land-grabbing

Colombian ambassador to US resigns over land-theft scandal

Colombia's ambassador in Washington has resigned after being implicated in an alleged case of land theft, President Juan Manuel Santos said July 23. The ambassador, Carlos Urrutia, was involved in an ongoing scandal in which he repeatedly faced questions regarding his involvement in the appropriation of some 100,000 acres of land throughout central Colombia. In his resignation letter, Urrutia defended the legality of his actions: "I trust the legality of the legal argument that support the acquisitions. Unfortunately the political discussion has focused more on the background and there is resistance to hearing legal reasons that conclude the acquisitions were executed under the rule of law." Prior to his role as ambassador Urrutia was a major shareholder of the law firm Brigard & Urrutia, which is accused of facilitating the illegal lands transfers.

China: Mongol herders' protest march blocked

Authorities in northern China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region earlier this month blocked an attempted cross-country march by traditional Mongol herders, with police assaulting hundreds in two incidents. In the first incident, herders from Inner Mongolia’s Durbed (Chinese: Siziwang) banner (county) gathered at Hohhot train station on March 1, intending to march nearly 500 kilometers to Beijing. But police quickly arrived and broke up the gathering, according to the Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center (SMHRIC). The following day, troops in a dozen police vehicles descended on Halgait village in Zaruud (Zhalute) banner, breaking up another group that intended to march on Beijing. The herders hoped to arrive in Beijing for the meeting of the National People's Congress where Xi Jinping was installed as president, to protest confiscation of grazing lands.

Honduras: 200-km march protests 'model cities,' mining law

Hundreds of campesino, indigenous and African-descended Hondurans demonstrated in Tegucigalpa on March 6 after marching 200 kilometers from the northern town of La Barca to protest new laws on mining and the Special Development Regimes (RED), better known as "model cities." Entitled "For Dignity and Sovereignty, Step by Step," and sponsored by 47 organizations—including the Broad Movement for Dignity and Justice (MADJ), a group that fights against corruption and for the defense of natural resources—the march started on Feb. 25, with more people joining as it passed through their communities. Protesters said they would remain in the capital in front of the National Congress until March 8.

Honduras: Aguán campesino leader arrested

A contingent of some 30 soldiers and police agents arrested Juan Ramón Chinchilla, president of the largest campesino organization in northern Honduras' Lower Aguán Valley, the evening of Feb. 8 in the central park in Tocoa, Colón department. Police then drove Chinchilla, who heads the Unified Campesino Movement of the Aguán (MUCA), 60 kilometers to a court in the city of Trujillo, where he was charged with "usurpation of land." After a two-hour hearing, the judges released Chinchilla conditionally at about 2 am; he is required to stay in the country and to report to the court every Monday.

Honduras: are 'model cities' back on the agenda?

Juan Orlando Hernández, the president of Honduras' National Congress, introduced a bill the evening of Jan. 14 to create Special Development Regimes (RED), semi-autonomous jurisdictions that proponents say would attract international investment and stimulate the country's economy. The proposed special regions are similar to the "model cities," autonomous zones to be managed by North American corporations, that Hernández and Honduran president Porfirio ("Pepe") Lobo Sosa pushed for last year; these were called Special Development Regions (RED), with the same acronym as the new entities. The Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ) ruled the earlier proposal unconstitutional on Oct. 17.

China: Amnesty protests forced evictions

Violent forced evictions in China are on the rise as local authorities seek to offset huge debts by seizing and then selling off land in suspect deals with property developers, Amnesty International said Oct. 11. In a new report, "Standing Their Ground" (PDF), Amnesty International highlights how forced evictions—a longstanding cause of discontent within China—have increased significantly in the past two years in order to clear the way for developments. Local governments have borrowed huge sums from state banks to finance stimulus projects and now rely on land sales to cover the payments. This has resulted in deaths, beatings, harassment and imprisonment of residents who have been forced from their homes across the country in both rural and urban areas. Some were in such despair they set themselves on fire in drastic protests of last resort. 

Vietnam: peasant protests over land-grab

Hundreds of residents of Van Giang district of Hung Yen province on the edge of Vietnam's capital held a protest Oct. 8 in front of the Central Office of Public Relations building in downtown Hanoi, demanding the return of land they say was illegally confiscated from them to develop a controversial satellite city. After villagers rallied in front of the building for some time, officials emerged to meet with them for about 30 minutes, but protest leader Dam Van Dong, told Radio Free Asia's Vietnamese service their complaints were not resolved. "We have made clear in our requests that the land which Hung Yen authorities of every rank have taken from us be returned," he said.

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