politics of archaeology
Panamanian vice president and foreign minister Isabel Saint Malo de Alvarado announced on Feb. 9 that the country's National Environmental Authority (ANAM) had ordered the temporary suspension of work on the $130 million Barro Blanco hydroelectric project, which is being built on the Tabasará river in the western province of Chiriquí. ANAM attributed the suspension to the owners' failure to comply with requirements in an environmental impact study, including those for clear agreements with affected communities and a plan approved by the National Culture Institute (INAC) to protect archeological relics likely to be flooded by the dam. ANAM officials also cited the owners' handling of hazardous waste without an environmental impact study and the lack of a plan for the management of sediments.
The UN Climate Change Conference, officially the Conference of the Parties (COP 20) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, closed its 14-day meeting in Lima, Peru, late Dec. 14, two days after its scheduled end. The 196 parties to the UNFCCC approved a draft of a new treaty, to be formally approved next year in Paris, and to take effect by 2020. An earlier draft was rejected by developing nations, who accused rich bations of dodging their responsibilities to fight climate change and pay for its impacts. Peru's environment minister, Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, who chaired the summit, told reporters: "As a text it's not perfect, but it includes the positions of the parties." Friends of the Earth's Asad Rehman took a darker view: "The only thing these talks have achieved is to reduce the chances of a fair and effective agreement to tackle climate change in Paris next year. Once again poorer nations have been bullied by the industrialized world into accepting an outcome which leaves many of their citizens facing the grim prospect of catastrophic climate change." (BBC News, ENS, Dec. 14)
On Dec. 3, a group of Shuar indigenous women from Ecuador's Amazon arrived in Quito to demand an investigation in the death of community leader José Tendetza Antún, who was planning on travelling to Peru for the Lima climate summit this month to press demands for cancellation of a mining project. Tendetza represented that Shuar community of Yanúa, El Pangui canton, Zamora Chinchipe province (see map). He disappeared Nov. 28 while on his way to discuss the mine matter with officials in the town of Bomboíza. The community launched a search, and his body was found Dec. 2 by local gold-miners. But the remains were turned over directly to the authorities, and quickly buried. Shuar leaders are demanding they be exhumed, and an autopsy conducted. Shuar leader Domingo Ankuash said based on what the miners said, he believes Tendetza had been beaten to death, and perhaps tortured.
ISIS militants on Sept. 17 detonated explosive charges to destroy the Citadel of Tikrit, birthplace of Salahaddin Ayubi (popularly rendered Saladin), one of the most important archeological sites in Iraq. Iornically, Saladin is a revered figure in Islam, who liberated much of Palestine from the Crusaders and recaptured Jerusalem for the Muslims in 1187. But ISIS charged that the place is revered as a shrine, and the fact that Saladin was Kurdish may have added to their intolerance of the site's veneration. Since seizing northern Iraq. ISIS have bombed many cultural, archeological and holy places of all the region's religions, including the tomb of the Prophet Younis in Mosul, the tomb of Baba Yadgar in Kakayi and other holy places of the Yazidis and Christians. (BasNews, IraqiNews, DiHA, PUKMedia, Sept. 17) ISIS is so extreme in its rejection of "idolatry" that it has even announced its aim to destroy the Kaaba, Islam's most sacred site. This may backfire and eventually lead to a Sunni uprising against ISIS in their areas of control. Meanwhile, cultural treasures are being lost every day.
The ISIS militants that have seized Iraq's northern city of Mosul have, not surprisingly, been engaging in a campaign of cultural cleansing—targeting not only the city's inhabitants, but its artistic and historical treasures. Religious buildings, cemeteries and public art have been destroyed or defaced, witnesses say. Among the destroyed works are sculptures of 19th-century musician and composer Osman al-Muesli and Abbasid-era poet Abu Tammam. The grave of Ibn Athir, a philosopher and chronicler who travelled with Saladin during the 12th century, is also reported destroyed. ISIS consider visiting religious sites to be idol worship, and have also destroyed many shrines and other ancient buildings in Syria. A jizya tax has been imposed on the city's Christian population, but most of the area's Christians—some 160 families—fled before the ISIS advance. (Aydinlik, Turkey, June 21)
Gregorio Santos, regional president of Cajamarca in northern Peru, was ordered to turn himself in for "preventative" imprisonment by a local anti-corruption prosecutor on June 17. The prosecutor, Walter Delgado, said Santos is under investigation by Peru's Public Ministry for "illicit association" and bribery, although no details were provided. (La Republica, June 17) The left-wing Santos has been an outspoken opponent of the US-backed Conga mining project in Cajamarca. With Santos' support, the Conga site has for months been occupied by peasant protesters who oppose the mine project. A major mobilization was held at the site on June 5, to commemorate World Environment Day. (Celedín Libre, June 7)
Four people died the morning of April 5 in a confrontation between indigenous Mexicans over land in Chilón municipality in the highland region of the southeastern state of Chiapas. The violence broke out when some 25 people tried to remove members of the Regional Organization of Autonomous Ocosingo Coffee Growers (ORCAO) from a 84-hectare ranch; sources differ on whether the ranch is called San Luis or Luis Irineo. The attackers were apparently egged on by the former owner of the ranch, which a group of ORCAO members took over in 1994. On April 6 the state attorney general's office announced that four people had been arrested in the incident. (La Jornada, Mexico, April 6; SDP Noticias, Mexico, April 6)
The Dakar Rally Raid motor-race across the Andes has already claimed three lives since leaving Rosario, Argentina, on Jan. 4—a motorcylist and two "spectators" who were following the race in a vehicle. Progress was finally halted five days later when residents and municipal workers in the Argentine town of Juan Alberdi, Tucumán province, blocked the road to prevent passage. (Al Jazeera, Jan. 11; EFE, El Gráfico, Buenos Aires, Jan. 9) Meanwhile, the Chilean Supreme Court dismissed a challenge to the motor-race brought by the College of Archaeologists of Chile, who site damage to ancient petroglyphs in a previous Dakar Rally through the country. The group's vice president Paola González, told France24: "In Chile, a national monuments law considers this a punishable crime. Nevertheless, the destruction with impunity of our national heritage continues."