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Zibechi: Extractivism staggers

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Chiapas Support Committee


Conflicts over Tia Maria Mine have left 4 people dead in Peru. Conflicts over Tia Maria Mine have left 4 people dead in Peru.

By: Raúl Zibechi

Resistance to extractivism [1] is sweeping the Latin American continent, from north to south, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, involving all the countries, forcing governments to put its military in the streets and decree states of emergency to terrorize populations that no longer yield, because they are suffering the consequences of the model.

Open sky mega-mining, large public works like hydroelectric dams, mono-crops fumigated with glyphosate and real estate speculation are being responded to as never before in intensity, extension and duration. The peoples are obtaining pueblos important victories in recent years: paralyzing the planting of Monsanto seeds in Malvinas Argentina; stopping the Barrick Gold, Pascua Lama bi-national project; postponing the construction of dozens of dams, as happened with La Parota, in México.

In recent weeks it has been the population of…

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Poor Guatemalans Are Taking On North American Mining Companies—and Have the Bullet Wounds to Prove It

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Tahoe On Trial

Jimmy Tobias, The Nation, January 14, 2015

As nonviolent protests have spread throughout the country, the right-wing government and the mines’ security operations have responded with force.

A bullet is lodged near Yolanda Oquelí’s liver. It’s been there since June 13, 2012, when two masked men on a motorcycle fired a barrage of bullets into her car as she drove home on a dusty mountain road after attending a protest with friends and neighbors. A ball of hot lead brushed her stomach and barely missed her spine. After the gunmen fled, she was rushed to the hospital for emergency surgery.

For the full article, click here.

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Corporate “Rights” vs. State Sovereignty: OceanaGold sues El Salvador

OceanaGold, a Canadian transnational, is suing the government of El Salvador in a World Bank tribunal for $301 billion, for “losses” related to the cancellation of the “El Dorado” mining project permit.  The permit was granted by a previous administration and since rescinded due to concerns about the negative impact the project would have on the environment and local agriculture.  The movement protesting the project was described in this excellent article in “The Nation”.  Absurdly, the transnational OceanaGold is allowed to sue El Salvador for the “right” to mine its territory based on provisions of the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA).

Source:  Inter Press News Service Agency

World Bank Tribunal Weighs Final Arguments in El Salvador Mining Dispute

WASHINGTON, Sep 16 2014 (IPS) – A multilateral arbitration panel here began final hearings Monday in a contentious and long-running dispute between an international mining company and the government of El Salvador.

An Australian mining company, OceanaGold, is suing the Salvadoran government for refusing to grant it a gold-mining permit that has been pending for much of the past decade. El Salvador, meanwhile, cites national laws and policies aimed at safeguarding human and environmental health, and says the project would threaten the country’s water supply.

“This mining process would use some really poisonous substances – cyanide, arsenic – that would destroy the environment. Ultimately, the people suffer the consequences.” — Father Eric Lopez

The country also claims that OceanaGold has failed to comply with basic requirements for any gold-mining permitting. Further, in 2012, El Salvador announced that it would continue a moratorium on all mining projects in the country.

Yet using a controversial provision in a free trade agreement, OceanaGold has been able to sue El Salvador for profits – more than 300 million dollars – that the company says it would have made at the goldmine. The case is being heard before the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), an obscure tribunal housed in the Washington offices of the World Bank Group.

OceanaGold, CAFTA, El Salvador, World Bank

Protest against the OceanaGold lawsuit. Photo credit: CISPES

“The case threatens the sovereignty and self-determination” of El Salvador’s people, Hector Berrios, coordinator of MUFRAS-32, a member of the Salvadoran National Roundtable against Metallic Mining, said Monday in a statement. “The majority of the population has spoken out against this project and [has given its] priority to water.”

The OceanaGold project would involve a leaching process to recover small amounts of gold, using cyanide and, critics say, tremendous amounts of water. Those plans have made local communities anxious: the United Nations has already found that some 90 percent of El Salvador’s surface water is contaminated.

On Monday, a hundred demonstrators rallied in front of the World Bank building, both to show solidarity with El Salvador against OceanaGold and to express their scepticism of the ICSID process more generally. The events coincided with El Salvador’s Independence Day.

“We’re celebrating independence but what we’re really celebrating is dignity and the ability of every person to enjoy a good life, not only a few,” Father Eric Lopez, a Franciscan friar at a Washington-area church that caters to a sizable Salvadoran community, told IPS at the demonstration.

“This mining process would use some really poisonous substances – cyanide, arsenic – that would destroy the environment. Ultimately, the people suffer the consequences: they remain poor, they are sick, women’s pregnancies suffer.”

Provoking unrest?

The case’s jurisdictions are complicated and, for some, underscore the tenuousness of the ICSID’s arbitration process around the Salvador project.

It was another mining company, the Canada-based Pacific Rim, that originally discovered a potentially lucrative minerals deposit along the Lempa River in 2002. The business-friendly Salvadoran government at the time (since voted out of power) reportedly encouraged the company to apply for a permit, though public concern bogged down that process.

Frustrated by this turn of events, Pacific Rim filed a lawsuit against El Salvador under a provision of the Dominican Republic-Central American Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA) that allowed companies to sue governments for impinging on their profits. While Canada, Pacific Rim’s home country, is not a member of DR-CAFTA, in 2009 the company created a subsidiary in the United States, which is.

In 2012, ICSID ruled that the lawsuit could continue, pointing to a provision in El Salvador’s investment law. The country’s laws have since been altered to prevent companies from circumventing the national judicial system in favour of extra-national arbiters like ICSID.

Last year, OceanaGold purchased Pacific Rim, despite the latter’s primary asset being the El Salvador gold-mining project, which has never been allowed to go forward. Although OceanaGold did not respond to a request for comment for this story, last year the company noted that it would continue with the arbitration case while also seeking “a negotiated resolution to the … permitting impasse”.

For its part, the Salvadoran government says it has halted the permitting process not only over environmental and health concerns but also over procedural matters. While these include Pacific Rim’s failure to abide by certain reporting requirements, the company also appears not to have gained important local approvals.

Under Salvadoran law, an extractive company needs to gain titles, or local permission, for any lands it wants to develop. Yet Pacific Rim had such access to just 13 percent of the lands covered by its proposal, according to Oxfam America, a humanitarian and advocacy group.

Given this lack of community support in a country with recent history of civil unrest, some warn that an ICSID decision in OceanaGold’s favour could result in violence.

“This mining project was re-opening a lot of the wounds that existed during the civil war, and telling a country that they have to provoke a civil conflict in order to satisfy investors is very troublesome,” Luke Danielson, a researcher and academic who studies social conflict around natural resource development, told IPS.

“The tribunal system exists to allow two interests to express themselves – the national government and the investor. But neither of these speak for communities, and that’s a fundamental problem.”

Wary of litigation

Bilateral and regional investment treaties such as DR-CAFTA have seen massive expansion in recent years. And increasingly, many of these include so-called “investor-state” resolution clauses of the type being used in the El Salvador case.

Currently some 2,700 agreements internationally have such clauses, ICSID reports. Meanwhile, although the tribunal has existed since the 1960s, its relevance has increased dramatically in recent years, mirroring the rise in investor-state clauses.

ISCID itself doesn’t decide on how to resolve such disputes. Rather, it offers a framework under which cases are heard by three external arbiters – one appointed by the investor, one by the state and one by both parties.

Yet outside of the World Bank headquarters on Monday, protesters expressed deep scepticism about the highly opaque ISCID process. Several said that past experience has suggested the tribunal is deeply skewed in favour of investors.

“This is a completely closed-door process, and this has meant that the tribunal can basically do whatever it wants,” Carla Garcia Zendejas director of the People, Land & Resources program at the Center for International Environmental Law, a watchdog group here, told IPS.

“Thus far, we have no examples of cases in which this body responded in favour of communities or reacted to basic human rights violations or basic environmental and social impact.”

Zendejas says the rise in investor-state lawsuits in recent years has resulted in many governments, particularly in developing countries, choosing to acquiesce in the face of corporate demand. Litigation is not only cumbersome but extremely expensive.

“Governments are increasingly wary of being sued, and therefore are more willing to accept and change polices or to ignore their own policies, even if there’s community opposition,” she says.

“Certain projects have seen resistance, but political pressure often depends on who’s in power. Unfortunately, the incorrect view that the only way for development to take place is through foreign investment is still very engrained in many of the powers that be.”

While there is no public timeframe for ISCID resolution on the El Salvador case, a decision is expected by the end of the year.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at

Amnesty International publishes report on human rights and mining projects in Guatemala

Source:  Amnesty International

19 September 2014

Guatemala stokes conflict around mining by failing to consult communities

Sign outside a silver mine in San Rafael Las Flores, Guatemala.

Sign outside a silver mine in San Rafael Las Flores, Guatemala. © Private

“We’re concerned that the violence seen in the past will continue if a fair and balanced consultation process is not introduced.”
Amnesty International’s Erika Guevara Rosas

The Guatemalan government is fuelling the fires of conflict by failing to consult local communities before awarding mining licences to companies, effectively raising the risk of bloodshed and bulldozing over the rights of its people, said Amnesty International today.

The report, Mining in Guatemala: Rights at Risk, published today, exposes significant gaps in protection for communities affected by mining projects. New legislation put forward by the Guatemalan government not only fails to address widespread concerns among Indigenous and rural communities about a lack of consultation, but includes measures that may exacerbate existing tensions.

“The proposed legislation effectively side-steps the concerns of communities. It does not address the issue of consultation in any meaningful way. If enacted it would essentially mean that communities’ views and concerns continue to be ignored. This is a significant missed opportunity,” said Erika Guevara Rosas, Americas Director of Amnesty International.

Reforms to the Mining Law are currently before Congress having been drafted in 2012. However, the proposed reforms will simply replicate the current loopholes allowing just 10 days for challenges to licence applications, exacerbating the problem of lack of consultation.

Tensions over a lack of fair process and proper consultation have previously led to violent confrontations, with protesters clashing with security guards and police over the proposed mine site.

International human rights standards require that those potentially affected by mining projects must be consulted and adequately informed, and that projects on Indigenous peoples’ land should only proceed with their free, prior and informed consent.

“Analyzing the implications of any mining project takes time, and 10 days to respond to a licence application is not realistic for communities who might be affected and therefore need to examine the proposal carefully,” said Erika Guevara Rosas.

“We’re concerned that the violence seen in the past will continue if a fair and balanced consultation process is not introduced. We are also aware that the rights of Indigenous peoples are not being respected,” said Erika Guevara Rosas.

In many cases, the authorities have failed to thoroughly investigate the death and injury of those protesting against mining projects.

On 13 June 2012, activist Yolanda Oquelí was shot and seriously injured by two unknown assailants. She was returning from a protest over mining when two men on a motorbike cut across her path and fired at her with a pistol. She was hit by one bullet which lodged close to her liver. She survived the attack and went into hiding with her family.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights ordered the Guatemalan government to provide protection to Yolanda Oquelí and her family. Although the Public Ministry opened an investigation into the attack, to date no one has been brought to justice.

“The violence and repression that has taken root around mining in Guatemala cannot continue. The Guatemalan government must ensure that they implement and respect legislation to facilitate dialogue and decision-making between mining companies, state authorities and affected people. Communities must be provided with full and objective information about the benefits and risks of mining in a clear and culturally appropriate manner,” said Erika Guevara Rosas.

“We are also calling on the home governments of foreign-owned mining companies in Guatemala to monitor and hold their companies to account for the human rights impact of their activities, wherever they operate.”

Additional information

Many of the high-profile companies currently operating in Guatemala are subsidiaries of Canadian companies.

Guatemala is still struggling to deal with the legacy of past human rights abuses from the internal armed conflict (1960-1996) when over 200,000 people were killed, including an estimated 40,000 who were forcibly “disappeared”.

Today, Indigenous peoples remain economically and socially marginalised. Land tenure is a particular problem, with Indigenous communities bearing the brunt of acute inequality in the distribution of land.

In Guatemala approximately 30 per cent of the population lives in extreme poverty.

Amnesty International is presenting the report Mining in Guatemala: Rights at risk in Guatemala City today with a delegation comprised of Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada, Sebastian Elgueta, Central America Researcher, and Tara Scurr, Amnesty International Canada’s Business and Human Rights Campaigner.

Barillas dam: Peaceful Blockade Celebrates Anniversary

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In a previous post, I shared an online Urgent Action from School of Americas Watch which calls for the release of Guatemalan political prisoners Saul Mendez, Rogelio Velasquez, and Mynor Lopez.  All three are community activists who are imprisoned on trumped-up charges related to their opposition to the Cambalam Dam project.  The Cambalam project is owned by Spanish transnational Hidralia.  This week marks the one-year anniversary of the peaceful blockade of the road leading to the proposed project.

To connect to the SOA Watch petition, link here.

Source for the following article: NISGUA.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Peaceful blockade in Barillas celebrates one-year anniversary

Tired of being ignored and disrespected by the Guatemalan government, and determined to halt a hydroelectric project approved without their free, prior and informed consent, the men and women of Santa Cruz Barillas founded the peaceful blockade, Nuevo Amanecer on April 6, 2013. Nuevo Amanecer, or New Dawn,is a permanent encampment located on a communal road leading to the proposed project site where community members maintain a constant presence. The bold action has served to halt the construction of the Canbalam Dam, owned by Spanish company Hidralia Energia and its Guatemalan subsidiary Hidro Santa Cruz.

Barillas dam, Guatemala
Nuevo Amanecer celebrates its one year anniversary. Photo: PrensaComunitaria

Last Sunday, members of the resistance celebrated the one-year anniversary of Nuevo Amanecer and reiterated their commitment to continuing the peaceful opposition to the project.

“While 365 suns and moons, and 8,760 hours have gone by [since establishing the peaceful encampment], the People continue to remain hopeful and committed to the struggle, despite immense sacrifices and hardships.” – Press Release from the Plurinational Government and the Western Peoples’ Council (CPO), April 2014

Communities and leaders at the forefront of the resistance movement have suffered an onslaught of criminalization, repression and violence at the hands of the Guatemalan state, which instead of protecting the interests of the people, has time and again acted in defense of the Spanish company.

The costs suffered by the communities and families that stand to be impacted by the project have been high. Two community leaders have been killed since May 1, 2012 and three others, Saúl Méndez, Rogelio Velásquez and Mynor López, remain in prison facing charges related to the opposition to the Canbalam Dam. Eleven additional members of the resistance have collectively spent more than one year in preventative prison on accusations filed against them by the company, which were later dismissed.

As the conflict caused by the imposition of mega-projects in Huehuetenango drags on, international solidarity with communities and individuals standing up for their right to self determination continues to be vitally important and appreciated. Last year, NISGUA and partners gathered nearly than 3,0000 signatures demanding the release of political prisoner, Rubén Herrera. Spanish solidarity organization and members of the International Accompaniment Project in Guatemala (ACOGUATE), Plataforma de solidaridad con Chiapas y Guatemala de Madrid, launched an online popular consultation in support of communities in Northern Huehuetenango resisting the imposition of large-scale projects. Nearly 2,000 people echoed the results of local referenda saying NO to the instalation of mega-projects and YES to communities’ right to self determination.

Barillas dam activism, Guatemala
Plataforma submits their consultation results to the Guatemalan Embassy in Madrid.

“The Q’anjob’al and Mestizo People of Barillas infinitely thank the national and international solidarity of many individuals and organizations that have unconditionally reached out to us in this struggle. We also believe that this struggle affects us all and for this reason we say WE ARE ALL BARILLAS.”

– Press Release from the Plurinational Government and the Western Peoples’ Council (CPO), April 2014.

NISGUA and ACOGUATE work closely with partners in Huehuetango in their efforts to defend the right to consultation, promote self-determination and stand up for human rights in the region.

Take Action for Justice in Guatemala

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The recent School of Americas Watch delegation to Guatemala heard testimony of increasing militarization in the country, as well as the criminalization of human rights defenders.  We were able to visit the detention center in Huehuetenango and meet with 3 activists (Mynor Lopez, Rogelio Velasquez, and Saul Mendez) who are currently imprisoned due to their opposition to the construction of a transnational-owned dam in their community.

School of Americas Watch, Barillas, Guatemala, political prisoners, Cambalam dam,

Saul Mendez and Rogelio Velasquez with Fr. Roy Bourgeois of SOA Watch. Photo Credit: J Mulherin.

For more on the struggle for land and water rights in Barillas, Huehuetenango, read this article, by Ken Jones, an activist with School of the Americas Watch.

SOA Watch has set up the following online Urgent Action calling on U.S. and Guatemalan authorities to act on the above issues.  Please  click on the link below to be directed to the Urgent Action site.

Mining and resistance in Guatemala

As I prepare to participate in a human rights and solidarity delegation to Guatemala with School of Americas Watch, I’ve been doing much research on mining and its impact on indigenous peoples.  International mining projects have increased dramatically in Guatemala over the last decade, as well as community movements opposed to them on human rights, cultural, and environmental grounds.  These movements have often been met with political repression and violence.

Community meeting regarding a mining project, Guatemala, 2005

Community meeting regarding a mining project, Guatemala. Credit: Friends of the Earth International (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Background:  In 1997, one year after the signing of the Peace Accords ending Guatemala’s civil war, the government made changes to the mining law in an effort to attract foreign investment. Under the new law, rather than being required to pay 6% of royalties to the Guatemalan government  as per the previous law, corporations now were obligated to pay a mere 1%. International companies were allowed to own up to 100% of the concession, and were required to pay no import taxes for machinery and equipment for mining.

These measures, along with a sharp increase in the value of precious metals, low operating costs, and inadequate enforcement of labor and environmental laws by the Guatemalan government have made mining extremely lucrative  for foreign corporations.

Impacts of mining on local communities

Residents living in the area of the Marlin Mine, operated by Canadian corporation Goldcorp,  have reported an increase in livestock deaths, miscarriages, and skin disorders. Their homes have cracked from the force of the explosions. There is risk of cyanide exposure, heavy metals contamination, and substantial water loss to the community, and numerous other negative effects detailed here.

Marlin mine, Guatemala

Marlin Mine, 2012. Photo Credit: Tom Henning Bratlie, FIAN International

Due to the non-sustainable nature of mining, there are concerns that the effects of current projects can last generations, resulting in health problems, contamination of land used for farming, and resulting economic hardship. In addition, Mayan community leaders have spoken about the conflict between violent, commercial exploitation of the land and indigenous beliefs which call for a respect and reverence for the earth.

Who Benefits?

When I discuss this issues with other Americans, often the response is “Wait – aren’t people in these communities impoverished? Don’t the mines bring work and local investment?” The reality is, while international corporations have reaped enormous profits from mining, local communities have seen scant financial benefit.    In a study conducted by Tufts University , researchers concluded that “when juxtaposed against the long-term and uncertain environmental risk, the economic benefits of the mine to Guatemala and especially to local communities are meager and short-lived.”


Yolanda Oqueli, La Puya, Mining, Guatemala

Yolanda Oquelí of FRENAM. Author: Front Line Defenders

Communities have mobilized in response to the expansion of mining companies.  More than 65 community consultations have been held in Guatemala since 2005; most of them have voted “no” to mining projects on their lands. Local activists have engaged in non-violent  protests, including blocking the entry of mining companies into their communities, meetings with government officials, and marches to mine sites.   These actions have often been met with intimidation and violence by mining security and the Guatemalan government. Protestors have been threatened, injured and killed.  A group of 13 Mayan Q’eqchi’ are suing Canadian corporation HudBay for 2009 incidents in which women were raped, one man murdered and another left paralyzed by mine security guards.

In a disturbing trend that has reached into other areas of political protest in Guatemala, activists have been “criminalized” by the state – arrested and then forced to fight spurious criminal charges. In 2013, Yolanda Oqueli, a leader of Frente Norte del Área Metropolitana (FRENAM), was shot as a result of her non-violent activism protesting El Tambor mine at La Puya.  She and seven other community members will be in court today to face unfounded charges that include threats, coercion and kidnapping.

In a follow-up post, I’ll take about some of the solidarity opportunities available in the area of mining and human rights in Guatemala. For now, I highly recommend this article for further information, as well as the Rights Action website. Lastly, the 2005 documentary “Sikapa No Se Vende” by Alvaro Revenga, reports on the community resistance to the Marlin Mine. It is available in its entirety on YouTube.  Here is Part I:

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