Shock Doctrine: Mining Companies used the Pandemic for Profit

Shock Doctrine: Mining Companies used the Pandemic for Profit

Editor’s note: The shock doctrine is a concept proposed by Canadian journalist Naomi Klein and is outlined in her book, The Shock Doctrine. The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, published in 2007. Its central proposition is that the capitalist markets take advantage of moments of tragedy or disaster, such as the pandemic, to propose or impose policies that benefit them. People’s inability to react at these times favors this strategy.

But the shock doctrine is part of a continuum. Civilization has been doing the same thing now that it has been doing for 10,000 years. Civilization traumatizes individuals, communities and cultures, then takes advantage of that trauma to grow and expand. Modern capitalism is civilization attempting to continue to function and sustain itself, while everything (eco-systems and social structures) collapse around it. People do not willingly hand over their personal power and autonomy and that of their community unless they have first been broken as a human being and built up again as a citizen. The shock will continue until we do something about the problem at the core, civilization itself. Or until civilization reaches its inevitable suicidal endgame.


By Jen Moore/Counterpunch.

Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next.

We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.

Arundhati Roy, April 2020

Just over two years ago when lockdowns were being declared like dominoes around the world, there was a brief moment when the COVID-19 pandemic seemed to hold the potential for much-needed reflection. Could it lead to a reversal away from the profit-driven ecological and socio-economic dead end we’ve been propelling toward?

Arundhati Roy’s call to critical reflection was published in early April 2020. At the time, she was observing the early evidence, on one hand, of the devastating toll of the pandemic as a result of extraordinary inequality, the privatized health care system, and the rule of big business in the U.S., which continued to play out along lines of class and race.

She was also writing with horror at how the Modi government in India was enacting an untenable lockdown on a population of over a billion people without notice or planning, in a context of overlapping economic and political crises. While the rich and middle class could safely retreat to work from home, millions of migrant workers were forced out of work into a brutal, repressive, and even fatal long march back to their villages. And that was just the beginning.

The jarring “rupture” with normality that Roy wrote about two years ago has reinforced many “prevailing prejudices”, as she anticipated. Whether we’re talking about Amazon, the pharmaceutical industry, or mining companies, big business managed to have itself declared “essential” and profit handsomely. Meanwhile, poor and racialized people have paid the highest costs and experienced the greatest losses in the U.S., India, and many other countries around the world.

But we have also seen how people have fought back hard showing tremendous resilience in the face of greater adversity.

This is very much the case in mining-affected communities around the world, many of whom were already in David and Goliath battles before the pandemic to protect their land and water from the harms of mineral extraction. They have found no reprieve since the pandemic began.

While taking measures to protect themselves from COVID-19, these movements have refused to let their guard down as governments and corporations have taken advantage of greater social constraints to advance the mining industry.

A Pandemic Made to Fit the Mining Industry

Land defenders block mine-related traffic in Casillas, Guatemala, 2019. (Photo: NISGUA, via EarthWorks Flickr)

Since April 2020, the Institute for Policy Studies(IPS) Global Economy Project has been participating in the Coalition Against the Mining Pandemic, which came together to help document what was happening in the mining sector during the pandemic. The coalition is made up of environmental justice organizations, networks, and initiatives from North America, Europe, Asia-Pacific, Africa, and Latin America that work in solidarity with mining-affected communities.

The group observed early evidence that mining companies would be among the worst pandemic profiteers. In the past, after all, these corporations have sought to benefit from floods, coups, dictatorships, and other disasters to rewrite laws and push projects through while local populations are busy dealing with catastrophe and living under the gun.

In addition, the coalition especially wanted to understand what the pandemic meant for the struggles of Indigenous peoples and other mining-affected communities on the frontlines with whom we work in solidarity.

This collaborative research effort has involved local partners in 23 countries to document what it’s been like trying to protect community health from the ravages of the pandemic — while also fighting against the threat of losing their water and territory from the long-term impacts of gold, iron-ore, copper, nickel, coal, and lithium mining.

The 23 countries where we looked at cases have recorded 29 percent of the world’s known COVID cases, 43 percent of recorded COVID-related deaths, and include two of the top ten countries for the highest mortality rates (calculated by dividing the number of recorded COVID cases by the number of COVID related deaths). In order, these are Peru and Mexico. (Ecuador, where we looked at another case study, now ranks 11th.)

As expected, our recently released Latin America report No Reprieve demonstrates how COVID-19 restrictions seem to have been made to fit the mining industry. As Price Waterhouse Cooper observed in its 2021 Great Expectations report on the global mining industry, “by any important measure, mining is one of the few industries that emerged from the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic economic crisis in excellent financial and operational shape.”

Precious metal prices rose in the context of the uncertainty created by the pandemic, leading to historic profits for some companies despite lower production in 2020. Prices for base metals, such as copper, soon followed as markets opened up. This was much earlier than the lifting of social constraints, putting affected communities at an even greater disadvantage than before the pandemic in their struggles for water, land, and survival.

No Reprieve for Mining Affected Communities

The lengthy lockdowns and other public health measures that were put in place not only spelled greater socio-economic crisis than before for these communities. They also meant greater difficulty or outright bans on meeting together to discuss concerns about environmental contamination, hardship, mining projects, and the greater difficulty of dealing with government offices responsible for permitting and inspections.

Online meetings were often inadequate or unavailable. When there was no other option but to get together to protest, the risks were greater than ever.

In Brazil, as in many other countries in Latin America, mining has continued pretty much without interruption since the start of the pandemic. For over a year, the community of Aurizona in the state of Maranhão has been living without an adequate supply of drinking water since the rupture of a tailings dam at the Aurizona gold mine owned by Mineração Aurizona S.A. (MASA), a subsidiary of the Canadian firm Equinox Gold.

On March 25, 2021, at the height of the pandemic in this part of northwestern Brazil, the Lagoa do Pirocaua tailings dam overflowed, contaminating the water supplies of this community of 4,000 people. Despite company promises, the community continues to lack adequate water supplies. Meanwhile, the company obtained a legal ruling that prohibits street blockades and filed a lawsuit against five movement leaders to try to deter their organizing.

In Colombia, Indigenous Wayúu and Afro-descendant communities in the La Guajira region experienced heightened risks from the continued operation of the Cerrejón mining complex, the largest open-pit thermal coal mine in Latin America. This mine is now owned exclusively by Swiss commodities giant Glencore, which consolidated its control over the mine in January 2022 when it purchased the shareholdings of Anglo American and BHP Billiton.

This mine has already operated for over three decades and displaced dozens of communities. In September 2020, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment, David Boyd, asked the Colombian government to at least temporarily suspend Cerrejón’s operations, pointing out that the contamination, health impacts, and lack of water the communities already faced increased the risk of death from COVID-19.

Instead, the mine continued and even accelerated operations, while communities suffered serious physical and emotional impacts from greater social confinement and loss of subsistence economic activities. The company donated food and safety equipment to improve its image, but this generated divisions and disagreements among communities that were difficult to resolve given the restrictions on meetings.

Making this situation worse, the government and companies have refused to respect a 2017 Constitutional Court decision that recognized violations of community rights to water, food, sovereignty, and health in authorizing the diversion of the Bruno Creek’s natural course to expand coal extraction. Instead, since mid 2021, Glencore and Anglo American have been suing the Colombian government under the terms of bilateral international investment agreements with Switzerland and the United Kingdom for not letting them expand the mine.

Militarized Mining

Not only did the spaces for community organizing shrink, disappear, or just get a lot harder, violence got worse in many places. In many cases, there was heavy-handed repression, heightened militarization, and ongoing legal persecution of land and environment defenders.

In Honduras, the Tocoa Municipal Committee for the Defense of the Natural and Public Commons spent nearly the entire first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic fighting for the freedom of eight water defenders who were arbitrarily detained for their peaceful opposition to an iron ore project owned by the Honduran company Los Pinares Investments.

They were only freed in February 2022, after the narcodictatorship of former President Juan Orlando Hernández lost power to the country’s first female president, Xiomara Castro. Meanwhile the company, which has ties to U.S. steel company Nucor, managed to start operations in mid 2021 without obtaining the required environmental permit, immediately putting in danger the future of the San Pedro river on which downstream communities depend.

In Mexico, a special group of public armed forces called the Mining Police was inaugurated in 2020, aimed at protecting mining facilities from mineral theft. The recruitment of troops was announced for the first time in July of that year, during an online event entitled “The reactivation of mining in the face of the new normality.” By the end of September 2020, the first 118 federal officers with military training had graduated and were deployed to guard the La Herradura gold mine owned by the Mexican company Fresnillo plc, which is listed on the London Stock Exchange and owned by Industrias Peñoles.

In contrast, no measures have been taken to lower the levels of subjugation, extortion, forced displacement, and violence against the communities that inhabit these same areas — such as the community of El Bajío, which neighbors the La Herradura mine, where the Penmont company from the same business group operated illegally until 2013.

Members of the community of El Bajío have faced violence since this time, despite receiving 67 favorable rulings declaring the land occupation agreements of the community members affected by the Mexican company Penmont (a subsidiary of Fresnillo plc) null and void. These rulings have yet to be executed and the risks for the community have intensified.

Two members of this community were brutally assassinated in April 2021. Beside their bodies a piece of cardboard was found on which 13 names of other community members involved in the resistance to the mine were written, a clear threat. The state has not provided any protection to family members either — although there are constant patrols by state police, the National Guard, and the army to intimidate the population.

Mining for Supposed Economic Recovery

At the same time, administrative processes for companies to get new permits got easier and projects moved forward. The justification was that mineral extraction would supposedly contribute to post-pandemic economic reactivation, but it’s well known that mining tends to divert attention from more sustainable economic sectors at a national level and impoverish local communities.

In Panama and Ecuador —  both countries with few industrial mines in operation due to widespread rejection by the affected populations — there have also been attempts to accelerate mining expansion in the name of economic reactivation.

In Ecuador, there is widespread opposition to mining in the country due to its impacts on water, the country’s exceptional biodiversity, and the well-being of small farmer and Indigenous communities.

During his election campaign, current President Guillermo Lasso promoted “human rights and the rights of nature… and the protection of the environment with a sustainable agenda.” However, once he took office in May 2021, he showed his willingness to serve transnational mining interests.

On August 5, he issued Executive Decree No. 151, an “Action Plan for the Ecuadorian Mining Sector,” which seeks to accelerate mining in fragile ecosystems such as the Amazon and high-altitude wetlands (páramos). It gives legal certainty to mining companies by providing a favorable environment for investors, indicating explicit respect for international agreements that favor corporate interests. It likewise proposes the acceleration of environmental permits for mining projects without taking into account the socio-environmental impacts.

Similarly, on May 19, 2021, the Panamanian government presented its strategic plan to base its post-pandemic economic recovery on mining. Given the prevalence of corruption and the constant violations of environmental regulations and the Constitution by mining companies in Panama, citizens see this mining stimulus plan as the government aiming to enrich itself and its cronies.

Faced with the fallacy of national economic recovery through mining, a national campaign platform arose called the Panama Worth More Without Mining Movement (MPVMSM). This broad based movement of environmental organizations, teachers, workers, youth, small farmers, and Indigenous communities opposes mining and the renegotiation of the contract over the only operating mine in Panama, Cobre Panama owned by First Quantum Minerals, which they consider unconstitutional and argue should be canceled.

Despite evidence that upwards of 60 percent of Panamanians support this movement’s aims, the government insists on continuing to promote initiatives aimed at making way for mining expansion in the country.

Truly Essential Resilience and Resistance 

Despite the conditions for peoples’ struggles having gotten harder over the last two years, the resilience and resistance of people fighting from the margins for their land, their water and their community health has persisted, often with women, Indigenous peoples, and small-scale farmers at the forefront.

From Mexico to Argentina, the communities and organizations who shared their experiences for this report have found ways to continue fighting for respect for their self-determination, community health, and their own visions of their future. While some projects moved ahead, others have not been able to overcome tireless community resistance.

Whether communities are fighting to address mining harms or standing in the way of these unwanted projects, their struggles are potent examples of the sort of reimagining and digging in for fundamental change that Arundhati Roy urged at the start of this pandemic.

Through their resistance, mutual care, traditional knowledge, and efforts toward greater food sovereignty and collective wellbeing, these communities and movements demonstrate the urgent need to shift away from a destructive model of economic development that has been forced on people around the world, based on endless extraction to serve international markets with primary materials that are turned into products for mass consumption.

They point out the vital need for a serious reckoning to address the harms that have taken place and to pull back the reins on such militarized mass destruction in order to prioritize peoples’ self-determination and more sustainable ways of living. This is what is truly essential if we hope to ensure collective health and wellbeing now and for future generations.

 

Jen Moore is an Associate Fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies.


Photo by shahin khalaji on Unsplash

Canadian Mining Companies Responsible for Decades of Violence in Guatemala

Canadian Mining Companies Responsible for Decades of Violence in Guatemala

By  / Intercontinental Cry

Featured image: Francisco Tiul Tut mourns the burning and destruction of his home in Barrio La Revolucion. On January 8th and 9th, 2007, the Guatemalan Nickel Company, local subsidiary of Canadian Skye Resources, ordered the forced eviction of five Q’eqchi’ Mayan communities around Lake Izabal in El Estor and Panzos, Guatemala (Photo: James Rodríguez/mimundo.org)

While much of the controversy surrounding Canada’s extractive industry centers on oil and gas projects like SWN Resources’ drilling plans in New Brunswick, Enbridge’s Line 9 pipeline and the widely felt impact of Tar Sands extraction in Alberta, there is a significant lack of debate concerning Canada’s larger and much more influential mining sector.

It’s estimated that 75% of the world’s mining and exploration companies are based in Canada. Collectively, they account for 42 billion dollars of Canada’s gross domestic product, making mining and exploration one of Canada’s most economically powerful sectors. Some 40% of global mining capital is raised on the Toronto Stock Exchange. The impact of Canada’s mining sector, however, goes far beyond mere facts and figures.

Wherever Canadian mining companies operate, they have an indelible imprint on the social, political and environmental realities in which they insert themselves. In countries that are politically unstable or where a culture of impunity is permitted to thrive, that imprint can span generations with successive mining companies following in the footsteps of their predecessors. Such is the legacy of shame that the Maya Q’eqchi people in Guatemala have been forced to endure for the last half century.

The "Fenix" Mining Project in El Estor, Guatemala. Established in 1965 as the EXMIBAL nickel mine owned by Canadian mining firm INCO, the project was transferred to the Guatemalan Nickel Company (CGN) in 2005 after the expiration of the original 40-year license. CGN was the local subsidiary of Canadian Skye Resources, a junior mining company comprised of former INCO directors. Skye was bought by HudBay in 2008, and the project sold to the Russian-based Solway group in 2011. (Photo: James Rodríguez/mimundo.org)

The “Fenix” Mining Project in El Estor, Guatemala. Established in 1965 as the EXMIBAL nickel mine owned by Canadian mining firm INCO, the project was transferred to the Guatemalan Nickel Company (CGN) in 2005 after the expiration of the original 40-year license. CGN was the local subsidiary of Canadian Skye Resources, a junior mining company comprised of former INCO directors. Skye was bought by HudBay in 2008, and the project sold to the Russian-based Solway group in 2011. (Photo: James Rodríguez/mimundo.org)

For the average Canadian, the effects of mining and other forms of resource extraction are not immediately apparent; indeed, those who tend to benefit the most from such projects also tend to be shielded from the harsh realities that befall those who are affected by them, as Mi’kmaq lawyer and activist Pam Palmater toldIntercontinental Cry (IC).

“People in far-away cities may enjoy oil for their cars, diamonds from their city jeweler, or minerals needed to build cities and never have to see the housing crisis and lands stripped of trees and wildlife, or see the deformed fish and contaminated water.”

“The people who benefit are separated from the people who pay the social and environmental price,” she added.

For more than two years, Palmater, who leads the Centre for Indigenous Governance at Ryerson University, worked closely with Mathias Colomb Cree Nation (MCCN) Chief Arlen Dumas, who, in 2013, served two Stop Work Orders to Hudson Bay Mining and Smelting Ltd (Hudbay) in connection to the Lalor mine project in Northern Manitoba. According to Chief Dumas, Hudbay failed to obtain MCCN consent to operate its proposed mine, situated on unceded MCCN lands. Soon after the Stop Work Orders were delivered, Hudbay sought out and obtained a court injunction against Palmater and Chief Dumas, restraining them and others from interfering with access to the company’s property.

A long line of Canadian mining companies have adopted a similar modus operandi, avoiding their constitutional obligation to consult, accommodate or even inform First Nations before seeking approval of mining projects that could adversely affect their indigenous rights.

Far more companies have been under fire for human rights abuses and other transgressions that took place outside of Canada. Among them, there is Barrick Gold, Fortuna Silver, Sherritt International, IAMGOLD, Curis Resources, Tahoe Resources Inc., Denison Mines Corp., First Majestic Silver, TVI Resource Development, Inc., Nevsun Resources Ltd., New Gold Inc., and GoldCorp.

In their unyielding pursuit for justice and accountability, Indigenous Peoples are presently pursuing at least three of these companies in Canada’s court system. Foremost among them is Hudbay Minerals.

In 2010, Toronto-based law firm Klippensteins Barristers & Solicitors filed a set of civil suits against Hudbay Minerals on behalf of Maya Q’eqchi people in Guatemala who suffered three separate injustices in connection to the Fenix Mining Project in El Estor municipality near the Pacific Coast.

The ongoing case against Hudbay Minerals centers on the actions of its former subsidiary Guatemalan Nickel Company (CGN) and security forces hired by CGN between 2007 and 2009, specifically the murder of Adolfo Ich Chaman, a respected community leader; the attempted murder of German Chub, who was paralyzed after being shot at close range; and the gang rape of eleven women.

The case is widely considered to be a major step forward to holding the Canadian mining sector to account for its actions abroad.

The story of Hudbay in Guatemala goes back several decades to another Canadian mining company, INCO (now Brazilian company Vale). Linking together the history of INCO and Hudbay in this Central American country is crucial to understanding not only the Canadian mining sector but also its role around the world.

HISTORY OF INCO IN GUATEMALA

The violence against Indigenous Peoples who have opposed mining in Guatemala should be viewed as part of the wider violence that swept through the country in the 1950s when a military coup overthrew a democratically-elected government. “The history of INCO in Guatemala is [in its simplest form] the history of the military coup in 1954 and then the aftermath of that military coup”, Graham Russell, director at Rights Action network, stated in an interview with IC.

From 1944 to 1954 two nationalist, reformist and capitalist regimes attempted to modernize and equalize the country[1]. Part of this effort stemmed from a moderate agrarian reform bill in 1952 that would have redistributed hundreds of thousands of acres of land to landless peasants. This bill greatly affected the United States-based United Fruit Company (UFC), which was at the time the largest landholder and employer in Guatemala. Seeing the bill as a threat to its deeply entrenched economic interests, UFC hired legendary public relations expert Edward Bernays to carry out an intense misinformation portraying then-president Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán as a communist threat. While Bernays was busy winning hearts and minds, the company carried out an equally energetic lobbying effort back home to convince lawmakers and the U.S. public that Guatemala desperately needed a regime change.

Once U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower came to office, it wasn’t long before he authorized Operation PBSUCCESS, a covert op in which the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) funded, armed, and trained 480 men led by Carlos Castillo Armas, the first of many dictators to succeed Guatemala’s presidency.

A long and brutal civil war ensued that would – over the course of 36 years – take the lives of more than 200,000 civilians and displace more than 1.5 million, culminating in a genocidal rampage against the Maya in the 1980s.

INCO had its own role to play in this vicious circle of violence. The Guatemalan military repeatedly used the company’s airplane landing strip to bring in soldiers and INCO trucks to transport them to Maya Q’eqchi lands for de-population. Graham Russell told IC that INCO’s position in the mining industry was a key factor as well, explaining that “…at this point (INCO) was the biggest private investor in all of Central America, not just Guatemala. These brutal military regimes and the wave of brutal violence starting in the late 60s and all through the 70s was directly associated to INCO’s mining interests in Guatemala.”

INCO was able to gain its status in Central America by cultivating a monopoly on nickel extraction. The company controlled nearly 54 percent of the nickel market in the West. During the 1950s it controlled 75 to 80 percent of the US nickel market[2]. Part of building this monopoly also involved Nazi war profiteering. Prior to World War II, INCO arranged a cartel agreement with the German company I.G.Farben to allow the stockpiling of nickel for the Nazi war effort[3].

INCO and the U.S. Hanna mining company formed Izabal Mining Operations Company (EXMIBAL), a subsidiary company, to operate in Guatemala in 1962. EXMIBAL attained a tax-exemption in Guatemala in 1968 for leading what was described as an “industry of transformation.” Under its contract, EXMIBAL would pay the Guatemalan government $23,000, a tiny fraction of the estimated $10 million it would make each year between 1971 and 1980.

With the civil war well underway, both government and private security forces seized the opportunity to remove any indigenous-led opposition to mining under the auspices of fighting communism. Over 400 massacres were carried out during the period of the civil war, including the notorious slaughter of more than 100 Q’eqchi who were peacefully protesting EXMIBAL’s mining operation in El Estor.

Although there was considerable resistance to EXMIBAL’s mining operation and controversy over how little INCO paid in taxes what lead to the end of the company’s mining operation was the 1980 demand from the military government of Romeo Lucas Garcia that EXMIBAL pay 5% of the value of nickel extracted to the Guatemalan government. EXMIBAL suspended operations and left Guatemala, retaining rights to its mining concession.

In 2003, the former director of INCO became the president and executive of the Canadian company Skye resources. Days before the 40-year concession on the old EXMIBAL mine expired, it was transferred to CGN, the local subsidiary of Canadian Skye Resources (purchased by Hudbay Minerals in 2008). The concession also gave CGN the “right” to expel the Maya Q’eqchi. In 2006, the International Labour Organization (ILO), a branch of the United Nations, held that Guatemala broke ILO Convention 169, a binding international law, by failing to carry out free and prior consultations with the Maya Q’eqchi. Five years prior to this, in 2001, the constitutional court of Guatemala held that the property rights of the land in question belonged to the Maya Q’eqchi. Both rulings were ignored by the Guatemalan government and CGN.

As if tearing a page straight out of Guatemala’s civil war, CGN proceeded to order the eviction of five indigenous communities from the concession area. In January 2007, a combined police and military force arrived to carry the order out with help from residents from neighboring areas who were trucked in by CGN. During the eviction, hundreds of homes were burned to the ground and, in the community of Lote Ocho, a total of 11 women were gang raped by CGN’s mine security personnel and members of Guatemala’s police and military forces.

Homes in the community of Barrio La Revolucion are burned and destroyed by personnel hired by the Guatemalan Nickel Company (CGN). (Photo: James Rodríguez/mimundo.org)

Homes in the community of Barrio La Revolucion are burned and destroyed by personnel hired by the Guatemalan Nickel Company (CGN). (Photo: James Rodríguez/mimundo.org)

One year later, HudBay Minerals purchased Skye Resources and promptly changed the company’s name to HMI Nickel Inc.

Despite the re-branding, however, the Maya Q’eqchi would continue to face a routine of repression with HudBay’s security forces shooting and killing Adolfo Ich Chaman and paralyzing German Chub Choc in 2009. One year later, Angelica Choc, the wife of Adolfo Ich Chaman, announced her intent to sue HudBay Minerals and its subsidiary in Canada.

Eager to evade a potentially catastrophic ruling, HudBay Minerals promptly sold CGN, the Fenix mine and its other Guatemalan assets to the Cyprus-based Solway Investment Group. The sale, however, did not deter Canada’s courts from agreeing to hear the case(s) against Hudbay.

PATHWAYS TO JUSTICE

A favorable ruling could have far-reaching implications not only for Hudbay but for the entire Canadian mining sector. As Graham Russell explained to IC,

“…there is a growing number of Canadians becoming aware that there are hundreds, if not more, [Canadian mining companies] operating in many places around the world [that] are often involved in creating environmental harm or contributing directly or indirectly in serious human rights violations including killings and gang rapes.”

The possibility that anyone who suffers at the hands of a Canadian mining company could turn to Canada for their day in court could very well change the face of the industry.

Katherine Fultz, visiting Instructor of Anthropology at Pitzer College in Claremont, CA, who has studied opposition to mining in the Highlands of Guatemala, told IC by phone that community referendums as a tool to resist mining projects are also gaining popularity among mine-affected communities:

“It actually started elsewhere in Latin America. The first one was held in Peru and a number were held in Argentina and later in Columbia … Guatemala has held more than any other country with more than sixty votes at this point. Over half a million people have participated in them.”

These community referendums have rejuvenated anti-mining activism in the highlands of Guatemala leading many communities to take direct legal action against the Guatemalan government to protest mining on a national level.

Recently, the Guatemalan constitutional court ordered the suspension of two hydro-power mega projects (Vega I and Vega II) for failure to properly consult with affected Indigenous communities. Other mining projects have also been suspended due to lack of consultation with indigenous communities. In one case, the rural community of Zunil in the municipality of Quetzaltenango carried out referendums (consulta) declaring their territory to be a mining free zone.

An avenue that Canadians can use to stop international human rights abuses by mining companies may one day be found in Canada. In 2009, Liberal MP for Scarborough-Guildwood John McKay introduced Bill C-300 as a private members bill to the Canadian House of Commons. The bill called for the creation of an ombudsperson that would oversee Canadian mining firms. Bill C-300 ultimately lost by six votes in 2009, even though the NDP and Liberals held a majority in the House of Commons at the time. McKay said in a recent interview that, although he thinks existing structures that oversee mining companies need to be strengthened,  re-introducing the bill is a high priority for the Liberal government.

Instead of the provisions in Bill C-300, Canadian mining and extraction companies fall under “Building the Canadian Advantage” (BCA) which the Conservative government put in place instead of Bill C-300. Viewed by critics as an irresponsible PR gimmick, BCA moved Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) funds to support community projects run by Canadian mining companies and created a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) councilor to mediate disputes between affected communities and mining companies. None of these provisions, however, are binding; and while there is strong language about protecting human rights in BCA they are little more than guidelines that companies are under no obligation to follow.

The historical and contemporary case of Canadian mining companies operating in Central America shows that one should have no illusions about the role these companies play around the world. While building more north-south solidarity and mine-affected communities holding referendums are positive steps on the road to justice, there is the bigger issue related to the way that mining is tied to larger social, political, environmental and economic realities.

In an interview with Canadian Dimension Magazine, Alain Deneault, who was sued along with his co-author and publisher by Barrick Gold for the exposé Noir Canada, ties together the issues of over-consumption and planned obsolescence to the mining industry. “If we could put all of these questions on the agenda at the same time, we could say, okay, maybe it’s worthwhile to dig that hole in that specific area because we need zinc, but we’ll use it carefully. We’ll exploit zinc carefully because we’ll make sure that what we dig out will be recycled in many objects that we will use.” Deneaut went on to advocate for the creation of a permanent and independent commission of inquiry that would have powers to not only inquire into the activities of corporations but also summon their representatives to appear and submit documents.

For now, the more the Canadian public is informed about the activities of Canadian mining companies, the better. Pam Palmater advocates for a broad approach to bring Canadian mining companies abuses to light and urges that we work together to fight for our collective futures:

“…the more the public knows about the destructive activities of mining companies, who’s really profiting and what it means for our collective futures, the better chance we have at forcing change through varied means used simultaneously – including protests, court cases, political pressure, shareholder pressure, advocacy at the international level and building allies amongst social justice activists, environmentalists, scientists, First Nations, other countries, politicians and legislators.”

Notes [1] Guatemala: the politics of violence pg 1.

[2] NACLA Strategic Raw Materials pg 6.

[3] NACLA Strategic Raw Materials pg 8.

Ontario orders mining companies to leave KI First Nation land

By Ahni / Intercontinental Cry

In a surprise move this week, the province of Ontario has declared that 23,000 square kilometres of traditional Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (KI) land is now off limits to mining companies. It’s the single largest withdrawal in the history of Ontario.

However, it’s not without controversy. While the welcomed decision was based in part on information it received from KI, the province utterly failed to consult them before making the move. The government is obligated by law to consult Indigenous Nations in any decision that would impact their lands for better or worse.

What’s more, it would seem that the government is merely attempting to ‘appease’ KI’s leaders while simultaneously trying to avoid a PR disaster over the growing crisis with Gods Lake Resources (GLR).

A recent Ontario press statement asserts, “The Ontario government has made several attempts to facilitate communication between KI and God’s Lake Resources (GLR), a junior mineral exploration company that holds a mining lease and mining claims in the vicinity of KI, north of Red Lake in Northwestern Ontario.”

As if to say that KI’s not listening to reason, the statement continues, “Our government’s goal is to ensure that all affected parties have the opportunity to benefit from the province’s immense mineral wealth potential. When industry and First Nations communities work together on the basis of mutual respect and understanding, all parties see the economic benefits.” The decision does not have any effect on GLR’s mining interests.

“This decision could have been and can be an historical event, but once again we were excluded,” said KI Chief Donny Morris. “Now let’s finish the job. I challenge the Minister to come to KI for an historical event where we sit down, come to an agreement, and sign off together to make this withdrawal permanent under Indigenous protection. And that should included our lands that Gods Lake Resources is trying to access.”

“We are mobilized to go to Sherman lake. I cannot allow our graves to be desecrated by a company that is hiring guns to block us on our own land. That’s no way to do business,” said Chief Morris.

From Intercontinental Cry: http://intercontinentalcry.org/ontario-unilaterally-declares-ki-lands-off-limits-to-mining-companies-ki-leaders-respond/

Norway Votes To Allow Deep-Sea Mining In Arctic Waters

Norway Votes To Allow Deep-Sea Mining In Arctic Waters

Editor’s note: There is no way mining can be done in a “sustainable way and with acceptable consequences,” whether it is on land or in the sea. It is not a question of if we don’t, we will have to continue to use open pit mines and mountaintop removal. These forms of mining will continue regardless. Deep sea mining will only add to it. Norway likes to be perceived as a net-zero hero but the reality is that behind all of those electric cars and heat pumps, Norway is a major exporter of fossil fuels, and uses the income to pay for the new technologies. And now Norway wants to be a leader in deep-sea mining, too. This demonstrates that Norway is a country that cares little for the natural world if it means giving up its extractive economy for the conviences of a modern lifestyle. If mining is involved, there will be no green transition.


Elizabeth Claire Alberts/Mongabay

Norway’s parliament has voted to allow deep-sea mining to commence in the Norwegian Sea, a move that has garnered criticism from scientists and environmentalists: While the Norwegian government insists that it can conduct deep-sea mining in a sustainable way, critics say these activities will put marine ecosystems and biodiversity at risk.

The Skandinavian country will open a 281,000-square-kilometer (108,500-square-mile) area of the ocean for deep-sea mining, which mostly falls along its continental shelf.

This result was already anticipated in December 2023 after Norway’s minority government negotiated a deal with opposition parties to open up the ocean off Norway’s coast to deep-sea mining.

Companies will now bid for exploration licences

The government previously proposed opening a 329,000-square-kilometer (127,000-square-mile) portion of the Norwegian Sea to deep-sea mining. However, this was later reduced to 281,000 km2 (108,500 mi2), an area nearly the size of Italy. Most of this region falls across Norway’s extended continental shelf, which is technically in international waters, but over which Norway has jurisdiction. Another portion falls within the territorial waters of the Svalbard archipelago, which Norway claims as its own exclusive economic zone, although this is contested by nations such as Russia, Iceland, the U.K. and several EU countries.

Experts say they believe the next step could be the Norwegian Offshore Directorate, the government agency responsible for regulating petroleum resources, inviting companies to bid for exploration licenses, which could happen as early as this year. However, there’s currently no public timeline of forthcoming events.

Norway intends to mine for minerals such as magnesium, cobalt, copper, nickel and rare-earth metals found in manganese crusts on seamounts and sulfide deposits on active, inactive or extinct hydrothermal vents. The government says seabed mining is necessary to ensure that Norway is able to succeed in a “green transition.”

“We need to cut 55% of our emissions by 2030, and we also need to cut the rest of our emissions after 2030,” Astrid Bergmål, Norway’s state secretary for the energy minister, told Mongabay. “So, the reason for us to look into seabed minerals is the large amount of critical minerals that will be needed for many years.”

Critics, however, say that minerals for renewable energy technologies could be obtained from land-based sources and recycling processes.

Doubts about “clean” deep-sea mining

Bergmål said deep-sea mining will be done in a “step-by-step approach” and that it will only be permitted to go forward if the Norwegian government can ensure it will be done in a “sustainable way and with acceptable consequences.”

“If there is one country that can do this in a stepwise manner … that is Norway,” Bergmål said, “because when we say that we are going to put the world’s highest standards with respect to environmental concerns, we do it in practice.”

Norway isn’t the only country with ambitions to mine the deep sea. Other nations, including the Cook Islands, China and Japan, are working on similar plans within their own jurisdictions.

Deep-sea mining explained in 5 minute video

The high seas, which are areas beyond national jurisdiction, have also been earmarked for seabed mining, particularly in a region of the Pacific Ocean known as the Clarion-Clipperton Zone, where there are vast expanses dotted with potato-shaped polymetallic nodules containing minerals like manganese, nickel, cobalt and copper. The International Seabed Authority (ISA), a U.N.-mandated mining regulator, has been overseeing negotiations to approve a set of rules that would govern this activity so it could potentially start in the near future.

Protesters ready to stop seabed mining industry

Peter Haugan, a scientist who serves as policy director of Norway’s Institute of Marine Research and director of the Geophysical Institute at the University of Bergen, said Norway’s plans go against scientific advice and could endanger marine biodiversity.

“Destroying very sensitive and vulnerable areas and eliminating biodiversity … is a real risk,” Haugan told Mongabay. “It’s really a sad day for Norway.”

Haugan said Norway’s decision could also be a “violation of the law” due to a lack of scientific evidence needed to assess the environmental impacts of future mining activities, which is legally needed for such decisions to be made.

Haldis Tjeldflaat Helle, a campaigner at Greenpeace Norway against deep-sea mining, who participated in a protest outside the Norwegian parliament on Jan. 9, said she’s still hopeful that environmentalists will be able to stop the industry before it goes ahead.

“We will use the tools we have available,” Helle told Mongabay. “We will continue to do activism against this disruptive industry and try to influence Norwegian politicians to stop deep-sea mining.”

Elizabeth Claire Alberts is a senior staff writer for Mongabay. Follow her on Twitter@ECAlberts.

Photo by Lightscape on Unsplash

Nickel Mining Threatens Uncontacted Tribe in Indonesia

Nickel Mining Threatens Uncontacted Tribe in Indonesia

Editor’s Note: The Halmahera Island in Indonesia is the only known home to the Hongana Manyana tribe. Unfortunately, it is also the home to vast reserves of nickel. Mining companies are now evading the indigenous rights and ecological rights of the inhabitants of the island, as well as of the island herself, to steal the nickel. The nickel is going to be used for manufacturing electric cars. The following piece is taken from Survival International.


Nickel Mining Threatens Uncontacted Hongana Manyana Tribe in Indonesia

By Survival International

Guardians of their forest

The Hongana Manyawa – which means ‘People of the Forest’ in their own language – are one of the last nomadic hunter gatherer tribes in Indonesia, and many of them are uncontacted.

They have a profound reverence for their forest and everything in it: they believe that trees, like humans, possess souls and feelings. Rather than cut down trees to build houses, they make their dwellings from sticks and leaves. When forest products are used, rituals are performed to ask permission from the plants, and offerings are left out of respect.

The Hongana Manyawa root their whole lives to the forest, from birth to death. When a child is born, the family plant a tree in gratitude, and bury the umbilical cord underneath: the tree grows with the child, marking their age. At the end of their lives, their bodies are placed in the trees in a special area of the forest that is reserved for the spirits.

If there is no more forest, then there will be no more Hongana Manyawa.

Providing for themselves almost entirely from hunting and gathering, the Hongana Manyawa are nomadic; setting up home in one part of the forest before moving on and allowing it to regenerate. They have unrivalled expertise in the Halmahera rainforest, hunting wild boar, deer and other animals and maintaining a close connection with the sago trees – now threatened by deforestation from mining – which provide their main source of carbohydrate. They also have incredible medicinal knowledge and can treat many sicknesses with local plants, although this has become increasingly difficult following the new diseases brought by forced contact and resettlement in villages.

It’s more convenient for me to keep moving because the food is much more diverse and available, I can go hunting regularly. Permanently staying in the village is very uncomfortable and there is a lack of food.

Avoiding contact to stay alive

The arrival of the mining companies is just the latest threat to the Hongana Manyawa and their land. In recent decades, Indonesian governments have repeatedly tried to force contact onto the Hongana Manyawa, with the aim of stopping their nomadic way of life and evicting them from their ancestral forest home. They say this is to “civilize” them: they have tried to settle the Hongana Manyawa and have built Indonesian-style houses for them. The Hongana Manyawa say these new houses, with roofs made of metal sheets rather than palm leaves, made them feel “like animals in a cage”.

https://www.survivalinternational.org/tribes/honganamanyawa

One Hongana Manyawa woman told Survival:

We are so happy living by the forest with different kinds of meat and food, where we can collect roof materials so we can replace the zinc roof the government has built for us.

As with uncontacted tribes the world over, forced contact has proved disastrous for the Hongana Manyawa. They were immediately exposed to diseases to which they had no immunity – from the late 1970s to the early 1990s, terrible outbreaks of diseases which the Hongana Manyawa refer to as “the plague” affected the newly-settled villages, leading to widespread suffering and even death.

We had many different diseases when first settled, some of the sickness led to deaths, some people had fever that went on for days and nights and endless coughing for days and even weeks.

The contacted Hongana Manyawa also serve as convenient scapegoats for the police, who frequently blame them for crimes they have had nothing to do with. Several of them have been imprisoned for murders they did not commit and have languished in jail for many years.

It’s better to live in the forest so we don’t get accused of these things. We feel unsafe and many of the men moved into the forest and then came to get their wives and families. Some are deep in the forest…they are deeply traumatized.

Far from being respected for their unique and self-sufficient ways of living, the Hongana Manyawa experience severe racism and are regularly described by Indonesian officials and the media as ‘primitive’. There is a widespread belief that they would benefit from ‘integration’ into wider society: a belief that comes with disastrous and deadly consequences.

Many Hongana Manyawa are now living in government-built villages. Many others – traumatised by the government’s forced settlement attempts, like other peoples around the world who have experienced forced contact – have returned to their forest.

The uncontacted Hongana Manyawa have made it clear time and time again that they do not want to settle or have outsiders coming into their forest. They are very much aware of the dangers – including fatal epidemics of disease – which forced contact brings. As with the uncontacted Sentinelese tribe of India, it is little wonder that they are defending their lands and shooting arrows at those who force their way in.

But now they face the threat not just of being forced out of the forest that sustains them, but of seeing it all destroyed by corporations rushing to provide a supposedly ‘sustainable’ and ‘environmentally friendly’ lifestyle to people thousands of miles away.

https://player.vimeo.com/video/879389461?h=5199b980ee

‘Green’ mining threatens the lives of uncontacted tribal people  

The greatest threat to the Hongana Manyawa today comes from a supposedly ‘green’ industry.

Their rainforest sits on lands rich in nickel, a metal increasingly sought after as an ingredient in the manufacture of electric car batteries. Indonesia is now the world’s largest producer of nickel, and Halmahera is estimated to contain some of the world’s largest unexploited nickel reserves. Nickel is not essential for these batteries, but now that the nickel market is booming, mining companies are homing in and tearing up huge swathes of rainforest.

The uncontacted Hongana Manyawa are on the run. Without their rainforest, they will not survive. These cars are marketed as ecofriendly alternatives to fossil fuel powered cars, but there is nothing ecofriendly about the way nickel is being mined in Halmahera.

It goes without saying that uncontacted tribes cannot give their Free, Prior and Informed Consent to exploitation of their land – which is legally required for all ‘developments’ on Indigenous territories under international law.

Nevertheless, Weda Bay Nickel (WBN) – a company partly owned by French mining company Eramet – has an enormous mining concession on the island which overlaps with Hongana Manyawa territories. WBN began mining in 2019 and now operates the largest nickel mine in the world. Huge areas of rainforest which the Hongana Manyawa call home have already been destroyed. The company plans to ramp up the mining to many times its current rate and operate for up to 50 years.

If we don’t support the fight for their forest, my uncontacted relatives will just die. The forest is everything, it is their heart and life. My parents and siblings are in the forest and without support they will die. Everything in the forest is getting destroyed now – the river, the animals, it is gone.

The Indonesian government claims that nickel mining is “critical for clean energy technologies” yet coal-fired power stations are being constructed at IWIP to process the nickel. The International Energy Agency estimates that 19 metric tons of carbon are released for every metric ton of nickel smelted and there is evidence from a similar project in Sulawesi of this leading to respiratory diseases for locals. Not only is this mining (accompanied by roads, smelters and other huge industrial projects) devastating the Hongana Manyawa’s rainforests, it is also polluting the air and damaging the rivers. The processing of nickel is often highly toxic, involving a host of chemicals which produce almost two metric tons of toxic waste for every metric ton of ore processed.

Survival is fighting against false solutions to the climate crisis, which are destroying Indigenous lands and lives. 

They are poisoning our water and making us feel like we are being slowly killed.

Eramet, Tesla and connected companies

International companies are involved, directly or indirectly, in the mining of uncontacted Hongana Manyawa land.

WBN is a joint venture between several companies, but French company Eramet is part-owner and responsible for the mining itself. Eramet prides itself on its environmental and human rights credentials, claiming that it will “set the standard” and “be a benchmark company” when it comes to human rights. Yet it continues to mine on the territory of the uncontacted Hongana Manyawa.

Survival has learned that German chemical company BASF is also planning to partner with Eramet to build a refining complex in Halmahera and that a possible location for this may be on uncontacted Hongana Manyawa territory. This would be devastating for the uncontacted Hongana Manyawa in the area, who are already in hiding from mining.

Survival has been told that uncontacted Hongana Manyawa are now fleeing further and further into the rainforest, traumatized by the attacks on their forests and way of life.

Trees are gone and replaced with the big road, where giant machines go in and out making noise and driving the animals away.

Tesla, the world’s largest electric vehicle company, has signed contracts worth billions of US dollars to buy Indonesian nickel and cobalt for its batteries. Its CEO Elon Musk has also had high level negotiations with the Indonesian government to open an electric car battery factory in the country. Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo has even offered Tesla a ‘nickel mining concession.’

Tesla’s Indigenous rights policy states: “For all raw material extraction and processing used in Tesla products, we expect our mining industry suppliers to engage with legitimate representatives of indigenous communities and include the right to free and informed consent in their operations.”

Yet Tesla has now signed deals with Chinese companies Huayou Cobalt and CNGR Advanced Material, both of which have links to nickel mining in Halmahera. While supply chains are secretive and often obscure, Tesla’s interests in Indonesia and the scale of the planned mining in Halmahera make it possible that nickel mined from Halmahera could well end up in Tesla cars.

I do not give consent for them to take it…tell them that we do not want to give away our forest.

Demand for electric cars is driving the destruction of uncontacted people’s lands. 

Rather than destroying yet more of the natural world, and the people who defend it, in the name of combating climate change, we should be supporting uncontacted tribes to defend their rainforests and their land rights; they are the guardians of the green lungs of the planet.

We the Hongana Manyawa, do not want a mining company to come, because it will destroy our forest. We will protect this forest as much as we can. If the forest is destroyed, where will we live?

Take Urgent Action for the Hongana Manyawa

The Hongana Manyawa are running out of forest and running out of time. They desperately need international support to stop the destruction of their homelands before it’s too late.

The Hongana Manyawa’s land rights must be recognised. Survival is calling for the declaration of an emergency zone for the uncontacted Hongana Manyawa. Around the world, Survival has successfully campaigned for the land rights of uncontacted tribes, defending them from outsiders bringing in deadly diseases and devastating development projects which could destroy them.

We are calling for:

– Eramet and the other companies mining in Halmahera, to immediately abide by international law and stop mining and other developments on the lands of uncontacted tribal people.
– Tesla and other car companies to publicly commit to ensure that none of the nickel or cobalt they buy ever comes from the lands of the uncontacted Hongana Manyawa in Halmahera.
– The Indonesian government to establish an ‘Uncontacted Tribe No-Go Zone” to protect the uncontacted Hongana Manyawa and their territories.

With your support, the territories of the uncontacted Hongana Manyawa can be protected from mining so that they can continue to live as they choose on their own land.

I want to share my knowledge with my grandchildren and those who want to learn how to eat and live in the forest.

Please tell Tesla to pledge that none of the minerals they buy ever comes from the lands of uncontacted Indigenous people in Halmahera – and let the mining companies, and the Indonesian authorities, know you’ve done so.

Sign the pledge here: https://act.survivalinternational.org/page/124732/action/1

Photo by pisauikan on Unsplash