On the ground at the Peoples Summit
Common Frontiers Executive Director Raul Burbano is in Cartagena, Colombia, attending the Peoples Summit from April 12 -14. During the summit, he'll be posting updates on what's happening. You can follow the updates at commonfrontiers.ca/Cartagena
Harper pushing extractive industry in Latin America but communities are pushing back
Cartagena, Colombia - At the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia, Harper spoke to CEOs from across the Americas and unveiled Canada’s plans to expand into Latin America with vigor. Trade and investment, especially in the resource extraction sector, will be the engines driving this expansion. Canadian mining companies already have a significant presence in the region, with two-thirds of all mining projects in the Americas.
Harper carefully outlined to the business leaders the importance of the extractive sector to the Canadian economy, emphasizing that “mining alone contributed 50 billion dollars to GDP in 2011”. He went on to boast about the high standards of the industry, saying that Canadians are “justly proud” of their mining industry “for its elevated sense of social responsibility.”
What he neglected to mention was that many communities in the region don’t share his vision of development and that Latin America is rife with resistance against Canada’s extractive industry. Montreal’s Osisko company learned this lesson the hard way when it tried to impose a mining project in the northern part of the state of La Rioja, Argentina. Even though the project was only in the exploratory stage, it met with local and nationwide protest. So much so that the company publicly acknowledged that it lacked a “social license” for exploration and development around the Famatina project, and put its operations on hold.
The number of communities organizing to halt mining encroachment goes on and on. One only has to turn on the TV or read a newspaper to understand the depth and scale of the resistance being waged against Canada’s aggressive resource extraction sector in the region: An industry that is notorious for corrupting public officials, increasing militarization, escalating conflict, and degrading the environment in areas where companies set up shop. The benefits too often seem to be lost to those living in the regions that are supposed to reap the trickle-down benefits of the industry.
Noala Mina (Asambleabsas)
Similar protests against Canada’s Barrick Gold in Chile forced the company to withdraw their request for public financing of its Pascua Lama project after large protests against its operations for “mine worker deaths, irreparable damage to glaciers, state sanctions against the company and ongoing problems regarding water quality and quantity affecting farmers in the area.”
In Marmato Colombia, artisan miners are defending their land and way of life against Gran Colombia Gold, a Canada-based gold and silver company. Many in the community oppose the company’s plan to relocate the town in order to make way for its project. Tensions escalated in 2011, when Marmato’s parish priest, José Reinel Restrepo, was shot dead by unidentified assailants. Coincidently, he was a vocal and ardent opponent of the displacement of his community. Weeks prior to his murder “Father Restrepo had visited the city of Bogotá together with municipal leaders in order to denounce the general unease in his community arising from the proposed large-scale open-pit gold project.”
Central America has not been immune to the negative impacts of Canada’s extractive industry either. Opposition to Canadian companies is widespread there too. An emblematic case deals with Vancouver-based Pacific Rim and its El Dorado project in El Salvador. Early in the exploratory stages of proposed mining in the region, residents uncovered the negative environmental impacts of mining on their community. “These included reduced access to water, polluted waters, impacts to agriculture, and health issues” and the fact that “only a tiny share of Pacific Rim’s profits would stay in the country, and that the El Dorado mine was projected to have an operational life of only about six years, with many of the promised jobs requiring skills that few local people had”. Community members began to organize and oppose the exploration. In turn, an escalation of violence was unleashed against organizers who opposed the exploration. Human rights violations resulted in increased public pressure against the mining exploration projects. Given this pressure, outgoing president Tony Saca refused to extend an exploitation license to Pacific Rim in 2008. In 2009, newly elected president Mauricio Funes declared a moratorium on all mining exploitation permits.
These are just a few of the countless examples of the continent-wide opposition to Harper’s vision of Canada’s extractive sector and its “elevated sense of social responsibility”. Much of this was synthesized in Cartagena, Colombia at the People’s Summit. The Summit is a large civil society forum that runs parallel to the official Summit of the Americas. It was titled, “the true voice of the Americas”. It brought together a diverse sector of groups including indigenous, Afro-Colombian, campesino, labour, ecumenical, NGO and student organizations from across the Americas to share stories, build links and discuss strategies on various topics relevant to people in the region. One key topic was the encroachment of resource-hungry transnational companies on communities in Latin America. The People’s Summit culminated in a march that saw over 8,000 people take to the streets despite the presence of thousands of police and military personnel.
The final declaration that came out of the People’s Summit is a testimony to the fact that many sectors and communities in Latin America are not reaping the benefits of Canada’s mining and resource extraction industry. In fact, it’s often the opposite, and this was clearly outlined in the final declaration of the People’s Summit, which labels Canada and its promotion of this policy of development as nefarious.
“For its part, the Canadian government has promoted a policy of Free Trade Agreements, mega mining and resource extraction of natural resources and energy in all Latin America. Many of its companies are causing irreversible damage to the environment, biodiversity, violating the rights of the people and their lands and the sovereignty of countries of the south. Social and environmental conflict increases in regions as a result of this non-consultative imposition.”
Harper’s new Americas’ strategy premised on the principles of prosperity, democracy and security in the hemisphere leaves much to be desired if the locomotive of resource extraction in conjunction with Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) continues to drive the agenda. These agreements are used as wedges to open doors for Canadian companies. FTAs provide the architecture of impunity for corporations as they seek to deepen corporate rights and increase profits at the expense of communities and their lands.
The conservatives’ misguided and short-term strategy to aggressively promote this environmentally destructive resource extraction industry in Latin America is bound to fail. Rather than bringing prosperity, democracy and security to the region, it will fan the fire of discontent and opposition across the continent. Harper’s disingenuous promises of improved corporate social responsibly in the region will not be enough to placate a proud people with a long history of struggle and resistance. They have seen the results first-hand and know all too well that the negative impacts of such policies vastly outweighs any short-term gains.
Harper was correct when he said, “resource development has vast power to change the way a nation lives”. Unfortunately, today, for many living in Latin America, that change is often all too negative.
Interview with Chris Ferguson from the United Church
Sun Apr 15, 2012
Interview with Iván Cepeda Castro, defender of Human rights and Congressman - Friday April 14th Cartagena Colombia
Iván Cepeda Castro: Really, it's premature to make any analysis but what we have seen based on experience and unfortunate stories of other countries that have already undertaken Free Trade Agreements. This will have a negative impact on the country. To start, we already have an immense portion of hectors of land assigned to mining companies, one of them AngloGold Ashanti and others that in the wake of their presence in the country leave poverty, misery and destruction. Trade agreements that are totally unequal and destructive for Colombia. Hence why our position is not flexible here and we reject FTA’s even when they come decorated with clauses that say they support Human Rights. The little weight that these carry in relation to the disaster created by multinational corporations in Colombia is key.
Raul Burbano: You know the head office of multinational mining companies’ is Canada. How do you think it has impacted Human Rights here on indigenous and Afro- Colombian communities?
Iván Cepeda Castro: The regions that have open pit mining in Colombia have the worst index of Human Rights violations because there, the armed conflict is exacerbated, paramilitaries appear, small and artisan mining is destroyed, violations of Afro- descendants and indigenous rights, the list is very long. But for us what the government calls the mining locomotive is nothing less than destruction of communities Rights.
Raul Burbano: A message to the international community or the Canadian community about how commerce should unfold in Latin America.
Iván Cepeda Castro - I think we should end this double moral standard that on the one hand the discourse is about Human Rights, democracy, law of the state and at the same time Multinational come from the same countries with the same governments and destroy populations. There is logic and a discourse totally different in what is affirmed in words and the rhetoric and what is done with trade agreements.
The interview took place at the People’s Summit at El Centro Recreacional Napoleón Perea on Friday April 14, 2012.
Fri Apr 13, 2012
Cartagena - Late last night, Foreign Ministers met to discuss the exclusion of Cuba in the summit. According to Nicolas Maduro the Minister of Foreign Affairs for Venezuela who announced on Colombian TV that ministers approved a surprised proposal with 32 of the 34 countries present at the summit agreeing to invite Raúl Castro, President of Cuba, to attend the summit of the America’s this coming Saturday. Only 2 countries stood alone opposing Cuba’s participation in the Summit, Canada and US. Although the resolution is not binding and is more symbolic it adds gasoline to the fire of the issue of the continued exclusion of Cuba at the Summits.
Following lock step with the US seems to be a role Canada is content playing in the hemisphere. This has led to both nations becoming less influential and in certain areas their position in the region has been significantly diminished. These differences between Canada the U.S and the rest of the continent are bubbling to the surface at the summit. The issue of Cuba is only the beginning and we expect more. As the Colombian Minister of Foreign affairs of Colombia, María Ángela Holguín mentioned Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina will be pushing the topic of drug legalization for the region and Argentina will push the topic of returning Malvinas (Falcon islands as they are known in English) to Argentina. We can be sure that Canada, along will the US, will once again stand alone on these topics from the majority of the countries in the America’s, further isolating them in the region.
Thurs Apr 12
Cartagena - The People's Summit a counter event to the official Summit of the Americas is appropriately titled, The True Voice of the Americas. It kicked off yesterday with representatives from Labour, Indigenous, Afro-Colombian, student groups, workers, civil society, Ecumenical and NGO’s from Colombia and other countries across the continent. They gathered to share their stories, develop alternatives and build on one another’s experience.
Major themes and panels at the People’s summit include the current model of development and specifically the negative impact of mega mining, militarization that includes criminalization of protest and the war on drugs, preparing for Rio +20 and the green economy and Free Trade Agreements (FTA) in the region, negotiations, impacts and implementation.
A reoccurring theme that kept coming up at many forums and informal discussions is the negative impacts that FTA’s and Canadian mining companies are having on local people and their communities in both Colombia and the region. Specifically with displacement, militarization, and violation of Indigenous Communities right to free, prior and informed consent over current and future mining operations.
When asked his thoughts on the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) pilot projects and their ‘partnering’ with Canadian mining companies working on ‘development’ projects in communities affected by Canadian mining activities, Miguel Palacin Quispe, the General Coordinator of CAOI (Andean Coordinator of Indigenous Organizations, responded:
“It’s an instrument or a process to control, manipulate or corrupt. We are talking about public funds from Canada that are coming to do that. It’s called development but that won’t come. Our vision of development is different from the west. The west sees development as money. Our vision of development is different It’s based on peace, tranquility and, living in Harmony with nature living how we live …. …. NGO’s that go hand and hand with Mining companies will never go against the wishes of their bosses, the mining companies. Rather they will affect, divide and corrupt organizations and communities. I would say the project is harmful.”
For more information on this, see this article by Rick Arnold