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Around Latin America

September 11, 2013 Comments off

-Yesterday, Chile marked the fortieth anniversary of the coup that overthrew democratically-elected president Salvador Allende and ushered in the 17-year military dictatorship that killed over 3000 people and tortured tens of thousands. Even while the date was commemorated, the search for justice for some continues. Family members of murdered folk singer Victor Jara, whose hands the military cut off before killing him in 1973, have sued an officer tied to the murder who now lives in Florida, while former friends and colleagues of US journalist Charles Horman demand an investigation into his own death in Chile shortly after the coup (a story that was portrayed in Costa Gavras’s 1982 film Missing).

-Of course, Chile is not the only country continuing to pursue justice decades after the rise of right-wing military regimes. It recently extradited judge Otilio Romano to Argentina, where Romano is wanted for his role in cases of torture, disappearances, and other crimes.

-In the wake of wire-tapping scandals that revealed the US spied on Mexico and Brazil, the Obama administration has begun trying to patch up its relationship with Brazil in the wake of the revelations (and as President Dilma Rousseff weighs whether or not to cancel a planned state visit to the US in October).

-Thousands of teachers in Mexico continue to take to the streets in protest of a new educational law that would create mandatory evaluations, reforms they say erode labor rights.

-As Cuban doctors continue to travel to Brazil to help with medical care in the country (one of the many issues raised in massive protests throughout Brazil in June this year) and even enjoy the support of a majority of Brazilians, that has not stopped them from facing racism from some Brazilians, including Brazilian doctors who oppose the Cuban doctors’ presence, a powerful reminder of the ways racism operates within and in between Latin American countries.

-Another former Guatemalan guerrilla is set to face trial for his role in killings during the civil war that left 250,000 Guatemalans dead or missing, providing another reminder that the court system in Guatemala has gone after more than just military human rights violators.

-Brazilian prosecutors have launched an effort to prevent Canadian mining company Belo Sun mining from creating an open-pit mine in the Amazonian basin, arguing such a project will devastate indigenous communities and the environment.

Around Latin America

May 30, 2013 Comments off

-Two former executives from Ford in Argentina have been charged (among other things) with having ties to the abduction of 24 workers for Ford during the military regime of 1976-1983.

-El Salvador’s presidential election is shaping up to be a close three-way race, according to new polls.

-Mexico’s government says it will release a report that finds the number of disappeared in Mexico is “much lower” than an initial report that claimed that tens of thousands have been disappeared as part of the violence that has defined part of the drug trade in Mexico. Nonetheless, Mexico’s government has created a special unit to investigate and try to track down the fates of the tens of thousands of “disappeared” caught up in the drug trade and violence in Mexico.

-In what is perhaps curious timing, even while Efraín Ríos Montt’s conviction for genocide has been annulled, former Guatemalan president Alfonso Portillo was extradited to the US, where he will face charges of corruption and money laundering. As Mike Allison points out, the trial in the US provides another reminder that, although Guatemala’s courts are not as corrupt as they once were, they still have a long way to go, a fact that the recent decision on Ríos Montt all too tragically demonstrated.

-Speaking of institutional failures and undoing justice, a Brazilian court has overturned the 2010 conviction of landowner Vitalmiro Bastos de Moura for his role in the murder of land activist Dorothy Stang in 2005. It is the second time a conviction of Bastos de Moura has been overturned, though he will remain in jail while a third trial takes place. Meanwhile, three other, poorer men hired to murder Stang remain in prison without having access to multiple trials and a court system favorable to their cause the way it is to the wealthier and more powerful Bastos de Moura.

-Chile has fined Canadian mining company Barrick Gold and suspended all operations at the Pascua-Lama mine after environmental degradation, water contamination, and other environmental issues. Though seemingly large, the fine represents only %0.1 of the cost of operating the mine.

-Rio de Janeiro mayor Eduardo Paes is facing criticism for his inability to deal with criticisms after he punched a man in the face while out to dinner last Saturday.

-Following the footsteps of gangs in El Salvador, the MS-13 and Calle 18 gangs in Honduras have agreed to a truce that may reduce (but won’t eliminate) all gang violence and rivalries.

-Ten years since the rise of “Kirchnerism” in Argentina, poverty has declined, though to what degree and by what metrics are apparently up for debate.

-Efforts to reforest and aid the environment in Latin America have slowed to a crawl, caught in bureaucratic red tape, political fear of social movements, and a slowness (or unwillingness) of governments to help environmental causes in the region.

-Digital currency business owner Arthur Budovsky, whose company, Liberty Reserve, operates in Costa Rica, was arrested in Spain this week on charges of money laundering.

On Copper’s Importance to Chile

April 25, 2013 Comments off

I’m a bit late in getting to this, but last week, JF String had a great piece that reveals just how vital to the Chilean economy copper continues to be. Among other data:

The labor of every Chilean miner is today, on average, responsible for producing ~ $60 million (chilean pesos) in mineral wealth per year. That’s four times greater than a Chilean working in the banking sector ($15 million/year) and six times greater than someone working in the country’s retail sector ($10 million/year). [...]

In terms of the total percentage of federal budget revenues, the industry’s contribution represented 20.7% in 2011 compared to 10.5% in 1991. However, the 2011 figure is down from its peak in 2006 when the copper industry represented 34.1% of federal budget revenues. [...]

The wealth generated by copper in Chile has not been distributed equally across the nation. According to Meller’s study, per capita GDP in Chile’s copper regions is around 163% greater than in non-mining regions. The money that does leave, says Meller, is unsurprisingly concentrated in the wealthiest neighborhoods of Santiago.

Sting also has some interesting observations on the ways in which copper in Chile and oil in Venezuela compare and contrast with regards to their respective national economies. The whole piece is not too long and definitely worth checking out..

Around Latin America [Updated]

January 27, 2013 Comments off

-Early reports are saying 245 232 people died in a nightclub fire last night in Santa Maria, a city in Brazil’s southernmost state of Rio Grande do Sul. Somewhere between 300 and 400 people were reportedly at the event, a party for university students. Apparently, the fire’s source was a live band’s pyrotechnics. [UPDATE: The Guardian has photos from the scene last night, some of which are fairly graphic.]

-In Venezuela, prison violence between prisoners and the Venezuelan National Guard at a prison in Barquisimeto left sixty-one dead and around 120 wounded.

-El Salvador will be holding presidential elections next year, and Salvador Sánchez Cerén, the candidate for the incumbent-party FSLN, has said he will seek a repeal of the 1993 amnesty law that has protected war criminals and human rights violators, mostly in the military and governments between 1980 and 1992, from prosecution for their crimes.

-Cícero Guedes, an important figure in Brazil’s Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (Landless Workers’ Movement; MST), was shot dead as he returned home from an area near a sugar plantation MST members had recently occupied.

-Guatemala’s recent efforts to militarize public institutions, including those not directly connected to security forces, have created concerns over the potential stability of democratic institutions.

-In Bolivia, activists and feminists are demanding prosecution of provincial representative Domingo Alcibia, who was caught on security video apparently raping a drunk woman while she was unconscious.

-Brazil is set to launch a massive four-year study of the Amazonian rainforest that will detail the tree-count, biodiversity, and animal life in the region. The study is the first of its kind conducted since the late-1970s, when the military dictatorship conducted a similar study.

-In both Peru and Argentina, recent struggles over mining continue to shape social and political struggles, as people in Peru continue to protest the environmental consequences of mining, while in Argentina, powerful mining companies are using their economic influence and political ties to try to silence local journalists who seek to report on the environmental consequences of the mining activity in the northwestern parts of the country.

-While forty companies, including the massive Grupo Clarín (which has recently butted heads with President Cristina Kirchner) tend to dominate the market, a recent study found that alternative press in Argentina is also thriving.

-In a boon to historians of the Southern Cone (or Great Britain), last week Uruguay declassified archives on the Malvinas War, providing access to new diplomatic and previously-unknown materials on the war and its regional impact.

-Are China’s ties to Mexico fading?

-Finally, in a unique mixture of 21st technology and urban history, Rio de Janeiro has begun incorporating QR codes into the city’s sidewalks to aid tourists, melding the codes into the city’s traditional mosaic sidewalks.

Around Latin America

October 1, 2012 Comments off

-Former president and convicted human rights violator Alberto Fujimori is planning on asking for a pardon from his prison sentence due to health issues in a move that would undo years of efforts for justice for the victims of his regime. Meanwhile, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights requested Peru annul a Supreme Court ruling from this past summer that could lead to Fujimori’s early release from the 2009 conviction that found him guilty of ordering death-squad killings.

-An alleged leader of the Paraguayan Ejército del Pueblo Paraguayo (Army of the Paraguayan People; EPP) released a series of videos that called for the elimination of private property in the name of Paraguay’s poor, highlighting the ongoing social and economic inequalities and ongoing social dissatisfaction and unrest over land distribution in one of Latin America’s two landlocked countries.

-In a move to streamline urban planning and familiarity, San José, Costa Rica, home to 1.5 million of the country’s residents, is finally installing street signs in the city. Prior to this, all addresses were based on landmarks (I don’t remember the exact address of where I lived in Costa Rica 11 years ago, but part of that address was “100 meters north of the school, on the right”). While this seems like a good idea for those visiting such a large city, cab drivers familiar with the old system are among those critical of the decision.

-With student protests and educational reforms causing serious problems for his government, Chilean President Sebastián Piñera announced his 2013 budget, with increased spending on education making up 20% of the budget. Although the move is no doubt likely designed at least in part to address criticisms Piñera has faced over education, it is unlikely to satisfy a student movement that wants institutional reforms and free public education for all.

-In Honduras, rights activist Antonio Trejo, who represented peasants in their struggles against wealthy landowners and who was opposed to recent plans to privatize three cities, was assassinated while attending a wedding last week.

-In a decision that should have happened decades ago, Brazil has formally outlawed the formation of and participation in militias and paramilitary organizations. While the law is an important one to have on the books, it certainly seems like a case of “too little, too late” in a country where police militias have resorted to extrajudicial executions of children, the poor, and others in Brazil’s cities since the 1980s, and the 4- to 8-year sentencing seems light for what is a very real security problem in Brazil. Meanwhile, a former officer who served over 25 years in prison for his role in leading a death squad that killed more than 50 people was himself gunned down in the state of São Paulo last week.

-With one week to go before national elections in Venezuela, a suspect has been arrested in the murder of three opposition activists at a rally last week. Though the suspect’s identity has not been released, opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles spoke out against the killings and the violent climate in Venezuela that they say allowed the killings to take place.

-Thousands of Haitians took to the street to protest against President Michel Martelly’s government, blaming it for rising food prices and the cost of living and accusing it of corruption.

-Bolivian miners who had been in conflict with each other over possession of a mine have agreed to end their conflict, with both sides having access to the Colquiri mine. Earlier struggles had led to months of protests and strikes and even turned violent, with one miner dying in clashes last month.

-In a macabre landmark, a new report says that landmines have killed or maimed 10,000 Colombians in the last 22 years. Leftist guerrillas are responsible for a majority of the mines, a defense mechanism they’ve employed during Colombia’s 48-year (and counting) civil war.

-Speaking of mines, Chile is set to de-mine a path leading to the Torres del Paine National Park, on the Chilean-Argentine border. Both countries heavily mined their respective territories in 1977-1978 when a maritime border dispute over some islands at the southern tip of the continent nearly led to war, with ultranationalists in Argentina particularly aggressive in their declarations. The conflict revealed that, while the dictatorships of South American countries collaborated on human rights abuses via Operation Condor, not all relations between the dictatorships were cordial.

-Margaret Myers has another edition of her “Chinese News Coverage of Latin America” posts up, with Chinese headlines reflecting a preoccupation with eco-tourism, diplomatic ties with the Pacific Alliance, and tariffs, among other items.

-At the UN meetings last week, Argentina and Iran met and agreed to begin talks over prosecutions for those connected to the 1994 bombing of the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina, which left 85 dead and to which Iran had been connected.

-Uruguay claimed to have deactivated a bomb placed at the Venezuelan embassy in Montevideo. Though pamphlets claiming ties to a left-wing group were found near the bomb, it is unclear who actually planted the bomb or the pamphlets – though it may have been leftists, it could also have been from the right in an attempt to discredit the Chávez government, if not something altogether different.

-Finally, Curação’s ex-Prime Minister, Gerrit Schotte is saying he has been removed in a bloodless coup. Schotte accused governor Adeel van der Pluijm-Vrede of illegally swearing in a new government, though the Dutch government, whose kingdom Curação is still a part of, has said the interim government is legal.

Around Latin America

September 13, 2012 Comments off

-In Chile, protests erupted as the country commemorated the 39th anniversary of the military coup that overthrew democratically-elected president Salvador Allende. The protests turned violent, however, leaving one officer dead and at least 255 people under arrest.

-After conflicting reports of an alleged massacre of Yanomani people in Venezuela and subsequent government findings that encountered no evidence of such a massacre, right group Survival International has backtracked, withdrawing a report on the massacre and concluding no such massacre took place.

-This week has brought mixed news for embattled Chilean President Sebastián Piñera. Congress passed a tax reform that will close loopholes for businesses and increase tax revenues for the state, money which can theoretically be used for education. Of course, increased public spending on education has been one of the main demands of the Chilean student movement, so the bill is a small victory for Piñera. However, his government also faces allegations that he has distorted numbers in claims that poverty rates have declined under his watch, adding to the already-substantial criticisms of his government. Thus, Pinera’s poll numbers remain very low, with only a 29% approval rating and with 30% of people who voted for him expressing regret for their decision. [h/t to Greg Weeks for the poll numbers]

-In Brazil, military police have occupied a favela after suspected drug lords murdered seven people, including six youth and a police cadet. While the occupation does not undo Rio’s efforts at more peaceful pacification programs in the favelas, it does raise questions about the limits or long-term potential of these pacification projetcs.

-Miners in Bolivia have blocked one of the main roads into the capital of La Paz as part of a protest that reflects increasing tension and competition among different miners’ organizations.

-Meanwhile, in a different story, after months of protests, Peru’s government announced it will work with indigenous groups on future mining projects. The move could be significant, providing indigenous peoples with an opportunity to finally have the government listen to their concerns and issues and perhaps shaping mining projects and environmental preservation in Peru.

-Margaret Myers has another update on recent Chinese headlines & stories on Latin America, including China’s takes on the middle classes in Latin America, comparisons & contrasts between the Chinese Communist Party and political parties in Latin America, and other stories.

-Bolivia is set to apply to become a full member of Mercosur, the trading bloc made up of Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, and, as of this summer, Venezuela (with Paraguay being suspended in the wake of the removal of President Fernando Lugo. The move makes sense for geographic and economic reasons, and Bolivia is already an associate member, so it will be interesting to see if its application faces the same resistance among some politicians of member countries that Venezuela’s application did. Meanwhile, Paraguay plans to appeal its suspension to the International Tribunal in the Hague

-The body of a mutilated and tortured corpse that washed up on Argentina’s shores in 1976 has finally been identified as that of a Chilean Luis Guillermo Vega Ceballos, a leftist who had fled his own country after the September 11, 1973 coup and who became an early victim of the Argentine military dictatorship of 1976-1983.

-In a country that already faces regular allegations of police abuse, Jamaica is again in the international eye after a policeman shot and murdered a pregnant woman, sparking protests on the Caribbean island.

-Finally, a Colombian woman was murdered and publicly burned after community members accused her of practicing witchcraft in the state of Antioquia.

 

More on the Allegations of an Indigenous Massacre in Venezuela

September 5, 2012 Comments off

The recent story of the possible massacre of Yanomani indigenous peoples in Venezuela by Brazilian gold miners gets murkier and murkier. Although Venezuela quickly ruled that there’s no evidence any such massacre took place this past July, indigenous peoples and rights groups are asking for a more thorough investigation, arguing that the location is so isolated, there is no way the Venezuelan government could have possibly gathered all the information just by conducting flyovers in the region over the past weekend. Indeed, the groups and their supporters argue that that isolation and distance is why it took so long for them to report the massacre in the first place.

Skeptics counter that it seems unlikely that poor Brazilians mining on the border of the two countries in the Amazonian basin could have access to the resources, including helicopters, explosives, and thorough knowledge of local geographies and indigenous migration patterns. While that much is true, it is conceivable that some local elites and/or military on either side of the border may have aided the miners with resources and knowhow based on their own interests in killing and/or terrorizing the Yanomani to leave the area [and we shouldn't rule out, however unlikely it may seem, that perhaps the miners themselves did have enough of both on their own].

However, just as compelling (if not moreso) an argument is the counter-counter regarding the Yanomani, who culturally avoid discussing the dead. As Marcos Wesley de Oliveira, a Brazilian indigenous rights activist, comments in the article, “It’s a measure of how serious the problem is that they are making these allegations.”

Ultimately, I’m more inclined to believe some sort of violence did take place, even if not on the scale originally claimed. Not only is the cultural evidence regarding typical Yanomani silence on death compelling, but indigenous peoples have been targets of violent acts from miners, landless peasants, ranchers, and others in the Amazonian basin in both Brazil and Venezuela for decades, simply because they live on protected lands (or fight for protected lands) that other groups, elite and poor alike, want. Hopefully, the Venezuelan and/or Brazilian governments don’t simply let the case fall to the wayside, and what did or did not happen can be fully uncovered and, should the Yanomani account be true, the perpetrators can be brought to justice.

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