Friday, January 27, 2012

Canadian Mining Company Provokes Violence, Death in Oaxaca

By Carlin Christy, WFP Mexico

Community residents opposed to a mining operation in the Ocotlán Valley, just south of Oaxaca City, were met with gunfire from local officials last Wednesday January 18th. The attack has left one man dead and another woman injured. Both victims were part of the local coordinating committee that opposes the operation of a silver and gold mine in the community of San José el Progreso. Reports state that the municipal president fired the shots himself, or may have ordered other armed civilians to fire upon Bernardo Méndez Vásquez, as well as Abigail Vásquez Sánchez who is reported to be in fair condition.

The mine in San Jose el Progreso is run by Minera Cuzcatlán, a subsidiary of the Canadian mining company Fortuna Silver Mines. Information about this mining project and its location can be seen here.

In a press conference held on Monday January 23, community residents who oppose the mine called for the cancellation of the project and its total removal from the area. They cited Minera Cuzcatlán and Fortuna Silver as being responsible for human rights violations, confrontations, injuries and deaths that have occurred since the company’s entrance into the community in 2006. They are also calling for the removal of the municipal authorities involved in the attack and the prosecution of those responsible.

Witness for Peace Mexico partners including EDUCA, the Center for Indigenous Rights Flor y Canto, The Union of Organizations of the Sierra Juarez of Oaxaca (UNOSJO), and the Human Rights Center Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez (Centro Prodh) also denounced the attack as well as the ongoing conflicts related to the mine’s operations in area.

These human rights and indigenous defense organizations are also members of the Oaxacan Collective in Defense of the Land. As a collective, they work to expose the impacts that megaprojects and the exploitation of natural resources can have on local communities’ rights to their land, water, farming, and food sovereignty. They focus on rural and indigenous communities who did not give their “prior, free, and informed consent” to the entrance of these projects into their communities.

The Oaxacan Collective in Defense of the Land states on their website that “under the paradigm of free trade, neoliberal policies through international treaties, new laws, and government programs, a few politicians are giving out concessions for the exploitation of natural resources.”

Indeed, with over 24,000 mining concessions given out by Mexican administrations during the years 2000-2010, 25% of all of Mexico’s surface territory is now in the hands of foreign mining companies. While the majority of those are Canadian companies, at least 45 U.S.-based companies, such as Coeur d’Alene Mines Corporation and Cotton & Western Mining Inc., have mining operations within the country.

The implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994 certainly has facilitated the entrance of Canadian and American mining companies into Mexico. When asked by Witness for Peace what was the relation between NAFTA and the situation occurring in Oaxaca, indigenous Zapotec and director of Flor y Canto, Carmen Santiago Alonso responded, “With these treaties what we have seen is that they have enriched a few, and impoverished the majority of the people. That’s what we see…The illicit enrichment of a few businessmen and our governments as well...And the impoverishment of the people in all aspects- in health, in access to food. In effect, they are violating all rights.”

While all of Mexico is rich in natural resources, the southern state of Oaxaca is home to a vast wealth of resources, and currently has 13 different megaprojects operating around the state. Oaxaca is also home to the country’s largest percentage of indigenous peoples, who continue to use their land communally.

Despite these indigenous communities having rights over their territory, often times community members and local officials are coerced, corrupted, mislead, or misinformed about what is actually happening if and when they sign their land rights over. On many occasions, projects are implemented without prior consultation with community members. As seen in the case of San José el Progreso, the conflicts that arise can turn deadly.

For more information about the conflict in San José el Progreso, Oaxaca link to the following:
  1. An audio interview conducted by Witness for Peace with Carmen of Flor y Canto about the situation in San José el Progreso from an indigenous and human rights perspective as well as connections to the politics of NAFTA. (In Spanish)

    Part 1 on the issue of mining in the larger context of human and indigenous rights in Oaxaca

    Part 2 on the connections to the North American Free Trade Agreement:

  2. A written interview about mining in Oaxaca with Carmen of Flor y Canto, by the Casa Collective (in English)

  3. The film “Minas and Mentiras” (Mines and Lies) produced by CentroProdh available online (in Spanish only)

Retorno 360

By Tony Macias

Former WFP International Team Member Tony Macias has just finished a short documentary video about a Oaxacan migrant named Inocencio Hernandez. You can watch it at the end of this post. Click here to learn more about Student Action with Farmworkers, the organization that sponsored his project.

One of life's big truths is that most things don't matter until they happen to us. From the momentous (say, loss of a loved one) to the trifling (hair loss), we just don't focus in on realities until they become personal to us. The phenomenon of migration is global, historical, and complex, and it's inconsequential to people who aren't forced into it.

But that's not really true, is it? Maybe we're all migrants: In 2006, 50 million US Americans changed homes and 8 million of those changed states when they did. Ok, moving across town involves absolutely zero danger and loss when you compare it to what undocumented migrants struggle through each year (Read here, here, and here if you don't believe me). But what remains true is that we know something about uprooting ourselves, and we do it for similar reasons (economic motivation, for instance). This doesn't make us all the same, but it's a chance for us to relate better to one another.

What's Behind Migration?

Migration has affected the lives of millions of Mexicans, both those who leave home and those they leave behind. (Hear what it's like to be left behind.) Its causes include preventable global factors like violence and poverty. These realities are manufactured like televisions: If you want to orient your economy to making TVs, ramp up the production of raw materials and invest in your industry, train a large workforce, pay them very little, and keep them in line with the threat of violence. Look for markets. Now you're making and selling TVs!

If you want to manufacture migrants, take away peoples' livelihoods (abandoning the rural sector always works), cut out social spending, and open maquila zones to draw people in. Better yet, offer low-wage and dangerous work on the other side of a militarized border and you'll have plenty of people risking it all to make you rich.

Policies like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) mean that small farmers in Mexico are competing with subsidized products from the US. NAFTA has driven millions from the Mexican countryside in search of economic survival. According to the brutal logic of free trade, if these people (and their families, communities) are unwilling to change, then they must migrate.

Why do Stories Matter?

Remember how, in a certain light, we're all migrants? That means we have something in common with the migrants that cross into the US looking for a better life. We can build off of that understanding and see ourselves in the millions of undocumented immigrants among us. For those of us not forced from home, cultivating curiosity about why people uproot themselves is the key to working together toward a humane solution. The more we do this, the less expendable they become. For those among us who have been forced into migration, the simple act of telling our stories makes our humanity impossible to ignore.

Retorno360 tells the story of a Oaxacan migrant, Inocencio Melchor Hernandez, and the family he left behind. As he searched for new experiences and economic opportunity in the U.S. over nearly 20 years, his wife and children made life work back in their small town. Like many trials, the many years they spent apart had positive and negative consequences: grief, loss, and anger coexist with the self-assuredness and pride that come from having overcome many challenges. Now that seven years have gone by since he returned, this is also a story of reconciliation.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

How Many is Too Many?

By: Claudia Ana Rodriguez

Early last week, reports surfaced that the Mexican government would not release official data on how many narco related deaths occurred during 2011. The main concern was that releasing the data was a threat to national security. Many journalists and civil society members fired back noting that not releasing the numbers and not making that information public created more insecurity than having those numbers available. Some also claimed this was nothing more than a political move, in order to not tarnish further the reputation of the president’s political party, Partido Acción Nacional, or the PAN, as Mexico enters a presidential election year.

A day later, the Mexican government did indeed release figures, citing 12,903 people killed from January to September of 2011. Immediately, journalists and civil society members came forward citing many doubts regarding the accuracy of the government numbers because there are variations between the numbers local and state governments report, and what the federal government reports for the same city and state. Organizations also question how the government defines and classifies “narco related deaths”, and the quality and lack of investigation (only 2% of all crimes are prosecuted in Mexico).

This is nothing new. Since President Felipe Calderon took office at the end of 2006, he began a campaign against the drug trafficking organizations in his country. According to the government’s official tally, thru September of 2011 47,515 people have died due to President Calderon’s campaign. However, civil society organizations quote much higher numbers of at least 50,000 and beyond.

The United States government began supporting Calderon’s fight in 2007, and sent aid in the form of equipment and training to the Mexican security forces, through a policy known as the Merida Initiative. Since then, the Mexican government, along with journalists and members of Mexican civil society, all have kept track of the numbers of lives lost. While the Mexican government claims the majority of deaths are somehow related to the war against drug trafficking organizations, journalists and civil society members have demonstrated case after case of deaths and even disappearances due to massive human rights violations by the same security forces receiving equipment and aid from the U.S. government. In November of 2011, Human Rights Watch came out with a report entitled Neither Rights Nor Security. This 212 page report details cases of human rights abuses that occurred since Calderon declared war, including 170 cases of torture, 39 disappearances, and 24 extrajudicial killings.

Despite the debate about how many deaths, everyone can agree that it has been too many. Since the launch of President Felipe Calderon’s U.S. backed war against organized crime, the numbers have risen substantially, and insecurity in the country is apparent. There has been no decline in the drug market, as this policy does not address any of the root causes behind the lucrative business of drug trafficking, including poverty, lack of economic alternatives, and of course, the on-going insatiable demand for drugs in the U.S. At what point will the U.S. government realize that not one single life should be lost as a result of a policy they support? How many more people will die and how many more families will suffer?

We must demand that the U.S. stop funding the ongoing militarized war against the drug trafficking organizations through the Merida Initiative. We must demand that the government seriously consider alternatives that address the root causes of drug trafficking, including rethinking drug prohibition. We must demand that not one more death happen, that not one more family will suffer the loss of a loved one.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Mi Casa fuera de Mi Casa

Note: This blog post originally appeared on the Team Nicaragua 2012 blog of a Montclair State University group participating in a WFP delegation to Nicaragua.

By: Leah McClish

The experience of staying with families within their community was an opportunity of a lifetime. The community was welcoming and friendly to every single one of us. My home-stay experience was difficult to handle at first, what with outdoor bathrooms, no contact with the outside world (no phone service or internet), no television, minimal lights, and my minimal Spanish... but what made it easier for me was when my host mother gave me and another delegate her two sons' room to sleep in. Despite that her house has two bedrooms for five people, it was just heart-wrenching for me to see her give up the small amount of things she had for two individuals she barely knew. Throughout the experience, my host-mother sincerely wanted to spend time with us, to get to know us, and to share her personal experience with us. She even shared that we were the most wonderful part of her day. For a woman I barely knew to share her home and feelings was remarkable.

As the weekend continued, I was able to see how the community grew to have so much love, respect, and warmth toward one another and amongst their families was beautiful to see. The community shared their love through exchanging their cultural dances and with religious ceremonies. The faith and hope that sparkled through their eyes despite the community's struggles was a vision that will always be in my mind.

In the end, my host family will always remain in my heart. I feel that they not only added to my experience in Nicaragua but also showed me how to be a better human being.

Monday, January 9, 2012

"Si el dolor puede cambiar la vida de la persona, merece la pena todo el sufrimiento"

Note: This blog post originally appeared on the Team Nicaragua 2012 blog of a Montclair State University group participating in a WFP delegation to Nicaragua.

By: Stephanie D

Hola! Soon we'll be off to the mountains to complete our home stays! I'm so excited to see what life will be like once I begin to live with my new family! If its anything like the rest of the delegation has been, it will be amazing. It has been a very emotional couple of days, but some one in particular made me realize something I have been missing.

We visited a little village in Matagalpe, where we met Mrs Maria Cruz. Mrs Maria is a mochilla worker in a "Free Trade" Zone. She explained to us her hard working conditions, which included beginning work at 6:45am, and ended, on the busiest of days, as late as midnight. She made about five American dollars a day, and would only receive a 20-minute lunch break, which may be her only meal of the day, depending on the work day's duties.
As Mrs Maria spoke, she continually made eye contact with me, and even though my Spanish is far from the best, I felt as if I understood every word. We asked Mrs Maria if she was content with her job, and she answered with a smile, "No, but I do it for my children". I felt like I have seen that smile before, and after a few teary moments of thought, it hit me. That was the same smile on my mother and father's face when they talk about what they do for me and my sister.
When Mrs Maria had finished, I raised my hand to speak. I told her, "Mrs Maria, you remind me of my own mother, and I need to tell you that your children appreciate everything you do, everyday. And we appreciate everything you do." And I promised myself the first thing I will do when I get home is thank my parents. Dry eyes started tearing all around the room as we said our goodbyes to Mrs Maria and I gave her a hug.
She helped me realize what I was missing was my appreciation. So a quick blog shout out, Mom and Dad (and Maureen and Dennis :) ) if you are reading this, THANK YOU. I know at times it gets very hard to keep going to support our families, but not a day goes by that I don't appreciate everything you do for me and my sister. What we have now is more than what we'll ever need, and that's our love for one another. Thanks to the beautiful, inspiring women I have met on thus far on this delegation, I look at the world in a whole new way.
Off to the mountains! Bye Bye for now :)

Friday, January 6, 2012

Honduras: "Libertarians" Model Cities and the Resurrection of William Walker

Written by OFRANEH (Organizacion Fraternal Negra Hondureña) and posted on January 4, 2012.

Translated into English by the Witness for Peace Nicaragua Team.
For the original Spanish version please visit OFRANEH's blog.

This past December 10th, the British magazine, "The Economist" published an article that makes a reference to a memorandum of understanding between the government of Honduras and two United States firms regarding the construction of Model Cities (Charter Cities) in Honduran territory, without notifying the Honduran people up to now of the planned transactions.

The attitude assumed by the current regime to maintain “its business” with utmost secrecy , is part of the disdain held by the power elite of the country toward its subjects, a situation that worsened with the judicial-military coup in 2009 and the subsequent failed state that prevails in Honduras.

The companies Future Cities Development Corporation, known before as Seasteading Institute and Free Cities Group, will apparently be constructing model cities framed by “libertarian” ideology.

The Future Cities Development Corporation, was founded by Patri Friedman, grandson of economist Milton Friedman, known in Latin America as the father of neoliberalism, the economic theory associated with the impoverishment of the majority of the continent’s population and with authoritarian regimes that have offered themselves to boost the accelerated enrichment of the power elite.

Patri Friedman has shown his repudiation for democracy as a form of government in an article published by the extreme-right Cato Institute and sees a great potential in Model Cities under the libertarian regime that he hopes or plans to build in the failed state called Honduras.

Paul Thiel (founder of Paypal), another person involved in the construction of libertarian cities in Honduras, declared in an article written for Cato Unbound, that democracy and liberty are not compatible.

After the coup d’état in 2009, Honduras has suffered at the hands of the current National Congress—composed by a large majority of the same actors that participated in the downfall of democracy—the approval of a series of neoliberal-style laws that completely annihilated the meager social gains obtained in the 20th century. Concepts such as national sovereignty, food security, and human rights have been converted into obsolete terms by Honduran “legislators.”

In fact, the political and social deterioration occurring in this country, converts it into a paradise for economic adventurers and reactionary politicians, whose ideologies are based in individualism and economic Darwinism.

From the American Phalange of the Immortals to the Banana Coast

In the mid-19th century, filibuster William Walker invaded Central America with a band of self-declared “American Phalange of the Immortals,” who succeeded in taking over Nicaragua, where Walker acted as president from 1856-57. In his last incursion he was captured by the British who handed him over to Honduran authorities, who proceeded to execute him with a firing squad in the city of Trujillo in 1860. A New York Times editorial the same year mentions that the filibuster stated that other Walkers would rise from his blood.

Half a century later, Sam Zemurray financed an invasion and a coup d’état in Honduras (1911), perpetrated by Manuel Bonilla, who landed in the country coincidentally in the place where Walker was shot. From this point on, the Banana Republic was reaffirmed, a term coined by the writer, O’Henry, seven years before the felony committed by Bonilla.

Days before the coup d’état, the Canadian investor known as the “porn king,” began a series of illegal land purchases in the Bay of Trujillo, designated to create a tourist empire in an enclave known as the Banana Coast. During the mandate of Big Boss satrap Roberto Micheletti, the porn king consolidated the appropriation of a Garifuna community on the Rio Negro located in the city of Trujillo, demolishing a large part of the community under the pretext of constructing a dock for the Panamex cruise ship.

The Failed State and the Libertarian’s Paradise

According to the Washington Post, Honduras has become the most dangerous country on the planet, in addition to being the epicenter of drug trafficking between South America and the United States. The collapse of institutional pillars such as the Ministry of Security and the judicial apparatus, have converted the country into a true failed state.

It seems that Peter Thiel and his follower Patri Friedman, want to take advantage of the existing failed state of Honduras to recreate the pages of the novel Atlas Shrugged, in which the Russian-American author Ayn Rand, idol of libertarians, creates a science fiction novel that makes clear her philosophy that writer Gore Vidal described as “almost perfect in her immorality.”

Libertarians have converted themselves into a synonym of factions of enormous economic power in the United States that reject the supposed exaggerated intervention of the State, exalting the liberty of individuals over supposed government coercion. Although some anarchists of the 19th century were self-defined libertarians, the current movement in the United States finds itself linked with ultra-right groups like the Tea Party, Cato Institute and the Free State Project, among others.

It just so happens that the first week of December, the National Congress selected the Board of Notables in charge of Model Cities: George Akerlof, Ong Boon Hwee, Harry Strachan, Nancy Birdsall, and of course the artifice of the neo-colonial maneuver Paul Romer. But unfortunately in Honduras the media has opted for a discreet silence on the matter, while its news is dedicated to distill the blood that runs and impunity that rules in the country.

It is to be expected that the libertarian dignitaries and their millions of dollars will be successful in imposing their conditions on the Congress of a failed state. There is nothing strange that in imitating the ideas of the libertarian bible, Atlas Shrugged, they implement the “death ray” a sophisticated torture weapon, from the delirious book, which will probably be used against the undesirable hordes that try to cross the electrified fences of the paradise in the middle of the hell that they have imposed on us.

La Ceiba, Atlántida, January 4, 2012
Organizacion Fraternal Negra Hondureña