Six leaders of the dissident Aymara organization CONAMAQ held a hunger strike for four days at the doors of the Bolivian congress building last month, as the lower-house Chamber of Deputies debated a bill on assigning legislative seats to ethnicities and regions of the country. The strike was lifted after the law was approved Oct. 7. By then, one Aymara elder, Simón Antonio Cuisa from Charcas Qhara Qhara, Potosí, had been hospitalized. On breaking his strike after the vote, CONAMAQ leader Rafael Quispe said, "The plurinaitonal state is mortally wounded." CONAMAQ and its congressional allies—dissident members of the ruling Movement Towards Socialism (MAS), calling themselves the "free-thinkers" (librepensantes)—pledged to seek the law's reform. Dissident MAS lawmaker Rebeca Delgado spoke on the chamber floor in support of CONAMAQ's demands before the vote. CONAMAQ is demanding an increase in the number of congressional seats assigned to indigenous Bolivians from seven to 16, questioning the results of the 2012 census on which the apportioning was based. Chamber of Deputies president Betty Tejada (MAS) responded that the 130-seat body is already 70% indigenous. (Erbol, Oct. 31; Reuters, Oct. 8; BolPress, Cámara de Diputados, Oct. 7; Erbol, Oct. 5; La Prensa, La Paz, Oct. 6; Servindi, Oct. 4)
An in-depth Sept. 29 Reuters report on the multi-billion-dollar but very murky jade trade in Burma raises the specter of "blood jade"—without actually using the phrase. Almost half of all jade exports are "unofficial"—apparently spirited over the border into China with little or no formal taxation, representing billions of dollars in lost revenues. Official statistics are said to indicate that Burma produced more than 43 million kilograms of jade in fiscal year 2011-12, worth a low-balled $4.3 billion. Yet official exports of jade that year stood at only $34 million. (It isn't explained how all that "unofficial" jade made it into the production stats in the first place.) China doesn't publicly report how much jade it imports from Burma, but jade is included in official imports of precious stones and metals, which in 2012 were worth $293 million—a figure too small to account for billions of dollars in Burmese jade.
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)
Campesinos occupying the contested Conga mine site in Peru's Cajamarca region on Aug. 20 tore down a gate they said had been illegally erected by the Yanacocha mining company across a trail used by locals as a traditional right-of-way. Video footage shows protesters using shovels and farm implements to tear up and drag away the metal gate across the pathway near Laguna Namocoha, one of the highland lakes that will be impacted by the mining project. National Police troops on hand apparently did not interfere. Idelso Hernández, leader of the Cajamarca Defense Front, challenged police and prosecutors to attend a campesino assembly to answer for allowing construction of the gates. Protesters said that if their demand for a meeting on the matter was not met, they would similarly take down two other gates built by the company blocking access to lagunas Azul and Cortada. (Celendin Libre, Aug. 20; video footage at Celendin Libre, Aug. 20)
Over 100 ethnic Tibetans were injured and one man committed suicide in Yulshul (Chinese: Yushu) prefecture* in the Kham region of Eastern Tibet (officially in Qinghai province), as Chinese military forces broke up protests against diamond mining in the area Aug. 19. As in similar protests elsewhere in Qinghai earlier that week, protestors put up large banners printed with President Xi Jinping's recent speech on environmental protection, and charged that the mines have not been approved by China's central government. The clash apparently began when some 1,000 protesters occupied two traditional Tibetan sacred sites, identified as Atod Yultso and Zachen Yultso, at a mine in Dzatoe (Chinese: Zaduo) township, and security forces fired tear-gas to disperse them. Eight protesters were detained, but two identified as leaders are reported to have "disappeared."
An activist tribunal dubbed the Ethical Trial against Plunder (Juicio Ético contra el Despojo) was held in Bogotá over the weekend to air testimony against the practices of multinational gold firm Anglo Ahshanti (AGA) and oil giant Pacific Rubiales Energy (PRE). More than 500 representatives from across Colombia convened in the capital's central folk-crafts market, the Plaza de los Artesanos, to present evidence that the multinational corporations were involved in the murder of union leaders, displacement of indigenous communities, and grave environmental damage. The objective was to gather enough evidence to be able to put forward an real legal case.
Ethnic Tibetans protesting what they called illegal mining operations clashed with Chinese security forces in Gedrong Zatoe county, Qinghai province, Aug. 16. Exiled Tibetan activists with contacts in the region told Phayul news service that the protesters have pledged to block the mining operations, citing the threat to local watersheds. Hundreds of troops arrived at the three townships where protesters were mobilzing, and issued an "ultimatum" to call off the campaign or face arrest. Local Tibetan leader Khentsa Soedor reportedly said, "You can kill us but we will not let the mining take place here. It is our responsibility to protect our environment which is a source of water to many other countries." Authorities detained Soedor's wife for interrogation, and his whereabouts are now unknown.
The area of land planted with coca leaf in Colombia has fallen by 25%, and is now about a third of that in 2001, according to the latest report from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC)'s Integrated Illicit Crops Monitoring System. The report finds that land planted with coca has dropped from 64,000 hectares in 2011 to 48,000 hectares in 2012, the lowest figure since monitoring started in Colombia more than a decade ago. Although the National Police actually eradicated less coca than in previous years, the force increased its presence in coca-growing regions, apparently preventing campesinos from planting coca in the first place. But while coca areas fell nationwide, they rose in three departments still especially wracked by armed conflict—Norte de Santander, Chocó and Caquetá.