China in Latin America

Honduras: justice at last for Berta Cáceres?

A court in Honduras convicted seven men in the 2016 murder of indigenous rights activist Berta Cáceres on Nov. 29. Until her assassination on March 2, 2016, Cáceres had been leading a campaign against the Agua Zarca dam in western Honduras, a joint project by Honduran company Desarrollos Energéticos SA (DESA) and Chinese-owned Sinohydro. The dam was being built on the Rio Gualcarque without prior consultation with the Lenca indigenous community that depends on the river for their food and water. Cáceres, who won the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize in 2015, had received numerous threats for her activism against the dam before she was killed by gunmen at her home in the town of La Esperanza. Mexican environmentalist Gustavo Castro was also shot, but he survived the attack. Two of those convicted are former DESA managers.

Venezuela re-privatizing oil resources

Venezuela has agreed to open at least seven oil-fields to private companies in contracts "similar to ones rolled back under late socialist leader Hugo Chávez," Reuters reported Sept. 10. The plan was revealed in a televized ceremony Aug. 28 in which representatives of the companies met with President Nicolás Maduro to sign "joint service agreements" with the state oil company PDVSA. Terms of the deals were not disclosed. But in a draft contract obtained by Reuters, PDVSA offers to turn over the fields for six years on condition that the companies provide the required investment to boost production. PDVSA president Manuel Quevedo said at the ceremony that the plan would require $430 million for an increase of 641,000 barrels per day. Quevedo said the plan involves 14 companies, although only seven were present for the ceremony and the others were unnamed. The seven include five Venezuelan firms: Petrokariña, Enfriadores de Venezuela, Consorcio Rinoca Centauro Kariña, Consorcio Petrolero Tomoporo and Well Services Cavallino. The remaining two are Helios Petroleum Services of Panama and Shandong Kerui Holding Group of China. The fields in question were formerly operated by Italy's Eni and the French Total.

Podcast: Nicaragua and political deja vu

In Episode 10 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg notes the re-emergence in the news of three figures associated with the drama that played out over revolutionary Nicaragua in the 1980s. Daniel Ortega, president of Nicaragua then, is again today, and just faced massive protests calling for his ouster. Oliver North, who headed the Reagan White House covert operation to destabilize Nicaragua's Sandinista regime back then, was just named as head of the National Rifle Association. And Luis Posada Carriles, the right-wing Cuban terrorist who was part of North's private spy network back then, just died. Historical ironies abound. North, who supported a counter-revolutionary terrorist network in Nicaragua (the "contras"), now baits nonviolent gun-control activists as "terrorists."  Ortega, whose government distributed land to the campesinos in the '80s, is now seizing land from campesinos for his monstrous inter-oceanic canal plan. And the conspiracy theory popular among the NRA's white heartland base about the government preparing to disarm the populace and detain resisters in military camps has its roots in the actual FEMA martial law plan drawn up by Oliver North, to be implemented in the event of a US invasion of Nicaragua—with Central American refugees to be detained in military camps. A final irony is the NRA-Russia connection, which comes as Nicaragua is cooperating with a resurgent Russian military presence in the Caribbean. Vladimir Putin recently became the first Russian (or Soviet) leader to visit Nicaragua. So is it possible that we are today so far through the proverbial looking glass that Oliver North and Daniel Ortega are now on the same side? Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon.

Peru: mass protest against political class

Thousands of protesters took to the streets of Lima on March 22, the day after Peru's scandal-embattled president Pedro Pablo Kuczynski announced his resignation. Clashes were reported in the city's downtown Plaza San Martín, with tear-gas used and several injured. The resignation came after months of political machinations in Peru's congress had put off Kuczynski's ouster, and the ire of the demonstrators was directed not just at the disgraced "PPK," but Peru's entire political class. Gerónimo López Sevillano, secretary general of the CGTP union federation, called for a constituent assembly to forge a "new social pact" after new elections are held, while echoing the popular slogan "que se vayan todos los corruptos" (throw out all the corrupt ones). The left-opposition party Nuevo Perú (which has two congressional seats) also called for a new constitution to "refound the country and devolve power to the people." (La República, InfoBae, March 23)

Ecuador: judicial abuse of ecological opposition

Human Rights Watch on March 26 released a report charging that Ecuador's former president Rafael Correa abused the criminal justice system to target indigenous leaders and environmentalists who protested mining and oil exploitation in the Amazon. The 30-page report, Amazonians on Trial: Judicial Harassment of Indigenous Leaders and Environmentalists in Ecuador, notes ongoing efforts by Correa to silence ecological opposition, starting with the 2013 closure of the Pachamama Foundation by presidential decree. In 2016, his administration sought to similarly close another leading environmental group, Acción Ecológica, but backtracked after the move provoked an international outcry, including condemnation by UN experts. The report also notes criminal cases against indigenous and environmental activists in which "prosecutors did not produce sufficient evidence" to support the serious charges they brought.

Oil prices surge: vindication is tedious

Well, we hate to say "We told you so," but... We told you so. We've been told for the past several years now that the depressed oil prices were permanent, that thanks to fracking and the surge in US domestic production, the price was now immune to Middle East instability, dramatic spikes and "oil shocks" forever banished. Well, futures for Brent crude just hit $63.37 per barrel, with the spot price for West Texas Intermediate at $57.34. (Panorama.am, Investing.com) Creeping toward the $100 per barrel we were so recently assured was a thing of the past. OilPrice.com blames Trump's announcement that the US will move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, which has of course unleashed unrest in the Palestinian territories and instability fears across the Middle East. But the jump really began almost exactly a month ago, seemingly prompted by the leadership purge in Saudi Arabia. That brought the Brent crude price up to $62, its highest level since July 2015. (The Guardian, Nov. 6)

Peru and Australia sign free trade pact

Peru and Australia signed a free trade pact Nov. 10 that does away with 99% of tariffs on imported goods from Australia, while securing Peruvian exports greater access to Australian markets. The Peru-Australia Free Trade Agreement (PAFTA) was signed in Danang, Vietnam, at the 25th summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum. Peru's President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski (PPK) announced the deal on Twitter, boasting that the agreement will boost employment and attract investment. Speaking at the APEC summit, PPK reiterated his support for free trade and warned about the dangers of protectionism.

Peru seeks to overtake Chile in copper production

In ominous news for environmental defenders in Peru, the administration of President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski (PPK) is planning to revise mining regulations to enable the Andean country to overtake its southern neighbor Chile in copper production. Despite higher-grade ores and lower mining costs than Chile, Peru's government says its potential in copper exploitation is being restricted by too much bureaucracy. "We need to create the necessary conditions for mining to grow in our country so the government can invest in basic services, healthcare, education and infrastructure," said Mines and Energy Minister Cayetana Aljovin.

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