China in Latin America
Ecuador's Minister of Economic and Social Inclusion Betty Tola announced Jan. 5 that the government would not evict indigenous organization CONAIE from its Quito office, which has for weeks been occupied by supporters prepared to resist removal. The repreive came the day before the scheduled eviction, with a cross-country march arriving in Quito for a mobilization in support of CONAIE. A march on the Carondelet presidential palace, with a traditional runner (chaski) bringing a list of CONAIE demands for President Rafael Correa, was blocked by riot police. Tola said a final decision on the use of the building would be put off for two months. Correa, who was away in China as the affair came to a climax, earlier charged that CONAIE was exploiting the premises for "political uses."
As we noted in September (when the price had just dipped below $100 a barrel), after an initial price shock when ISIS seized northern Iraq, the world oil price has since slumped. It now stands at around $60 a barrel. Recall that way back in late 2001, when the US was invading Afghanistan, it stood at a lowly $11. At that time, we predicted an imminent price shock to jump-start the planned industry expansion—both in the Caspian Basin and here at home, overcoming environmental concerns. Boy, were we right. The price of a barrel first broke the $100 mark in 2008, and has frequently crossed it in the years since then, although it never quite hit the much-feared $200-a-barrel. But now the petro-oligarchs are talking like $100 may be the new $200. Saudi Arabia's oil minister Ali al-Naimi last month answered "we may not" when asked if markets would ever lift prices to $100 again. (CNN, Dec. 23) How much of this are we to believe, and what is really behind the slump?
Christmas Eve saw clashes in Nicaragua between riot police and campesino protesters, with some 40 detained and several injured. Most have been released, but a few are still reported missing and are believed to be in Managua's El Chipote prison. "This is no longer a dictatorship lite, this is a now a full-blown repressive dictatorship that is baring its claws and releasing its dogs," Vilma Nuñez, head of the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights, told US-based Fusion website. The protests took place at El Tule, Chontales department, and in Rivas, where campesinos tried to block road construction related to the inter-oceanic canal project. Protests were also reported at Nueva Guinea in the South Atlantic Autonomous Region, where campesinos burned tires at roadblocks. The protests began Dec. 22, marring that day's ceremonies marking the start of construction on the mega-project. Laureano Ortega, son of President Daniel Ortega, and canal developer Wang Jing of Hong Kong-based HKND Group, were helicoptered into Rivas for the affair, and apologized to assembled journalists for the disturbances. (Fusion.net, La Prensa, Nicaragua, Dec. 27; Nicaragua Dispatch, Dec. 24)
On Dec. 3, a group of Shuar indigenous women from Ecuador's Amazon arrived in Quito to demand an investigation in the death of community leader José Tendetza Antún, who was planning on travelling to Peru for the Lima climate summit this month to press demands for cancellation of a mining project. Tendetza represented that Shuar community of Yanúa, El Pangui canton, Zamora Chinchipe province (see map). He disappeared Nov. 28 while on his way to discuss the mine matter with officials in the town of Bomboíza. The community launched a search, and his body was found Dec. 2 by local gold-miners. But the remains were turned over directly to the authorities, and quickly buried. Shuar leaders are demanding they be exhumed, and an autopsy conducted. Shuar leader Domingo Ankuash said based on what the miners said, he believes Tendetza had been beaten to death, and perhaps tortured.
The Nicaraguan government and Hong Kong Nicaragua Canal Development Investment Co. (HKND) will soon publish the "exact and definitive map” of the interoceanic canal, with construction slated for begin by year's end. In televised statement, project spokesperson Telemaco Talavera said details will also follow on feasibility and environmental impact studies, which involved a census of 29,000 people in the catchment area of 1,500 square kilometers. The canal will join the Caribbean Sea with the Pacific Ocean through a 278-kilometer trench, including 105 kilometers through the southern part of Lake Nicaragua, or Cocibolca (Sweetwater) as it is known in the local indigenous language. (TeleSUR, Nov. 12)
Supporters and opponents of Ecuador's President Rafael Correa took to the streets of Quito by the thousands Sept. 17—at one point clashing with each other, resulting in eight arrests. Authorities claimed several police officers were injured. Correa, who addressed his supporters at Plaza de la Independencia, boasted that the pro-government march was "bigger, much, much bigger." This was contested by organizers of the opposition march, who claimed to have mobilized some 5,000. The opposition rally was called by the Unitary Workers' Front (FUT), the country's principal trade union federation, in alliance with the indigenous organizations CONAIE and Ecuarunari. FUT called the march to oppose Correa's reform of the labor code, which union leaders denounced as a "neoliberal" roll-back of workers' rights. The indigenous groups joined to protest ongoing oil and mineral development.
The BRICS group of five nations—Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa—held its sixth annual summit this year from July 14 to July 16 in Fortaleza in the northeastern Brazilian state of Ceará and in Brasilia, the Brazilian capital. The main business for the five nations' leaders was formalizing their agreement on a plan to create a development bank to serve as an alternative to lending institutions like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, which are largely dominated by the US and its allies. Although the project will need approval from the countries' legislatures, the BRICS leaders indicated that the group's lending institution would be called the New Development Bank, would be based in Shanghai and would be headed for the first five years by a representative of India. The bank is to start off in 2016 with $50 billion in capital, $10 billion from each BRICS member. The BRICS nations will maintain control of the bank, but membership will be open to other countries; in contrast to the IMF and the World Bank, the New Development Bank will not impose budgetary conditions on loan recipients.
Nicaragua's Commission for the Development of the Grand Canal on July 7 approved a route for the proposed inter-oceanic canal through the Central American country. The waterway, to be built by Chinese company HKND, is slated to run from the Río Punta Gorda (South Atlantic Autonomous Region) on the Caribbean Coast to Brito (Rivas department) on the Pacific coast—a route more than three times as long as the 48-mile Panama Canal. The Commission said the canal will be operational by 2020, but questions have been raised on how the Hong Kong-based company plans to finance the project, estimated at $50 billion—nearly four times greater than Nicaragua's national economy. The canal is to be privately owned and operated. Ecologists have raised concerns about impacts on Lake Nicaragua (also known as Cocibolca), Central America's largest lake and an important fresh-water source for the country. There are fears the the water used by the canal's locks could seriously deplete the lake. The Río San Juan, which feeds the lake and forms the border with Costa Rica, would be dammed to feed the locks. Costa Rica has formally demanded the right to review environmental impact studies for the project before work begins. The Rama-Kriol indigenous people, whose territories in the Punta Gorda river basin would be impacted, are demanding to be consulted on the project. (La Prensa, Nicaragua, July 17; Tico Times, Costa Rica; July 15; Nicaragua Dispatch, Reuters, El Financiero, Mexico, July 8)