27 December 2009

Deadly Environment : Latin American Anti-Mining Activists Murdered

A close up of murdered anti-mining activist Marcelo Rivera's eyes on a mural painted in front of the cultural center that he founded in San Isidro, El Salvador. Photo by Dominque Jarry-Shore / The Dominion.

Grassroots movements met with deadly violence:
Mining faces challenges in Latin America

By Val Liveoak / The Rag Blog / December 27, 2009
See 'Who Killed Marcelo Rivera? Prominent anti-mining activist murdered in El Salvador,' by Dominique Jarry-Shore, and 'Chiapas Anti-Mining Organizer Murdered,' by Kristen Bricker, Below.
There are many grassroots struggles against corporate domination going on in the Empire that we hear little about. I would argue that the military coup in Honduras was triggered in large part by these issues, and I am aware of similar struggles in Mexico, Colombia, and Costa Rica, not to mention West Virginia, Canada and the American West. And now, with the article below, in El Salvador.

Mining companies are the epitome of an extractive industry; typically flaunting concerns about health, labor issues, and the environment, they focus on ripping out tons of earth to get ounces of ore, which is almost always exported outside of the region (and in many cases outside the country) in which it is produced.

And the profits also leave the area as fast as possible. In order to increase their profits, companies must pay the lowest possible wages for hard, dangerous and dirty work, and generally use poisonous chemicals on site, mostly failing to keep them from entering local water, and air. Then they leave behind an ugly and ravaged landscape that can never return to a condition that will even minimally support life without costly rehabilitation -- which they never do voluntarily.

The growing world concern with environmental issues has little success when up against these multinational corporations. Not only is it hard to take on the powerful behemoths, but they do their work (their dirty work) in isolated areas, and often control access to their sites, preventing most people from seeing the ugliness, the near enslavement of the miners, and the effects of the poisons -- many slow acting -- that seep into the earth. Think black lung, mercury poisoning, massive fish kills, hundreds of acres of moonscapes where before there were verdant mountains.

And like other industries that would exploit and extract the most from "their" resources, they are always ready to persecute, threaten, or kill opponents, whether they are labor leaders, environmental activists, concerned local residents, or terminally ill employees.

While global warming was on most minds at the climate conference in Copenhagen, Ecuador offered an innovative way to confront both the local negative effects of the petroleum industry -- an archetype of an extractive industry -- and the long term effects to the earth and the atmosphere of the consumption of the product: they offered to leave newly found Amazonian petroleum in the ground in exchange for financial support for other types of investment in their country.

It is a shame that El Salvador's celebrated FMLN President does not have such a -- dare I say it -- revolutionary offer to make. Instead, as we see from the article below, he will need to be pushed to provide even the simplest protection for Salvadorans who are struggling against a goliath of a company.

Please see the two stories about murdered mining activists in El Salvador and in Chiapas, Mexico, below.

[Texan Val Liveoak is a nonviolent activist currently dividing her time between El Salvador and San Antonio. She coordinates Peacebuilding en las Americas, the Latin American Initiative of Friends Peace Teams that also has programs in the African Great Lakes region and in Indonesia.]

Esaparición y asesinato del activista Marcelo Rivera
His relatives, friends, neighbors. His students from the school, attendees of his art workshops, colleagues of the association (ASIC). His comrades from the party, his partners in the anti-mining fight [in El Salvador]. Everyone. Perhaps even his murderers.

Almost always it is the family members and closest friends who say goodbye to a fallen one by crying profusely. It is rare at a funeral to see everyone in attendance crying. The burial of Gustavo Marcelo Rivera Moreno is one of those exceptional cases, hundreds of children, youth and elders, men and women, all crying together...

-- The Media Coop
Who Killed Marcelo Rivera?
Prominent anti-mining activist murdered in El Salvador

By Dominique Jarry-Shore / December 16, 2009

SAN ISIDRO, El Salvador -- Death and violence are an unfortunate part of everyday life in El Salvador. Local and national newspapers, with their graphic photos of bloodied corpses, track the daily tally of homicide and crime in a country that has one of the highest murder rates in the world. But even by those standards Marcelo Rivera’s torture and death were shocking.

During the evening of June 18, 2009, the community leader and anti-mining activist disappeared when he was lured away from a routine trip a few kilometers from his home in San Isidro. Twelve days later, his body was removed from an empty well 27 meters deep. His body had no hair or fingernails, his trachea had been broken and the thumb of his right hand was stuck in his mouth like a baby’s, tied in place with a piece of rope around his naked body. He had been beaten and his face was unrecognizable.

Rivera was a respected member of the community. He founded a cultural center popular with youth in San Isidro, and had been in charge of the finances of the local chapter of the FMLN, the country’s leftist and currently ruling political party. He had also campaigned vigorously against the El Dorado mining project in Cabanas, owned by Canadian company Pacific Rim Mining Corp.

Vancouver-based Pacific Rim is a publicly traded company that has subsidiaries in El Salvador and the U.S. The company is a junior exploration company that specializes in gold exploration. Pacific Rim has invested $80 million into the El Dorado project in about seven years. They claim to have invested several million dollars in social programs in Cabanas.

But the project has generated conflict in a region characterized by poverty and a dependence on remittances from family members in the U.S. Money provided by Pacific Rim for health and education is seen as a way of buying support from the people and tension is high between those for and against the mine.

The environmental effects of the mine, such as the contamination of soil and water sources like aquifers and wells, are a big worry among residents in Cabanas. Some community members have also complained about the displacement of communities to make room for the mine. On a social level, the arrival of Pacific Rim has generated conflict and violence in the area.

Apart from Rivera’s death, there have been two assassination attempts that seem to be related to anti-mining activism: In July, a priest who hosts a local radio show used as a platform for his anti-mining stance was run off the road. A few weeks later, the leader of a local community development association that is against the mine was shot eight times. Both men now have 24-hour police protection.

Rivera’s brother Miguel Rivera said his brother’s murder has caused fear among those opposed to the project. “People we work with who are against the mining project are afraid because someone has died,” he said. “They say, ‘I could be the second one. I could be next.’”

According to lawyer and activist Hector Berrios, Marcelo Rivera had already been the victim of death threats and at least one assassination attempt near his home in January 2009. “The question is,” Berrios said, “who benefited from Marcelo’s death?”

For his part, Pacific Rim CEO Tom Shrake said the company condemns violence and has spoken to employees to see if they know anything about the murder.

“They have assured us that they had absolutely nothing to do with it,” Shrake said in a telephone interview from his hotel in San Salvador.

“As far as they know—and I’ve heard this from the local police as well—his death had nothing to do with his mining activism. Now whether that’s true or not we’ll see. But we have no knowledge of it.”

That police theory -- that Rivera’s death was related to a gang dispute after a night of drinking and not his anti-mining activity -- didn’t make sense to Rivera’s family when they heard it. Rivera was not someone who associated with gang members and he didn’t drink alcohol.

“The police invented a scenario to be able to tell people something, because a lot of people were asking about Marcelo,” Miguel Rivera said. “The police theory was that he was killed the same day he disappeared, or early the next day.” But the doctors who examined Marcelo’s body told Miguel that his brother died about eight days after he disappeared.

That was just one of several inconsistencies in the case. Following a complaint they received from Marcelo’s family, El Salvador’s Public Attorney’s Office for the Defense of Human Rights found there had been negligence on the part of the police.

“We found some failures in terms of the lateness in mobilizing to do inspections in places where the body could be,” Gerardo Alegria, a lawyer for the Public Attorney for the Defense of Human Rights, said. “That includes where they found the body. The police had known for a few days already that the body was there.”

Alegria also said the police failed to gather information at the scene that would have helped solve the crime. His office is now keeping an eye on the investigation and Alegria said things have improved. Five adults and one minor have been arrested so far and are awaiting a hearing. But in this part of the world, there is a lot to be said about intellectual versus physical perpetrators of a crime, and questions remain about who was really behind the killing.

Meanwhile El Dorado has been at a standstill. The company stopped investing serious money into the mine about two years ago, when Tony Saca, president of El Salvador at the time, made public statements indicating Pacific Rim’s permits would not be honoured.

Pacific Rim has since filed for arbitration under the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), although Shrake said he is confident a settlement will be reached.

As for local opposition to the project, Shrake said that is something that was expected all along. “There’s just a huge international industry that opposes any extractive industry anywhere in the world at this point. So if you don’t expect opposition to any extractive project, you’re living in a closet,” he said.

“You will have people who are emotional about it and are in your face about it but you have to act like Mahatma Ghandi. You cannot react in any way, shape or form.”

Gold mining, a practice that relies on cyanide or mercury for extraction, has long come under fire from environmentalists because of its potential for contamination. Pacific Rim markets itself as an environmentally responsible company that has “raised the bar for environmental protection.”

According to Shrake, the El Dorado design will use two impermeable liners to prevent tailings from coming in contact with the ground. They’ll also use a process called INCO to destroy the cyanide used and they’ll build their own water reservoir instead of using groundwater, purifying the water before it goes back into the water system.

Environmentalist Luis Gonzalez works with the Salvadoran Ecological Unit (UNES) in San Salvador. “It’s a concept, but on an industrial level, green mining doesn’t exist,” he said. “By definition what you’re doing is extracting a non-renewable resource.”

Gonzalez said the INCO process recycles only part of the cyanide and the rest goes into the ground. “Exploration is like exploitation on a smaller scale,” he said, noting people in Cabanas reported their wells and watering holes dried up after exploration activity by Pacific Rim.

Shrake said that was one incident involving some shoddy work on the part of a contractor and that it won’t happen again.

“Once we realized what had happened, within a day we set up a series of tanks so that they’d have water while we corrected the problem... We went back to the drill holes and cemented them from bottom to top and plugged up this disruption to the fracture system and the water’s flowing again, and has been flowing since we made the correction.”

While the future of El Dorado remains unclear, Miguel Rivera has gone ahead and set up the Marcelo Rivera Justice and Freedom Committee. He is holding out hope that his brother’s murderer will be brought to justice.

“He was my brother. Ever since we were little we spent a lot of time together and shared ideas. When we started finding out more about the impacts of mining we started spreading information to people. Marcelo was the person who had a relationship with the community.”

[Dominique Jarry-Shore is a freelance journalist based in Chiapas, Mexico. She traveled to El Salvador with the help of a grant from the International Development Research Center in Ottawa.]

Source / The Dominion

Anti- mining activist was shot to death Dec. 27. Mariano Abarca. Photo from narocsphere.
And in Mexico:
Chiapas anti-mining organizer murdered
Mariano Abarca led a growing movement to kick Canadian mining companies out of Mexican communities
By Kristin Bricker / December 1, 2009

CHIAPAS, Mexico -- Mariano Abarca Roblero, one of Mexico’s most prominent anti-mining organizers, was shot to death on the evening of November 27, 2009, in front of his house in Chicomuselo, Chiapas. He left behind a wife and four children. Another man was wounded in the shooting.

The incident came just days after Abarca filed charges against two Blackfire employees, Ciro Roblero Perez and Luis Antonio Flores Villatoro, for threatening to shoot him if he didn’t stop organizing against Canadian mining company Blackfire’s barium mine in Chicomuselo.

According to a formal complaint filed by a government employee who works in the Chicomuselo municipal building, Roblero Perez arrived at the municipal building to say that he had gone to look for Abarca to “fuck him up in a hail of bullets.” He also reportedly said that Abarca and other people were on a list of people Blackfire management wants to hurt. Blackfire public relations manager Luis Antonio Flores Villatoro was mentioned in the government employee’s complaint as one of the people responsible for the list.

Ejido authorities from the Nueva Morelia ejido in Chicomuselo county took the complaint seriously and helped Abarca launch an investigation. The day before the murder, Roblero Perez and Flores Villatoro were summoned to testify regarding the alleged death threats, but they failed to appear.

[An ejido is commonly-held land traditionally managed by assembly.]

A history of harassment

Even though local authorities acted to try to protect Abarca, the Mexican Network of People Affected by Mining (REMA) blames the Chiapas state government for failing to protect the mining leader. On the contrary, the state government seems to have been complicit in Blackfire’s legal harassment of Abarca.

On August 17, 2009, unidentified armed men in unmarked cars kidnapped Abarca as he was leaving an elementary school in Chicomuselo. He had visited the school to request permission on behalf of his organization, REMA, to use the building for an anti-mining meeting scheduled for August 29-30.

The kidnappers turned out to be police. They had arrested Abarca on charges filed by Blackfire regarding a June-July 2009 highway blockade REMA set up to prevent the passage of Blackfire trucks. REMA was protesting the company’s failure to comply with promises it allegedly made regarding community development projects and environmental stewardship. According to community leaders, Blackfire’s open-pit barium mine uses too much of the area’s scarce water resources. They are concerned that the pollution could effect their crop cultivation in the near future.

Acting on Blackfire’s formal complaint, the state government charged Abarca with attacks against public roadways, criminal association, organized crime, and offenses against the peace. Theoretically, organized crime charges are reserved for drug, arms, and human traffickers, and other members of Mexico’s expansive mafia network. However, the Chiapas government has been known to accuse activists and community organizers of organized crime in order to take advantage of restricted due process rights for people accused of organized crime.

That is what happened in Abarca’s case. The organized crime charge allowed the Chiapas government to imprison him under the highly controversial and internationally criticized legal instrument of “arraigo” or pre-charge detention. Under arraigo, the government can arrest a suspect and isolate him or her for months while it pressures and sometimes tortures the person into confessing.

The state government detained Abarca for eight days before it ceded to international public pressure to release him. Abarca was released and the charges were dropped due to lack of evidence. His lawyer, Miguel Angel de los Santos, criticized the Chiapas government for ceding to the mining company’s pressure to arrest Abarca. “There was no legal justification for his arrest and detention. Preliminary investigation began on June 12th, two days after the blockade, and was only just beginning to come together. The investigation had not advanced,” he told Proceso in August following Abarca’s release.

Structural adjustment strikes again

Social discontent regarding mines in Mexico has been steadily building over the past 10 years, beginning when the effects of a World Bank-mandated mining sector deregulation scheme were first felt. A confidential World Bank document entitled “Implementation Completion Report: Mexico Mining Sector Restructuring Project,” which Narco News makes available to the public, outlines exactly how a nine-year loan project drastically transformed Mexico’s mining sector.

The project, first proposed by the Word Bank in 1989 and quickly adopted by the Mexican government, aimed to deregulate the mining industry in Mexico. The Bank proposed the project because, as its Implementation Completion Report (ICR) explains,
Past lending of the Bank for mining in Mexico was oriented towards specific investment projects, with direct lines of credit to the sector... The lessons learned from those operations were that the continued development of the mining sector required increased access to land rights, reduced ownership limitations, revision of the tax legislation, a restructuring of existing institutional setups, as well as policies that stimulate private investment in mining by both domestic and foreign firms. The Bank Mining Sector Review identified an inadequate regulatory and institutional framework as the major constraint to increase private investment and further growth of the sector.
One of the Bank’s main goals for the project was to open up Mexico’s previously protected national mining industry to foreign companies; the Bank listed “open the sector to foreigners” as its first “strategy to restructure the sector.” It hoped to do so by privatizing state-owned mining companies, slashing taxes, awarding mineral and land rights to private companies, and facilitating foreign companies’ ownership of Mexican land in order to “contribute to the increased exploration and exploitation of the vast mining potential of the country, to take advantage of Mexico’s strategic location near the United States and Canada.”

The Bank proposed a set of changes to Mexican law in its Mining Sector Report, and the Mexican government -- at that point still under one-party rule -- rushed to implement them under a plan called the National Mining Modernization Program. In just four years (1990-1994), the legal framework for mining in Mexico underwent a radical change. Before the ink on the new laws was dry, the Bank began to dole out money to private mining companies to “help finance the surge in demand for investment funding that was expected to result from the improved policy and institutional setting for mining operations.”

The Bank was thrilled with the results of the National Mining Modernization Program and its subsequent loans. According to the Bank, over the course of the project, which ended in 1998, over 8.7 million hectares of land were released and 17,220 new mining concessions were granted.

As a result of the legal changes mandated by the loan, the time required for processing mining concessions went down from five years to five months, and the Mexican government’s backlog of about 14,000 concession requests that were pending since 1989 disappeared virtually overnight.

The Bank was so pleased with the results of the Mining Sector Restructuring Project that it wrote, “Future Bank participation in the sector does not seem justified anymore, in view that mining exploration/exploitation is now open to domestic and foreign investors.”

The Bank’s structural adjustment of Mexico’s mining sector has played a key role in the battle for “land and territory” (as the Zapatistas refer to it) in the country. Private ownership, increased economic pressure on small and subsistence farmers, and top-down “development” projects are acutely felt in mineral-rich communities.

According to Gustavo Castro Soto of the Chiapas-based non-profit Otros Mundos, “Beginning in 2000, almost 10% of the national territory has been ceded to transnational companies through mining concessions.” REMA notes that in Chiapas, 15.21% of the state’s total territory has been ceded through mining concessions. Many of those concessions don’t expire until the year 2050. If the social unrest that frequently follows mining concessions is any indicator, Mexicans are not willingly handing over their land to foreign mining companies.

Mining industry under fire

Mariono Abarca’s murder comes at a time that the mining industry in Mexico is feeling the heat from Mexico’s social movements. Inspired by the national movement of communities affected by hydroelectric dam projects, mining-affected communities are joining forces in a unified front against destructive mining practices.

In 2008, representatives from Chicomuselo travelled to the state of Jalisco to found REMA during the First Encounter of the Mexican Network of People Affected by Mining. Representatives from mining-affected communities in eleven states and the Federal District participated in the historic event: Chihuahua, Sonora, Nayarit, Jalisco, Oaxaca, Chiapas, Guerrero, Mexico City, México State, San Luis Potosí, Coahuila, and Veracruz.

REMA agreed at that meeting to raise consciousness about the social and environmental effects of mining. It also pledged that member organizations would support each other in their struggles against destructive mines in their communities.

One of the most high-profile joint actions that REMA carried out was a protest encampment in front of the Canadian Embassy in Mexico City this past July. Abarca and representatives from other communities affected by Canadian mining companies participated in the encampment, which demanded the withdrawal of Metallic Resources/NewGold, a Canadian company, from Cerro de San Pedro, San Luis Potosi. At the protest, Abarca spoke about Canadian mining companies’ contamination of traditional water sources.

Following the protest, mining-affected communities won a temporary victory: just last month, a federal judge ordered that the Cerro de San Pedro mine be closed because the mining company had failed to comply with environmental stipulations. The closure comes after 10 years of struggle waged by a broad coalition of San Luis Potosi civil society organizations, which include organizations linked to Mexico’s center-left Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) and groups affiliated with the Zapatistas' Other Campaign. They opposed the gold mining project because, in addition to environmental concerns, the Cerro de San Pedro is an official historic monument. NewGold has promised to appeal the ruling.

In Chiapas, Abarca led a previously mentioned highway blockade that prevented Blackfire trucks from entering and leaving the Chicomuselo mine this past June and July. The community was protesting the company’s excessive use of scarce water supplies, its failure to follow through on commitments it reportedly made to the community, and its back-door maneuverings that allowed it to purchase 13.5 hectares of ejido land without the required approval of the ejido assembly. Blackfire claims it lost $120,000 pesos ($9,334 dollars) as a direct result of the blockade.

This past August, REMA held its Second Encounter of the Mexican Network of People Affected by Mining in Chiapas. Guatemalan communities who are resisting mining projects traveled to Chiapas to participate and share their experienes. Abarca helped organize the Encounter, and as previously mentioned, it was during the Encounter’s organizing process that state police kidnapped Abarca and charged him with organized crime at Blackfire’s request.

A communique signed by 25 Mexican organizations from six states and Mexico City holds Blackfire’s owners responsible for Abarca’s shooting and any resulting violence in the region. They called for a protest encampment outside of the Canadian Embassy and the Ministry of Economy headquarters in Mexico City on December 3 in solidarity with the people of Chicomuselo.

Source / NarcoSphere
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