land-grabbing

Uganda: displaced villagers protest land-grab

A BBC News account today notes an action by a group of elderly women in a village in northern Uganda that made local headlines in April. When officials backed up by soldiers and police were sent to Apaa village to begin a land demarcation project, the women stripped naked in front of them while chanting "Lobowa, lobowa!"—"our land" in the Luo language. Women appearing naked is a traditional form of shaming and dishonoring. The conflict affects several villages in Uganda's northern Amuru district, where residents were forcibly relocated to government camps (ostensibly for their protection) during the 18-year war with the Lord's Resistance Army. Now that they are returning, they find that Uganda's Wildlife Authority seeks to demarcate 827 square kilometers of their traditional lands as a game reserve to be leased to a private investor—said to be a South African businessman. At Apaa village alone, some 21,000 residents who cannot prove official title to their lands stand to be evicted.

Nicaragua: protests as canal construction begins

Christmas Eve saw clashes in Nicaragua between riot police and campesino protesters, with some 40 detained and several injured. Most have been released, but a few are still reported missing and are believed to be in Managua's El Chipote prison. "This is no longer a dictatorship lite, this is a now a full-blown repressive dictatorship that is baring its claws and releasing its dogs," Vilma Nuñez, head of the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights, told US-based Fusion website. The protests took place at El Tule, Chontales department, and in Rivas, where campesinos tried to block road construction related to the inter-oceanic canal project. Protests were also reported at Nueva Guinea in the South Atlantic Autonomous Region, where campesinos burned tires at roadblocks. The protests began Dec. 22, marring that day's ceremonies marking the start of construction on the mega-project. Laureano Ortega, son of President Daniel Ortega, and canal developer Wang Jing of Hong Kong-based HKND Group, were helicoptered into Rivas for the affair, and apologized to assembled journalists for the disturbances. (Fusion.net, La Prensa, Nicaragua, Dec. 27; Nicaragua Dispatch, Dec. 24)

NDAA provision would allow mining on Apache land

Lawmakers have slipped a provision into the new National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would allow a massive copper mine on public lands that are sacred to the Apache. Previous efforts failed to pass HR 687, or the Southeast Arizona Land Exchange and Conservation Act, which would allow a subsidiary of international mining conglomerate Rio Tinto to acquire 2,400 acres of the Tonto National Forest in southeast Arizona in exchange for 5,000 acres in parcels scattered around the state. The massive underground copper mining project is fiercely opposed by environmental groups as well as the San Carlos Apache Tribe, which holds the area, near the town of Superior, as a sacred site. Now the land swap has been incorporated into the 1,600-page NDAA. A petition against the provision has been posted to the White House website. (ICTMN, Arizona Republic, Dec. 3)

Peru leaks: oil company rewrote environmental law

Leaked e-mails between the leaders of Peru's Energy & Mines Ministry (MEM) and Environment Ministry (MINAM) reveal that Australia's Karoon Energy International provided "technical support" in the proposed reform of the Hydrocarbon Regulation that would eliminate requirement for an environmental impact study before oil exploration. In one e-mail. MEM chief Eleodoro Mayorga was directly reproached by MINAM head Manuel Pulgar Vidal for bringing Karoon into the process. This was among some 3,500 messages hacked by Anonymous Perú from the account of ex-prime minister René Cornejo, dubbed by the press "Cornejoleaks." Karoon has operations at Bloc 238 in the northern coastal department of Tumbes. (La Republica, Panorama via Celendin Libre, Aug. 12; Peru21, Aug. 11)

Mexico: Atenco campesinos face new land dispute

While historic leaders of the community protested nearby, an assembly in San Salvador Atenco, a town in México state northeast of Mexico City, voted on June 1 to allow the sale of almost 2,000 hectares of communal land to private parties. Members of the Front of the Peoples in Defense of the Land (FPDT) charged that they had been barred from the assembly, which they said was packed with people who were not participants in the ejido (communal farm) that legally controls the land. According to the FPDT, the June 1 vote was engineered by current ejido president Andrés Ruiz Méndez, a member of the governing centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), as part of the Ciudad Futura ("Future City") development plan for the region, which includes a new international airport for Mexico City and will disrupt the area's traditional farming practices.

Greater Addis Ababa plan sparks Oromo protests

Another battle for control over urban space is heating up in Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa—concerning plans to expand the city's municipal boundaries and absorb several smaller outlying towns where the traditionally excluded Oromo people are still dominant. The "Integrated Development Master Plan" has sparked a wave of protests, principally by Oromo students. Official figures say seven have been killed by police in the protests since late April, but independent reports claim the death toll is more than 20. 

Mongol herders sentenced for resisting land-grab

A court in China's Inner Mongolia autonomous region on Dec. 31 handed down prison terms to six herders who protested the seizure of local grazing land by a forestry company. Four received suspended sentences and were released, while two remain behind bars because they refused to plead guilty, rights groups and relatives said. The trial took place in Ongniud (Chinese: Wengniute) banner (county), which was the scene of protests last year when traditional lands of the local at Bayannuur gachaa (village) were turned over to the state-run Shuanghe Forestry Co. The six were arrested in June on charges of "sabotaging production management"—apparently a reference to blocking company equipment. The four who were released had to pay "compensation" to the company. The remaining two, named as Tulguur and Tugusbayar, each received terms of two years. The trial was closed to the public, and their relatives were only told of the sentence several days later.  Nearly 200 herders staged protests in front of Ongniud city hall in late December as the case drew to a close. "The verdict is clearly unjust, this is a land dispute and not a criminal case," a lawyer for the defendants told Reuters by telephone, declining to be identified for fear of retribution.

Peru: mineral company evicts campesino family

Peru's Yanacocha mining company is implicated in another forced eviction of a campesino family in the northern Cajamarca region. Campesino Segundo Lindorfo Bolaños Atalaya said that on Jan. 19, a mixed force of National Police and Yanacocha security personnel ejected him from his plot within a predio (collective land holding) at Tragadero Grande, Sorochuco district, Celendín province. Bolaños insisted that, contrary to company claims, his plot of six hectares had never been sold to Yanacocha. The plot lies near Laguna Azul, which Yanacocha hopes to convert into a waste pit for the pending Conga project, a new expansion of its massive gold operations in the area. Bolaños charged that Yanacocha's exploration activities on the Conga site had contaminated his plot, which he has long worked with his family. (Celendín Libre, Jan. 23) 

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