land-grabbing

Brazil Olympics amid invisible terror

More than 20 land rights activists have been killed in Brazil so far this year, with most deaths linked to conflicts over logging and agribusiness—ongoing terror amid the Olympics spectacle. According to data from Brazil's Pastoral Land Commision (CPT), 23 activists have been killed in 2016 for trying to protect forests from illegal logging and the expansion of cattle ranches and soy plantations. Fifty land rights campaigners were killed in Brazil last year, up from 29 in 2014, according to the UK-based advocacy group Global Witness. Released as the Olympic Games opened in Rio de Janeiro, the figures indicate a crackdown on land rights campaigners in South America's biggest country, with indigenous people particularly affected. "For many visitors to the Rio Olympics, Brazil is synonymous with its vast, plentiful rainforests and traditional ways of life," said Global Witness campaigner Billy Kyte in a statement. "Yet the people who are trying to protect those things are being killed off at an unprecedented rate."

FARC threatens to disavow renegade units

A threat to the Colombian peace talks emerged this month, as some FARC units unilaterally attacked government forces and declared their non-compliance with the ceasefire—in repudiation of the guerilla army's high command. On July 8, a unit of the FARC's 55th Front attacked troops of the army' 2nd Mobile Brigade in the vereda (hamlet) of Candilejas, Uribe municipality, Meta department. An uncertain number of casualties on the guerillas' side was reported. The government's chief peace negotiator, Humberto De la Calle, said the attack was "an error on the part of the FARC," and that the guerillas' chief negotiator Iván Márquez had taken responsibility for it. (El Colombiano, July 12; El Tiempo, El Espectador, July 11) 

China: victory for anti-pollution protesters

The mayor of Xiantao in central China's Hubei province announced suspension of a waste incinerator project after a wave of protests—but residents continue to take to the streets in defiance of authorities. Mayor Zhou Wenxia in a rare public address announcing the suspension June 26 urged residents not to attend "illegal gatherings" or engage in "irrational actions." Some 10,000 people nonetheless filled the streets. Protests have conintued since then, with several injured in clashes with riot police. Authorities have flooded Xiantao with riot troops and placed restrictions on use of instant messaging and the Internet to organize "illegal gatherings" and demonstrations.

Peru: incoming admin threatens communal lands

Peru's president-elect Pedro Pablo Kuczynski has unveiled a platform that calls for privatizing and "individualizing" communal lands to facilitate mineral and agribusiness development. On June 10, PPK's "virtual" minister for Economy and FinanceAlfredo Thorne, told Lima's Radio Capital: "A big part of the properties where the mines are located are today communal property. These properties must be individualized, to give the individual the power to use his land, or to sell it to a mining company or sell it for agriculture." He said he is already working on a map of Peru's properties, to begin "interchanging communal titles to individual titles."

Pressure on Mexico to free peasant ecologist

An indigenous Mexican ecological defender is now in his seventh month behind bars, despite calls for his relase from Amnesty International, Greenpeace and other human rights and environmental groups. Ildefonso Zamora was arrested by México state police last November, in connection with a 2012 robbery. But Amnesty finds "the charge is unsubstantiated and seems to be politically motivated." A leader of the Tlahuica indigenous people, Zamora served as president of the communal lands committee at his pueblo of San Juan Atzingo. In this capacity, he had long protested illegal logging on usurped communal lands in México state's Gran Bosque de Agua—which protects the watershed that supplies Mexico City. Amnesty notes that the prosecution's witnesses described the events "using the exact same words, as if reading them from a script." The rights group says this points to fabricated testimony, and demands that he be immediately and unconditionally released.

Protests rock Kazakhstan over land-grabbing

Hundreds have been detained in protests across Kazakhstan over a new government policy to privatize farmlands and open the agricultural sector to foreign capital. The protest campaign began in early May, when the government announced the new policy, with large demonstrations reported in Astana, Almaty, Karagandy and other cities. City squares have been repeatedly occupied in defiance of an official ban on public gatherings. The crackdown has extended to the media, with several journalists arrested. But video footage posted to YouTube shows police in Kyzylorda charging unarmed demonstrators in scenes reminiscent of the massacre of striking oil-workers in Zhanaozen in 2011.

Peasant strike rocks Colombia

Campesinos launched a strike across Colombia May 31, with some 100,000 blocking highways and effectively shutting down at least half of the country's 32 departments. One is reported dead from clashes at a roadblock outside the main Pacific port of Buenaventura, and four soliders were briefly detained by protesters on the Quibdó-Medellín highway. The "indefinite" strike, or National Agrarian Minga, was called to protest the economic policies of President Juan Manuel Santos, and especially to press him on promises made in 2013 to end a similar national strike that left dozens dead. "They have not complied with 30% of the accords," said Robert Daza of the Agrarian Summit. He charged Santos with drawing up a National Development Plan that corresponds to the needs of the Free Trade Agreement with Washington rather than Colombia's small producers. Daza said Santos is "putting the strategic resources of the nation up for sale [and] distributing the land in an unequal manner."

Peru: peasant mine opponent wins Goldman Prize

Maxima Acuña, a campesina grandmother from Peru's northern Cajamarca region, has been named the 2016 Goldman Environmental Prize winner for South and Central America for her struggle to defend her family's lands from Newmont Mining. "A subsistence farmer in Peru's northern highlands, Maxima Acuña stood up for her right to peacefully live off her own land, a property sought by Newmont and Buenaventura Mining to develop the Conga gold and copper mine," the prize's official webpage indicates. At the award ceremony in San Francisco April 18, Acuña denied being a social leader, saying: "I only want them to leave me in peace on my land and that they do not contaminate my water." Considered the "Green Nobel," the Goldman Prize honors grassroots activists for significant achievements in protecting the environment worldwide.

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