informal mining

Colombia: coca production down as narcos diversify

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.

Uttarakhand disaster portends 'Himalayan tsunamis'

The recent devastating floods in the northern India state of Uttarakhand are being called a "Himalayan tsunami"—and an ominous portent for the future of the millions of people living downstream from the world's highest mountain range. The June floods may have killed as many as 6,000 people, although the majority of these are still officially considered "missing." The deluge wiped out the Hindu pilgrimage town of Kedarnath, causing damage to the 1,200-year-old temple to Shiva there. A smaller temple, built after an ancient one on the site was destroyed in a 1991 earthquake, was entirely swept away by the rain-swollen waters of the Bhagirathi River. "The Kedarnath floods may be only a small precursor to never-seen-before mega-floods," Maharaj K. Pandit, director of Delhi University's Center for Inter-disciplinary Studies of Mountain & Hill Environments, told India Today.

Colombia: strikes halt US coal giant Drummond

Indefinite strikes brought coal mining operations of Alabama-based multinational Drummond Co to a halt on July 23 in the north of Colombia, putting further pressure on the country's economy amid a growing wave of labor actions. After negotiations failed between the Sintramienergetica union and Drummond over wage increases, union workers declared an indefinite end to operations. The strike threatens a halt to nearly all production in the world's fourth coal-producing nation. Two companies, Drummond and Cerrejon, account for 85% of Colombia's coal industry. If Cerrejon, whose union went on strike earlier this year, also declares a halt to operations, Colombia's GDP growth could fall significantly. President Juan Manuel Santos has said the strikes could "damage the entire world," and that "no one wins because every day that passes [there are] forgone royalties and foregone incomes that for the most part go to social investment." (Colombia Reports, July 24)

Chinese mining interests take hit in Philippines

The Supreme Court of the Philippines on July 23 issued a "temporary environment protection order" against 94 "small-scale mines" that extract nickel in Zambales, Central Luzon region. Activists who brought the petition claim that among the "small" mines are at least five fronts for giant nickel miners from China. The mines are operating under small-scale mining permits (SSMPs) that can be granted by provincial authorities in special minahang bayan, or People's Mining Areas, under a new policy instated by the Benigno Aquino administration. But local peasants charge that the mines are operating outside the designated areas, and go essentially unregulated, causing grave pollution to local waters. The Chinese parent companies, said to really be a single coordinated venture, are identified as Jiangxi Rare Earth & Metals Tungsten Group, Wei-Wei Group, and Nihao Mineral Resources Inc. They set up the five "small mines" through Filipino dummy companies, bribing officials to look the other way. The SSMP policy, enacted by executive order last year, has sparked a new mineral rush in the Philippines. (Philippine Star, July 24; Inquirer Mindanao, July 15, 2012) 

Peru: peasant leader killed in Cajamarca

A campesino leader in Peru's Cajamarca region, the scene of ongoing protests over mining operations, was assassinated June 26. Carlos Vásquez Becerra, vice president of the Provincial Federation of Rondas Campesinas (peasant self-defense patrols) was found beaten to death in Chiramayo Canyon in his native Santa Cruz province. The day before, he had led a meeting of comuneros in nearby Ninabamba district to plan protests against the operations of La Zanja mining company.  The National Unitary Center of Rondas Campesinas of Peru (CUNARC) is demanding an investigation. (Caballero Verde, La Nueva Prensa, Cajamarca, RPP, June 26) One campeisno was killed in protests over La Zanja's local operations in 2004.

China mining firms contribute to Congo abuses: AI

Chinese-owned mining companies in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are contributing to a culture of human rights abuses, Amnesty International reported June 19. AI claims those companies should be held accountable for the longstanding, ongoing human rights abuses related to child labor, on-site injuries, financial exploitation and the illegal detainment of workers in improvised jail cells. Although AI does not claim that the Chinese companies are the original source of such treatment, the likes of which have been recorded for decades, it does maintain that the companies must be held accountable for the current situation. Furthermore, AI contends that the companies hold undue economic influence in the region, debasing the rule of law and and allowing mining interests to literally relocate entire towns without providing any compensation for lost homes or resources. According to the report, DRC is in violation of several UN resolutions regarding the rights of workers:

Tibet mine disaster exposes internal colonialism

Thousands of rescuers are struggling to reach 83 workers trapped by a landslide at a gold mine at Gyama, Maizhokunggar county, in China's Tibetan Autonomous Region March 29. The facility is operated by the Tibet Huatailong Mining Development Co, a subsidiary of the state-owned China National Gold Group Corp. Ironically, the Gyama mine was something of a showcase for Beijing's development of Tibet; the Huatailong company took it over in 2009 from some dozen small-scale private companies that operated on the margins of the law in what official news agency Xinhua called a "rat race for the rich ore supplies." The disaster prompted a flurry of criticisms on Chinese social media, but AP reports these were quickly "scrubbed off or blocked from public view by censors." 

Narco-coal: Zetas diversify portfolio

Authorities in Mexico's coal-producing northern state of Coahuila say that the notorious Zetas, bloodiest of the country's warring cartels, have taken over much of mining industry. Suspicions were first raised in October when top Zeta commander Heriberto Lazcano was found in a Coahuila coal mining town and killed in a shoot-out with Mexican marines. Coahuila produces some 95% of Mexico's coal at approximately 15 million tons a year, and current estimates place the Zetas' annual profits from their share of the industry at around $25 million. Former Coahuila governor Humberto Moreira said the Zetas are expanding their control over the state's mines, both legal and illegal. "They discover a mine, extract the coal, sell it at $30, pay the miners a miserable salary," he told Al Jazeera. "It's more lucrative than selling drugs."

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