An unknown number of miners—perhaps as many as 40—were buried alive as an illegal gold mine collapsed late on the night of April 30 at El Palmar, in Colombia's southern department of Cauca. Local campesinos spent May Day volunteering with Santander de Quilichao municipal brigades in a desperate effort to unearth the victims—none of whom are believed to survive. Thus far, only three bodies have been recovered, according to local Red Cross workers. Local residents said the "owners" of the mine were able to escape, but it is still unlcear exactly who they are.
Thousands of miners blocked highways in five departments of Bolivia for five days starting March 31 to protest a pending new mining law. Members of mining cooperatives installed at least 10 roablocks in the departments of La Paz, Cochabamba, Santa Cruz, Potosí and Oruro. At least three were killed in clashes with the National Police. The protests were called off after the government agreed to suspend the legislation, which had already cleared the lower-house Chamber of Deputies. The bill sought to bar the cooperatives from seeking private investment, restricting them to contracts with the Bolivian state. In response to the protests, President Evo Morales is drafting a new bill that would allow private contracts while restricting investment by foreign companies. (Los Tiempos de Cochabamba, April 5; EFE, AFP, El Universal, Venezuela, April 4; EFE, April 3; El Deber, Santa Cruz, Reuters, April 1)
Peru's Minster of Energy and Mines Eleodoro Mayorga announced March 26 that he had formalized an accord with protesting artisanal miners, who have for the past week been blocking the Pan-American Highway at Nazca to protest the end of the "formalization" process for titling their claims. Mayorga said the deal would extend the process through the middle of April. But the leaders of the protesting miners—from the regions of Arequipa, Cajamarca, Ayacucho, La Libertad and Apurímac—denied that any such deal had been struck. Nazca authorities say the roadblocks have caused massive losses in the region's tourism industry. More than 20,000 informal miners are also protesting in the regions of Piura, Ica, Arequipa, Puno, and Lima (EFE, March 26; Peru This Week, March 25)
Mexican authorities on March 4 announced the seizure of 119,000 tons of iron ore—with an estimated value of $15.4 million—along with 124 bulldozers, backhoes and trucks at Michoacán's Pacific seaport of Lázaro Cardenas, following tips about drug cartels exporting black-market ore to China. More than 400 federal police and military troops were involved in the coordinated raids on 11 processing facilities in the port city. Six Chinese workers at the sites were arrested, apparently on immigration charges. The federal security commissioner for Michoacán, Alfredo Castillo, told Periódico Digital that the ore is being tested to determine which mines it came from in order to crack down on the operation. In November 2013, the Mexican Navy took control of Lázaro Cardenas to cut off illicit exports for the Knights Templar drug cartel. (Metal Miner, March 7; Mining.com, Port Technology, March 4)
Mongolian ecology activist Tsetsegee Munkhbayar, who was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2007 for his campaign to protect water sources from mining pollution, was sentenced on Jan. 21 together with four associates to 21 years in prison each for "acts of terrorism." Munkhbayar was arrested on Sept. 16 at a protest in front of the parliament building in Ulan Bator during which a firearm was discharged. Security officials also allegedly found an explosive device in a nearby building. While stating that it does not condone violence, the Goldman Prize asserts that "it is widely understood that the shot was not fired on purpose and nobody was injured." The protest was called by Munkhbayar's "Fire Nation" movement to oppose a new government contract with French company Areva to revive uranium exploration in the Gobi Desert, which traditional heders say has led to death and deformities among livestock. Mongolia's parliament is considering a bill to loosen restrictions on a hard-won environmental law that prohibit mining in the headwaters of rivers and other sensitive areas.
France is escalating its military mission in the Central African Republic, airlifting troops and equipment to the capital Bangui ahead of an anticipated UN-backed intervention. With some 400 French troops stationed in Bangui presently, at least another 1,000 are on their way, said Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian. Paris, echoing the findings of rights groups, says the country has descended into chaos since the Seleka rebel coalition, many of its fighters apparently from neighboring Chad and Sudan, ousted president François Bozize in March 24. (France24, Nov. 29) With the French announcement, Amnesty International issued a statement calling for the UN Security Council to "authorize a robust peacekeeping force" for the CAR. "If the Security Council does not act now to stem the horrific cycle of violence in the Central African Republic, that failure will hang heavily on the international community for years to come," said Salil Shetty, Amnesty's secretary general. (AI, Dec. 12)
The Shuar Association of Bomboiza, in Ecuador's eastern rainforest province of Morona Santiago, is demanding answers from the government over a Nov. 7 incident in which a member of the Shuar indigenous people was killed in an army operation against illegal gold-miners in the region. The confrontation, at Kukus community on the banks of the Río Zamora, Bomboiza parish, Gualaquiza canton, also left nine army troops wounded. The army maintains that a patrol boat came under fire from presumed outlaw miners, and the Shuar man, Freddy Taish, was among the attackers. But Shuar leaders are demanding that the government reveal what kind of bullet killed Taish, saying that the official version of events contains "contradictions," and accuse the army of tampering with forensic evidence.
Recent headlines from the Democratic Republic of Congo are exceptionally optimistic, with government gains against the M23 rebels in the country's war-torn east followed by the guerilla army's pledge to lay down arms. (IRIN, Nov. 8) Few media accounts have noted that this development comes immediately after the US announced a suspension of military aid to Rwanda, the M23's patron, over use of child soldiers. The DRC itself was also officially blacklisted, but received a "partial waiver." Rwanda was explicitly held responsible for use of child soldiers by its proxy force in the DRC. (VOA, Oct. 3)