Category: The South

FROM THE SOUTH will gather the stories and issues taking place in Latin American, and we will give you the analysis and opinion to understand the regional context.

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OUR NEWS section is a mesh of news selection that our editors have put together to keep our readers updated with what is happening in their community, Canada, Latin America and the world. We not only find news coverage from a number of news organizations, but we find our own stories too. We are interested in the stories from below. The stories that not too many people want to tell. We look for stories that are relevant to our community, and tell it how it is, and how it affects us.

Our team consists of a number of local analysts, partner experts, and organizations that support this collaborative effort to bring you a Latin American perspective of current issues.
We are always looking for new partners and opinion makers to add contributions.

If you are one of them contact us at:

info@surla.org
Subject: News

Colombian government seeking peace with FARC rebels

By Helen Murphy and Luis Jaime Acosta/Reuters/August 27, 2012

BOGOTA – Colombia’s government is seeking peace with the country’s biggest rebel group, the FARC, and could consider also holding talks with a second guerrilla movement to end five decades of war, President Juan Manuel Santos said on Monday.

In a televised address from the presidential palace, Santos said his government would learn from the mistakes of so many previous leaders who tried but failed to clinch a lasting ceasefire with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

“Since the first day of my government I have completed my constitutional obligation to find peace. With that aim, we have had exploratory conversations with the FARC to seek an end to the conflict,” he said, confirming weeks of swirling rumors that his government had started behind-the-scenes discussions.

He added that the military would continue its operations “throughout every centimeter” of Colombia while talks continued.

Santos did not provide further details, but said he would reveal more about the talks in the coming days.

A successful peace agreement with the rebels would secure him a place in history as the leader who ended a conflict that has killed tens of thousands over the years and left the Andean nation’s reputation in tatters.

In response to a Reuters interview published on Monday with the head of the nation’s second biggest rebel group, Santos said the National Liberation Army, known as the ELN, could also be involved in the peace talks.

“Today the ELN has expressed, via an international news agency, its interest in participating in conversations to put an end to the violence,” the president said in his brief speech.

“I tell that group that, within the same framework, they too can be part of the effort to end the conflict.”

A Colombian intelligence source told Reuters earlier that as part of the deal to hold talks, Santos had agreed FARC rebels would not be extradited to any other country to stand trial.

Details are still being worked out, the source said, but the negotiations could take place in Cuba or Norway. U.S. President Barack Obama is aware of the process and is in agreement, the source said.

Santos, who is at the mid-point of his four-year term, has said he would consider peace talks with the FARC only if he was certain the drug-funded group would negotiate in good faith.

SANTOS FOCUSED

The last peace effort ended in shambles.

In 1988 former President Andres Pastrana ceded the FARC a safe haven the size of Switzerland to promote talks. The rebels took advantage of the breathing space to train fighters, build more than 25 airstrips to fly drug shipments, and set up prison camps to hold its hostages.

News of the latest peace effort was met with guarded hope among Colombians.

“Honestly, full peace is probably never possible. Of course it would be good … but really, an end to the war? I think an end to the world will happen first,” said Maria Eugenia Martinez as she sold cigarettes in an upscale Bogota neighborhood.

Santos discussed the peace process during talks in Havana with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Cuba’s former leader Fidel Castro before the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia earlier this year, the intelligence source said.

Colombia’s congress passed a constitutional reform in June that set the legal basis for eventual peace with the rebels. The reform prohibits guerrilla leaders accused of crimes against humanity from holding political office.

In a recent interview with Reuters, Santos said he would only start a peace process “with a high probability of success. I would not start a process to fail.”

VIOLENCE CONTINUES

News of the talks had already angered Santos’ predecessor, Alvaro Uribe, who has slammed Santos for wanting “peace at any cost” and allowing the rebels to rearm and regroup.

Santos, a former defense minister, won election in 2010 by a landslide, pledging to cut unemployment and continue Uribe’s hard line security policies, while fostering economic growth and reducing poverty.

While much of the world struggles to shore up fiscal accounts, Colombia’s financial management, buoyant economy and security advances have helped shield its economy from too much fallout from the international financial crisis.

Once an outcast for most foreign companies, the Andean nation has become a magnet for investment as a U.S.-backed offensive against the FARC sharply reduced the number of kidnappings and murders. The nation was rewarded last year with an investment grade from three major credit-rating agencies.

But the 61-year-old Santos has seen his own ratings slide in recent weeks amid criticism that he had allowed rebels to chip away at the security gains of the last decade.

Attacks on oil industry installations have jumped 40 percent over the last year, while violent clashes between troops and indigenous protesters led to withering criticism of Santos for not protecting the soldiers.

Six people were killed, including two children, in a FARC bomb attack in central Meta province on Sunday.

The FARC, which calls itself “the people’s army” defending peasant rights, has battled about a dozen governments since appearing in 1964, when its founder, Manuel Marulanda, and 48 rebels fought off thousands of troops in jungle hide-outs.

The group has faced its biggest set-backs in recent years as U.S.-trained special forces use sophisticated technology and spy networks to track the leaders.

A string of defeats began in 2008 with a cross-border military raid into Ecuador that killed its second in command. Marulanda died of a heart attack weeks later and was replaced by Alfonso Cano, who was later killed too.

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Tariq Ali: Why Latin America backs WikiLeaks

By: Tariq Ali/Greeleft.org/August 26, 2012

 

British-Pakistani author, journalist and activist Tariq Ali chaired a rally outside the Ecuadorean Embassy in London on August 19. The rally came before WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange’s widely publicised speech. Ali also gave two speeches. In the second, he spoke about why it was that Assange and WikiLeaks had found support in Ecuador and Latin America more generally — and highlighted the revolutionary movements that have swept the continent to challenge US corporate domination. It is transcribed below.

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I think one aspect of this [situation] that has not yet been dealt with. And it needs to be understood — especially in the Western world. Why is it that an Australian citizen, facing prosecution from a European country, decides to appeal for asylum to a South American republic?

And the reason for that is that for the last 10-15 years, huge changes have been taken place in South America. And these changes are very interesting.

For a whole while, as many of you will know, South America was governed by military dictatorships, of one sort or another — backed by the United States and its European partners — and allowed to do whatever they wanted.

They were taught how to torture [by the US], they were taught how to kill, and they carried on doing it until the changes began. And the changes began for social and economic reasons, it should be pointed out.

The changes began when the people in Venezuela — who were the first — said enough! Enough of International Monetary Fund regulations, enough of World Bank rules. We don’t like neoliberalism, we don’t like the way our oligarchs are running our country, we don’t want to live in a world where everything is privatised, where there is no public sector — that is what started it off.

And there have been more elections in Venezuela than anywhere else in the world since that time. Referendums, campaigns, won by the Bolivarians [as the revolutionary movement headed by President Hugo Chavez is called]. There is a new constitution, in which the population has the right, if it so wishes, to collect a petition so an elected president can be recalled way before the next election is due.

And that Venezuelan model, in different ways, spread. It spread to Bolivia, it spread to Ecuador, it spread for a while to Paraguay [where elected president Fernando Lugo was overthrown in a parliamentary coup in June by forces aligned with large landowning interests], to Honduras [where left-wing president Manuel Zelaya was overthrown in a 2009 military coup]. It had a huge impact in Brazil.

And so we don’t have the world of the West now in many South American countries. What do they do? They have oil wealth, they have other sources of wealth.

They don’t allow this wealth to go to the fat cats. They don’t allow it to go to bankers. They spend it on free education. They spend it on hospitals. They have created new universities free of charge for poor kids.

They refuse to follow the Western model where everything is privatised — including the armies and including the police force here. Everything is being privatised. The train services here are privatised, in South America they are trying to construct a new one.

And so, these social — radical social democratic governments in South America are today — in my opinion — offering more social and human rights to their citizens than the countries of Europe, leave alone the United States.

And that is why Julian Assange applies for asylum to Ecuador, because this is a country which is determined to be independent. It has asked the American military base in Manta to leave the country. And when the United States objected, Rafael Correa, the president of Ecuador, said, “OK, if you want a base here, let’s have equality. Why can’t we have a military base in Florida?”

To even ask the question is considered crazy. And there was no agreement. Out went the base.

Ecuador has a new constitution that defends human rights. [There is] a serious attempt to defend the ecology of the country. Social spending has doubled.

And, for me, human rights mean nothing unless there’s social rights, as well, for the ordinary people of a country. The two go hand in hand.

And it is these changes in South America that have now come to the fore in a big way by this one event.

But that is why Julian Assange appealed to Ecuador for asylum, and that is why I think in this week that lies ahead he will receive the backing of a large majority of the South American continent [the Union of South American Nations — which unites the governments of 12 South American nations, voted to endorse Ecuador’s decision on August 19].

And the Europeans, European governments and European citizens, if they wish to, could learn a lot from South America today. Just change your gaze.

The gaze of Europe is constantly fixed in the direction of North America. They should just shift it to South America, and maybe conditions in the lives of ordinary people who live in Europe would be improved as a result.

Instead, despite this huge social and economic crisis, they go on as if nothing has happened. Well, for them, nothing has happened. For ordinary people who live in this country, whatever their class, their creed, their colour, they suffer. And they react angrily sometimes.

South America offers the beginnings of a model against that.

 

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In the Shadow of Paraguay’s Coup

By: Benjamin Dangel/Counterpunch.org/August 7, 2012

Rain or shine, every Thursday in Asunción, Paraguay, activists gather to protest the right-wing government of Federico Franco which came to power in a June 22 parliamentary coup against left-leaning president Fernando Lugo. These weekly protests represent a new spirit and strategy of protest in post-coup Paraguay.

The coup gave birth to new corporate agreements, repression of citizens’ rights and crackdowns on press freedoms. It also unwittingly created a new panorama of leftist social struggles and movements.

These movements for democracy have risen up against the coup government and the renewed state and corporate assaults on human rights, the environment and small farmers. Some activists are protesting politically-motivated layoffs, while others are demanding a new constitution. Beyond questioning the Franco government, these movements are putting forth a progressive agenda in the debate about what kind of country Paraguayans want, regardless of who is in power.

Collective Resistance

“What we are seeing are self-organized protests that are organized collectively,” Gabriela Schvartzman Muñoz, the spokeswoman for Movimiento Kuña Pyrenda, a socialist and feminist political movement which organizes the Thursday protests in the capital, explained in a phone interview from Asunción.

This more collectively-organized form of mobilization is a relatively new phenomenon in Paraguayan social movements, and has marked the new protests for democracy in the country.

“Before it was the president of the union that organized people for a strike, or a campesino [small farmer] leader marching ahead of a mobilization. Now we don’t see this kind of traditional leadership,” Muñoz explained. “Behind these citizens’ marches, there is no political leader, there is no leader of an organization; these are more spontaneous mobilizations.” Such protests involve “the participation of people who were invisible before, and are now protagonists.”

The resistance to the coup is dispersed around the country and typically involves small urban protests (largely in Asunción) that have utilized colorful marches, art, theater, music, and poetry as expressions of resistance. Notably, youth have led much of the organizing in this movement, and social networking tools such as Facebook and Twitter have played a key role in bringing people together against the coup government.

“This [urban movement] represents a fresh breeze within the weak and demobilized social sector,” Paraguayan human rights lawyer Orlando Castillo explained to me in an interview. “Paraguay is now in a very interesting period, where a new range of possibilities could strengthen social processes.”

Outside the nation’s landlocked borders, the waves of Paraguayan migrants whose numbers have skyrocketed in the last eight years are also mobilizing against Franco’s coup. Castillo said, “These people have organized to make the resistance global. Outside of the country, this is the international face against the coup.”

A Fight for Sovereignty

Nationally, the Franco government has not improved the outlook for much of the impoverished country’s working class. “The social situation has basically remained the same [since the coup]: poverty and extreme poverty affect nearly 57% of the population,” Raúl Zacarías Fernández, a sociologist and Director of the Department of Social Sciences at the Universidad Católica de Paraguay said in Revista Debate. According to the sociologist, those in the landless movement fighting for their own land “are reorganizing and preparing for occupations.”

Meanwhile, Franco has not met with a single social, urban or campesino organization since taking office. Instead, according to his official agenda, he has focused on meetings with business leaders. In the short time that he has been in office, Franco has fast-tracked controversial deals with Monsanto and the Montreal-based Rio Tinto Alcan (RTA) mining company, deals which critics charge will threaten human and environmental rights, and the economic sovereignty of the nation. These moves have motivated numerous protests and debates around the country.

Speaking of the deal with RTA and Monsanto, Paraguayan economist Luis Rojas told IPS News that “It’s worrisome that a government that was not elected by popular vote is bringing in these foreign investments without any kind of control.” In the case of deals with both companies, Franco is moving ahead without studies that are typically required for such agreements.

On July 30th, the “No to Rio Tinto Alcan’s Coup” campaign was launched by ex-president Lugo, and Ricardo Canese, an engineer and leader of the Guasu Front social organization. They are seeking to prevent the company from arriving in the country, and are working on gathering 100,000 signatures against the RTA deal, which they said paved the way for the coup.
In response to the deal the Franco government recently struck with Monsanto supporting genetically-altered cotton seeds, campesino leader Jorge Galeano told the AP that the use of this seed “goes against the economy of small farmers” and will utilize agro-chemicals that only benefit large-scale production. “This is a commercial condition that violates the concept of our fight for Paraguay’s agricultural sovereignty,” Galeano said.

A number of protests and strikes have also been organized by workers and unions to denounce the Franco government’s politically-motivated firing of state employees in a wide range of agencies, ministries, hydroelectric plants and public media outlets. The workers say they are being dismissed for their support for Lugo, or their leftist political beliefs. The fact that this purging of public employees is being committed by an administration that was not democratically-elected has further incensed workers and their supporters.

Out of the Dictator’s Shadow

Much of these recent political and social changes can be traced to the shadow of the Alfredo Stroessner dictatorship (1954-1989), which still hangs over the nation. After the fall of the dictatorship in 1989, many of the same politicians from the regime simply re-entered politics with new roles, Castillo said. “While the dictatorship left, the system of power remained intact.” And this power structure – feudal, repressive, elitist and conservative – continues to define Paraguayan politics today.

“What the coup has succeeded in doing is basically re-positioning the political actors, unmasking them, allowing rural and urban citizens to be able to distinguish between those who propose to change the status quo and those who want to maintain it,” Castillo explained.

Such renewed political awareness has manifested itself in various ways. According to Muñoz, the coup proved that the 1992 constitution was worthless, as it was manipulated by politicians who used it to conduct an illegitimate parliamentary coup. “And so the people say ‘No!’ We have to begin to plant another model of democracy, another model of society, and people are already talking about organizing a national constitutional assembly where we can discuss these issues.”

She said the country’s current crisis would not be solved with the presidential elections scheduled for April of 2013. The solution, according to Muñoz, would emerge when citizens can sit down to discuss their future in a constitutional assembly. “There is an urgent need now,” she said, “to develop stronger mechanisms which guarantee that the rights of the citizens are not violated… We are moving toward this, we’re discussing a new paradigm.”

Benjamin Dangel is editor of TowardFreedom.com, a progressive perspective on world events, and UpsideDownWorld.org, a website on activism and politics in Latin America.
Email: BenDangl(at)gmail(dot)com.

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Assault on Colombian Trade Unions Continues Unabated

 

By Carey L. Biron/Inter Press Services/July 24, 2012

Two months after a free-trade agreement between the United States and Colombia went into effect, workers and activists are warning that US-stipulated labour reforms have not been fully implemented and have yet to result in promised improvements in the lives of workers.

“We ask President (Barack) Obama to push for more guarantees for Colombian workers,” Miguel Conde, with Sintrainagro, a union representing workers on palm-oil plantations, said here on Tuesday. “In Colombia, it is easier to form an armed group than a trade union… because we still have no guarantees from the government.”

Colombia today is the most dangerous place in the world to be a member of a trade union.

Further, those gathered Tuesday at the Washington headquarters of the AFL-CIO, the largest federation of trade unions in the US, warned that much of a year-old labour agreement, meant to pave the way for the free-trade agreement (FTA), was in certain respects making things even more difficult for labour organisers in Colombia.

The FTA, although stridently opposed by a spectrum of workers and rights activists, was originally signed in late 2006 but was only passed by the US Congress in October 2011. One of Washington’s prerequisites for the deal was the implementation of a 37-point Labour Action Plan (LAP), aimed at improving decades’ worth of labour rights abuses in Colombia.

According to a new report by the AFL-CIO, of those 37 points, at least nine have yet to be adopted, while the implementation of several others “can be regarded as partial or insufficient”.

The FTA came into full effect in mid-May, though only after President Barack Obama claimed, in April, that the Colombian government had already met its LAP-related commitments – just a year into what was expected to be a four-year plan.

“What happened since then is a surge in reprisals against almost all of the trade unions and labour activists that really believed in the Labour Action Plan,” Gimena Sánchez-Garzoli, a rights advocate at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), a watchdog group, said at the report’s launch.

This included the April 27 killing of Daniel Aguirre, a labour leader who had helped to organise Colombia’s sugarcane workers. According to Sánchez-Garzoli, 34 Colombian trade unionists have been killed since the LAP was implemented, including 11 this year alone.

Further, such figures do not capture an ongoing campaign of intimidation. According to José Luciano Sanín Vásquez, executive director of the National Trade Union School, in Medellin, Colombia, since the LAP began more than 2,900 acts of violence and 1,500 assaults have taken place, aimed at workers and labour activists.

The Colombian government dismisses such numbers as simply part of a half-century of paramilitary violence that has dogged the country.

This is in part correct, says Vásquez, but it misses the crux of the matter: as paramilitary violence has wound down in Colombia in recent years, former rebel groups have been hired by companies to provide thuggish repression of trade unions.

Tolerated, condoned, promoted 

While many have been critical of certain parts of the LAP – including that it does not cover public-sector workers – those gathered here on Tuesday were quick to note the agreement’s promise if it were fully implemented.

“We think the LAP is a very positive step forward and, if properly applied, would radically change a situation that’s been systematically problematic for the past 20 years in Colombia,” WOLA’s Sánchez-Garzoli says.

But the recent spike in anti-labour violence has forced a slowdown in progress on the LAP, Jhonsson Torres, a founding member of the sugarcane union Sinal Corteros and former colleague of Daniel Aguirre, said Tuesday.

More critical is a continuing lack of political will. “Even if the different sectors want to implement the Labour Action Plan, they can’t do it,” Torres said in Spanish. “In places where the government has complied with the LAP, it has only been because they’ve been forced to do so due to strikes and other actions.”

Others point to broader issues. “There is no reason to believe that top officials are not making sincere efforts to make a change,” cautions Celeste Drake, a trade policy expert with AFL-CIO.

“The problem is these changes cannot simply be made by people with good intentions at the top. It’s a culture within the government and throughout Colombia that for years has tolerated, condoned, promoted intolerance to the exercise of worker rights.”

Citing eyewitness reports, Drake says that government ineffectiveness and corruption is leading to hesitancy in reporting labour-rights infringements, for fear that an employer – or a paramilitary group – will be notified.

Workers and activists repeatedly reference the government’s stubbornness or inability to offer judicial or even informational responses to trade unions’ LAP-related queries and requests for justice and security.

At Tuesday’s meeting, when a representative from the Colombian Embassy in Washington noted that officials were taking note of the recent allegations of violence against labour organisers, participants responded that it was unfortunate that workers needed to come all the way to the United States to get an official response.

Rallying point

The Colombian business community, meanwhile, is hesitant to make LAP-instigated pro-labour changes, for multiple reasons.

“Most businessmen still think that (these reforms) won’t progress, that soon we’ll be back where we were a year ago,” says Vásquez, speaking in Spanish. “For that reason, this part of the political message needs to reach the public in all areas of the country.”

Drake, Sánchez-Garzoli and others are urging that financial and technical assistance for building up such a culture of trust come in part from the US government.

“Obama and (Colombian President Juan Manuel) Santos have clearly delivered for the multinational companies and commercial interests,” Sánchez-Garzoli says.

“That’s fine. However, they must also keep their promises to the labour and human rights community. This is a matter of US legislation as well, including specific protections for trade unions.”

While many observers have been frustrated that an opportunity for a broader public debate in Colombia on labour issues has so far been missed, there remains optimism over the unique opportunity to continue organising around the LAP in the years to come.

“The Labour Action Plan, imperfect though it may be, provides hope for the future,” Drake says.

“There are now themes that workers can point to and say, ‘This is now what I’ve been promised by my government. This is what we are going to hold the government up to’.”

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People’s Tribunal on mining impacts: Why we found Goldcorp guilty

By: David Heap & Judy Deutsch/Rabble.ca/July, 31, 2012

 

Wednesday, August 1 is a ‘Continental Day of Action Against Canadian Mega Resource Extraction.’ In Vancouver, a protest action will take place in front of Goldcorp’s corporate headquarters, starting at 4:30p.m. at 666 Burrard Street. Goldcorp’s record in Central America and Mexico was recently put before a People’s Tribunal in Guatemala. Here, two of the judges explain why Goldcorp was found guilty. 

“The enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being…” – World Health Organization

For two days in mid-July, a panel of 12 judges from different countries with expertise in health, the environment and human rights, came together to hear testimonies and complaints from people affected by Goldcorp’s mining operations in Carrizalillo, Mexico; Valle de Siria, Honduras; and in San Miguel Ixtahuacán and Sipacapa, San Marcos, Guatemala.

We were honoured to be two Canadians among this international panel of judges, in particular because of the heavy responsibility Canadian mining companies and Canadian government policies bear for the impacts of mining on the health of people in that region (as well as elsewhere in the world). Jointly organized by the Coalition for the Defense of San Miguel Ixtahuacán, the Toronto-based grassroots organization Mining Injustice Solidarity Network and M4 (the MesoAmerican Movement against extractive Mining Model), this Tribunal focused on health effects suffered by communities affected by Goldcorp, a Canadian mining company based in Vancouver, Canada and registered as a publicly-traded company on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

Canada is the centre for international mining corporations due to the lax regulation which extractive industries enjoy in this country for their activities in the rest of the world, with respect to health, human rights, environmental protection and labour rights. In addition, the Canadian government, through its Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade and CIDA, intervenes directly in the affairs of other governments in order to create a legal and political context which is favourable for the operation of Canadian mining companies.

For the last 15 years, Goldcorp has been involved in mining exploitation in different Latin American and Central American countries, extracting gold by dangerous methods which violate human rights, promoting false development projects through the manipulation of local communities, damaging the overall health and the local environment of affected communities. According to the OCMAL (Latin American Mining Conflict Observatory OCMAL), this extractive mining model has created some 165 conflicts in Latin America, of which 35 are in Mesoamerica (Mexico and Central America).

 

!El pueblo callado jamás será escuchado! A silent people will never be heard

While we were able to draw on a distinguished panel of expert witnesses, the most important testimony we heard came from members of the affected communities in Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras. Women and men whose voices are usually excluded from the international debates which have direct impacts on their daily lives were able to detail to us the many different ways they and their communities have suffered from Goldcorp’s mining activities.

We heard in detail about contamination and loss of water sources, irreversible environmental devastation, toxic dust containing heavy metals and potentially carcinogenic elements that bioaccumulate in organisms, destruction of crops and soil, illness and death of wild and domestic animals.

The testimonies we heard described skin and eye illnesses, hair loss, skin rashes, miscarriages, infertility, premature births, birth defects and death of newborns, joint pains, auditory damage, gastrointestinal problems, nervous system problems, as well as cases of poisoning that have led to death in the affected communities. As one witness told us: “What horrifies me most are the children who are always sick.”

Former Goldcorp employees told us that mine workers suffer from frequent leaks, toxic chemical explosions, and workplace injuries (some of them lethal) due to a lack of safety equipment and lax procedures. Notable signs of community trauma include a huge increase in bars, alcoholism, drug addition, and gender violence, the appearance of prostitution, venereal diseases and of HIV/AIDS.

In addition to the physical health problems, these communities have been profoundly affected in their spiritual and emotional health. People suffer from depression and loss because of the climate of fear, impotence and insecurity. As we one witness told us: “It is a sad life that I am living … they go around destroying life.” It is clear that the advent of mining has traumatized both people and communities. The environmental, social and health effects of extractive mining operations do not end when the mines close, but rather last for generations. The medical emergency caused by mining is current and ongoing.

In all cases, mining operations were imposed on communities without their prior consent, and have created divisions and conflicts within communities and even within families. In all cases there has been an increase in tension, mistrust and violence at the community level. We heard about polarization and fragmentation of community life, pitting neighbour against neighbour, and a feeling of being betrayed by government officials who defend the interests of the company over the individual and collective human rights of the communities.

 

We heard repeatedly about how local people are stigmatized, marginalized and criminalized for opposing mining operations in their communities. Mining opponents have experienced attacks and continuing threats for their positions: “We are very afraid because we don’t know when they will carry out their death threats.”

Despite all the intimidation and violence they have experienced, these brave women and men took the opportunity to speak out in defence of their lands, their communities, their health and their cultures by giving a voice to those who are too often excluded from decisions that affect them — this is one of the most important achievements of this tribunal. Not all the witnesses could testify in Spanish (a second language for many indigenous community members, especially older people). One elderly woman spoke through an interpreter in Mam (the local Mayan language), detailing the violence and threats she and her family had been subjected to because of her refusal to sell her land to the mining company.

Our framework for understanding all these detailed testimonies included a wide range of international covenants, charters and agreements (from 1948 through 2007) focusing on public health as a fundamental human right while emphasizing a holistic understanding of health as what is needed for a complete state of physical, mental and social well-being. This vision is particularly crucial in the light of indigenous and peasant peoples’ worldviews based on a sacred relationship and an unbreakable bond between communities and their ancestral lands.

Our ruling reflects what can only been seen as a pattern in Goldcorp’s systematic behaviour as well as the company’s deliberate refusal to protect the rights of people. The facts we heard indicate that the company has not shown any real concern for the quality of life in affected communities, where health impacts are among the most visible social impacts of this extractive mining model. The public image which Goldcorp carefully cultivates as a “socially responsible company” does not fit with the facts this tribunal heard. We found the testimonies by the affected community members to be trustworthy and accurate accounts of reality.

Our panel of judges found Goldcorp guilty of seriously damaging to the health and the quality of life, the quality of environment, and the right to self-determination of the affected indigenous and peasant communities in Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras. We also found national, regional and local governments in those countries guilty of being complicit and irresponsible for not protecting the rights of those affected by mining. Importantly, we found the Canadian government guilty of supporting and promoting in various ways irresponsible mining investments in Mexico, Central and South America, among other regions of the world.

Our panel of judges went on to recommend to local groups that they use all peaceful means at their disposal to stop the operations of Goldcorp in their territories. We also called on governments at all levels to ensure compliance with existing national legislation and international agreement, in particular those that guarantee the right to free, prior and informed consent, and respect for and enjoyment of the rights of indigenous peoples, their traditions, cultures and decision-making processes.

In the case of Goldcorp, we concluded that the corporation owes reparations for damage to the health of the population, the damages to the environment, and to the affected indigenous and peasant communities, in the form of compensation for past, present and future damages to the communities, taking in consideration that environmental contamination is ongoing and can continue still for hundreds of years. Finally, we urge the suspension of all Goldcorp mining operations in Mesoamerica and a commitment not repeat the destructive practices that we heard described.

On Sunday, July 15, our final verdict was presented in Spanish and interpreted into Mam before hundreds of mostly indigenous community members.

In this country, there is still much grassroots work to be done to make Canadians and civil society organizations aware of the impacts of mining companies on community health the world over.

We must demand a regulatory framework that protects vulnerable communities by requiring free, informed and prior consent from communities before there is any mining. Anything short of that will mean more mining-induced health emergencies in vulnerable communities.

 

David Heap is a member of the Latin American Canadian Solidarity Association in London, and teaches at the University of Western Ontario. Judy Deutsch is a social worker and faculty at the Toronto Institute of Psychoanalysis, as well President of Science for Peace from 2008-2012.

 

Photo by Allan Lissner.

 

 

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