China in Latin America
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.
Panama has opened the long-awaited $5.4 billion expansion of its inter-oceanic canal, completed after nearly a decade of work and forecast to boost global trade. China's container ship Cosco Shipping Panama was the first to pass through the expanded canal, crossing from the Pacific to Atlantic June 26, emerging at a ceremony attended by thousands of onlookers and foreign dignitaries. The expansion is designed to accommodate the huge "neo-Panamax" ships to move far greater quantities of cargo through the canal—also dubbed "mega-ships." But the Spanish-led consortium that carried out the expansion is demanding hundreds of millions of dollars in cost overruns. And there are long-term concerns about available fresh water to feed the expanded canal's new locks. The expanded canal is relying on the same water sources as the original canal—which are already under stress. During this year's El Niño-related drought, shippers had to significantly lighten their loads through the canal. Jorge L. Quijano, CEO of the Panama Canal Authority, has been pressuring Panamanians to conserve water to assure the functioning of the new mega-canal. (China Daily, June 27; Radio Australia, June 26; NYT, June 22; Miami Herald, June 20; American Shipper, March 22)
Francisca Ramírez Torres, leader of the movement against the planned Nicaraguan canal, was arrested by National Police agents June 25 in a raid on her village in the South Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region. Ramírez was leading a workshop at her village of La Fonseca, Nueva Guinea municipality, teaching local residents to build fuel-efficient wood-burning ovens. She was detained along with her husband, four other local campesinos and four foreigners who were participating in the workshop, mostly Mexicans. The event was part of a Mesoamerican Caravan for Good Life, organized to support local communities opposed to the canal project. No formal charges have yet been announced. "We don't know what argument the police used to detain them and take them by force to the state," attorney López Baltodano told the AP. President Daniel Ortega said the detained had been "handling explosives." On April 22, Ramírez and her National Council for the Defense of Our Land, Lake and Sovereignty led a march of thousands of campesinos against the canal project in Nueva Guinea. (Caravana Mesoamericana, La Prensa, La Prensa, Confidencial, AP, June 25; Havana Times, April 25; La Prensa, April 23; Havana Times, March 12)
Colombia's feared anti-riot force, the ESMAD, used tear-gas June 20 against campesinos occupying lands in the Amazonian department of Caquetá to block oil exploration efforts. Seismic activities are being carried out in the municipalities of Valparaiso and Milan y Morelia by a contractor for firm Emerald Energy. Protest leader José Antonio Saldarriaga said: "We defend our territory, the water and the future for the next generations... It caused us much sadness that 95% has been displaced by violence, and now that we are returning, the multinationals want to displace us for extractive projects." The new blockades come almost a year after three local campesinos were gravely injured in a similar police operation to break up a blockade of seismic exploration workers. UK-based Emerald Energy was purchased by China's Sinochem in 2009. (Contagio Radio, June 21)
Exit polls suggest Bolivia's President Evo Morales has narrowly lost a referendum to amend the constitution and allow him to run for a fourth consecutive term. The constitution change would let Morales remain in power until 2025. Opposition supporters are already celebrating the referendum result in parts of La Paz. However, Vice President Alvaro García Linera said the results so far are a "technical tie." The vote takes place amid controversy over who is responsible for a deadly incident of political violence four days earlier in El Alto, the sprawling working-class suburb of La Paz that is a traditional stronghold of Morales' ruling Movement Toward Socialism (MAS). (BBC News, Feb. 22; La Razón, Feb. 18)