China in Latin America

Contradictory legacy of Hugo Chávez

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)

Panama Canal expansion fuels inter-oceanic race

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)

Criminal gangs threaten Maya Biosphere Reserve

An Oct. 8 report on Yale University's Environment 360 website, "In the Land of the Maya, A Battle for a Vital Forest" by William Allen, states that "In Guatemala's vast Maya Biosphere Reserve, conservation groups are battling to preserve a unique rainforest now under threat from Mexican drug cartels, Salvadoran drug gangs, and Chinese-backed groups illegally logging prime tropical hardwoods." The Maya Biosphere Reserve covers approximately the northern third of what Allen calls the "Selva Maya," Central America's largest remaining expanse of rainforest, which stretches across the northern half of Guatemala and also extends into the Mexican state of Chiapas to the west and the country of Belize to the east. More taditionally, the forest is called El Petén within Guatemala and the Selva Lacandona on the Mexican side of the border. Allen cites Guatemala's National Council for Protected Areas (CONAP) to the effect that international criminal networks are now the biggest threat to the Selva Maya. Cattle ranching and logging have long been eating into rainforest—but now in a convergence with organized crime:

Peru: Cajamarca regional strike remobilizes

Despite recent statements indicating that the planned mega-scale Conga gold mine in Peru's northern Cajamarca region will be suspended, Yanacocha mining company has started work on a reservoir at Laguna Chaugallón near the proposed concession area, apparently in preparation for the project—sparking a new wave of protests from local campesinos. Wilfedo Saavedra, leader of the Cajamarca Defense Front, said that the regional paro (civil strike) to oppose the project would remobilize on Sept. 21, when comuneros (communal peasants) from Bambamarca province will blockade operations at the site. "We will return to protest because the Newmont company has received permission to complete the first part of the project, which consists of construction of the reservoirs," Saavedra said, referring to the US-based Newmont Mining Company which is the majority holder in Yanacocha.

Peru: peasants protest Chinese mining project

The campesino communities of Ayavaca and Huancabamba in Peru's northern Piura region held assemblies Aug. 16 and issued a statement pledging to resist recently announced plans by Chinese mining company Zijin to move ahead with the long-contested Río Blanco copper project. The communities cited the need to protect threatened watersheds, wetlands and cloud forests in the high Andean region, noting that they have been officially listed as "fragile ecosystems" under Peruvian law. The local jalca ecosystem, which exists only in Peru's northern Andean regions near the border with Ecuador, is richer in water than the more arid high plains known as punas elsewhere in the country. Read the statement: "Ayavaca and Huancabamba are today more alert than ever and ready to commit our lives for the defense of water for future generations." (Megaproyectos, Aug. 16; CONDESAN)

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