China in Latin America
The wife and infant son of a local mining leader were assassinated last week in the community of Pamputa, Coyllurqui district, Cotabambas province, Apurímac region, Peru. The bodies were found Sept. 18 by Carmelo Hanco, president of the local Artisenal Miners Association of Los Apus de Chunta, when he returned home from a trip to Abancay, the regional capital, where he had been petitioning authorities for the "formalization" of mining claims. Authorities said the killings took place during a robbery, but Hanco said he suspected the involvement of the Xstrata mining company—which he charged has been pressing for the arrest of independent artisenal miners in the region with an eye towards establishing its own operations. The company has for 10 years operated a giant gold, silver and copper mine at nearby Las Bambas (Chahuahuacho district), above the opposition of both local artisenal miners and campesinos. (Con Nuestro Peru, Sept. 21)
Nicaraguan civil society groups have challenged plans by a Hong Kong company to build an interoceanic canal through the Central American country. Last month, representatives of indigenous and Creole community groups from Nicaragua's South Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAS, see map) called on the country's Supreme Court to repeal the law allowing the construction of the canal. "The passing means that the state accepts and approves in advance [a project] that will affect peoples of indigenous and of African descent, who had been excluded from the decision-making process," the Nicaragua Center for Human Rights (CINDH) said in a statement. "There has to be a consultation with the indigenous population, because this project will affect the entire population with its own traditions and way of life," said Allen Clair Duncan, head of the communal government of Monkey Point, where a deep-water port is set to be built as part of the canal project.
Tomás García Domínguez, an indigenous leader, was shot dead on July 15 in Intibucá department in western Honduras during a demonstration at the headquarters for the Agua Zarca hydroelectric project. Four other protesters were wounded, including García's son, 17-year-old Allan García Domínguez, who was hospitalized in serious condition with a bullet in his lung. According to Civic Council of Grassroots and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) leader Berta Cáceres, the demonstration was peaceful, but "without saying one word the army opened fire against our companions, sending bullets into the bodies of Tomás García and his son, in the presence of police that remained paralyzed and did nothing to prevent it." A press release from the two companies constructing the dam—the Honduran company Desarrollos Energéticos S.A. (DESA) and the Chinese state enterprise SINOHYDRO—blamed the protesters and claimed the demonstration "included the destruction of installations, vehicles and personal property and direct aggression against the physical integrity of personnel."
Nicaragua's President Daniel Ortega and Chinese business magnate Wang Jing on June 14 formally sealed a pact granting Wang exclusive rights to build a multi-billion-dollar inter-oceanic canal through the Central American nation—the night after the country's National Assembly, dominated by Ortega's Sandinista Front, voted up Law 840, a bill approving the project, by 61-25. Wang's HK Nicaragua Canal Development Investment Co. will start with a study to determine whether the project is viable. Under the plan, the company would have a 50-year contract to develop and run the canal, with Nicaragua receiving a minority share of any profits. Ortega pledges the project will eradicate poverty in the country, one of the hemisphere's poorest. "This is a historic day for Nicaragua... a day of fulfilling prophecies and realizing dreams," said first lady Rosario Murillo, during the nationally televised ceremony. Murillo called it a "day of miracles" and said the canal project represents a "prophecy of prosperity for Nicaraguan families."
Ecuador's second-largest oil pipeline burst on April 8, but exports will not be affected, the Energy Ministry emphasized. The 475-kilometer Heavy Crude Oil Pipeline has a capacity of up to 450,000 barrels per day, linking oil fields in the eastern Sucumbios province to the Pacific coast. The Energy Ministry said that around 5,500 barrels of crude were spilled when the OCP broke, and that the pipeline suspended operations following the incident. The rupture occurred in Esmeraldas province, near where the pipeline meets the Pacific. Several local campesino plots were fouled. The OCP is controlled by a consortium including Spain's Repsol-YPF, the French Perenco and Brazil's Petrobras. The country's largest pipeline, the SOTE, transports crude for paratstatal Petroamazonas, which aims to produce an average 325,000 bpd this year. (Reuters, El Comercio, Quito, April 8) Ecuador has just announced plans for a major new thrust of oil development in the Amazon, with Chinese companies in the lead.
Some 30 protesters crashed the opening of the sixth Expominas trade fair at the Quito Exhibition Center April 3, where Ecuador's government sought to win new investors for the mineral and oil sectors. The protesters, mostly women, interrupted the event's inaugural speech with an alternative rendition of the song "Latinoamérica" by the Puerto Rican hip-hop outfit Calle 13, with lyrics referencing places in the country threatened by mining: "You cannot buy Intag, you cannot buy Mirador, you can't buy Kimsacocha, you can't buy my Ecuador." The activists wore t-shirts with the slogan: "Responsible mining, tall tale" (literally, cuento chino, Chinese tale). (Tegantai, April 3)
At this hour, Venezuelans are gathering in central Caracas, many in tears and holding portraits of their late leader Hugo Chávez, who passed after a long illness. In more well-heeled parts of the city, celebratory fireworks are going off. The right-wing opposition, and its allies in Washington and Miami, will doubtless see this as their hour. At stake is not merely the future of Venezuela, but all Latin America, given Chávez's leadership of the continent's anti-imperialist bloc. This was made clear last month when Ecuador's Rafael Correa "dedicated" his re-election to Chávez. We hope we can take Chávez at his word about how his movement transcends his personality cult. Weeks before his passing, he said: "They're thinking that Chávez is through. Chávez is not through. What's more and what I'd better tell you, when this body really gives out, Chávez will not be through, because I am no longer Chávez. Chávez is in the streets and has become the people, and has become a national essence, more than a feeling, a national body." (Quoted in Reuters, March 5)
The $5.25 billion expansion of the Panama Canal—the strategic waterway that now handles 14,000 vessels a year, or 5% of world trade—will be ready for commercial shipping later than originally planned, the Panama Canal Authority admitted Jan. 17. Widening and deepening of the 80-kilometer passage will be completed by June 2015, six months later than first intended, the Authority’s administrator Jorge Luis Quijano said (Bloomberg, Jan. 17) The expanded canal will be able to handle so-called "post-Panamax" scale ships, which are the length of aircraft carriers. The US Army Corps of Engineers estimates that US ports such as Miami are now spending up to $8 billion a year in federal, local and private money to modernize in response to the canal expansion, which experts call a "game changer." CSX is planning to build a new $90 million rail transfer facility at Baltimore that will allow cargo trains to be loaded a few miles from the port, while the Norfolk Southern line is blasting through Appalachian passes in West Virginia and Kentucky to allow expanded freight shipments. (Memphis Commercial Appeal, Jan. 14)