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. 


About resource rights project

Seeks to be a clearinghouse for information around resource rights-related issues, to better link and inform. This is a work in progress, more to come.
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