Tuesday, April 16, 2013

WNU #1172: Is Latin America’s Gold Rush Ending?

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1172, April 14, 2013

1. Latin America: Court Suspends Pascua Lama--Is the Gold Rush Over?
2. Chile: Student Movement Regains Momentum
3. Mexico: Guerrero Teachers Form Alliances
4. Haiti: Maquila Sector Tries to Improve Its Image
5. Links to alternative sources on: Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Haiti

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. It is archived at http://weeklynewsupdate.blogspot.com. For a subscription, write to weeklynewsupdate@gmail.com. Follow us on Twitter at http://twitter.com/WeeklyNewsUpdat.

*1. Latin America: Court Suspends Pascua Lama--Is the Gold Rush Over?
The Appeals Court of Copiapó province in Chile’s northern Atacama region issued an order on Apr. 10 completely suspending work at the massive Pascua Lama facility, an open-pit gold, silver and copper mine under construction in the Andes on both sides of the border between Argentina and Chile. The order was in response to a complaint filed by five communities of indigenous Diaguitas in the Huasco Valley; the residents charged that the work was damaging the Toro 1, Toro 2 and Esperanza glaciers and contaminating water resources in the area, according to Lorenzo Soto, the communities’ lawyer. The Chilean government’s National Geology and Mining Service (Sernageomin) and the Environmental Evaluation Service have also found environmental damage from the project. Construction is about 40% complete at the mine site, which is under the control of the Toronto-based Barrick Gold Corporation.

The government of rightwing president Sebastián Piñera backed the suspension, although officials clearly expected the mine to be completed eventually. “It doesn’t surprise us at all,” Interior Minister Andrés Chadwick told reporters, “and it seems good to us that the work could be suspended, by a judicial organ, while Pascua Lama [works to] comply with all the requirements that the Environmental Bureau has made.”

The Apr. 10 decision was the latest major problem for Pascua Lama, a $8 billion project that was expected to be the third largest mine in the world and the first binational mining enterprise but is now billions over budget and months behind schedule. Barrick Gold’s Chilean subsidiary, Compañía Minera Nevada SPA, has had to suspend part of the work since late October because of health issues for the workers; regional authorities have hit the company with more than $340,000 in fines over the past two months; and the national mines commissioner has upheld claims by a Chilean miner and another Canadian company that they own the Chilean side of the site [see Update #1171]. Barrick’s stock fell 6% to a new four-year low on Apr. 10 after the Chilean court’s decision was announced; shares regained 1.1% the next day.

“Construction activities in Argentina aren’t affected by this measure,” Barrick vice president for corporate affairs Rodrigo Jiménez Castellanos announced after the decision. Analysts said more than 70% of the mine’s reserves are in Chilean territory, but Argentine mining minister Jorge Mayoral insisted that if “at least 30% of the reserves are on the Argentine side, then we're talking about a very important quantity of reserves that would guarantee the value of any work unit in the immediate future.”

But as in Chile, the mine faces strong opposition in Argentina from environmentalists and people who live near the mine. The Argentine movement has an important supporter in the well-known filmmaker Fernando “Pino” Solanas, whose 2009 documentary “Tierra Sublevada: Oro Impuro” (“Rebellious Earth: Impure Gold”) treats the dangers of open-pit mining. Barrick also has legal problems to deal with in Argentina. It has tried to block a law protecting glaciers, but Argentina’s Supreme Court ruled against the company last July, leaving open the possibility that construction work could be suspended in Argentina as well [see Updates #1137, 1138]. (La Tercera (Chile) 4/10/13, some from wire services; InfoBAE (Argentina) 4/10/13; Associated Press 4/12/13)

Barrick continues to have trouble with its $4 billion Puerto Viejo project, an old gold mine in Cotuí in the central Dominican province of Sánchez Ramírez. Barrick reopened the mine in August 2012 in a joint venture with the Vancouver-based multinational Goldcorp Inc.; Barrick owns 60% of the project and Goldcorp owns the other 40%. Under pressure from demonstrators and opposition politicians, Dominican president Danilo Medina is trying to renegotiate a 25-year contract that the government signed giving very favorable terms to the two companies [see Update #1165]. In March Dominican customs authorities briefly held up a shipment of gold from the mine valued at $11.6 million; they said the shipment was irregular, and critics suggested that Barrick was trying to smuggle gold out of the country before new contract terms could be negotiated.

Dozens of activists and Cotuí residents protested at the headquarters of the Barrick’s subsidiary, Pueblo Viejo Dominicana Corporation (PVDC), on Apr. 13, demanding modifications of the contract and charging that operations at the mine had hurt farming in the region. Activists are planning a “people’s tribunal” to judge Barrick and its local collaborators on Apr. 21 in Santo Domingo’s Independence Park. (El Nuevo Día (Santo Domingo) 4/11/13; AP 4/12/13; Xinhua 4/13/13)

Barrick isn’t the only gold mining company in trouble. Multinationals rushed into new gold mining operations in Latin America over the past decade as the price of gold rose dramatically, but the soaring prices may have been a temporary phenomenon: investors turned to the supposed safety of gold during the 2001 recession, and investment in the metal intensified with the 2008 global economic crisis. Now the gold rush seems to be coming to an end. Prices have fallen 17% since their high at the end of 2011, and stocks in gold mining companies have been plunging, leaving investors with losses as high as 42%. (New York Times 4/11/13)

*2. Chile: Student Movement Regains Momentum
Chilean students held marches in Santiago and about a dozen other cities on Apr. 11 to step up their two-year campaign for free, high-quality education to replace the heavily privatized system that started during the 1973-1990 dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet. While the first march of the new school year, on Mar. 28, drew about 20,000 people [see Update #1170], some 150,000 participated in Santiago alone on Apr. 11, according to organizers; the authorities put the number at 80,000. Local media said this was one of the largest marches in the capital in two decades. As usual, small groups confronted the police--109 arrests were reported—but in general the march was described as peaceful and even festive.

“This symbolizes that the student and social movement didn’t go home, and that that the movement is here to stay,” Camila Vallejo, one of the leaders of the protests since 2011, told ADN radio. After evaluating the demonstration in a meeting in the southern Araucanía region the weekend of Apr. 13, student leaders announced plans for another national march on May 8, and for student participation in a National March for Water on Apr. 22 and in the traditional workers’ demonstrations on May 1.

The revival of the student movement comes as the country prepares for a presidential election scheduled for Nov. 17 and as the Senate focuses attention on educational issues by considering a vote on the possible suspension of Education Minister Harald Beyer. “Understanding that it’s an electoral year, the student movement needs to remain tremendously active,” Andrés Fielbaum, the president of the Federation of University of Chile Students (FECH) and a spokesperson for the Chilean Student Confederation (CONFECH), told Radio Cooperativa. Former president Michelle Bachelet (2006-2010), a Socialist who is planning to run in the election, has promised to try to end the privatization of the education system, although she failed to make significant changes during her previous time in office; Chilean households currently pay more than 75% of the costs for higher education, compared to more than 40% paid by US households and less than 5% paid by Scandinavian households. Student leaders have asked the candidates not to “appropriate” their proposals. (Aljazeera 4/12/13 from AP; EFE 4/14/13 via Terra Chile)

*3. Mexico: Guerrero Teachers Form Alliances
Dissident teachers in the southwestern Mexican state of Guerrero continued their protests against planned changes in the educational system on Apr. 10 with a march in Chilpancingo, the state capital, that brought together a broad range of grassroots and labor groups. According to the State Organizing Committee of Education Workers in Guerrero (CETEG), the protest’s sponsor, 100,000 people participated, making the march the largest in the state since 1984; Guerrero’s Governance Secretariat estimated the crowd at 40,000. At a concluding rally in the city’s Zócalo, the main plaza, the organizers announced the formation of a new coalition, the Guerrero Popular Movement (MPG). Commentators noted that a popular uprising that paralyzed the neighboring state of Oaxaca in the summer and fall of 2006 featured a similar coalition, the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO) [see Update #1054]; the national daily El Economista wrote that the groups forming the coalition in Guerrero were even more radical than the ones that made up the Oaxaca organization.

Groups participating in the march included: the Regional Coordinating Committee of Community Authorities-Community Police (CRAC-PC), an autonomous community police force founded in 1995 in the state’s Costa Chica and La Montaña regions; the Mexico City-based Mexican Electrical Workers Union (SME) [see Update #1162]; the Autonomous Only State Front of Union Representatives, composed of some 12 unions; and the Council of Ejidos [cooperative farms] and Communities Opposed to the La Parota Dam. Some chants were very militant; “Teacher Cabañas, the people miss you!” referred to schoolteacher and rebel leader Lucio Cabañas Barrientos, who was killed by the military in 1974 [see Update #1087]. Others were more educational: “They’re hiding the truth, that’s why you obey. Turn off the TV and read a book, that way they’ll tremble and disappear.” There was some vandalism along the march route, and one protester attacked the state office building with an axe.

Dissident teachers also protested in other states on Apr. 10. Members of the National Education Workers Coordinating Committee (CNTE) marched from the Monument of the Revolution in Mexico City to the Palace of Justice, where they filed for injunctions against the government’s educational “reforms.” In Morelia CNTE leaders said the group’s local assemblies would be discussing the possibility of a national strike; the Guerrero teachers have been out since Mar. 25, although the job action partly coincided with Easter vacation. In Morelia, capital of the central state of Michoacán, at least four organizations of students, teachers and campesinos demonstrated in solidarity with the teachers in Guerrero. (El Economista 4/10/13; La Jornada (Mexico) 4/11/13)

*4. Haiti: Maquila Sector Tries to Improve Its Image
On Apr. 8 Haitian business owner Bernard Schettini was installed as the director general of the National Industrial Parks Company (Sonapi), the semi-private agency in charge of the industrial parks that house many of the country’s 23 apparel assembly plants. These factories, known as maquiladoras in Spanish-speaking countries, benefit from tax and tariff exemptions to produce goods for export to the North American market. Schettini replaced Georges Barreau Sassine, a former head of Haiti’s industrial business association (Association Des Industries d’Haïti, ADIH) who assumed the Sonapi post in August 2012. Trained as an architect, Schettini was previously an executive at Texaco Haïti Inc., an oil supply company; it is unclear how much experience he has in the apparel industry, which in Haiti mostly produces T-shirts.

Although there seemed to be no official explanation for the change at Sonapi, Commerce and Industry Minister Wilson Laleau indicated on Apr. 8 that the industrial parks agency needed to be more proactive in expanding job opportunities. The Sonapi shakeup came less than two months after the agency contracted with the Washington, DC lobbying firm Sorini, Samet & Associates at a rate of $5,000 a month to help lobby the US Congress, presumably for continued trade preferences. The DC-based Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), which revealed the existence of the lobbying contract, noted that “increased scrutiny” of the assembly plants “could be why Sorini, Samet & Associates was hired.”

Low wages and labor abuses in the assembly sector were the subject of a New York state tour by a Haitian factory worker in February [see Update #1164] and of a widely circulated March report by the Haitian investigative collective Ayiti Kale Je/Haiti Grassroots Watch. Meanwhile, the new industrial park which opened in Caracol in northern Haiti last October has reportedly produced just 1,400 jobs so far, rather than the tens of thousands promised. CEPR notes that past work by Sorini, Samet & Associates principal Andrew Samet—who was deputy undersecretary of labor in the administration of former US president Bill Clinton (1993-2001)--included helping “the government of Colombia in presenting information on labor issues with relevant US stakeholders,” as stated in a contract between Samet and Colombia. This was at a time when concern over the murders of Colombian unionists was holding up passage of a “free trade” agreement with the US. Sorini, Samet & Associates has also worked for the government of Bahrain after what Justin Elliot of Salon called the government’s “firing of hundreds of workers and union leaders for participating in strikes and other pro-democracy actions.” (CEPR, Haiti Relief and Reconstruction Watch, 3/27/13; Haïti Libre (Haiti) 4/10/13; AlterPresse (Haiti) 4/11/13)

The changes at Sonapi coincided with adjustments the government of Haitian president Michel Martelly (“Sweet Micky”) made to its economic and communications teams. On Apr. 10 Economy and Finance Minister Marie Carmelle Jean-Marie resigned, complaining of a lack of “solidarity” with her colleagues in the cabinet. She was replaced by Wilson Laleau, who will also continue for the time being as commerce and industry minister; Laleau himself has become a target of criticism because of the government’s widely doubted claim that it has created 400,000 jobs. Communications Minister Régine Godefroy resigned soon after Jean-Marie; she wrote a letter describing her “self-sacrifice” and the “relentless fight” she’d had to carry out at the job. (AlterPresse 4/12/13; Miami Herald 4/12/13 from correspondent)

*5. Links to alternative sources on: Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Haiti

Seven Reasons to Fight the TPP (Latin America)

Trans-Pacific Partnership: Free Trade vs. Democracy (Latin America)

The Vatican, Pinochet, and the ‘Mopping Up’ of ‘Natural Bloodshed’ Following Chile’s Coup

Uruguay: Second Country in Latin America to Adopt Gay Marriage

Brazil: Incomplete Justice for Murders of Amazon Activists

Brazil: human trafficking crackdown in Amazon

The Enduring Legacy of Bolivia’s Forgotten National Revolution

Peru: Reopening the Wounds of Bagua

Peru: clash at Conga mine site

Ecuador, Peru: oil spills foul Pacific coast, Amazon

Curvarado Humanitarian Zone (Colombia)

The “War of the Emeralds”: The Story of a Foretold "Green War" (Colombia)

What Will Venezuelans Be Thinking At the Ballot on April 14th?

Maduro Wins Venezuelan Presidential Election

Official Honduran Report on May 11 Shooting Incident is a New Injustice to Victims

Honduras: Terror in the Aguán

“Sons and Daughters of the Earth”: Indigenous Communities and Land Grabs in Guatemala

Gold Fever to Premiere at Yale, Guatemala City

Guatemala: Mining License Approved in Wake of Violence, Investigation into Murder Pending

The Case of Alberto Patishtán Gómez and the Culpability of the Mexican State: “We are Governed by Injustice”

Mexico: Michoacán tipping into war

Looking for Gandhis in Mexico

A Border Turned Upside Down (Mexico)

Taking a Stand on the Rio Grande (Mexico)

Despite Track Record, U.S. Hires Contractor to Provide Troops to U.N. Haiti Mission

Time for Caribbean Leadership to Speak Up on Haiti

For more Latin America news stories from mainstream and alternative sources:

For immigration updates and events:


Your support is appreciated. Back issues and source materials are available on request. Feel free to reproduce these updates, or reprint or re-post any information from them, but please credit us as “Weekly News Update on the Americas” and include a link.

Order The Politics of Immigration: Questions & Answers, from Monthly Review Press, by Update editors Jane Guskin and David Wilson:
http://thepoliticsofimmigration.org /

No comments: