Southern Cone

Argentina: prosecutor's death classified homicide

Argentine lawyer and federal prosecutor Alberto Nisman was the victim of murder according to Criminal Appeals Court Prosecutor Ricardo Sáenz in a Feb. 25 decision. The declaration is the first time a judicial authority has suggested the death as a homicide since the mysterious tragedy in January 2015. Sáenz recommended that the case be handed to federal authorities and investigated as a murder. The prosecutor wrote that he agreed with the assassination theory that Nisman's family presented in a complaint to the appeals court in Buenos Aires and that all the evidence points to Nisman's death as a murder, not a suicide. Judge and Nisman's former wife, Sandra Arroyo Salgado, also maintains that the case be handed over to federal authorities in order to fulfill their role as the country's institution for investigating the suspicious death of a public servant. The court will evaluate Sáenz's findings on March 18.

Argentina: police repression of labor protests

Riot police fired rubber bullets and tear-gas at protesting public-sector workers recently laid off by budget cuts in Argentina's La Plata municipality on Jan. 8, with several left wounded. The workers were protesting a decision by local mayor Julio Garro that canceled 4,500 contracts on Dec. 31. The country's new right-wing President Mauricio Macri's administration has laid off 10,000 public-sector workers since the beginning of 2016. In his one month since taking office, he has signed 29 Necessity and Urgency Decrees (DNUs) intended to institute structural reform and reverse the legacy of his center-left predecssor  Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. The mass lay offs have affected workers throughout Argentina and more are expected. (La Nación, TeleSur, Revolution News, Jan. 8; Perfil, Jan. 3)

Brazil to sue mining giants for dam failure

Brazil's Minster of Natural Environment said Nov. 27 that the country's government plans to sue BHP Billiton Ltd., Vale SA, and Samarco Mineração SA for $5.24 billion for damages caused by a dam collapse at an iron ore site the two co-own. The iron ore site, Samarco Mineração SA, is a joint mining venture between the two companies. BHP Billiton Ltd. is the largest mining company, and Vale SA is the biggest ore miner in the world. The dam contained and released 60 million cubic meters of mine waste and mud that killed at least 13 people, left approximately 11 people missing, and devastated an entire village when it collapsed earlier this month. Brazilian Minister Izabella Teixeira announced that the government would seek to create a fund to compensate victims and to pay for the environmental recovery of the effected areas. The fund would be created gradually as a percentage of the companies' profits. The Special Rapporteurs sent by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) reported  that the "steps taken by the Brazilian government, Vale and BHP Billiton to prevent harm were clearly insufficient" and that "this disaster serves as yet another tragic example of the failure of businesses to adequately conduct human rights due diligence to prevent human rights abuses." 

Mining company to pay in Brazil disaster

Brazilian mining company Samarco has agreed to pay at least $260 million in compensation for the Nov. 11 collapse of two dams it used to hold waste water from iron ore, which caused an avalanche of mud to inundate nearby villages in Minas Gerais state. Eleven people were killed and 12 are missing, presumed dead. The village of Bento Rodrigues was totally destroyed, with more than 500 people left homeless. Residents are being temporarily housed in hotels in the city of Mariana. Some 250,000 local residents are also left without drinking water. The mud is still being tested for potential toxins from the mine. In imposing the fine, Brazilian environmental agency IBAMA called the disaster "the worst mining accident in Brazil's history." Operations at the facility remain suspended, with Samarca admitting that two more dams at the site are "at risk of collapsing."

Argentina: anti-mining struggle scores victory

Residents in the northern Argentine town of Famatina celebrated a major victory Nov. 4 after the governor-elect (and current vice-governor) of La Rioja province, Sergio Casas, announced that the Midais mining company's planned gold project in the area would be cancelled. This decision comes weeks after a peaceful protest against the project was met with police repression. Residents fear the project would contaminate the waters of the local Río Blanco. This is the fourth time that Famatina residents have thwarted mining efforts in the province of La Rioja, having successfully defeated advances by major international companies Barrick Gold, Osisko, and Shandong Gold over the past 10 years. Vice-Governor Casas cautiously commented: "The company will go despite its activities not having caused contamination, but we look for a necessary consensus among residents." (Argentina Independent, Nov. 4)

Argentina: more repression of anti-mine protests

Residents of San Juan Jáchal, in Argentina's northwestern province of San Juan, are mobilizing in the wake of last month's cyanide spill at Barrick Gold's Veladero mine, under the slogan of "A Spring without Barrick or Cyanide." In the first protest roadblock the province has seen, demonstrators on Oct. 22 took over an access road leading to the mine, with a banner reading "HELP! BARRICK KILLED THE HOPES OF THE FARMERS!" The blockade was broken up that night by federal police troops at 4 AM, with 23 arrested. The local committee "Jáchal No Se Toca" (Hands Off Jáchal) issued a statement decrying the "violence and brutality" of the army attack. The Sept. 13 spill of a million and a half liters of cyanide-contaminated water affected the local Río Jáchal. (InfoBae, Oct. 23; Radio Lavaca, Buenos Aires, Oct. 22)

Argentina: protests follow death of popular leader

Thousands of protesters marched on government offices in Resistencia, capital of Argentina's Chaco province, after popular leader Angel Verón died Oct. 19 from wounds sustained in a beating by police three weeks earlier. Verón, a leader of "No al Desalojo" (No Evictions) campaign for housing rights as part of the Unemployed Workers Movement (MTD), was at a roadblock on the major route into Resistencia when he was attacked by police on Sept. 24. The roadblock was launched to press Gov. Jorge Capitanich on his pledge to provide construction materials for his group to build housing for the poor. Protesters are demanding the resignation of provincial police chief Gustavo Peña, and a thorough investigation of the incident leading to Verón's death. Protesters held a vigil outside the provincial government building to demand a meeting with Capitanich, but were rebuffed. Capitanich stepped down earlier this year as President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner's cabinet chief. (Chaco por Día, Oct. 21; Diario Norte, Oct. 20; Clarín, Oct. 19)

Argentina: police repression of anti-mine protest

A peaceful anti-mining march headed towards the Midais site in Argentina's La Rioja province was dispersed by police using tear-gas and rubber bullets Oct. 15. The march was made up of environmental activists and citizens from Famatina, near where Argentine firm Midais SH hopes to begin gold-mining operations. Provincial police attacked the march, which began in the town of Angulos, to enforce a judicial order barring protests within three kilometers of the mine site. National deputy Julio César Martínez of the Radical Civic Union (UCR) was reportedly hit in the neck with a rubber bullet during the assault. Two children were also reported injured. Fatamina was the scene of widespread protests in 2007 and 2012 when Canadian companies Barrick Gold and Osisko sought to begin operations. Residents fear for the impacts of mining on the local Río Blanco, and say the  companies have no "social license" to operate in the area. (Argentina Independent, IPPM, InfoBae, Clariín, Oct. 15)

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