“Young people today are more critical than they were in the seventies,” Adolfo Pérez Esquivel observes, much to the contrary of what the majority of his generation thinks. He was honored with the Nobel Peace Prize in 1980 during the middle of the Argentine military dictatorship. He was working with the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo and was educated as an architect and a sculptor. But he dedicated most of this time to teaching—he taught in primary and secondary schools and also in colleges.
In 1974 he gave up teaching to coordinate a network of Latin American communities for the liberation of the poor through nonviolence. That same year he founded El Servicio Paz y Justicia (The Peace and Justice Service, or Serpaj) and in 1977 he was arrested by the Federal Police, tortured and detained without trial for 14 months. In the conference he gave in Montevideo on the 13th of March, he explained that human rights are violated when people don’t have access to a healthy environment and secure food sources because a “speculative economy” of monoculture farming and mining is privileged over an “economy of production.” What follows is a summary of the conversation we had.
Raúl Zibechi– People talk about the changes seen under progressive governments, but we hear less about the continuities that exist from earlier periods.
Adolfo Pérez Esquivel– Neoliberal policies are still in effect. The economic policies imposed by the dictators and continued during the Washington Consensus have remained to the present day and have even become more profound. There were important changes regarding the impunity laws that we had been demanding for many years. Néstor Kirchner’s political will was necessary for parliament to annul the impunity laws. What we should take away from this is that Argentina is the only country in the world that has been able to prosecute people who committed crimes against humanity through the common justice system. The Nuremburg and the Tokyo War Crime Trials were ad hoc tribunals formed to judge these crimes. And we’ve also been able to keep these cases from passing through the military justice system. That’s why I say that there were considerable advances even though we continue to work to enhance them. The other question is about how and from where we approach human rights, because there is an ideological reduction related to what I call olvidos intencionados (intentional forgetting). Human rights are addressed as far as they relate to the dictatorship, but there is no reference made to the previous and subsequent periods. This reductionism is about more than, and goes beyond, legal impunity.
– What are the main human rights violations in Latin America today?
– For example, environmental issues, everything related to mega mining, monoculture farming of eucalyptus and soy that affect peasants and indigenous people and also impact poverty and hunger issues generally. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) recently reported that 35 thousand children die of hunger each day across the world. The loss of resources like water and biodiversity caused by mining and monoculture farming is very much related to hunger and malnutrition. I think that agrochemicals, cyanide and mercury contamination, to give two examples, are violations of human rights.
In the reductionist vision it’s very uncommon to see a focus on the rights of a people, not just on individuals but on communities, peasants, indigenous people, the inhabitants of a city, when they are confronted with the impact of the contamination of what they eat, drink and breathe. Generally speaking, governments prioritize financial capital over peoples’ lives. They don’t differentiate between a productive economy and one that is speculative and virtual. How can it be that in the stock market everything revolves around the rising and falling of prices? That’s not a real economy because there’s no work or production there. That economy is not interested in damages because it doesn’t depend on what is produced or consumed. I’m not against mining, but I am against any destructive activity. Oscar Wilde said that there are those who know the price of everything and the value of nothing. Price and value aren’t the same. And what’s missing here is that certain things aren’t given a value.
– Some people would say that has to do with politics and economics, not with human rights.
– I was in the United Nations World Summit in Vienna in 1993. One of the proposals that the General Assembly took up referred to the third generation of human rights. That means things like the environment, development and self-determination. This third generation was included to complete the full range of human rights policies in our society.
– Beyond some resolutions like article 169 of the International Labor Organization (ILO), this isn’t being respected anywhere in the world.
– Not only is it not being respected, but the opposite is being done. Native land is being destroyed to plant soy or eucalyptus, to use just two examples, and this is causing the desertification of the planet. Gold is extracted, leaving environmental liabilities and contaminated water sources. Millions of liters of water are polluted with mercury and cyanide. That is contamination that will last for generations. This means we must change the concept of development, it can’t be synonymous with the exploitation of nature or of people. If the idea is to live like they do in the developed countries, we’ve been backed into a corner.
– The movement for human rights in Latin America was successful in sentencing and punishing those who tortured, disappeared and committed crimes against humanity. Nevertheless, it isn’t successful in areas related to the third generation of rights.
– Many human rights organizations have concentrated on the era of the dictatorships, maybe because they are direct family members of the victims, but they’ve remained fixated on this objective. I respect them very much, and I don’t criticize them, but when one sees the consequences of the devastation and the poverty of millions in the world in the name of robbing natural resources, then it becomes necessary to think a little more. We are suffering through an economic genocide for the sake of obtaining gold, diamonds, oil, at the very same moment when technological breakthroughs have allowed us the ability to eliminate worldwide hunger. Haiti’s situation is a good example. I’ve travelled many times to the island, and one sees a situation of total and atrocious misery, extreme poverty in the greater part of the population. There are no forests any more, nature has been destroyed. But there are thousands of soldiers there who don’t resolve anything.
– Still, nowhere in the world have people been able to put alternatives into practice that are capable of combating these tendencies. Even worse, in Europe, which was the region of the world with the least inequality, the social welfare state is being taken apart. How are we to proceed when even countries that defend the idea of Buen Vivir (living well) like Bolivia and Venezuela, are taking part in mining?
– The first thing we must do is overcome the monocultivo de las mentes (monoculture mentality) that quashes us and degrades us. If not, we will be repeating the same mechanisms because we arrive at the fact that governments like those of Evo and Correa aren’t finding alternatives for their own people. Actually, and this is the second problem, countries have lost sovereignty, and you’ll find that the most important policies are the ones imposed by big multinational corporations that have a colossal concentration of power and the capacity to impose decisions on governments. In Argentina, mega mining is taking 97 per cent of resources and leaving just three per cent for the rest of the country. Whose reaping the benefits of mining? Because in addition to the environmental damage, small and medium-sized producers are hurt because their products are going to return less profit.
– But the monoculture farming that you’re denouncing is not just focused on people in the government but on the populations that wish to consume. I mean to say that as long as we’re prisoners of a culture that measures everything via property, there are not many ways out of the dilemma you’re describing.
– There are some possibilities, there are practices like organic farming, recovered factories and a ton of experiences related to the rational use of water and energy that still haven’t acquired a political weight so as to influence the design of a new society. Yes, it’s true, we’re still far from coming up with an alternative. Universities have a great responsibility in this, but a good part of their students aspire to work for multinationals.
– You started teaching before the dictatorship and then you went back when it was over. Now you’re a social sciences professor at the University of Buenos Aires. What is your impression of the current generation if you compare it to the one you knew before the dictatorship?
– It’s very different. They question things more, they’re more critical.
– A lot of people have the opposite impression, in the sense that young people used to be more critical and committed.
– In the sixties and seventies young people had more of an ideological framework regarding processes of liberation, the class struggle, they had a very rational discourse, but there were many café table revolutionaries who would not take that with them when they left the bar. I see the youth of today as more analytical, more critical.
– What do you mean by that? Are you saying that because a good part of folks from the sixties are in the government now?
– No, not at all. I think that science and technology brought about changes in thought, in societies, in humanity in general. We can observe an acceleration of mechanical time that contradicts the natural time in which people have always lived as well as our human rhythms. It’s partly due to this acceleration that we’re living an informational impact which impedes thought or makes the process of thought, which is always reflective, more difficult. I’m talking about information saturation.
– Some neurologists posit that the mind doesn’t think with information, but rather with ideas.
– Exactly. That’s why it’s important to make time for reflection in order for critical consciousness to develop. This has led to changing perceptions of the world and this is the purpose of thought, something that is not so obvious anymore. Reflection implies certain rhythms and these rhythms have changed in a radical way. If the computer takes three seconds more than usual to open a page, that’s a big drama. Human relationships tend to be dominated by these ways of experiencing time. Consequently, reflection and contemplation don’t have the time and space they have had in the history of humanity.
– But you’ve said that the youth of today is more critical.
– While it may seem strange or contradictory, critical attitudes and dissatisfaction come about with incredible rapidity, almost immediately. Young people today, unlike the university students of the past, don’t know what’s going to happen to them tomorrow, they live with a great deal of uncertainty, they know that only a small majority among them has a future and they live in the most absolute professional and existential precariousness. It’s unclear what their place in the world is or will be. And they question their teachers in a very natural way. Sometimes they ask very serious questions. Are the dictatorships over in Latin America? Depending on the perspective that you take, the question is absolutely legitimate. With the excuse of drug trafficking, armies are on the streets again in Guatemala, Mexico, Peru, Colombia.
– What are you observing regionally in Latin American?
– The most important thing is that there aren’t static societies any more, but rapid and profound processes of change. Before, dynasties lasted for centuries, now everything is about change. It’s part of the temporal acceleration we talked about. In Latin America, there is an interesting situation, there is autonomous thought, there is the construction of regional unity that has contributed to avoiding military coups like in Ecuador. All around the world regional blocs are getting stronger and we’re doing the same thing here, because it’s the only way we can hope to eventually stop being a back patio. It’s crucial to limit multinationals. That’s very difficult and always fails, as we saw in the United States when the government wanted to limit the power of Wall Street.
– Are we coming into a new cycle of struggle, now against mining and in the defense of common goods like water?
– That’s where our lives are going, into the defense of these common goods. In years past, the dictatorship threatened our lives, but now life depends on the right of people to decide how they want to live and what they’re going to do with non-renewable resources. That’s why the first ones to react were the peasants and the indigenous people, and also women. I’m convinced that the silent struggle of women is leading them to take positions in all areas, in science, politics, in participation on any level. The women’s movement is really fascinating because besides all their potential it implies another way of thinking. Women and indigenous people are emerging in the terrain of cultural identities. They are the signs of hope that we have, because domination begins with culture and these sectors are the ones that offer a different way of looking at the world.
– You’re an optimist.
– Very much so. As I said, I believe in young people, in the enormous number of girls and boys who work and who study at night to make a way for themselves, to search for their path. They’re the force that can change this.
– You’re almost 80 and have given almost 60 to this cause. Do you ever feel hopeless when you think about all that’s left to do?
– I chose a way to live, no one chose this life for me. I’m austere, I spend little even though I travel a lot. I’m not interested in doing anything else. We’ve lived through difficult things, but I feel very satisfied to have done something so that many people can reclaim hope and the sense of their own identities, these things are part of the path to liberation. Human rights are not an aspirin to calm the pain of the other, they are a path to collective and personal freedom, because no one can be happy alone.
1.- Nos congratulamos de la decisión que el Ejecutivo del Estado de Veracruz ha tomado en torno al proyecto minero Caballo Blanco para no avalar su operación en el estado y que haya respetado plenamente esta demanda ciudadana atendiendo a su mandato constitucional.
2.- Era de esperarse que en un marco de legalidad y congruencia, el Gobernador respetara los derechos a un ambiente sano, a la salud y al territorio en beneficio de todos los veracruzanos y que además, privilegiara la vocación real de la tierra veracruzana que es la producción y no, la extracción de minerales a través de una industria minera tóxica.
3.- En ese sentido, la sociedad civil reconoce que a partir de este momento, el Gobierno del Estado, con esta decisión histórica, marca la pauta para que las políticas públicas estatales, en un marco de sustentabilidad, se encaminen a recuperar esta vocación agropecuaria y turística de Veracruz con lo cual se seguirá contribuyendo a la economía nacional, a asegurar la soberanía alimentaria en nuestro estado y en el país, y a contrarrestar los efectos del crisis climática a nivel mundial.
4.- Nos queda claro también que el Gobierno del Estado de Veracruz, esta actuando con pleno respeto a los convenios internacionales que nuestro país ha suscrito en materia de seguridad nuclear pues esta industria de alto riesgo que pretende asentarse a 3kms de la nucleoeléctrica de Laguna Verde compromete la seguridad, la vida y el futuro de los mexicanos.
5.- A la fecha ya se han pronunciado en contra del proyecto minero Caballo Blanco diversos actores sociales nacionales e internacionales pertenecientes a los sectores académico, científico y social, así como actores políticos a través del Senado, la Cámara de Diputados, el Congreso estatal y ahora el Gobierno Estatal, por lo cual hacemos un llamado al titular del Ejecutivo Federal a través del C. Felipe Calderón Hinojosa para que respete la soberanía estatal y atienda también a su mandato constitucional por el cual debe ceñirse a atender esta exigencia del pueblo mexicano; desde ahora lo hacemos responsable de cualquier acción que tenga que ver con la imposición de este proyecto minero Caballo Blanco de la canadiense GoldGroup en nuestro estado, inclusive del uso de las fuerzas armadas a su cargo con tal de imponerlo.
6.- Así que puntualmente exigimos a la SEMARNAT que actué en congruencia con la exigencia de la sociedad civil, de la academia, de la ciencia, de los actores políticos y ahora del ejercicio soberano del Gobierno del Estado para proteger a nuestro territorio estatal y DESECHE definitivamente el proyecto minero Caballo Blanco; de los gobiernos municipales directamente involucrados, es decir de los Ayuntamientos de Actopan y Alto Lucero, les exigimos que no emitan ningún permiso o licencia municipales a la empresa minera; al Gobierno del Estado le solicitamos que en aras de la transparencia y rendición de cuentas, de a conocer públicamente la opinión que emitió a la SEMARNAT, a través de la SEDEMA, con base en la cual no avala el proyecto minero referido.
7.- Seguimos además convocando a todos los ciudadanos, organizaciones, comunidad nacional e internacional y representantes populares, a blindar a Veracruz contra la industria minera toxica, a que sigan pronunciando su rechazo y sobretodo, a que no bajemos la guardia hasta que la empresa minera se haya ido de nuestro territorio.
El saqueo minero en México es posible dadas las facilidades que la legislación otorga a las empresas mineras para hacerlo, pero también porque en los casos donde impone algunas condicionantes éstas no se respetan. Eso se desprende del Informe del resultado de la fiscalización superior de la Cuenta Pública 2010 de la Auditoría Superior de la Federación, dado a conocer en días pasados. No es la primera vez que lo hace; ya en 2008 había señalado que la Dirección General de Minas había entregado concesiones a empresas que carecían de las actas constitutivas que acreditaran su nacionalidad y que dentro de su objeto social se encontraba la minería; además, en aquella ocasión el organismo expresó que los concesionarios no informaban que su actividad se ajustara a las disposiciones en materia de protección al ambiente, ni que hubieran realizado las obras a que la ley los obliga.
Ahora la Auditoría Superior de la Federación vuelve a poner el dedo en esta llaga por donde se desangra a México. Ya no habla de que no se identifique la nacionalidad de la empresa minera concesionaria ni que no acredite que dentro del objeto para el que fue creada esté la minería; lo que dice es que de mil 121 concesiones que se autorizaron en 2010, 272 no se registraron en el padrón correspondiente, lo que lo convierte en un instrumento de control poco confiable; de igual manera, 80 de ellas no consignaron su registro federal de contribuyentes, impidiendo que la Secretaría de Hacienda pueda requerirles el pago correspondiente por derechos; además, que en 39 casos la empresa titular de la concesión no pagó derechos y en 27 pagó menos de lo que era su obligación liquidar.
Otra de las irregularidades detectadas es el pago por el uso y aprovechamiento de bienes de la nación, como son los recursos naturales. El informe de la Auditoría Superior de la Federación corrobora lo que en muchas ocasiones se ha señalado en La Jornada: que las cuotas que se pagan por una concesión son inferiores a los costos de los trámites administrativos para otorgarla. Textualmente, afirma:
El importe de las cuotas que se pagan actualmente es simbólico y contrasta con los volúmenes extraídos de recursos minerales no renovables, ya que el valor de éstos está por arriba de los derechos de concesión que cobra el Estado, como se observó en el periodo 2005 a 2010, en que el valor de la producción ascendió a 552,422,429.3 miles de pesos, y el de los derechos cobrados a 6,543,417.4 miles de pesos, los cuales equivalieron a 1.2 por ciento de la primera. Pero no sólo eso: también se detectó que los pagos por trámites de modificación de títulos y por la modificación misma no son verificados por la autoridad, de ahí que no se pueda saber si pagan o no, o si lo hacen de manera correcta.
Lo que el informe muestra es que las venas del saqueo minero en México siguen abiertas. No sólo por lo laxo de la legislación aplicable, sino también por las omisiones de las autoridades en vigilar que se cumpla. Esto, como es natural, tiene sus repercusiones. Cada día aumentan las protestas sociales por la devastación ambiental causada por la minería en diversas partes del territorio nacional, lo mismo que por los contratos leoninos firmados con los dueños de las tierras bajo las cuales se encuentra el codiciado mineral, o los daños a la salud que el uso de sustancias químicas provoca. Ejemplos sobran, aunque destacan las protestas indígenas porque, al introducirse en sus territorios sin su consentimiento, destruyen el entorno social donde viven y ponen en peligro su existencia como pueblos.
Eso debería ser razón suficiente para emprender una revisión profunda a la legislación y las políticas mineras. No se puede seguir haciendo como si nada pasara. Es necesario analizar los requisitos para la entrega de concesiones las obligaciones de quienes las obtienen, especialmente en materia de protección ambiental y de salud de quienes viven en las zonas donde se instalan, los pagos por derechos de uso y aprovechamiento de los recursos naturales y los impuestos por comercialización de los mismos. Esas son razones suficientes para iniciar un cambio de fondo en esta actividad, pero si alguien necesita un argumento más, hay que decir que el mineral es propiedad de todos los mexicanos y las trasnacionales mineras se lo están llevando sin dejar ningún beneficio al país.
Caravana Estudiantil Ricardo Zavala
Frente Amplio Opositor a la Minera San Xavier (FAO)
Frente en Defensa de Wirikuta Tamatsima Wahaa
Canada’s mining industry is the largest in the world, and in 2004 its world market share accounted for 60 percent of all mining companies. In fact, the entire Latin American region is second only to Canada in terms of the breadth of its mining exploration and development activity.[i] In what some call the “halo effect,” Canadian industries have been perceived as the more conscientious alternative to their U.S. equivalents. Since Canadian industries are understood to have socially responsible practices, especially in contrast to those of American companies, they are typically welcomed abroad.[ii] Nonetheless, recent accusations that the Canadian mining company Pacific Rim played a role in the death squad killings of anti-mining activists in El Salvador has brought this reputation into question, while further investigation into the Canadian government’s regulation reveals that the government has mandated no true restrictions on its industry’s mining practices abroad. Left to its own accord, the Canadian mining industry has no problem destroying landscapes, uprooting communities, and even resorting to violence to promote its interests; for this reason, only government regulation can affect true change. A recent move by the Peruvian government to protect citizens near the city of Puno demonstrates that Latin American governments may finally be willing and able to regulate Canadian mining companies operating within their nations.
The Evolution of Canadian Mining in Latin America
In the period from 1990 to 2001, mineral investment in Latin America increased by 400 percent, and by 2005, the region was receiving 23 percent of total worldwide exploration investments. The Canadian mining industry’s share of the Latin American market is the largest of any country, at 34 percent in 2004.[iii] However, even with a substantial flow of Canadian investment in the mining sectors of these countries, living standards have not tangibly improved for those in proximity of the mines, despite the image portrayed by the mining industry.
For a large part of the 20th century, the majority of the mineral wealth in Latin America was government property. Beginning in the 1980′s, the regional shift to neo-liberalism also saw the transfer of state property to transnational corporations. [iv] The immediate entry of the Canadian mining industry into the Latin American market corresponds with this neo-liberal shift. The Canadian government used various means to facilitate and promote the Canadian mining industry’s entry into the region including funds from the World Bank, IMF and incentives provided by Canadian foreign policy initiatives themselves. Since the 1980s, structural adjustment programs implemented in Latin America have opened the region’s markets to incentivize investment from the world’s wealthiest nations. Canada has been a particularly vocal advocate of these measures, hoping to expand its economic interests in Latin America. [v]
Canada also promotes its economic reach in Latin America through Free Trade Agreements. In addition to its leadership role in NAFTA, Canada has established Free Trade Agreements or Foreign Investment Protection Agreements with many Latin American states, and has been a principal proponent of the Free Trade Area of the Americas.[vi] Canada’s Free Trade Agreement with Peru allowed the country to become Canada’s third-largest trading partner in Latin America by 2007.[vii] This increase is largely attributed to the rising price of mineral resources, especially since, “Gold and other precious metals constituted more than 53 percent of Peruvian exports to Canada in 2007.”[viii]
The Canadian government’s most controversial means of promoting its mining interests in Latin America is through foreign aid. Under the pretext of foreign aid, the Canadian International Development Agency or CIDA awarded Peru with a CAD 9.6 million, USD 6.2 million[ix] investment to the Mineral Resource Reform Project in a move meant to promote Canadian mining interests in the nation.[x]
One Canadian Mining Company’s Response to Resistance
Canadian mining companies often resort to extreme measures to promote their interests. The Canadian government has failed to regulate its mining industry abroad, but accusations that Pacific Rim, a mining company based in Vancouver, played a role in the deaths of anti-mining reporters in El Salvador demonstrates the extent of destruction that mining can reach in the region when left unchecked. In a July 12, 2011 statement, Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont condemned the killings of anti-mining activists in El Salvador following the June 14, 2011 discovery of Juan Francisco Duran Ayala’s body; he was last seen posting flyers critical of gold mining in the region. His death is the most recent of numerous violent attacks against anti-mining activists in the country’s Cabañas region. [xi] In 2010, three anti-mining activists in the region were gunned down, after receiving numerous death threats citing their activism regarding the El Dorado mine in El Salvador. As a result, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights demanded that the Salvadoran government protect the rights of journalists and the media. [xii]
One radio station in El Salvador, Radio Victoria, reports receiving death threats as well as threats on family members unless they curb their anti-mining expression.[xiii] Reporters without Borders described the station’s critical role, saying, “For nearly a decade, Radio Victoria has been the mouthpiece of local communities and environmental activists opposed to the mining operations of Vancouver-based Pacific Rim Mining Corp. The station has played a key role in providing the local population with information about the dangers that the mining poses to their health and even their survival.”[xiv] Given Radio Victoria’s strong anti-mining stance, one reporter said, “We don’t trust the men who are protecting us. The mining company has connections with the local authorities. I don’t trust the local police.”[xv] The Prosecutor General’s Office is in charge of this investigation, but despite the national and international attention surrounding the events, no report was issued as of June 2011.[xvi] The failure to produce any real answers surrounding these threats and murders suggests that Pacific Rim’s influence may reach beyond local death squads to the Salvadoran government.
The Negative Effects of Canadian Mining Around the World
Canadian industries operating abroad have always benefitted from positive perceptions of the nation’s practices resulting from the aforementioned “halo effect.”[xvii] However, in truth, Canadian mining often has drastic consequences for local environments and communities; thus, recent activities, in reality, stand to dampen this image. Across the globe, Canadian mining companies destroy landscapes, contaminate the environment, and disturb the lives of locals. Meanwhile, the Canadian government does little, if anything, to hold these companies accountable for their exploits. In effect, environmental groups recognize that Canadian mining firms are “just as bad as the most ruthless of American companies.”[xviii]
To illustrate, one Canadian gold mining company, Goldcorp, maintains mines in the following Latin America nations: Mexico, Guatemala, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Brazil, Chile, and Argentina. Goldcorp represents just one of the many Canadian mining companies in Latin America, yet its mines have been associated with numerous infractions, including the destruction of archaeological sites, acid mine drainage, water resource depletion in drought-prone areas, polluting water resources with copper and iron, high levels of arsenic and lead in local inhabitants, mercury poisoning, pipeline bursts, and disregarding the pleas of locals.[xix]
The Effects of Mining on the Environment
Depletion of water resources and contamination are the principal negative ramifications of mining, in addition to physical destruction. Mining companies often forcibly monopolize water resources, as many mining techniques require large amounts of water. As a result, local communities are left with a profound shortage or impaired quality of water. For example, Goldcorp’s Marlin mine in Guatemala uses approximately 2,175,984,000 liters per year compared to the 153,300 used by an average North American citizen or the average 13,505 liters used by an African citizen.[xx] The problem is exacerbated in areas that receive as little as 150 mm of rainfall per year such as northwest Argentina, where the joint venture Alumbrera mine operated by Goldcorp, Xstrata and Northern Orion depletes the already precarious water supply, leaving locals in desperation.[xxi]
Water pollution has a more detrimental and long-lasting effect on the environment than water depletion. Acid Mine Drainage (AMD), the most common form of mining contamination, occurs when sulfides housed in the rock are exposed to air during excavation, forming sulfuric acid. This acid runs off into nearby streams and lakes, polluting the surrounding watershed. The acid dissolves other heavy metals it encounters such as copper, lead, arsenic, zinc, selenium and mercury, which further pollute the surface and ground water of the region.[xxii] AMD can continue for thousands of years after the mine is closed, as illustrated by a 2,000-year-old mine in Great Britain that continues to produce AMD today. Goldcorp mines have been associated with AMD in four Latin American countries: Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, and Argentina.[xxiii]
Cyanide, used to extract gold and silver from the surrounding rock, makes large-scale processing possible, but when released into the environment, it can have serious consequences. On average, 70 tons of waste is created in the processing of 1 ounce of gold. At Goldcorp’s San Martín mine in Honduras, an average of .78 ounces of gold is extracted from every ton of ore, and an enormous amount of rock must be moved. When chemically treated rock and ore, known as ‘mine tailings,’ spill during transport, the water supply can become contaminated with cyanide.[xxiv] Though mining companies report that cyanide is broken down by sunlight and transformed into a nontoxic form, it frequently harms, or even kills, aquatic life.[xxv] At the La Coipa mine in Chile, a former Goldcorp holding, mercury as well as cyanide was discovered in groundwater as a result of mine seepage. Blood samples taken from the local community population near Goldcorp’s San Martín mine in Honduras registered high levels of mercury, lead and arsenic.[xxvi]
False Hope and Canadian Bill C-300
The Canadian mining industry’s operations in Latin America have unquestionably harmed the surrounding environments and communities and influenced the policies of the host nations.[xxvii] Despite this, the Canadian government refuses to enforce any type of human rights regulations outside of Canadian territory; instead, the government supports the mining industry both financially and politically regardless of its practices. Several enlightened segments of the Canadian government took a stand against the government’s policy with respect to foreign mining practices, but to no avail. The parliamentary Standing Committee for Foreign Affairs and International Trade issued a report calling for reforms regarding mining in foreign countries. However, the government responded stating that no precedent for prosecuting or regulating practices outside of the Canadian territory currently exists. The government established a round-table to address the issue, viewed by many critics as an ineffective stalling tactic. [xxviii]
Canadian Bill C-300, also known as the Responsible Mining Bill, provided a glimmer of hope for increased accountability of Canadian mining industry practices in the developing world. The bill would have ensured compliance with the stringent international environmental practices the Canadian government claims to uphold, as well as reaffirmed Canada’s commitment to human rights. Additionally, the bill would have outlined environmental standards for the Canadian extractive industry, provisions for grievances to be brought before the ministers of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, and public reporting of any dismissed complaint in the Canada Gazette.[xxix] According to Bill C-300, any government funding for Canadian extractive companies abroad would be contingent upon compliance with the aforementioned standards and would require confirmation by the local Canadian embassy. C-300 was the legal apparatus to ensure acceptable practices by Canadian mining firms abroad. Although C-300 passed on the second reading in 2009, the bill ultimately failed to pass the final vote in the House of Commons on October 27, 2010.[xxx] This was an unfortunate victory for the Canadian mining industry, and was yet another sign that the current Conservative government does not support human rights and environmental health, at least not when Canada’s extractive industry could see its profit margin adversely affected in any way.
However, the government holds that it does in fact support human rights in developing nations through the controversial IMF and World Bank structural adjustments plans.[xxxi] In spite of Canada’s rather flattering reputation for high moral standards, at least in comparison to the U.S., Canada’s support for human rights appears quite dubious at times. Ottawa refused to sign the United Nations’ Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples that requires consent from indigenous groups before any projects can commence on their land. Canada, along with Australia, called for revision, which significantly slowed the process and ultimately blocked its passage. [xxxii] The failure of this declaration was a certain victory for the Canadian mining industry in Latin America, which conducts its business almost exclusively on inhabited territory.
Nearly all new mine locations are located either on inhabited lands or close to established communities. Given the almost certain environmental degradation and pollution associated with mines, as well as the possible disruption in game and foul patterns, local communities tend to oppose mining. Though permission is technically required from indigenous communities before exploration or mining can begin on their lands, this is often a mere formality that does not even remotely protect the interests of the community. Because of this, mining is a persistent source of conflict in the region, pitting local and indigenous communities against large Canadian mining companies.[xxxiii]
Responses to Canadian Mining
Latin American resistance appears inevitable given the contradiction between the government’s policies and the citizens’ sentiments. Many Latin American citizens express little confidence in the private sector’s management of mineral extraction industries.[xxxiv] Local communities typically bear the brunt of mining cost, while profits are carted off to foreign headquarters of the mining company, leaving only a fractional percentage of profits within the capital or other major cities of the host nation. Since neither the Canadian government nor the respective national governments protect the rights of local community members, these communities are forced to stand up for themselves through protests and blockades.
Changing Times– One Latin American Country Turns Feisty and Stands up to Mining
Despite the efforts of Canadian mining companies to go to unacceptable lengths to ensure their interests seemingly at any cost, recent action taken by the Peruvian government may demonstrate a change in policy with regard to the Andean nation’s support of Canadian mining companies. In 2007, the Peruvian government granted a concession to the Canadian company Bear Creek Mining for rights to land near Puno, on the shore of Lake Titicaca. In early May of this year, protests broke out in the Puno region, demanding a halt to mining exploration and a revocation of the concession. Originally, protesters were relatively peaceful, blocking the Bolivian border crossing and other highways. However, in late May the protests turned violent, and participants began torching government buildings and threatening to interfere with the June 5 presidential election. The García government responded by putting a hold on all new concessions for twelve months, but this was not enough for the protesters; they later blockaded more roads and spread unrest throughout the entire Puno region, threatening other industries there as well. The government decided to revoke Bear Creek’s concession, despite outrage expressed on behalf of the company. Unfortunately, this decision was not made until the police fired on a group of protesters headed toward the Juliaca airport.[xxxv]
This decision by the Peruvian government symbolized a decisive victory for local interests and demonstrated a shift in government policy. Until recently, Peruvian government policy mechanically supported economic interests over those of its citizens. This policy shift was likely invigorated as a result of the June 5 presidential election, in which the left-leaning populist Ollanta Humala was elected. In the Puno department, Humala, a champion of rights and economic prosperity for all Peruvians, won the election decisively with 78 percent of the vote, the largest margin of all 26 of Peru’s departments.[xxxvi]
Canada, a country with a supposed commitment to environmental health and human rights, has the largest extractive industry presence in Latin America. Nevertheless, the Canadian government refuses to take any action when its extractive industry’s practices fail to guarantee an accord with the country’s broader allegiances to ethical practices abroad. Unchecked mining in Latin America has grievous repercussions for the environment and the populations in surrounding areas. However, given the large political and economic influence that the Canadian extractive industry wields, even at times resorting to violence, Latin American governments often neglect the best interests of their citizens and environment when they act to join forces with foreign multinationals against their own citizens. Fortunately, this trend seems to be changing, as seen with the Peruvian government’s revocation of Bear Creek Mining’s concession amidst the uproar from local communities. Sadly, this movement turned violent before the government reacted in the name of its own citizens. For this reason, it is imperative that Ottawa hold its industries accountable to some approximation of environmental and human rights standards, both at home and abroad.
References for this article can be found here.
About the author:
COHA, or Council on Hemispheric Affairs, was founded in 1975, the Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA), a nonprofit, tax-exempt independent research and information organization, was established to promote the common interests of the hemisphere, raise the visibility of regional affairs and increase the importance of the inter-American relationship, as well as encourage the formulation of rational and constructive U.S. policies towards Latin America.
[i.] Gordon, Todd and Webber, Jeffery R. ‘Imperialism and Resistance: Canadian mining companies in Latin America’, Third World Quarterly, 29:1, 70
[ii.] Derek Abma, “Our halo is wearing thin amid business scandals,” Vancouver Sun, July 1, 2011, accessed July 5, 2011, http://www.vancouversun.com/story_print.html?id=5034584&sponsor=.
[iii.] Todd Gordon and Jeffery R. Webber, ‘Imperialism and Resistance: Canadian mining companies in Latin America’, Third World Quarterly, 29:1, 72
[iv.] Todd Gordon and Jeffery R. Webber, ‘Imperialism and Resistance: Canadian mining companies in Latin America’, Third World Quarterly, 29:1, 67-8
[v.] Todd Gordon and Jeffery R. Webber, ‘Imperialism and Resistance: Canadian mining companies in Latin America’, Third World Quarterly, 29:1, 66
[vi.] Todd Gordon and Jeffery R. Webber, ‘Imperialism and Resistance: Canadian mining companies in Latin America’, Third World Quarterly, 29:1,
[vii.] Stephen J. Randall, “Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America: Trade, Investment and Political Challenges,” Canadian International Council, accessed July 7, 2011, http://www.opencanada.org/wp- content/uploads/2011/05/Canada-the-Caribbean-and-Latin-America_-Trade-Investment-and- Political-Challenges-Stephen-J.-Randall.pdf.
[ix.] “Historical Exchange Rates,” Accessed July 8, 2011, Oanda.com, http://www.oanda.com/currency/historical- rates/.
[x.] Todd Gordon and Jeffery R. Webber, ‘Imperialism and Resistance: Canadian mining companies in Latin America’, Third World Quarterly, 29:1, 69
[xi.] “Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy On Violence Against Antimining Activists In El Salvador,” Accessed July 21, 2011, The Office of Senator Patrick Healy, http://leahy.senate.gov/press/press_releases/release/?id=e29a4642-bd56-46e1- bda8- 94799fff9e53
[xii.]Edgardo Ayala. ” Radio Station under Threat in Mining Region,” Accessed July, 21, 2011, Inter Press Service, http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=56111
[xvii.] Derek Abma, “Our halo is wearing thin amid business scandals,” Vancouver Sun, July 1, 2011, accessed July 5, 2011, http://www.vancouversun.com/story_print.html?id=5034584&sponsor=.
[xix.] “Investing in Conflict, Public Money, Private Gain: Goldcorp in the Americas,” Rights Action, Accessed June 22, 2011, http://www.rightsaction.org/Reports/research.pdf.
[xvii.] Todd Gordon and Jeffery R. Webber, ‘Imperialism and Resistance: Canadian mining companies in Latin America’, Third World Quarterly, 29:1, 64
[xviii.] Todd Gordon and Jeffery R. Webber, ‘Imperialism and Resistance: Canadian mining companies in Latin America’, Third World Quarterly, 29:1, 69
[xxix.] Joan Russow, “Canada Day 2011: 100 Reasons to Not Celebrate,” Pacific Free Press, July 1, 2011, Accessed July 7, 2011, http://www.pacificfreepress.com/news/1-/9099-100-reasons-to-not- celebrate-canada-day.html.
[xxxi.] Todd Gordon and Jeffery R. Webber, ‘Imperialism and Resistance: Canadian mining companies in Latin America’, Third World Quarterly, 29:1, 70
[xxxiii.] Todd Gordon and Jeffery R. Webber, ‘Imperialism and Resistance: Canadian mining companies in Latin America’, Third World Quarterly, 29:1, 68
[xxxiv.] Todd Gordon and Jeffery R. Webber, ‘Imperialism and Resistance: Canadian mining companies in Latin America’, Third World Quarterly, 29:1, 72
[xxxv.] Lucien Chauvin, ” Peru’s Airport Siege: A Bad Omen for the New President,” Time, June 27, 2011, Accessed July 7, 2011, http://www.time.com/time/world/article /0,8599,2079964,00.html#ixzz1RWaxRMv0.
DIA MUNDIAL CONTRA LA MINERIA A CIELO ABIERTO
22 DE JULIO 2011
La minería a cielo abierto es vorazmente destructora, el daño que provoca es irreversible y permanente, consiste en la voladura de montañas, grandes superficies de territorio y subsuelo con miles de toneladas de explosivos. Se utiliza principalmente para la extracción de metales preciosos, en zonas donde su presencia es dispersa, incluso a razón de medio gramo de oro por cada tonelada de roca. La única posibilidad de acceder a estas mínimas concentraciones de mineral es mediante la destrucción total del territorio a partir de tajos a cielo abierto. El material triturado con explosivos es sometido a procesos químicos como la lixiviación con cianuro, que requiere millones de litros de agua pura al día (en Cerro de San Pedro, por ejemplo, Minera San Xavier utiliza 32 millones de litros de agua al día mezclados con 16 toneladas de cianuro, esto es, en una hora esta mina consume el agua que utiliza una familia durante 10 años).
El impacto sobre mantos freáticos y fuentes de agua es severo, no sólo por la sobreexplotación sino también por su contaminación con metales pesados, provocando enfermedades crónico degenerativas que llevan a la muerte. La minería a cielo abierto genera miles de millones de toneladas de desechos de material estéril que es depositado sobre miles de hectáreas a la redonda de los tajos, acidificando la tierra y dejándola improductiva de forma permanente. La pérdida de biodiversidad también es irreversible, así como la modificación agresiva de los paisajes y sus cauces hídricos.
A partir de los años 90’s se modificaron las leyes en casi toda América para dar paso a este tipo de extracción de minerales preciosos y facilitar la obtención de concesiones a empresas trasnacionales, principalmente canadienses, negocios de unos cuantos que solo dejan a su paso un terrible saldo de destrucción de patrimonio ambiental e histórico para los pobladores actuales y para las futuras generaciones. Los pasivos ambientales, la destrucción de territorio, la división de las comunidades, la pérdida de soberanía e independencia, así como los daños jurídicos son parte del enorme precio que pagan nuestros países por permitir este tipo de minería, misma que resulta increíblemente barata para las corporaciones mineras, pues generan un mínimo de empleos y los costos de producción del metal precioso son muy bajos en la actualidad.
Este tipo de proyectos mineros depende de una red internacional de corrupción que permite la compra de voluntades políticas, de jueces, de poblaciones en situaciones de miseria e incluso de gobiernos enteros. Cualquier procedimiento jurídico que sigan las comunidades para defender sus territorios de la amenaza de la minería a cielo abierto se ve rebasado por la imposición ilegal que los poderes fácticos hacen de dichos negocios depredadores, mismos que se presentan como ofertas de progreso y desarrollo. El caso de la canadiense New Gold-Minera San Xavier en Cerro de San Pedro es paradigmático: después de que la sociedad civil ganó la anulación jurídica del proyecto, la empresa, con apoyo de todos los niveles de gobierno, decidió imponer su proyecto violando las leyes nacionales, pisoteando la soberanía de nuestro país y comprando impunidad con sus aliados político-empresariales.
Los pueblos nos encontramos totalmente indefensos ante estas mafias internacionales, porque a pesar de los múltiples daños que provocan, también logran penetrar entre los pobladores y aprovechándose de la pobreza e ignorancia, logran dividir a los pueblos, generando graves conflictos internos. Actualmente en México hay alrededor de 22 mil concesiones de exploración y más de 850 proyectos mineros de tajo a cielo abierto, lo que representa la entrega del 20% del territorio nacional. Esta nueva fiebre del oro y su método depredador asociado se encuentra ya en todos los países del hemisferio sur, tanto en América Latina, África y Asia
Por lo anterior:
Convocamos a participar en la defensa de la tierra y el agua, de la soberanía de nuestros países y del patrimonio de las futuras generaciones, llevando a cabo acciones que manifiesten la oposición a este tipo de minería.
· Favor de enviar fotografías de las acciones que realicen en otros lugares al correo email@example.com, para su amplia difusión.
En la ciudad de México haremos un plantón en el Ángel de la Independencia el viernes 22 de julio a las 17:00 hrs, (lleven mantas, carteles, paraguas e impermeables).
“¡Mientras nosotros apostamos por la vida, ellos apuestan por la muerte!”
¡El agua y la vida valen más que el oro!
Kolektivoazul/Frente Amplio Opositor a New Gold-Minera San Xavier
Comunidades Campesinas y Urbanas con Alternativas.