Tuesday, July 24, 2012

WNU #1137: Argentine Activists Fight “Mega-Mining”

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1137, July 22, 2012

1. Argentina: Activists Continue Struggle Against “Mega-Mining”
2. Chile: Catholic Charity Rejects Barrick Gold Donation
3. Honduras: More Evictions, More Occupations in the Aguán
4. Mexico: More Protests Planned Against “Imposition”
5. Mexico: Money Laundering Scandals Multiply
6. Links to alternative sources on: Chile, Uruguay, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Cuba, 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. Argentina: Activists Continue Struggle Against “Mega-Mining”
On July 20 soldiers, police and supposed “pro-mining activists” broke up an encampment that environmentalists and area residents had set up at Cerro Negro in the northwestern Argentine province of Catamarca to protest open-pit mining. The environmentalists--who came from Córdoba, La Rioja, Santa Fe, San Juan and Buenos Aires as well as from Catamarca—had camped out at the intersection of national highways 40 and 60 since July 9 to block trucks heading to the massive Bajo de la Alumbrera gold and copper deposit near the border with Chile. The protesters let other traffic pass.

About 120 people who identified themselves as “pro-mining” arrived at the encampment in the afternoon of July 20, followed a few minutes later by some 30 soldiers from the infantry; 10 police agents were already at the scene. Catamarca provincial prosecutor Silvia Alvarez announced that she had a court order to allow the passage of a truck carrying explosives to the Alumbrera. To avoid a confrontation, the demonstrators let the truck go through. But 30 minutes later the “pro-mining” group--thought to have been organized by local governments--began throwing rocks and stun grenades at the encampment. Prosecutor Alvarez then announced that she had a court order to close  the encampment down. The soldiers, masked and carrying clubs and shields, advanced on the protesters, who again conceded in order to avoid violence.

When 56 protesters attempted to regroup across the border in the nearby province of La Rioja, the Catamarca police followed their bus and forcibly prevented them from getting out. Protesters said they weren’t allowed to stop until they’d reached Córdoba province, some 250 km from Cerro Negro.

Provincial governments and the federal government of center-left president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner have repeatedly repressed the mining protests, which were started in the northwestern provinces in January by area residents who believe the use of cyanide in mining is contaminating their scarce water resources [see Update #1117]. “We’re not against mining,” protester Darío Moreno explained. “We’re against transnational mega-mining,” which he said was similar to foreign multinationals’ introduction of genetically modified soy and their “theft of petroleum.” The Bajo de la Alumbrera mine is owned and operated by a consortium including the Swiss-British mining company Xstrata PLC and two Canadian companies, Goldcorp Inc. and Yamana Gold Inc.

In the morning of July 20, just hours before the operation against the Catamarca protesters, human rights activist and 1980 Nobel peace prize winner Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, accompanied by legislators and representatives of civil organizations, presented the Supreme Court of Justice and the National Human Rights Secretariat with a document calling for an end to “the criminalization of social protest.” “The people currently participating in the selective blockade in Cerro Negro are defending human rights, the territory, health, life, biodiversity and our common assets,” the document said, “and they are exercising their right to preserve and protect the environment and other fundamental rights.” (Adital (Brazil) 7/16/12; Plaza de Mayo (Argentina) 7/21/12; Clarín (Buenos Aires) 7/21/12)

*2. Chile: Catholic Charity Rejects Barrick Gold Donation
The Chilean Catholic foundation Sisters of the Good Samaritan announced on July 6 that it was turning down an offer from the Toronto-based Barrick Gold Corporation to donate 800 million pesos (about US$1.64 million) to build a shelter for the sick and disabled in Vallenar, capital of the northern province of Huasco. The charitable group based its refusal on the social and environmental conflicts the Canadian mining giant had created in the region.

The source of the conflicts has been Pascua Lama, an open-pit gold, silver and copper mine located partly in Argentina’s San Juan province and partly in Chile’s Huasco province. Opponents say the mine, which is scheduled to open in 2013, will deplete scarce water resources and contaminate the region through the use of toxic materials such as cyanide. Barrick, the world’s largest gold mining company, has generated some support in the province by promising job creation and, according to opponents, by making donations to local groups.

On July 17 some 55 Chilean organizations issued a declaration praising the “bravery and moral quality” of the Sisters of the Good Samaritan and calling on the Chilean government to provide the resources needed to build the shelter. Andrea Cisternas, the director of the Huasco Valley Social-Environmental Movement, expressed hope that other organizations would follow the charity’s example. Cisternas remarked that “in the end, Barrick is doing these things under the table [and] is doing them badly. Now everyone knows it, because this buying of consciences maybe isn’t just about consciences—life is also what’s being sold.” (Radio Universidad de Chile 7/13/12; Adital (Brazil) 7/18/12)

Barrick has also received a setback in its Argentine operations. On July 3 the Argentine Supreme Court of Justice quashed preliminary injunctions the mining company had won from lower courts blocking parts of a law intended to protect glaciers. Environmental groups such as Greenpeace have charged that mining at Pascua Lama and at Veladero, an open-pit mine already in operation in the northwestern province of San Juan, is causing the shrinkage of glaciers, which are a key source of water in the region [see Update #1089].

Barrick had won the injunctions by claiming the law was unconstitutional since it gave the national government power over mining operations, which had previously been under the control of the provinces. The Supreme Court didn’t rule on the legislation’s constitutionality but said “the law must be applied [until] its constitutional validity is resolved.” (AP 7/3/12 via Businessweek)

*3. Honduras: More Evictions, More Occupations in the Aguán
The situation in northern Honduras’ Lower Aguán Valley, where land disputes have led to as many as 70 deaths in the past three years, remained tense and confused as of July 20, with prior agreements and court rulings apparently being contradicted by later developments.

The National Agrarian Institute (INA) was reportedly ready in the second week of July to implement agreements made between the government, campesino groups and major landowners in June to settle disputes over eight estates [see Update #1132]. The INA would pay out 636 million lempiras (more than US$33 million) to two major landowners--Honduran cooking oil magnate Miguel Facussé Barjum and Nicaraguan entrepreneur and politician René Morales Carazo--for the estates and then turn them over to the members of two campesino organizations, the Unified Campesino Movement of the Aguán (MUCA) and the Authentic Claimant Movement of Aguán Campesinos (MARCA). The campesinos would pay the money back with 6.5% interest annually over a period of 15 years.

About 85% of the money was to go to Facussé for more than 4,000 hectares of land currently occupied by 3,500 families belonging to the MUCA. Seven estates were included: Marañones, Isla Número Uno, Isla Número Dos, La Confianza, La Aurora, Lempira and Concepción. Morales was to give up one estate, San Esteban, now occupied by some 600 families belonging to MARCA. (Honduran press reports were contradictory; some said San Esteban would go to MUCA members.)

The agreement didn’t cover four other disputed estates. Two of them, Despertar and La Trinidad, were officially owned by Morales but occupied by MARCA members. A court ruled on June 29 that they should go to the occupiers; the ruling also covered Facussé’s San Isidro estate, which is claimed by MARCA members. The landowners appealed these rulings to a higher court.

Another of Facussé’s estates, Paso Aguán, was occupied briefly on at least two occasions by some 700 families protesting the murder of campesino Gregorio Chávez, whose body was found buried on the estate on July 6 [see Update #1136]. The protesters formed an organization, the Gregorio Chávez Refoundation, which is backed by the MUCA. (El Heraldo (Tegucigalpa) 7/10/12; MARCA statement 7/17/12 via Vos el Soberano (Honduras))

Within a week the agreements on the eight estates seemed to have unraveled. The money for the landowners didn’t appear; Facussé still hadn’t been paid as of July 20, and Roger Pineda, a lawyer for Facussé’s food product and cooking oil company, Grupo Dinant, demanded the eviction of campesinos from the disputed estates.

Meanwhile, the Ceiba and Francisco Morazán Appeals Court issued an injunction blocking the lower court’s ruling in favor of the campesinos and backing Facussé’s claim to the San Isidro estate. On July 18 some 300 police agents and soldiers arrived at San Isidro to remove the occupiers there, but they were met by hundreds of MARCA members and supporters and decided to withdraw. The next day, some 250 campesino families occupied another of Facussé’s estates, Los Laureles, located south of the city of Tocoa in Colón department; the occupiers belong to a new group said to be supported by the MUCA. The police tried to remove them that morning but failed because of the presence of supporters. The police were successful in a new attempt on July 20. Meanwhile, a group of 200 campesinos again occupied Paso Aguán on the same day.

After the unsuccessful operation at San Isidro on July 18, Kenneth Sabillón, a police commissioner, complained to the local media about the confusing situation in the Aguán. “[I]t’s not possible that [the courts] should tell us one day to evict the [landowners’ security] guards and then the next tell us that we have to evict the campesinos,” he said, calling for the different parties to sit down and negotiate. (Lista Nicaragua y Más blog 7/19/12 via ALAI; Prensa Latina 7/20/12; El Heraldo 7/20/12)

*4. Mexico: More Protests Planned Against “Imposition”
Thousands of people marched in Mexico City on July 22 to protest what they called the “imposition” of Enrique Peña Nieto, the official winner in the July 1 presidential election, and his party, the centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) [see Update #1136]. Signs and chants emphasized claims that Peña Nieto, the former governor of México state, had won the presidency through fraud, vote buying and biased coverage from the mainstream media, especially the giant television network Televisa, which demonstrators called a “lie factory.”

The authorities didn’t give a crowd estimate, but the Associated Press (AP) wire service reported that the July 22 march was smaller than a similar march on July 7, which the wire service said drew a crowd of 50,000. The reporter suggested that the movement was weakening. (AP 7/22/12 via El Carabobeño (Caracas))

The march was one of a series of events planned on July 15 in a gathering of at least 300 organizations in San Salvador Atenco, a town northeast of Mexico City in México state. The first “National Convention Against Imposition” brought together a broad range of student, labor and campesino groups with other social organizations. Participants included the newly formed #YoSoy132 (“I’m number 132”) student movement; the militant Mexican Electrical Workers Union (SME); the National Education Workers Coordinating Committee (CNTE), a large rank-and-file caucus in the teachers’ union; and the Front of the Peoples in Defense of the Land (FPDT), a campesino community organization based in Atenco. FPDT and Atenco were subjected to brutal repression by México state police in May 2006, during Peña Nieto’s term as governor [see Update #1039].

The convention decided on a plan of action that includes a protest against Televisa on July 27; a national civic strike on Aug. 8; an SME-sponsored mobilization in Mexico City on Aug. 11; a second convention on Sept. 22-23, to be held in Oaxaca; and a series of actions from Nov. 20, when Mexico officially marks the anniversary of the start of the 1910 Revolution, to Dec. 1, the day the new president is to be inaugurated. (La Jornada (Mexico) 7/16/12)

*5. Mexico: Money Laundering Scandals Multiply
At an unusual joint press conference in Mexico City on July 19, the presidents of Mexico’s governing center-right National Action Party (PAN) and the center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) called on the federal Attorney General’s Office (PGR) to investigate evidence of money laundering by the centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). PAN president Gustavo Madero and PRD president Jesús Zambrano cited indications that during the campaign for the July 1 presidential and legislative elections PRI officials moved large sums of money through fake corporations and the Grupo Financiero Monex foreign exchange company in order to circumvent campaign finance restrictions. Madero said there was no implication that the money came from organized crime, but it may have been “stolen, from tax evasion, from companies, from the government, from state governments.” (La Jornada 7/20/12)

Jesús Murillo Karam, the PRI’s legal representative for electoral matters, admitted on July 19 that the party had paid some  workers through gift cards—a total of 7,851 cards worth 66,326,300 pesos (about US$5.05 million)—and he said the cards may have been funded through Monex. But the PRI dismissed allegations that it used millions of dollars’ worth of gift cards for Organización Soriana, Mexico’s second-largest retailer, to pay voters to mark their ballots for PRI candidates [see Update #1136]. (LJ 7/20/12)

Correction: In this paragraph we originally understated the amount that the PRI admits to having paid out to party workers in gift cards.

The focus on Monex, which some Mexicans are starting to refer to as “Monexgate,” comes amid investigations of widespread money laundering through Mexican exchange houses. On July 17 a US Senate subcommittee released a 330-page report on the failure of the London-based corporation HSBC, Europe’s largest bank, to institute safeguards to prevent money laundering through some of its affiliates. The subcommittee said it had found that HSBC Mexico “transported $7 billion in physical US dollars to [HSBC Bank USA] from 2007 to 2008, outstripping other Mexican banks, even one twice its size, raising red flags that the volume of dollars included proceeds from illegal drug sales in the United States.”

The bank also looked the other way when some bank accounts seemed suspicious. For example, HSBC saw no major risk in the accounts of Chinese-Mexican pharmaceutical entrepreneur Zhenli Ye Gon, who moved $90 million through the bank in the early and middle 2000s. The US indicted Ye Gon in 2007 for alleged involvement in the importation of methamphetamine; US prosecutors later dropped the charges, but an indictment Mexico filed against Ye Gon is still open [see World War 4 Report 9/20/08]. (LJ 7/18/12)

Ye Gon also had accounts at Monex. The Mexican government has found evidence of money being laundered through the firm by Mexican and Colombian drug cartels, including the Tijuana and Beltrán Leyva cartels, and Monex is one of the companies through which former PRI governor of Tamaulipas Tomás Yarrington allegedly laundered $7.2 million. Yarrington was accused earlier this year of laundering money for the Los Zetas drug gang and the so-called Gulf Cartel. (Página 24 (Aguascalientes) 7/13/12) (The Mexican exchange house Monex apparently has no connection to a US firm with the same name.)

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) estimates that drug trafficking worldwide is worth some $320 billion a year. (UNODC press release 7/16/12) How much of this passes through the banking system is unclear, but in 2009 then-UNODC head Antonio Maria Costa told the British weekly newspaper The Observer he had seen evidence that the proceeds of organized crime were “the only liquid investment capital” available to some banks at the height of the 2008 world financial crisis. “Inter-bank loans were funded by money that originated from the drugs trade and other illegal activities,” Costa said. “There were signs that some banks were rescued that way.” He declined to name the banks. (The Observer 12/13/09)

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

Chile: Ex-Colonels Charged For Torturing Michelle Bachelet’s Father

Betraying Memory in Chile: Documental Pinochet's Manipulation of History

Uruguay’s Marijuana Bill Provokes Mixed Reactions

A Coup Over Land: The Resource War Behind Paraguay’s Crisis

Post-Coup Paraguay: An Interview with Fernando Lugo

Brazil: Xavante territorial rights affirmed following ranchers' uprising

Bolivia: government yields to indigenous demands in Mallku Khota mining conflict

Evo Morales: Maya calendar portends end of Coca-Cola... and capitalism

Bolivia: coca production down, cocaine production up?

Peruvians Face Off Against Newmont Mining

Ecuador: Authorities Misuse Judicial System to Stop Protests

Colombia: indigenous protester killed as army retakes base

The Resurrection of Uribe in Colombia

Uribe Meets with Venezuelan Opposition to Protest “Chavista Dictatorship”

News Reports Confirm Drastic Deterioration of Honduran Sovereignty

Canada’s Promotion of Mining Industry Belies Claims of Corporate Social Responsibility (Honduras)

Photo Essay: The Peoples’ International Health Tribunal in San Miguel Ixtahuacán, Guatemala

Guatemala’s Highest Court to Hear Landmark Indigenous Challenge against Mining Law

Communities Continue Legal Offensive against Guatemalan Mining Law

The Faces of Resistance to Mining Injustice Across Guatemala

Reportero: An Interview with Sergio Haro (Mexico)

Thousands of Mexicans Protest Alleged Elections Fraud

Guántanamera, Courtesy of the U.S.-Cuban Embargo

Unsustainable Solutions to Haiti’s Housing Crisis

104 Members of Congress Call for the UN to Take Responsibility for Cholera (Haiti)

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