A few links

Two exciting links to share today, largely to do with how foreign governments relate to extractive industries.

1) John Cavanagh and Robin Broad report back from their trip to El Salvador’s community of San Sebastian, and write about the impact mining has had on water there.

2) James North in The Nation writing on Publish What You Pay’s exciting victory in getting the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to force oil, gas, and mining companies that are listed with the U.S. stock exchange to divulge their payments to foreign governments. North highlights the truly global impact the SEC decision will have:

In Angola, where the oil giants have transferred vast wealth to the one-time Marxist elite but left the vast majority of the people in poverty, a growing opposition will also celebrate. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, members of the outspoken Journalists’ Association whom I met recently in Fungurume, near the $2 billion Freeport-McMoRan copper mine, will have more specific information for their reports. Cambodians for Resource Revenue Transparency will be able to keep closer watch on Chevron, Total and ConocoPhillips. In East Africa, the distinguished journalist Charles Onyango-Obbo is probably licking his chops at another chance to scrutinize his old nemesis, the Museveni regime in Uganda, where sizable oil reserves have recently been discovered.

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Aurukun community in Australia and mining

More updates to come, but we wanted to quickly share this recent Witness report. It’s very much thought-provoking, and lays bare some of the tensions, dynamics and contradictions we must deal with in discussing resource rights.


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Guatemala, Mexico, and massive land acquisitions in Africa

Greetings all! We’re hoping those in the DC area have power after the storms, or have at least been managing to keep cool. In project-world, we’re excited to announce we officially have a logo! Will debut soon. On to what’s been interesting us lately…

Saving the best for first, Beth Geglia for Waging Non-Violence has a piece out on the anti-extractive movement in Guatemala, pointing to the peaceful efforts being made in Huhuetenango for communities’ self-determination, especially given the recent 18-day imposition of martial law.

Most importantly, she provides an extremely helpful explanation of the consulta process that is being fought for all throughout Latin America. It’s built into the rest of the article which gives a real-world example of where these sorts of efforts towards autonomy are needed, making it a really ideal introduction for English-speaking readers who are unfamiliar with the process and the reasoning behind it. 

She writes: 

In the department of Huehuetenango, and in the Western Highlands generally, communities have put up resistance to the kind of resource extraction that has been taking place throughout the country. Faced with over 400 mining exploration and extraction licenses authorized by the state  between 2000 and 2004, and a national energy transformation plan that includes the construction of more than 47 hydroelectric dams, indigenous peoples have relied on a process called the consulta comunitaria de buena fe, or good faith community referendum, and their right to self-determination to maintain control of their territories and natural resources.
Backed by international law — International Labor Organization’s Convention 169, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the Inter-American Democratic Charter  — as well as Guatemalan national and municipal law, communities have used their right to the consulta to indicate to the state and to the private sector that mining extraction and hydroelectric dams will not be permitted on their lands. Carried out through local organizing committees, and often with the celebratory spirit of a “civic party,” the consultas are public gatherings where men, women and children vote with the raising of the hand on the projects proposed in their particular municipality. In most cases, the municipal government issues an ordinance banning the activity and the legality of this ordinance then enters into conflict with the licenses authorized and promoted by the state.

The full article, which has additional links about the We Are All Barrillas (Todos Somos Barrillas) campaign, can be found here

A brief note about Mexico: As the vote counts in Mexico wrap up today, and as the reports of electoral abuse come fast, it’s also worth thinking about the resource rights future of the country. Today’s Diane Rehm Show coverage touched on this somewhat, discussing the PRI’s goals of diversifying energy resources away from mainly oil, and moving into natural gas fracking in the shales of northern Mexico, an area which was obviously PRI-dominated. Meanwhile, a report  from Deloitte is saying that of the more than 280 mining companies that have begun extraction in Mexico in recent years, none are paying any taxes on their activities, and that currently no mining tax in Mexico exists. They anticipate that this may change with a new presidency, but the question is left more or less open. All of which helps account for the amazingly rapid growth of the mining industry in Mexico. At the risk of sounding wide-eyed and crazy-haired about the matter, it should really beg the question of how well this whole planned fracking thing will work out for the Mexican people. 

Slightly old, the African Development Bank points out that any potential benefits from large-scale land acquisitions in Africa are significantly undercut by the lack of transparency and fairness in the process, that not enough is done to address the needs of smallholder farmers, or the eviction of people who depend on land for their livelihoods. At the very least, it’s heartening in light of a broader public discourse sounding something like… this.  The ADB offers a set of proposals for African countries to move forward with more fairness and transparency, including consultation processes, food security contracts, and employment commitments on the part of investors. Their concluding proposal: 

The flow of land investments in Africa is exceedingly driven by land fees that are either minuscule or missing altogether. By setting land fees so low, countries set a precedent where others do not have an option but to set their prices lower. This perpetuates the low rental price observed across Africa. A continental policy coordination facility could prove useful in ensuring that the land fees are not set too low. The floor prices for tracts of land differing in quality could be set at agreed upon thresholds.

While laudable in its’ efforts to take the needs of the people living on the land into account, and recognizing certain key, root issues, it’s not entirely clear if or how any of the proposals are to be implemented. 

While on the topic of land acquisitions in Africa, see this video from the Responsible Endowments Coalition, featuring the Oakland Institute’s Anuradha Mittal and Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz and students from Harvard and Vanderbilt, on the responsible investment campaigns at those two universities that were initiated after land grabbing abuses by those university endowments came to light. 

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Radio interview on El Salvador mining, Vermont bans hydrofracking

Hello all, apologies for the delayed writing. Here is our round-up of the most recent going-ons in resource rights.

  • And while we’re on El Salvador, the indigenous people of El Salvador are to be recognized in the constitution, IPS News reports. Article 63 of the Salvadoran constitution will be amended to acknowledge the language and culture of the country’s mostly Nahua-Pipil indigenous communities.
  • Water resource management is inherently political“: This is an interesting report by the Danish Institute for International Studies on the problems around pre-existing power structures in attempts made at Integrated Water Resource Management.
  • Fred Pearce, with an article in The Guardian on why the Rio+20 meeting must take small-holder peasant farmers into account. He writes:

 Next month, the UN committee on world food security will probably agree voluntary guidelines on “responsible” land grabbing. But I hold out no hopes for their success. As one British venture capitalist, with a 100,000-hectare stake in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, candidly admitted at an investor conference last year: “Industrial-scale farming displaces and alienates people, creates few jobs and causes social disruption.”

  • Vermont has become the first state in the U.S. to ban hydrofracking, according to the Associated Press. Although Vermont has little to no known natural gas reserves and no drilling activity currently taking place, the Governor hopes that this will serve as an example to other states. Meanwhile, Boston NPR’s Here and Now reports that officials in Michigan have contacted Vermont lawmakers for advice on how to make their own ban, and that North Carolina moves closer to passing a bill that would legalize fracking.

  • A Spanish language video in support of Wirikuta, for those who have not yet seen it: 
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March 8th Learning call announcement and news

Hello all,

We are pleased to announce an upcoming Learning Call with Anil Naidoo from the Council of Canadians/ Blue Planet Project. Anil will talk with us about the upcoming Rio+20 conferences, where a “Green Economy” approach will in fact serve to green-wash a set of problematic proposals. Anil will be explaining those “Green Economy” proposals in greater detail, and talking about recent and upcoming civil society efforts to contest them.

For a bit of further background on the dynamics behind the upcoming Rio+20 conference, see this article in the Guardian. A key quote in that article comes from Andy White of the Rights and Resources Initiative, stating: “there is nothing in the draft Rio+20 text that even mentions the rights of poor people to their land and their forests, even though we know they are far better custodians of nature than governments or private corporations.” If you’re looking for further reading along this theme, this set of commentaries in conversation with one another around environmental economics is interesting.

The call will be at 2 p.m. EST on Thursday, March 8th. If you would like to RSVP for the call-in number, or ask for more information, please email lela@ips-dc.org.

In other resource rights developments,

Edgardo Ayala reports for the Inter-Press Service on the distant goal of environmental courts in El Salvador. While budgets are prohibitive, the piece underlined the importance of El Salvador having such a court: environmental law is complicated, and specialized judges are needed to deal with cases arising around the widespread environmental degradation that has been taking place in that country. One example was the notorious case currently under proceedings against the Baterías Récord company. According to Ayala, the attorney general’s office places the lead contamination damages caused by this battery plant at 4 billion dollars.

China and Resource Rights: When it comes to non-intervention, foreign investment in resource exploitation, and engagement with First Nations, the Chinese government has some really complicated politics to navigate. This article illustrates those dynamics quite well. A more detailed look (brought to our attention by Jamie Kneen at MiningWatch!) at increasing civil society advancements towards corporate social responsibility in China can be found here.

On the topic of some of the permaculture videos we shared last post, Seattle is set to build the nation’s first food forest.

Also, here you can watch the Al Jazeera coverage of Malaysia’s Bakun Dam:

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Minas Conga, new program on food, and the Famantina gold mine project

These are interesting times we are living in. A few new things to check out:

Today is the day that the 2,000+ participants in the National Water March in Peru begin to arrive in Lima, after eight days of marching. The march is in protest of the Minas Conga project, which has been generating prolonged controversy and unrest in the Cajamarca region. The march will culminate with the group submitting their own bill to Congress that would protect the water sources in Cajamarca.   For updates, videos and photos from the march, see here. The results of the march and demonstrations will be of interest in the context of Peru’s passage of a law late last year requiring consultation for projects affecting indigenous groups. The Global Voices update page includes contradictory statements by Ollanta Humala around consultation and the Conga project:

“President Ollanta Humala indicated that “no project will be paralysed by prior consultation, and that it is not a pretext to halt investment”, in reference to the lack of regulations governing the implementation of the law, that should have been ready last December. In August last year, however, the President himself wrote on Twitter: “The right to prior consultation on the development of indigenous communities is a sign of greater social inclusion. Let’s create a Peru for everyone”” Source 

Also, a Canadian mining company’s plans for a gold mine in Famatina, Argentina have been halted.  This would not be the first time that community members in Famatina have fought against a planned mine. Read here a blow-by-blow account of their 2006/2007 push-back against Barrick Gold Co. It would appear that as long as there is a difference of opinion between the Provincial governor of La Rioja and the Mayor of Famatina on the usefulness of mining as a development framework, this sort of repeated struggle is bound to continue.

In other news, there is a new BBC podcast on the solutions to today’s food problems. You can listen here.  While on the topic of food solutions, there are a number of videos on YouTube that Geoff Lawton‘s Permaculture Research Institute does on greening deserts and creating food forests, as well as looking at ancient food forests still thriving today. These links may seem a bit off-topic- since this blog tries to look at matters pertaining to the intersections between the environment, human rights, and the global economy, but Lawton’s work highlights the importance of understanding what resources are already available to us, and the value of retaining traditional ecological knowledge in natural resource management. Lawton’s efforts in that sense strike at the heart of what we have been talking about; as agribusiness expands into areas where traditional farming and land tenure was secure (see our recording below of Anuradha Mittal’s talk on land grabbing in Africa), as global trade regimes create disincentives for sustainable agriculture, the desertification that Lawton is trying to combat grows. If the knowledge isn’t shared, how will we know what the solutions and alternatives are?

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Mining-Related Developments

First Summit of M4: the Mesoamerican Movement against Extractive Mining 

This meeting took place from January 26th-29th, in which anti-mining and environmental groups from Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico and Panama came together in Valle de Siria, Honduras. They also met with representatives of solidarity groups from the United States and Canada. The meeting marked a new approach, a more cohesive and regional way of organizing for groups fighting mining and the extractive industry model. They issued a declaration, of which some key points are translated below: 

” The Mesoamerican movement commits to a coordinated struggle to demand the cancellation of mining concessions which have been imposed without the consent of the people, the withdrawal of companies from our affected communities and a comprehensive payment for all damage they have caused.”
 “We denounce the repression and harassment that our brothers and sisters have suffered in the fight to defend their territories, in particular in El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico and Guatemala.”
 “We demand respect for the decisions of communities regarding their land, for the right to consultation, and for the implementation of international conventions in favor of human and environmental rights which our countries have signed.”
 “We denounce the interference of transnational corporations and embassies such as that of the United States and Canada in promoting legal reforms around mining which privilege the interests of transnationals without taking into account the proposals of organizations and communities, as is the case in Panama, Honduras, and Guatemala.”

Peruvian Government will fight illegal mining: Justice Minister Juan Jimenez Mayor said the country’s Public Ministry and National Police now had the power to seize property used in illegal mining activities, as well as the power to destroy any infrastructure if it is affecting the environment. 

BankTrack releases information on 93 banks’ coal financing– “This allows you to have access [to] and know which are the financiers of a coal company you’re campaigning on, or…which coal companies the bank(s) you’re campaigning on have financed since 2005.” 

OECD developments with Norweigan Intex case: OECD Watch reports that complaints that were lodged in 2009 at the OECD against a Norwegian-based company, Intex Resources, have received a response from the Norwegian National Point of Contact (NPC).  The complaint was in regard to abuses at the Mindoro Nickel mine project in the Philippines, which stated that improper consultations with the surrounding indigenous groups had been carried out, it had downplayed the anticipated environmental damage the mine would cause, and that in order to obtain its exploration permit, Intex had engaged in bribery. The Norwegian NPC found the consultation that was carried out to be lacking:

“On the basis of the OECD Guidelines, the NCP applied a broad interpretation of “consultation” and states that it does not only include those that inhabit a specific land, but also those who use it according to their tradition and culture. In the view of the NCP, Intex should have systematically investigated how many indigenous people would be affected by their activities and consult them.” 
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