China in Latin America
Ecuador's government has deployed military drones and police helicopters to the Amazon village of El Tink, where Shuar indigenous residents have for weeks been blocking the only bridge leading to the community, over the Río Zamora. The stand-off began after a confrontation between indigenous protesters and National Police left one police officer dead in December at another Shuar village, Nankints, across the Cordillera del Condor from El Tink. The clash at Nankints came after Shuar warriors reportedly attacked a camp of the Chinese-owned Explorcobres copper exploration project. Nankints residents wanted by authorities in the attack have taken refuge at El Tink, also in Morona Santiago province. Nankints has been in resistance since troops arrived to demolish the settlement to make way for the 41,700-hectare mining project last August. With the stand-off at El Tink, the uprising has spread to a second village. (The Guardian, March 19; Mongabay, Feb. 8; Mongabay, Jan. 26)
Peru's prosecutor general Pablo Sánchez announced Feb. 7 that he is seeking the arrest of former president Alejandro Toledo on charges of laundering assets and influence trafficking. Prosecutors opened a formal investigation this week into allegations that Toledo took $20 million in bribes from Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht, with investigators raiding his home in Lima on Feb 4 and carting off boxes full of documents. Sánchez is now asking a judge to approve 10 months of "preventative detention" for Toledo while the case is under investigation. Toledo is currently believed to be in Paris, where he arrived for an OECD conference last week, and Sánchez argues that he poses a flight risk. Toledo is said to have received the money, laundered through offshore accounts, in exchange for giving the firm approval to complete a highway connecting Brazil with the Peruvian coast in 2006.
Ecuador's government on Dec. 19 issued an order for the dissolution of the Quito-based organization Acción Ecológica, for 30 years a voice for the country's indigenous peoples in their struggles against oil and mineral development. The Interior Ministry issued the order, accusing the group of complicity in "violent acts" carried out by anti-mining protesters in the Amazon region. A group of experts from the UN Human Rights Council issued a statement Dec. 30 protesting the order, and calling on Ecuador's government to halt "repressive measures that seek to asfixiate civil society." The statement said: "The government of Ecuador seems to be systematically dissolving organizations when they become too vocal or challenge government orthodoxy."
During the Asia-Pacific Cooperation Forum (APEC) summit in Lima, protesters took to the streets to oppose the US-led Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal—just as it appears to be on the rocks with the election of Donald Trump. But as the summit closed, China's President Xi Jinping and his Peruvian counterpart Pedro Pablo Kuczynski signed a series of bilateral agreements to advance "free trade" between the two countries and cooperation in the mineral and resource sectors. Xi especially plugged the Chinese-backed mega-project to build a transcontinental railway through the Amazon basin, and praised Peru for its ground-breaking 2010 free trade agreement with China. "Peru was the first Latin American country to sign a comprehensive free trade agreement with China. It's leading the region on cooperation with China," Xi said through an interpreter in a speech before Peru's Congress.
The mammoth Chinese-owned copper mine at Las Bambas, in Peru's Apurímac region, was prepared to halt operations as protesters blocked roads last month, but the blockades were relaxed after Vice President Martin Vizcarra flew in from Lima to meet with local leaders Oct. 22. Vizcarra pledged a review of community grievances over environmental impacts and recompense to localities for use of roads. Two days earlier, the body of Quintino Cereceda, a protester killed by police Oct. 14, was buried at his community of Choqquecca, signaling a de-escalation of the stand-off. Residents had pledged not to bury the body or turn it over to authorities until President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski came to meet with them. The Interior Ministry acknowledged that Cereceda had been killed by National Police fire.
The Central of Indigenous Communities of Tacana II Rio Madre de Dios (CITRMD), representing the Tacana people of Pando department in the Bolivian Amazon has issued a letter to the ministries of Justice and Environment requesting urgent government intervention to protect "uncontacted" indigenous peoples threatened by oil operations. The CITRMD said "footprints and broken branches" among other evidence were found within the operations area of BGP, a subsidiary of the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC). September letters by BGP to Bolivia's state oil company YPFB, to which it is contracted, noting this evidence, as well as one physical encounters with "originarios." CITRMD is urging BGP and the government to respect "their wish not to be contacted." (The Guardian, Oct. 27)
The first death due to a social conflict in Peru under new President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski came Oct. 14 as campesinos clashed with National Police over the contested mine at Las Bambas. Quintino Cereceda Huiza, 28, of Choqeqa community, was killed and 34 others wounded as police troops opened fire to clear some 200 protesters blocking a newly built access road to the mine in Challhuahuacho district of the Cotabambas province, Apurímac region. Las Bambas, Peru's largest copper mine, was brought online this year by Chinese company MMG Ltd—over the protests of local campesino communities in Challhuahuacho and Tambobamba districts. "The community has never disagreed with the project. They are not anti-mining," protest leader Rodny Cabrera told RPP Noticias. "The issue is that they cheated us, they lied to us. The mining company changed the environmental impact plan. The ore was going to go through a pipeline, not trucks that are polluting the fields. How will people live?" (OCMAL, Peru Reports, Oct. 15, La Mula, Reuters, Oct. 14; La Mula, Sept. 30)
Peru's government announced Sept. 28 that an official delegation will meet with indigenous protesters who have been blockading a main tributary of the Amazon River to protest pollution caused by a recent spate of oil spills. As many as 2,000 protesters have blocked river traffic on the Río Marañon since the start of the month. They have demanded that President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski fly into the rainforest to meet with them. Kuczynski instead said he will send a delegation to meet with the protesters and report back. Protest leaders contend they will only attend the meeting if the delegation includes cabient chief Fernando Zavala. There is also the controversy about where the meeting is to take place. It is now slated for Kuczynski’s hometown of Iquitos, the Amazon riverport which is the major city in Loreto region Protesters want the meeting to take place in the community of Saramurillo in Urarinas district, near where the protests are taking place—10 hours from Iquitos by boat.