China in Latin America

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.

Peru: one dead in Nazca iron mine strike

One was killed at some 200 reported injured when police fired on striking miners blocking a highway near the Shougang Hierro Perú iron mine at Marcona, Nazca province, in Peru's coastal region of Ica on May 25. At least one other worker suffered a bullet wound. Videos aired on media in Peru show workers chanting "no disparen, no disparen" (don't shoot, don't shoot) at the National Police troops. The strike was called by the FNTMMSP union federation to oppose the layoff of more than 80 workers by subcontractor Coopsol. Strikers were also pressing community demands for reduced electricity rates and a potable water project. All 963 workers at the mine took part in the strike, and the company has not brought contract workers to replace them while talks with the FNTMMSP are ongoing. The FNTMMSP on May 18 called a national strike to protest recent government decrees that allow greater use of subcontractors in the mining sector. The FNTMMSP called off the national strike on May 27. (FNTMMSP, May 27; Correo, Revolution News, LAHT, May 25; Reuters, May 18) 

China pushes trans-Amazon railway project

China's Premier Li Keqiang, on a tour of South America, is plugging a transcontinental railway project that would cut through the heart of the Amazon rainforest. Last year, President Xi Jinping signed a memorandum on the project with the governments of Brazil and Peru, and Li is now pressing for an actual feasibility study. According to an interactive map on Diálogo Chino website, the "Twin Ocean Railroad" or "Transcontinental Railroad" would start at Porto do Açu in Rio de Janeiro state, and cut through the Brazilian states of Goiás, Mato Grosso and Rondônia. It would terminate at Puerto Ilo in Peru's southern Moquegua region.

Argentina: Chinese spaceport plan protested

Protesters led by the Party of Labor and the People (PTP) held a march Feb. 13 at Bajada del Agrio, in Argentina's Neuquén province, to oppose plans for a spaceport to be built in cooperation with China. The PTP's Popular Front issued a statement accusing national and provincial authorities of "deepening the dependence of our country on Chinese imperialism." It said the deal would establish a "foreign enclave" and constitute a "cession of Argentine sovereignty." Protesters marched to the construction site at Quintuco, where the base is to be operated by China Satellite Launch and Tracking Control General (CLTC), an agency closely linked to the People's Liberation Army. (ImNequen.com, Neuquén Al Instante, Feb. 13)

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