Tuesday, July 26, 2011

WNU #1089: Is Barrick Gold Shrinking Chilean Glaciers?

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1089, July 24, 2011

1. Argentina: Is Barrick Gold Shrinking Chilean Glaciers?
2. Puerto Rico: Opposition Mounts to Gas Pipeline
3. Costa Rica: Medical Workers Gain Little in Strike
4. Colombia: Teachers Flee Paramilitary Threat
5. Links to alternative sources on: Chile, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Haiti, US

ISSN#: 1084 922X. Weekly News Update on the Americas covers news from Latin America and the Caribbean, compiled and written from a progressive perspective. It has been published weekly by the Nicaragua Solidarity Network of Greater New York since 1990. For a subscription, write to weeklynewsupdate@gmail.com . It is archived at http://weeklynewsupdate.blogspot.com/

*1. Argentina: Is Barrick Gold Shrinking Chilean Glaciers?
In a report published on July 19, the Argentine branch of the environmental group Greenpeace charged that operations by the Toronto-based Barrick Gold Corporation in the Andes at the border with Chile had already significantly damaged three small glaciers. Citing a 2005 technical study, Greenpeace said the surface of the Toro 1, Toro 2 and Esperanza glaciers “diminished by between about 56% and 70% because of the activities carried out by Barrick” even before mining operations had begun. The regions on either side of the border are arid, and farmers in the valleys largely depend on Andean glaciers as a source of water.

Barrick, the world’s largest gold mining company, has two open-pit gold and silver mines near the glaciers. Veladero, in Argentina’s northwestern San Juan province, has been in production since 2005, with a projected life of 14 years; Pascua Lama, partly in San Juan province and partly in Chile’s Huasco province, is scheduled to open in 2013, with a projected life of 21 years.

Greenpeace attributes the shrinkage of the three small glaciers to exploratory and other preliminary work on the mines, such as road construction, drilling and the use of explosives, which could cover the glaciers’ surfaces with dust and discarded material. Although most glaciers are being affected by global warming, Greenpeace says other glaciers in the area didn’t experience the same shrinkage as the three closest to the mine. Environmentalists expect that the other glaciers will suffer similar damage as mining operations expand.

The Veladero and Pascua Lama mines have been targets of protests for years [see World War 4 Report 5/17/08]. Barrrick originally intended to move the three glaciers as part of the operation, but this plan was shelved after strong protests by Chilean environmentalists. Argentina has passed a law for the protection of Andean glaciers which could limit damage from the mines. However, Barrick has filed for injunctive relief from the measure, and in November 2010 an Argentine judge suspended the law in San Juan province, ruling that it would cause economic damage. (Adital (Brazil) 7/20/11)

*2. Puerto Rico: Opposition Mounts to Gas Pipeline
Two US Congress members, Reps. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AR) and Luis Gutiérrez (D-IL), are seeking signatures from their colleagues on a letter to US president Barack Obama about a proposed natural gas pipeline in Puerto Rico. “At a time when we should be promoting renewable, clean energy throughout the country, a 92-mile pipeline--nearly as long as the entire island--is a step in the wrong direction,” the representatives wrote in the letter, which has been endorsed by Rep. John Lewis (D-GA). The project (“Gasoducto” in Spanish) shouldn’t proceed without an environmental impact statement conducted by the US Corps of Engineers, according to Grijalva and Gutiérrez. (El Nuevo Día (Guaynabo) 7/12/11)

The activity in Congress reflects growing opposition to the $450 million project, which would carry imported natural gas from the Peñuelas-Guayanilla area on the southwest coast to a place near San Juan on the north coast.

Rightwing governor Luis Fortuño of the New Progressive Party (PNP) Is promoting the Gasoducto as a way to transition from oil to natural gas; pipeline advocates say this will save $60-$100 million a year, about one-third of the cost of generating Puerto Rico’s electricity. But on July 13 the People’s House (“Casa Pueblo”), a respected environmental organization based in the town of Adjuntas, released a study suggesting that any savings would be offset by environmental damage and risks to the 200,000 people who live near the area the pipeline will pass through. Critics also note that the biggest contractor for the project, Pedro Ray Chacón, has no experience with this type of operation; he is said to be personally close to Gov. Fortuño. (People’s World 7/21/11)

On July 22 the New York daily El Diario-La Prensa ran an editorial opposing the pipeline and calling on “Puerto Ricans outside the island…to express their concerns.” (ED-LP 7/22/11) The paper is the main Spanish-language periodical in New York City, which has a large population of Puerto Ricans and people of Puerto Rican descent, including two members of Congress.

Adding to the Gasoducto’s problems, in a letter dated July 12 the US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) refused to let the EcoEléctrica company proceed with planned modifications to its terminal in southern Puerto Rico until the company complies fully with FERC regulations. The modifications are necessary if the terminal is to handle the liquefied gas when it arrives in Puerto, so this delay will in turn delay use of natural gas in electricity generation at least until 2012. (Claridad (Puerto Rico) 7/19/11)

An opinion poll published by the daily El Nuevo Día in March indicated that 56% of the population wasn’t convinced that the Gasoducto would lower the costs of electricity, with only 27% thinking that it would; 17% were undecided. An overwhelming 61% of the people polled said they were concerned about the safety of pipeline, while just 19% expressed confidence. The poll was carried out by The Research Office, Inc., a company based in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, from Mar. 7 to Mar. 14. El Nuevo Día  noted that that this period included the Mar. 11 earthquake and tsunami that devastated a nuclear power plant in Japan—at a time when Puerto Ricans were still concerned about a January 2010 earthquake that hit southern Haiti, some 400 miles to the west. (END 3/27/11, 4/1/11))

*3. Costa Rica: Medical Workers Gain Little in Strike
After 24 hours of negotiations, the Costa Rican government and all the unions representing medical workers for the Costa Rican Social Security Fund (CCSS) signed an agreement on July 23 ending a strike that the unions had started four days earlier over economic issues. This was the first major strike to confront President Laura Chinchilla since she took office in May 2010. As in a number of Latin American countries, social security includes medical care in Costa Rica, and the CCSS employs some 48,000 medical workers at 29 hospitals.

The unions’ main demand was for the government to pay off its debt to the CCSS, which the unions say has reached $1.446 billion. The government holds that the number is much lower. In the settlement the government agreed to pay 85 billion colones (about $169 million) for now; the two sides also agreed to set up a joint commission to study the fund’s financial problems. The unions’ other major demand was for CCSS workers to continue getting full credit for sick days in the calculations for their pensions and yearly bonuses. The government wouldn’t back down from its decision to start giving partial credit to CCSS workers, as it does with other workers. The government also held firm on its decision to dock strikers for the four days they were out, although there are to be no other reprisals.

During the strike the government and the unions gave dramatically different accounts of how effective the action was. The CCSS said 5% to 10% of the workers observed the strike call; the unions claimed that while many doctors continued to work, 75% to 80% of the other medical employees had participated in the walkout. (Adital (Brazil) 7/20/11; Prensa Latina 7/20/11; AFP 7/23/11 via El Universal (Caracas); La Nación (San José) 7/24/11)

*4. Colombia: Teachers Flee Paramilitary Threat
All 44 teachers at the public high school in Las Delicias, a village in Tierralta municipality in the northern Colombian department of Córdoba, sought refuge in Montería, the department’s capital, on July 22 after being threatened by a paramilitary group. According to Domingo Ayala Espitia, president of the Córdoba Teachers Association (Ademacor), the paramilitaries sent the teachers text messages demanding 15 million pesos (about $8,535). More than 1,100 students attended the abandoned school.

The threats reportedly came from members of the Gaitanist Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, said to be a group of drug traffickers. Various armed groups--which the government and the media now call bacrim, short for bandas criminales (criminal gangs) [see Update #1086]--are described as successors to the far-right United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), a paramilitary group whose members were demobilized from 2003 to 2006, during the administration of former president Álvaro Uribe (2002-2010).

The Las Delicias displacement is the second such incident in the department; last year 12 teachers fled a rural high school in Montelíbano municipality. Four teachers have been killed in Córdoba so far this year, and at least 197, including the Las Delicias teachers, have received threats. (EFE 7/23/11 via Univision; InfoBAE (Argentina) 7/24/11)

*5. Links to alternative sources on: Chile, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Haiti, US

Chile’s Sebastián Piñera Shuffles Cabinet As Popularity Drops

Peru: populist prez-elect appeases plutocrats with primary appointments

Peru: outgoing García government in final effort to disband "uncontacted" indigenous reserves

Colombia: labor strife rocks oil port

Venezuelan Funds Dry Up For Hugo Chávez Supporters In New York

El Salvador: Social Programs Bolster Support for Funes Government

Guatemala: Resisting the New Colonialism

Mexico AG purges office, charges 111 officials with corruption

Mexico: relatives of disappeared stage hunger strike

Is the Mexican Economy Booming?

Aid Caravan to Cuba Crosses U.S.-Mexican Border

Haiti: Cash for Work – At What Cost

House Committee Votes To Stop Funding OAS (US)

House Homeland Security hearing on Hezbollah's hyperbolized hemispheric shenanigans (Latin America)

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