Showing posts with label Megaprojects. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Megaprojects. Show all posts

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Defense of the Land: San Jose del Progreso

Attacks against land are constant, and in Mexico even more so since NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) went into effect in 1994. NAFTA changed laws so drastically that it sometimes seems like the government was in a rush to hand over the territory to the highest bidder, the one that offered them the most crumbs.

Thanks to NAFTA, corporations have more freedom than ever to exploit Mexican people and Mexican natural resources. Ever since 1994, the government has passed numerous reforms and neoliberal laws that benefit multinationals (the most recent ones regarding
energy, education, financial, agriculture, and communications) and that facilitate the oppression of citizens who don’t agree with the government or who fight to defend their rights.

Fortunately, all throughout Latin America groups have organized, mostly indigenous groups, which fight to defend their land, their dignity, and life itself.

Defense of Land

When I asked Carmen what land defense means, she said it’s the defense of everything. It’s the defense of wind, sun, earth, water, minerals, flora and fauna, human rights, and all of the people who inhabit a place. It’s also the defense of values, traditions and the culture of a people. It’s the continuous struggle to protect everything that mother earth gives us. It’s the struggle to continue living in harmony with the world in a sustainable way.

Carmen is an indigenous woman, and leader of a Oaxacan organization which defends the rights of indigenous peoples and mother earth. Defending land is part of her daily life.

The work of land defenders is absolutely essential. The development model which capitalism imposes has accelerated the destruction of the world and the domination of resources by a limited group of people. This “development” prioritizes short term profits and not the well-being of people or nature.

A concrete example: San José del Progreso

Oaxacan organizations which work to defend the land recently published a report on the Civilian Observatory Mission to San José del Progreso which took place at the end of 2012.

San José del Progreso is a Zapotec indigenous municipality located in Oaxaca state, which in the last eight years has been embroiled in an alarming social conflict brought about by the presense of a Canadian mine in its territory.

During the first months of 2012, two members of the Coordination of Peoples of Ocotlan Valley, Bernardo Vázquez Sánchez and Bernardo Méndez Vázquez, who had participated in the opposition to the mining company Cuzcatlán-Fortuna Silver Mines over the previous seven years, were killed…

In the report, the organizations were able to document the negative effects of the mine in the region, as well as the numerous violations of rights suffered by its residents. These violations still enjoy impunity, as the government continues to favor the company over the local residents. The government justifies its support for the mining company with the argument that the mine will bring “development” to the region.

The extractive economic model is based on the accumulation of capital thanks to the disproportionate extraction of communal resources. It presupposes that private companies, which have the capital to pay for the plundering of minerals, acquire the right to do so anywhere in the world, all in order to promote “economic development” and not the well-being of people who live on the land where the minerals are found. Under this model, people, animals, and plants are considered dispensable exchange value.

But the residents of San José know that this “development” model will only benefit a very small group of foreign investors, while the local population suffers negative impacts that the mine has on the environment and the community.

Mining is an economic activity encouraged by governments and large transnational corporations which has systematically violated the human rights of communities where such projects are realized. For these reasons, it’s considered one of the economic activities with greatest social, cultural, economic and environmental impacts.

…The temptation to acquire minerals such as gold and silver launched the colonization, pillage and exploitation of underground riches in the Americas. This historical pattern is one of the driving forces of global capitalism. Mines and underground places in which metals such as gold, silver, titanium and copper are found. These are used to produce products and exchange values, offering enormous riches to the owners of companies who extract it.

In order to extract the desired minerals, pulverized rock is combined with toxic chemical reactions such as cyanide (used in the lixiviation process) and the “xantatos” (used in the flotation process), among others. Huge amounts of water and electricity are required for this process. Once the mine is depleted, poisons remain in the mine as well as deposits, which are a source of pollution for future generations that will live in the region in the coming decades.

We invite you to read the entire report.

And what about us?

So what does land defense have to do with us? We must think about our role in this problem: how we benefit from these dynamics, and how we can work in true solidarity.

With money, privilege and power comes an attitude of arrogance, and the erroneous idea that we deserve to have anything at the price that we determine (even though there are things which don’t belong to us and which don’t have a price!).

This phenomenon can be seen on a micro and a macro level. One only needs to visit the Oaxacan coast or the streets of Brooklyn, New York. People with money buy homes from original peoples and marginalized peoples, open new businesses thanks to their access to technology and capital, and slowly displace original inhabitants.

On a bigger scale, we can see multinational corporations which bribe politicians, who then hand over permission to exploit natural resources and destroy nature at a speed never seen before. The San José del Progreso report gives us a clear glimpse into the impacts that this has on communities.

We must reflect upon the laws in our country which allow the exploitation of others on a global level. We must take our money out of companies that make their profits at the cost of marginalizing communities and groups of peoples. We must change our consumption habits and only buy what’s truly necessary. We must stop buying products from companies that profit off the destruction of the environment and social conflicts. We must learn to be better tourists, better neighbors, and better citizens. We must invest our efforts and capital in bettering our own communities.

When we stop putting a price on the most sacred things that life offers us, such as communal resources, our values, our homes, only then will we be exercising true solidarity. 

Friday, July 6, 2012

Gold Rush in Colombia: Part 1

by Amanda Tello

Colombia is one of the most bio-diverse, resource-abundant countries in the world. Home to the Amazon rainforest, the Andes mountains, la Guajira desert and the Pacific and Caribbean coasts, it contains more than “10% of the world’s plant and animal species.” Beneath the rich soil lie the keys to Colombia’s energy development as well as the sources of continual violence and displacement: oil, coal, emeralds, silver, nickel, copper and – gold. Before the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors, gold mining was an important means of survival for the indigenous population and continues to support millions of small-scale miners throughout the country. The recent surge in prices and demand for gold have sparked a modern-day “gold rush,” which has ignited a conflict between local communities and an influx of foreign corporations looking to profit from Colombia’s vast natural resources. The state’s desire to capitalize on the mining boom and present Colombia as an investment-friendly country has especially threatened Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities who inhabit strategically important territory and practice small-scale mining in many areas.

Mining Boom 

In recent years, the Colombian government has been campaigning to increase production in the extractive energy sector as a “development” strategy that will bring employment, infrastructure and wealth to the country. Beginning under the Uribe administration, the government implemented the “National Plan for Mining Development and Environmental Policy Vision Colombia 2019,” which seeks to “convert Colombia into a ‘mining country’” by establishing mining districts targeted for development. Current President Juan Manuel Santos has enhanced the government’s support for extractive industries, declaring mining an “activity for public utility and social interest” that will bring “prosperity to all.” Consequently, the number of mining licenses granted to individuals and multinational corporations (MNCs) has increased significantly in recent years. According to a report published by Peace Brigades International (PBI), “Mining in Colombia: At What Cost,” “between 1990 and 2001 in Colombia, 1,889 mining licenses were awarded (157 per year), but by 2010 there were already 8,928 concessions (4,839,149 hectares) and 20,000 applications pending.” In other words, 40% of Colombian territory has either been awarded or solicited by multinational corporations in the mining and energy sectors.

Minister of Environment; Right: Minister of Energy and Mining. El Tiempo
The modern “gold rush” in Colombia has been further fueled by the increase in market price and worldwide demand for the precious commodity, with a substantial portion of that demand emanating from the United States. The price of an ounce of gold increased from US $700 in 2008 to US $1,800 today, providing a strong incentive for corporations to invest in Colombia. Moreover, Vision Plan Colombia 2019 hopes to increase gold production from 40 tons annually to 80 tons in the next year. The combination of these factors has led to record foreign direct investment (FDI) in Colombia. During an interview at the World Economic Forum, Colombian Energy and Mining Minister Mauricio Cardenas said he “expects a $10 billion investment in crude oil, energy and mining projects in 2012.” In 2011 alone, “82% of the FDI in Colombia went to the energy sector” and overall investment grew by 113% to $14.4 billion.

Legislative Reforms 

With the hope that mining would become an economic “engine of growth,” the government enacted legislative reforms to benefit the mining industry. Law 685, referred to as the Mining Code, was passed in 2001 under the advisement of a law firm representing “half of the mining companies found in the national mining registry,” including a number of Canadian companies that now comprise 43.41% of the mining corporations in Colombia. Under this law, mining companies no longer need licenses for all phases of mining activity so they can begin the exploration phase without obtaining authorization. Subsequently, companies do not run the risk of losing their licenses due to potential environmental degradation or protestation from local communities.

Open Pit Mining Outside Segovia – PBI

Following a recommendation from the World Bank, Colombia “eliminated the State’s role in direct investment,” which not only limited its power to oversight and regulation but also “ended the possibility of State earnings from net returns.” Therefore, the state only benefits from the “surface rights fees and royalties that companies pay during exploration and mining phases.” Corporations also benefit from low royalty levels and tax exemptions, which are lower now than they were in the 1990s. Currently set at 4%, the royalty rates for gold extraction are so low that some experts argue Colombia is effectively paying “multinationals to extract their resources,” especially given the enormous environmental and social costs that large-scale mining operations often inflict.

The Plight of Afro-Colombians and Indigenous Peoples

Listening to President Santos’ rhetoric on the potential of the mining industry to create employment, foster security and alleviate poverty, it appears to be a win-win situation for citizens and corporations. However, a more complicated picture emerges when the plight of Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities are considered. Colombia is home to more than 102 indigenous groups totaling almost 1.4 million people and between 4-13 million persons of African descent. The competition over mining operations oftentimes threatens the resource abundant territories and livelihoods of Afro-Colombian and indigenous peoples, many of who have been mining in their communities for decades or centuries.

Although the Constitution formally recognizes the rights of Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities in the form of “collective land titles” and reserves, they face constant threats from armed actors and the “implementation of economic development or mega-projects,” such as mining. The government has further exacerbated the precarious plight of these groups by awarding mining licenses in indigenous reserves and collective territories belonging to Afro-Colombians without first obtaining the “prior and informed consent” of local communities – a right guaranteed in the Colombian Constitution as well as the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. For example, in July 2010, the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues determined that “mining concessions had been awarded in 80% of legally recognized reserves.” Not to mention, 27% of indigenous peoples and 60% of Afro-Colombians live outside of legally recognized territory and thousands of pending requests are being delayed in order to ensure the development of mega-projects.

Afro-descendent Community Lands – Indigenous Reserves -- PBI
Many inhabitants of these territories have been practicing small-scale, artisanal gold mining for generations. It is estimated that five million people subsist on small-scale mining in 44% of Colombia’s municipalities. However, many of these mines are not legally registered with Ingeominas, the government agency responsible for mining operations. According to reports from InSight, 6,000 small-scale mines are not legally registered, which comprises as many as 50% of Colombia’s mines. The 2001 mining code mandated that small-scale miners register their operations within a three-year period. Subsequently, the government was overwhelmed with requests and the “the legalization process quickly fell into a limbo.” Out of 2,845 requests submitted during the stipulated time period, only 23 were approved. Additionally, many miners in remote regions were not aware of the new requirements, lacked the resources to apply or found that their lands had already been ceded to MNCs.
Although small-scale mines produce the majority of Colombia’s gold, they face growing competition from primarily Canadian, English and South African mining corporations. As a result, small-scale miners “find themselves increasingly marginalized and in some cases persecuted for their traditional labor,” which is viewed as an obstacle to modern, industrial mining and investment. In fact, mncs have been found guilty of partnering with paramilitaries and other armed actors in order to intimidate labor union and community leaders and displace local populations from resource rich lands.

According to PBI and the National Mining Company Minercol Workers Union:

“80% of the human rights violations that have occurred in Colombia in the last ten years were committed in mining and energy-producing regions, and 87% of Colombia’s displaced population originate from these places.”
“At least 20 trade unionists from the mining and energy sector suffered attacks or attempted assassinations in 2010 and 78% of the crimes against trade unionists were committed in mining and energy areas”
According to professor and author Mario Murillo, the state’s support of large-scale mining projects and failure to obtain the “prior and informed consent” of impacted communities has paved the way for the disappearance and displacement of indigenous and Afro-Colombian peoples. Consequently, these marginalized groups make up a disproportionate number of the 3-4 million people displaced in the conflict thus far. It is estimated that indigenous peoples represent up to 7% of the displaced population and Afro-Colombians up to 17%. As PBI’s report astutely surmises, the decades-long conflict in Colombia is essentially a “competition over the use of the soil and subsoil for implementing economic projects,” in which Afro-Colombian and indigenous peoples are tragically viewed as obstacles to progress.

Special thanks to Peace Brigades International for their research on this topic.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Oaxacans Protecting Land and Culture: Citizens' March in Defense of the Rio Verde

By Tony Macias
International Team - Mexico
Witness for Peace

“A river dies when a dam is built!” Cenobio Chavez called into a megaphone at the head of Monday's march in coastal Oaxaca.

On March 14, the International Day against Dams, thousands gathered in the city of Pinotepa Nacional to protest a proposed hydroelectric dam in the nearby Rio Verde, one of the most important rivers in Oaxaca. Cenobio is from Paso de la Reyna, a small town of 700 that sits at the river's edge. (See our March 2010 blog post for more background info.)

If the dam is built as the Mexican Federal Election Commission has planned, Paso de la Reyna would lie just 1 kilometer from the base of a 500-foot concrete wall holding back a 5,000 acre artificial lake. In the event of a dam collapse, the town would be wiped from the map by a 300 foot-high wall of water moving at over 150 miles per hour. Town residents would have just 40 seconds to flee.

Paso de la Reyna is just one of the 19 communities that would be directly affected by the construction of the hydroelectric dam, to say nothing of the 100,000 coastal residents that would face negative social and environmental impacts. According to local organizer and spokesman Juan Gomez some of the consequences, include unpredictable and irreversible changes to water availability, the likelihood of dam failure in one of the most seismically-active regions of Mexico, desertification, and the interruption of water and nutrients flowing to a nearby environmental preserve hosting the region's most biodiverse wetlands. Social impacts include the influx of thousands of temporary workers from other parts of Mexico, the loss of traditional farming and fishing livelihoods for thousands of locals, and the forced displacement of those can no longer make a living without their farms. And how many of those who are displaced will attempt to migrate to the United States?

Eloy Cruz, another local spokesman, said during Monday's march, “We are not opposed to development; it's not that we don't want development projects... we just want them for the benefit of our people. The benefits [of these projects] are not for us... they want to export this electrical energy to other parts of Central America."

Hydroelectric dams are a crucial component of the Mesoamerican Integration and Development Project (MIDP), a series of nearly 100 planned megaprojects reaching from Mexico to Colombia. MIDP would bring billions of dollars in profits to international corporations. To date, there are over 47,000 large dams located throughout the world. And while international financial institutions like the World Bank provide loans and seed money to start these projects, it is developing countries and their taxpayers that end up footing the bill- both in terms of costly loan payoffs and annual maintenance fees which reached $46 billion dollars per year worldwide in the 90s. Furthermore, between 40 and 80 million people have been displaced by these dams.

Unfortunately, the new state government of Oaxaca has not yet taken a definitive stance on the dam project. Meanwhile, local government officials and representatives of the Federal Election Commission have begun to use new tactics to win over nearby residents. Tactics include offering to build basketball courts in communities that accept the project, pro-dam educational projects in nearby schools, refusing to recognize local elections of residents opposed to the dam and even circulating fake newspapers stating that Oaxaca's new governor fully supports the project. To date there have been no serious threats or outright violence, but local organizers believe that this may not be far off. Anti-dam activists in the state of Jalisco have received numerous threats and are continuously harassed by state police forces. In Guerrero and Chiapas, respectively, environmental activists have been subjected to illegal imprisonment and even killed.

“We will do what is necessary –even give up our lives– because we are defending something more than money," says Juan Gomez. "We are defending the environment which includes water, land, flora and fauna. It includes the future lives of our children and grandchildren. It isn't something artificial that, if destroyed, we can just rebuild quickly. It is something unique that we have, and this is what motivates me most to continue in this struggle.”

Local activist Caudensio Villanueva said at the conclusion of the march “what happens in one country has repercussions on the international level... If more megaprojects of this type are done, we will further impoverish the most poor and the rich will just become richer.” He asked that Witness for Peace supporters in the U.S. “find a way to pressure our government so that this doesn't keep happening.”

Eloy Cruz reminded us, “Even though we are very poor, we all have the same rights. We can't let the dam be built, because then what will we leave to future generations?”