China in Latin America

Anti-canal leader arrested in Nicaragua

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 PrensaConfidencialAP, June 25; Havana Times, April 25; La Prensa, April 23; Havana Times, March 12)

Colombia: campesinos block oil operation

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)

Bolivia: violence precedes vote on term limits

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)

Setbacks for Nicaragua canal project

The International Court of Justice on on Dec. 16 recognized Costa Rica's sovereignty over a 2.5-square-kilometer disputed territory on the border with Nicaragua, one of the main claims fought over by the two countries at The Hague-based court. "The sovereignty over the disputed territory belongs to Costa Rica," Justice Ronny Abraham stated. The ruling found that an artificial canal opened by Nicaragua in 2010 through Isla Calero, also called Isla Portillos or Harbour Head Island, was within Costa Rican territory and not part of the common border between the two countries. Justices also unanimously found that Nicaragua violated Costa Rican territory by invading Isla Calero with military personnel, by dredging canals in Costa Rican territory, and by violating Costa Rica’s navigation rights on the Río San Juan. Nicaragua was ordered to compensate Costa Rica for damage caused to its territory.

Nicaragua: canal project advances —amid repression

Nicaragua's Canal Commission on Nov. 5 approved environmental and social impact assessments for construction of the inter-oceanic canal by Hong Kong company HKND. "We are officially authorizing HKND to now begin the structural design and construction processes," said commission president Manuel Coronel in a ceremony. The impact studies were undertaken by UK-based Environmental Resources Management (ERM) and handed in to the government in September after a year and a half of prerparation. The assessment found that the canal project "will have significant environmental and social impact," but that this can be mitigated if it is developed properly. Project adviser Bill Wild said the approval marked a "giant step" for the project, and assured rapid advancement in the construction. The studies had not yet been approved by the official groundbeaking on the project last December.

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)

Peru: four dead in clash over Chinese mine project

At least four are dead and several more injured following clashes between police and residents at Challhuahuacho in Peru's Apurímac region, amid protests over Las Bambas copper mine project, now nearing completion. Several hundred residents attacked the installation, and police responded with tear-gas. Authorities have mobilized army troops to the area and imposed a 30-day state of emergency. Residents in the local province of Cotabambas and neighboring Grau launched an ongoing civil strike last week to demand that the owner of project, Hong Kong-based MinMetals Resources (MMG Ltd), make changes to its environmental management plan. Protesters oppose the company's plan to process concentrates of copper and molybdenum in the town, threatening local waters. They also object to plans for processed ore to be shipped to the Pacific coast by train and truck rather than pipeline, posing greater risk of spill. The plan was recently revised by the company to allow these practices, sparking the protests. The mine is scheduled to begin production in 2016 and is exepected to produce 400,000 metric tons of copper the following year. (Channel News Asia, NYT, BNAmerica, Sept. 29; AP, Sept. 28; Diario Correo, Sept. 27)

Trans-Amazon rail project strikes fear in tribes

A controversial mega-project to build a transcontinental railway through the Amazon basin has caused outrage among indigenous people and advocacy groups. UK-based Survival International charges that the rail project, backed by the Chinese government, would cross through many indigenous territories and areas of high biodiversity across the rainforest in Peru and Brazil, opening them to industrial exploitation, illegal mining and logging, and peasant colonization. Survival warns that "uncontacted tribes" would face devastation from invasions into their lands, calling these peoples "the most vulnerable societies on the planet." Whole populations could be wiped out by violence from outsiders and by diseases like flu and measles to which they have no resistance.

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