reality. “If you look at the contaminated rivers in El Salvador, there are no fish left in the water. Not even toads, which are usually resistant to certain levels of contamination, can survive. We do not want that contamination to spread,” Ramirez proclaimed.

Ana Machado, a Salvadoran member of the immigrant rights group Casa de Maryland, another co-sponsor of the event, added: “The Lempa River is the main drinking source and an important source of livelihood for a majority of people in my country, including my family. They fish there. They clean their clothes there. If the company contaminates the river, Salvadoran life as we know it will end.”

Another Salvadorian immigrant and organizer with Casa de Virginia, Lindolfo Carballo, linked this lawsuit to larger struggles over sovereignty and immigrant rights. “This country created institutions to legally rob its Southern neighbor,” he said, referring to the “free-trade” provisions that permit corporations to sue governments over public safety regulations they don’t like. “And after they rob us of our natural resources, after they contaminate our water and land, they tell us that we are undocumented, that we are ‘illegals,’ and that we have no right to be in this country. They have no right to throw us out of the United States if they are robbing us of the resources we need to survive in our own country,” he alleged.

John Cavanagh, Director of the Institute for Policy Studies, explained the goal of the protest: “We are saying to OceanaGold: ‘Drop the suit. Go home.’ To the World Bank, we say: ‘Evict this unjust tribunal. It deepens poverty and stomps on democracy and basic rights.’” Cavanagh pledged to continue pressing the company to back down, promising that protesters would return to the World Bank in larger numbers when the tribunal makes its ruling in 2015.

Diana Anahi Torres-Valverde is the New Mexico Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studiesin Washington, DC.

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?

‘Massacre’: Scores of Amazon Indigenous Tribe Members Killed by Miners August 30, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Brazil, Environment, Latin America, Mining, Venezuela.
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Roger’s note: profits from the extraction of valuable metals by miners versus human lives.  Who wins?

Published on Thursday, August 30, 2012 by Common Dreams

 

Up to 80 Yanomami in Venezuela killed by Brazilian gold miners

– Common Dreams staff

As many as 80 Yanomami Indians have been killed in a “massacre” carried out by unauthorized gold miners from Brazil, leaving charred remains of a community and polluted rivers in its wake.

Survival International, a London-based groups that works for tribal peoples’ rights worldwide, says that the massacre took place in July but news of the event is only coming to light now due to the community’s remote location in Venezuela’s Momoi region close to the border with Brazil.

The Guardian reports on the details of the massacre: “According to local testimonies an armed group flew over in a helicopter, opening fire with guns and launching explosives into Irotatheri settlement in the High Ocamo area. The village was home to about 80 people and only three had been accounted for as survivors, according to people from a neighbouring village and indigenous rights activists.”

Witnesses who saw the aftermath of the massacre reported seeing “burnt bodies and bones” and a burnt communal home.

Luis Shatiwe Yanomami, a leader of the Yanomami organization Horonami, told Survival International that the problem of illegal mining has been ongoing. “‘For three years we have been denouncing the situation. There are lots of goldminers working illegally in the forest.”

Luis Bello, a lawyer in Puerto Ayacucho who defends indigenous rights, says that these mining activities are on the rise and “have also become more sophisticated. They used to fly in and land in clandestine strips, now they come in helicopters and use huge extracting machinery that is decimating the jungle.”

Survival International says that the number of unauthorized gold miners in Yanomami territory now number 1,000. When they come, they bring diseases like malaria to the isolated tribe. The mining itself is devastating to the local environment, as it pollutes rivers with mercury. On top of the mining, the tribe faces threats from cattle ranchers who bring deforestation to the rainforest.

“This is another appalling tragedy for the Yanomami – heaping crime upon crime. All Amazonian governments must stop the rampant illegal mining, logging and settlement in indigenous territories. It inevitably leads to massacres of Indian men, women and children. The Venezuelan authorities must now bring the killers to swift justice, and send a signal throughout the region that Indians can no longer be killed with impunity. The mining and logging must be stopped,” said Stephen Corry, Director of Survival International

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.

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.

Ethical mining bill defeated after fierce lobbying October 28, 2010

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

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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.

Taking stock of Canada’s mining industry: Landmark lawsuit against the Toronto Stock Exchange could strip Canadian mining companies of impunity May 11, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Ecuador, Energy, Environment, Latin America.
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May 5, 2010 in Briarpatch Articles, May/June 2010: Foreign policy |

 By Jennifer Moore
Briarpatch Magazine
May/June 2010

Marcia Ramírez hopes to set a precedent in Canadian courts that will benefit peasant farmers and indigenous peoples across the Global South.

A community leader in her mid-20s, Ramírez is one of three Ecuadorian plaintiffs suing the Toronto Stock Exchange for over $1.5 billion. The lawsuit alleges that violence in their rural community could have been avoided had the TSX not listed the Copper Mesa Mining Corporation (formerly Ascendant Copper), which is also named in the lawsuit. The TSX Group and TSX Inc. are accused of causing or materially contributing to alleged violence committed by the company in response to local opposition to an open-pit copper mine. An environmental impact study had indicated that the mine would displace several communities and jeopardize the health of forests and rivers in the northwestern valley of Intag. The defendants have vigorously denied the allegations.

“I ask the noble people of Canada,” Ramírez stated in her comments when the civil suit was filed 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.”

The TSX is a principal source of global mining financing today and specializes in services for junior mining companies like Copper Mesa. According to the Mining Association of Canada, 55 per cent of the world’s publicly traded mining companies were listed on the TSX at the end of 2008, far more than any other stock exchange. Canadian stock exchanges also provided 31 per cent of the world’s mining equity and handled 81 per cent of financing transactions for the global mining industry between 2004 and 2009.

In Latin America, a prime target for Canadian mining investments, Canadian-listed companies operate roughly 1,400 projects and have been the focal point of widespread protests and human rights abuses throughout the region. Just in the past year, anti-mining activists have been reported killed in Mexico, El Salvador and Guatemala in presumed relation to Canadian projects. In Argentina and Honduras, Canadian operations have led to complaints of water scarcity, contamination and illness. In Peru, a Canadian mining oper­ation has provoked opposition among northern Amazonian peoples who question why a national park intended to protect their territory was reduced by half, giving miners access to pristine forests in headwaters of great importance to them. Alleged human rights violations and abuses by such companies are seldom investigated and almost never brought to justice.

 

“Mining companies are prohibited here,” reads the sign. “We don’t sell our lands, we defend them.”

As a result, Canadian mining companies have developed a reputation for human rights violations and environmental devastation that even the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racism has complained about. Members of the Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability were also dismayed when the government released a belated response to a series of public recommendations on the Canadian overseas extractive industry in March 2009 that only reaffirmed its commitment to the status quo: voluntary Corporate Social Responsibility guidelines. The government’s position “falls far short of international human rights norms,” said Amnesty International. KAIROS, a faith-based organization advocating for human rights, ecological and ecumenical justice, complained that Canada leaves “mining-affected communities with no recourse.” MiningWatch added that the government’s complaint mechanism “undermines the principle of independent fact-finding.” One survey of Canadian mining companies has also demonstrated that adherence to international standards by our overseas extractive industry is “inordinately” low, especially among junior mining companies.

In other words, voluntary principles are not enough.

Intag, Ecuador, says no

The Ecuadorian community of Intag has a long history of opposition to large-scale copper mining, beginning with the expulsion of a Japanese mining company in the 1990s. In 1997, Bishi Metals left the area when locals balked after obtaining a copy of its environmental impact assessment, which detailed how its projected open-pit mine would cause deforestation, dry up rivers and displace at least four local communities.

Following this victory, Intag continued organizing, aware that although Bishi was gone, the copper remained. Various initiatives were undertaken to demonstrate that Intag could live without mining, including a local conservation organization, an ecotourism project, a women’s committee, a committee of all the rural parishes in the valley, a coffee co-operative, a community newspaper, a local radio station and a community development association.

By the time Copper Mesa acquired mineral rights in Intag in 2004, it was local organizations rather than the technical challenges of working in the remote area that would prove to be its greatest obstacle. As a result of the strong collective response, the company never managed to get a drill in the ground.

According to Polivio Pérez, president of the Community Development Council for the rural parish in which Copper Mesa’s project is situated, “the company came in trying to buy support and divide the communities” in an effort to weaken local resistance. When it could not gain enough support, he continues, “they tried to enter by force.”

Prior to listing the company in 2005, the TSX was warned that violence and human rights abuses could result from facilitating access to capital. Human rights abuses had already been documented by the well-respected Ecumenical Human Rights Commission in Quito (CEDHU), including physical mistreatment, death threats, persecution, slander, false charges against community leaders and intimidation. Such concerns motivated the county mayor to write a letter to the finance and audit committee of the TSX urging them not to list the company. The company’s own prospectus, which the stock exchange requires of companies before they are listed, also indicated “the potential of further escalating violence” given existing problems with its community relations in Intag.

It was no surprise, then, that things heated up once the company was listed and started raising funds.

The worst incident, both Ramírez and Pérez agree, occurred in December 2006 when heavily armed security guards were hired to reach the company’s mineral claims and set up camp.

Villagers blocked the only access road to the potential mining site with a single-link chain and stood guard. A sign posted on a nearby tree read: “Mining companies are prohibited here. We don’t sell our land, we defend it.”

The residents, including men, women and children, refused to let the private security agents pass. But the guards were impervious to their arguments and began to fire their weapons and to spray Ramírez and others at close range with tear gas. Israel Pérez, the third plaintiff in the case and Polivio’s brother, was shot and injured in the leg.

In response, local residents successfully carried out a peaceful citizen’s arrest and the guards were held in a local church for several days until local authorities arrived. “Despite being assaulted with tear gas and bullets,” says Polivio Pérez, “we were able to demonstrate once again the strength of our local organization and our decisiveness [against mining] here.”

The incident was captured on film by two German journalism students and is featured in Malcolm Rogge’s 2008 film Under Rich Earth. Ultimately, government authorities suspended the project and declared that they were unable to process the company’s environmental impact assessment.

Months later, after company directors had been personally informed about the December events and persisting tensions, individuals believed to be linked to the company assaulted and uttered death threats against Polivio Pérez. The statement of claim for the lawsuit alleges that the directors could have done more to avoid further confrontations, such as actually signing and implementing the “Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights” that the company publicly purported to respect.

Challenging Canada’s “judicial paradise”

The Toronto-based Klippenstein legal firm, best known for its defence of the Dudley George family against the province of Ontario, is representing the Ecuadorian villagers in their suit against the TSX and Copper Mesa. Their lawsuit, Murray Klippenstein says, seeks “the same level of corporate accountability that is expected in all other areas of Canadian life.” He anticipates a tough battle.

In 1997, the last time a mining company was sued in Canada, the plaintiffs were told to go elsewhere. Twenty-three thousand Guyanese villagers filed a class-action lawsuit against Cambior after the collapse of its tailings dam at the Omai Mine, which polluted their water supply. But the Quebec Superior Court ruled that it was not the best jurisdiction for the case. When the suit was later filed in Guyana, it was dismissed and the plaintiffs were ordered to pay the defendant’s legal costs.

In order to address jurisdictional issues, explains Klippenstein, the Intag lawsuit focuses on decisions that stock exchange and company executives made in Ontario, “rather than on the finger that pulled the trigger in Ecuador.”

This aspect of the legal strategy appears to be working. The Toronto lawyer says that the TSX and Copper Mesa have decided not to challenge the Ontario court jurisdiction. This puts them one step ahead and potentially trims years off the time they might have spent in legal battles before going to trial.

However, it is not just the reticence of Canadian courts to deal with cases of abuse beyond our own borders that this case aims to confront, but also the skittishness of an entire industry to subject itself to legal oversight.

Given the weak reporting requirements for listing on the TSX and the lack of relevant legislation in Canada, author Alain Deneault calls Canada a “judicial paradise” for our overseas mining industry. “Listing on the Toronto Stock Exchange,” writes Deneault, who co-authored an exposé of Canadian mining abuses in Africa entitled Noir Canada, “is a way of seeking shelter in one of the more permissive stock exchanges in the world, while taking advantage of the reputation of the rule of law in Canada – all the while knowing that one is outside of state control and regulation when operating overseas.”

The Toronto Stock Exchange openly markets itself to companies hoping to work in areas with weak governmental institutions and vulnerability to conflict and violence. Its own online promotional materials give the example of the Democratic Republic of Congo as one potential site for which it can help companies raise financing.

In other words, the Intag lawsuit is just the tip of the iceberg. Just as Klippenstein’s legal team will argue that members of Copper Mesa’s board of directors and the TSX had significant prior indications that further violence and human rights abuses could result from listing Copper Mesa Mining, it is highly possible that a plethora of other such cases exist for which this lawsuit could set an important precedent. Coincidentally, the same year that Copper Mesa was listed, La Presse reported that another junior mining company was allegedly implicated in the massacre of about 100 Congolese civilians.

Great expectations

MiningWatch Canada is a coalition of 18 faith, social justice, indigenous and union organizations. Communications and Outreach Coordinator Jamie Kneen told Briarpatch that if the lawsuit succeeds it could really “open the door” for other communities that have been harmed as a result of Canadian mining operations. From the Congo to Papua New Guinea to Guatemala, people who have faced illegal land appropriations, forced relocation, water contamination, threats or even murder could sue.

The lack of suitable mechanisms for addressing such disputes in Canada has also drawn the attention of parliamentarians and legal experts. Recently, Supreme Court Justice Ian Binnie, speaking at the 2008 Canadian Bar Association conference, urged Canada to draw up new legislation that would provide a forum for foreign citizens and companies to have such cases heard. In the spring of 2009, two Members of Parliament initiated attempts at legislative reform by tabling private member’s bills. NDP MP Peter Julian’s Bill C-354 aimed to replicate the U.S. Alien Tort Claims Act, which allows foreign citizens to fight global human rights violations in U.S. courts, while Liberal MP John McKay’s Bill C-300 would make public financing for the extractive industry subject to government oversight. Up against a fierce industry lobby and government opposition, both bills were stalled when Parliament was prorogued.

“It’s not fair,” says Ramírez, “that a foreign company comes onto our land and violates our rights, when all we want is to live in a clean environment and to defend our water and our land.” She hopes, after the procedural battles are over, for a cathartic day in court when “the stock exchange will listen and understand that we’ve been hurt by a company of theirs.”

Ramírez, the other plaintiffs and the legal team will face a tough fight. But the underlying principle of their case is straightforward, says Klippenstein: “You shouldn’t harm somebody and you shouldn’t use your money to hire someone whom you know is likely to do harm” – a golden rule that Canadians would likely agree to in any other circumstances.

However, only time will tell whether Canadian courts are prepared to hear Ramírez’s voice and those of many others calling for a 180-degree turnaround in a sector rife with human rights and environmental abuses.

The Two Sides of Rafael Correa’s Government January 14, 2009

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“From the Equator, from this territory that harbored the Bolivarian struggles, we have come to the Ciudad Libertad to express our jubilation at these past fifty years. And we do so with the same conviction that led us to establish, in our own land, one of the most advanced constitutions in Latin America.

“We have come from this continent reinforced and revived by the social memory that is permitting us to settle the scores of history.

“This settling of scores begins with the genuine vindication of the indigenous population, pillaged, exploited, humiliated, offended and, paradoxically, also used and manipulated. For that reason, today, the Ecuadorian state is pluri-national, it is intercultural, and pursues equality in its diversity; in other words, the most authentic execution of true democracy…In the same way, with the African-Ecuadorian people which, like the Cuban people, are the drum and the flag of our homeland.”

Excerpt from speech by His Excellency Mr. Rafael Correa Delgado, president of the Republic of Ecuador, at the commemoration event for the 50th anniversary of the entry of Commander in Chief Fidel Castro into Havana, at Ciudad Libertad, January 8

and

Ecuador Anti-Mining Blockades Met With Repression, National Mobilization Called for January 20

Written by Daniel Denvir for UpsideDownWorld, Photographs by Ximena Warnaars
Friday, 09 January 2009

ImageThe ongoing conflict over mining in Ecuador escalated this week as blockades shut down highways throughout the country’s Southern Andean highlands and Amazon rainforest, while nationwide protests have been called for January 20.

The government of President Rafael Correa has assumed an aggressive posture, insulting indigenous and environmental activists and pledging to secure approval for a controversial new Mining Law. Canadian companies hold the majority of mining concessions in Ecuador and are pressing for a new law that would allow for large-scale, open pit metal mining.

ImageA number of leaders have been arrested and other protesters were beaten and shot at by police. Campesino and indigenous protesters, who depend on clean water to farm and for drinking water, are demanding that the government shelve President Rafael Correa’s proposed Mining Law, saying that it would be a social and environmental disaster. The rural blockades follow months of regular protests in Quito and other parts of the country.

Protesters also argue that the law contradicts important provisions of the new constitution protecting water, the environment and indigenous peoples’ rights. The document drew international attention for awarding legal rights to nature. The new constitution, approved by popular referendum in September, is the centerpiece of Correa’s first term.

After emergency meetings on January 7, the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) called for a national mobilization on January 20, calling the government “dictatorial.” It is unclear whether the January 20 mobilization will spread road blockades to other provinces in central and northern Ecuador. Protesters are demanding a dialogue with central government leaders and for a broad national discussion on mining before any legislation is passed.

Some protesters in the Southern provinces of Zamora Chinchipe and Morona Santiago suspended their blockades for 24 hours in response to the provincial governor’s promise to reach out to Francisco Cordero, the President of the Congresillo, Ecuador’s interim legislature. Other blockades were suspended in anticipation of the nationwide actions.

The blockades began on Monday January 5 in the Southern province of Azuay, cutting off much of the traffic into and out of Cuenca, Ecuador’s third largest city. Over the next few days, the protests spread to the neighboring Andean province of Loja and to the Amazonian provinces of Zamora Chinchipe and Morona Santiago.

ImageIn Giron, Molleturo, Tarqui (Azuay), Limon Indanza (Morona Santiago) and in El Pangui (Zamora Chinchipe) protestors have been beaten or shot by police. Police officials and journalists were released after being briefly detained by campesinos.

On January 6, campesino leader Vicente Zhunio Samaniego was arrested in the Southern province of Morona Santiago, showing up 16 hours later in a hospital with bullet wounds to the head. On January 7, protest leader Miguel Ángel Criollo and his son Orlando were arrested in an early morning raid on the village of Pueblo Nuevo in Azuay province. The newspaper El Universo reports that over fifty police officers from the Special Operations Group (GOE) took part in the raid. When villagers tried to defend the Criollos from arrest, police fired tear gas, forcing the evacuation of a local school.

In the city of Cuenca, police violently repressed protests at the Court of Justice. As six leaders began a hunger strike inside the building, the police attacked a press conference taking place outside the building, arresting Water Board leader Carlos Pérez Guartambel. Police used tear gas to disperse protesters attempting to defend Pérez. Police then forced hunger strikers and four women supporting them out of the Court building, dragging them by their necks. The governor of Azuay denied that Pérez was arrested, and he was freed later that day. The six hunger strikers are now in Cuenca’s San Roque Church.

According to the newspaper El Comercio, Minister of Mines and Petroleum Derlis Palacios said that the government would push forward with the Mining Law. Palacios said that Ecuador “was a poor country that could not afford to just sit on these large resources.” He added that protests were the result of manipulation by indigenous leaders who mislead community members by claiming that mining would harm their access to clean water. Palacios said that the new law would ensure that water sources are protected. Congresillo President Cordero told El Comercio that protesters were using the demonstrations to advance electoral ambitions.

The CONAIE condemned the government’s description of protesters as “criminals and subversive terrorists,” saying that “the only thing we are fighting for is life and dignity for all of Ecuador’s citizens.” The CONAIE that such comments are aimed “to stigmatize [protesters] and prepare public opinion for even more severe repression.”

Correa is coming into increasing conflict with social and indigenous movement activists. On Thursday January 8, the United Labor Front (FUT), Ecuador’s largest labor federation, announced mass protests for a higher minimum wage increase for January 15. They say that Correa’s proposed increase of $18 a month, to $218, is a step back and fails to meet provisions in the new constitution ensuring that all Ecuadorians are paid a living wage.


Ximena Warnaars is an anthropologist and PhD student from the University of Manchester, UK living in Cuenca, Ecuador. Daniel Denvir is a Quito, Ecuador based journalist in the process of moving to Philadelphia, and a 2008 recipient of NACLA’s Samuel Chavkin Investigative Journalism Grant. He is an editor at www.caterwaulquarterly.com.

 

 

Indigenous anti-mining protests hit Ecuador January 7, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Ecuador, Environment, Latin America.
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Daniel Denvir    www.upsidedownworld.org
Wednesday, 07 January 2009
  Source: Indian Country Today

On Dec. 21, more than a thousand indigenous and campesino activists marched to the Ecuadorian National Assembly in opposition to President Rafael Correa’s proposed mining law. In the Southern Province of Azuay, campesinos blocked a number of highways, resisting police efforts to dislodge them. Protesters said that large-scale mining would damage Ecuador’s environment and pollute rural communities’ water.

The Mining Law, currently under debate in the provisional National Assembly, or Congresillo, would replace the Mining Mandate passed in May of this year. The Mandate froze mining operations and revoked a number of concessions to foreign corporations. The law would create a National Mining Company and increase state control over foreign corporations, which are largely Canadian. But the law would also allow mining to take place anywhere, including in protected areas and sharply limit community input.

In Quito, buses arrived from throughout the country to protest the mining law. Marching to the National Assembly, protesters clashed with police, who used pepper spray to push back activists intent on meeting with legislators. A small delegation was allowed to enter in the afternoon. The protests were organized by the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) and the Coordinator for the Unity of the Left and for Life, a new organization dedicated to regrouping social movements to confront Correa.

The march is possibly a prelude to a nation-wide uprising. While the protest was not large by Ecuadorian standards, representatives from many communities were present. Earlier this month, more than 30 organizations gathered in the Amazonian city of Coca and agreed to oppose Correa’s business friendly policies. Former Correa spokesperson and Assembly Member Monica Chuji said, “Today is a first step in a broader process of unifying social movements. Today we don’t have quantity, but we have unity.” Chuji, an Amazonian Kichwa, broke with Correa’s Alianza País Party in September, accusing the president of opposing indigenous rights.

Correa insists that responsible mining is necessary for Ecuador’s development. In November, Correa accused the indigenous movement of “losing their compass and playing into the hands of sectors that they have historically criticized, such as the Right, which the current administration is combating.” Correa has threatened to send the Mining Law to a national referendum if the indigenous movement alters it or blocks its approval, accusing the CONAIE of being anti-democratic.

But Dr. Byron Real López, an expert in environmental law, wrote in a recent report that the Mandate “is concerned with solving important issues. … such as the corruption surrounding the indiscriminate granting of concessions. But the proposed law ignores the ecological and social conflicts that mining activity causes. … and thus would tend to aggravate them.” López argues that the proposed law would violate a number of provisions in the new constitution, such as those protecting the rights of nature and indigenous communities.

Juan Francisco, a young Kichwa, traveled from the Southern province of Cañar. “We will never let them into our territory, which provides our water. Responsible mining is a miserable lie that the government wants to sell to us.” Juan Francisco said that the government should instead support sustainable and organic farming.

Despite Correa’s dismissive comments, it appears that the government is taking the movement seriously. Two days after the protests Ecuador’s interim legislature, the Congresillo, announced that they were considering extending discussion on the law by seven days – potentially pushing back a vote until Jan. 12. On Dec. 26, Congresillo President Francisco Cordero began a series of meetings with social movement leaders opposed to the project. The stated objective is to incorporate critics’ perspectives before the proposal undergoes a second debate, the last step before a vote.

But the CONAIE demands that the law be shelved so that a national debate on mining can take place. And protesters were adamant in their opposition to large-scale mining.

Carmen, a Saraguro Kichwa woman from the Southern province of Loja, said, “We oppose the Mining Law because we love nature. Mining will kill us, it will poison the water with chemicals. We all drink this water and we all will die. Water doesn’t belong to anyone. It belongs to us all.”

Campesino Jorge Marin traveled hours by bus from the Southern Amazonian province of Morona Santiago. “We’re here to stop the Mining Law, a law that will make it impossible for us to be owners of our land. We are here to defend nature and let the Congress know that we depend on the Amazon for life.”

Leaders of the CONAIE were scheduled to meet in a special assembly the first week of January to discuss a possible national uprising.

Salvador Quishpe, a Kichwa leader from the Southern Amazonian province of Zamora Chinchipe, told the crowd that mass mobilization would be necessary to stop the Mining Law. “If we have to celebrate Christmas in the streets to stop this law, we will!” Quishpe said that while it was impossible to bring thousands of people from Zamora Chinchipe to Quito, 1,500 delegates met in his province earlier this month and declared their support for nation-wide mass mobilizations

Agile Ecuador government riles friends and foes December 22, 2008

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Sunday, December 21, 2008

W. T. Whitney Jr.
People’s Weekly World, 15 Dec 2008
Pursuing social justice and national independence, the government of President Rafael Correa has gained new adversaries while prodding old foes. Having won a 57 percent majority in a run-off vote, Illinois-trained economist Correa, candidate of the populist Alianza Pais party, became president in January 2007.

Correa, no shrinking violet, is forcing the U.S. military to leave Manta Airbase, advocates “socialism of the 21st century,” and with Venezuelan and Bolivian counterparts resists U.S. imperialism. Last week in Tehran he and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
entered into joint banking, energy, trade and scientific projects. Ecuador is requesting loans from Iraq, according to Foreign Minister Maria Elsa Viteri.

In the same vein, Correa responded in kind to a reprimand last week from Colombian Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos complaining that Ecuador did little to fight leftist FARC insurgents in Colombia. Diplomatic relations with the U.S. puppet Colombian government were broken last March when Colombia attacked a FARC encampment in Ecuador.

Now, Correa’s government has challenged an ally in the struggle for Latin American unity. Two months ago Ecuador ousted Brazil’s Odebrecht Company because of an unfinished dam project, in the process reneging on four contracts for other company projects worth $700 million. On Nov. 21, Ecuador announced refusal to pay on a $550 million loan provided by Brazil’s state-owned National Bank of Economic and Social Development that had gone directly to Odebrecht.

In response, President Lula da Silva withdrew Brazil’s ambassador in Quito, the first such recall since 1870. Foreign Minister Celso Amorim threatened cessation of trade between the two countries.

International lenders were put on alert in mid-November when Ecuador delayed a $30.6 million interest payment on $3.9 billion in outstanding bonds. A 30-day moratorium period was used to study the possibility of default on all $10.3 billion in foreign debt obligations. Correa and advisors studied a report released Nov. 21 by an international, independent team of debt analysts, a year in the making.

Correa viewed the report as documenting an “illegitimate, corrupt, and illegal debt,” beyond government control. Hugo Arias, one of its authors, indicated that 80 percent of the debt emanated from old debt refinanced, and that $127 billion in principle alone has been paid over decades on loans originally worth $80 billion. Ally Venezuela holds most of the outstanding bonds.

President Correa is following the lead of former Cuban President Fidel Castro who at a conference on foreign debt on Aug. 1, 1985 asked, “Must debts to the oppressor be paid by the oppressed?”
The current debt crisis coincides with a 60 percent drop in oil revenues for Latin America’s fourth largest oil exporter. Ecuador’s government must delve into foreign cash reserves when prices dip below $76 per barrel. Plans to fund social programs through oil earnings inexorably went awry.

A back-up plan to use mining revenues, particularly from gold and copper, to cover state obligations boomeranged. On Nov. 17 demonstrations broke out nationwide led by indigenous and peasant groups opposed to a proposed mining law. Protesters concerned about diminished water and soil quality, land rights and local autonomy rejected promises that mining royalties set at 5 percent would pay for social projects.

Two days later 10,000 indigenous and leftist marchers blocked traffic on the Pan American Highway. Chants and banners called dramatically for water rights. Appealing to the new constitution, community leader Jose Cueva spoke for many marchers: “The president needs to first pass a food sovereignty law, a water law and a biodiversity law. Then we can have a national dialogue over what to do about mining.”

President Correa railed against “romantic notions, novelty, fixations or whatever, to say no to mining,” especially when we are “seated on hundreds of billions of dollars.” Calling for “environmentally, socially and economically responsible” mining, he denounced “infantile” and “fundamentalist” ideas.

The indigenous and social movements had been crucial to the 65 percent popular vote in September putting a new, government-orchestrated constitution into effect, one that embraced indigenous rights. Recently in disarray, CONAIE, the main indigenous federation, has revived.

Under the constitution, Correa and 5,993 other elected officials face re-election in 2009. CONAIE and other social movements have been instrumental over the past decade in overthrowing three presidents.