Is colonial history repeating itself with Sabah forest carbon deal? (commentary)

Is colonial history repeating itself with Sabah forest carbon deal? (commentary)

This story first appeared in Mongabay.

Editor’s note: THE FIRST LARGE SCALE NATURE CONSERVATION AGREEMENT (NCA) IN THE WORLD. You should be afraid, very afraid. (NCA) is a different acronym for (NGO). It is the new colonialism, green , clean and renewable. The market will not solve climate change or loss of biodiversity. The market can only cause those problems. Don’t let them tell you otherwise. Free and Informed Prior Consent and may I add control by keeping corporations out. Abolish all corporations and their money.

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  • To the surprise of Indigenous and local communities, a huge forest carbon conservation agreement was recently signed in the Malaysian state of Sabah on the island of Borneo.
  • Granting rights to foreign entities on more than two million hectares of the state’s tropical forests for the next 100-200 years, civil society groups have called for more transparency.
  • “Is history repeating itself? Are we not yet free or healed from our colonial and wartime histories?” wonders a Sabahan civil society leader who authored this opinion piece calling for more information, more time, and a say. 
  • This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily of Mongabay.

“Bornean communities locked into 2-million-hectare carbon deal they don’t know about” – 9 Nov 2021, Mongabay

This was the headline Sabah woke up to on the morning of November 10th. Before the Mongabay story broke, I heard from Australian friends and allies as early as July that something was afoot. Forests, carbon, climate and communities are core to our collaborative work between civil society and government. I asked colleagues in government if they had any information but did not hear a clear response.

Over the weeks, I heard increasingly ominous whisperings. On 28 October, I received an email from international partners who had seen a Sabah deal – claimed to be signed in August – mentioned by external corporate entities in presentation materials. They were curious if I knew anything about it.

The materials were presented by Tierra Australia, Hoch Standard and Global Natural Capital (GNC) – seemingly Australian, Singaporean and Malaysian entities. Here are two slides from the 43 pages I received:

Screenshot of slide 11 of 14 slides presented by the three companies.

A month later, I’m still struggling to understand why and how this happened – and why we had to learn about it from outside Sabah.

Much has been revealed since then. We’ve now read numerous press articles, social media posts and reposts. We’ve seen online videos of the home offices of our new partners and footage of Hoch Standard’s Corporate Advisor Stan Golokin representing Sabah at COP26 in Glasgow, explaining carbon. We’ve read fact sheets and due diligence reports and realized that we don’t know who Sabah has signed this deal with. And some of us attended a briefing where Datuk Dr. Jeffrey Kitingan and team ‘mansplained‘ the deal to the public and civil society, after the deal was made.

But we have not heard the truth.

Read a November 24, 2021 update on this developing story here.

Screenshot of slide 21 of 21 slides presented by Tierra Australia & GNC, naming Hoch Standard as partner.

I identify as a community member of Sabah. I care about what happens to this tanahair (homeland) we belong to, over the next 100 years and then 100 years beyond that and onwards. I worry about whether our future communities can have food and water, and can be safe, self-determined, and sovereign. I aspire to be a good ancestor.

I, like many people in Sabah, yearn for true leadership that I can trust. I have zero tolerance for vague, unintelligible platitudes and half-truths disguised as leadership. It is an insult to our intelligence.

When will we finally stop with messiah/savior politics? With leaders who only have one tune in their repertoire – divide and rule with promises of wealth – and whose approach to fighting Federal Patriarchy, nationalism and ketuanan (patronage) involves using the exact same rhetoric? I urge us to get out of this delusional and dysfunctional trance before we lose everything and ourselves with it.

With the British North Borneo Chartered Company/Hoch Standard/Tierra Australia, is history repeating itself? Are we not yet free or healed from our colonial and wartime histories? Are we still riddled with illusions of inferiority and such self-doubt that we will step away from responsibility and sovereignty again? And hand our power, our rights, to those who have no idea who we are and what tanahair means?

primary forest in Danum Valley Conservation Area, Sabah, by John C. Cannon/Mongabay
Primary forest in Danum Valley Conservation Area, Sabah. Image by John C. Cannon for Mongabay.

Has patronage politics disempowered us and debilitated our agency? How can we stand back while discourse and democracy are replaced by silence and blind loyalty to the “lord” (Tuan, Datuk, Tan Sri, Bos, etc.)?

The more our doors are closed, the less transparent our processes become, and the wider the division between us. The more divided we are, the more future-altering decisions are made for the majority by a disconnected few. The more this is normalized, the smaller and less human we become, and more corruption breeds.

Two million hectares is more than a quarter of Sabah, two million hectares of forests is more than half our forests, 100 years is about four generations, 200 years is double that.

This is big. So big and so long that Sabahans deserve and need information and time – and a say.  We do not want to be presented a gift of a done deal with bags of money (to perpetuate patronage politics); prior and open fact-sharing, communication and consultation is what we want and in fact demand from our leaders.

Sun bears (Helarctos malayanus) are among the many charismatic wildlife species found in Sabah. Image by John C. Cannon/Mongabay.

Many of us in the social and environmental justice and conservation fields have spent decades working on a range of issues with growing intersectionality. We have nurtured real and trusting relationships both on the ground in Sabah and out in the world. We sought and continue to seek political and societal will and ambition for an equitable, climate-resilient future for Sabah.

We collectively, and in collaboration with Sabah’s civil service, have the confidence, capacities, expertise and partnerships necessary to build a home-grown, bottom-up process: a Sabah process. We do not require the unknown services of a Tierra Australia or the benevolence of a Hoch Standard to tell us who we are, what we have and how we need to manage it.

Is it possible to salvage this moment for Sabah?

Clean up, repent, learn. Pick ourselves up and build a self-governing, sovereign carbon future for Sabah.

I am speaking up in the absence of truth.


Cynthia Ong is founder and Chief Executive Facilitator of Land Empowerment Animals People (LEAP) in Sabah.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Deep Green Resistance, the News Service or its staff.

Statement from the Indigenous Environmental Network in Support of the Wet’suwet’en Peoples

Statement from the Indigenous Environmental Network in Support of the Wet’suwet’en Peoples

This story was originally published by the Indigenous Environmental Network.

The Indigenous Environmental Network condemns the actions of Canada as it inflicts settler violence against the Wet’suwet’en peoples, hypocritically breaking both Wet’suwet’en and Canadian law to push TC Energy’s illegal Coastal Gaslink pipeline through unceded territories.

By entering sovereign Wet’suwet’en territory with RCMP, dogs and assault rifles we are witnessing state-sanctioned violence on behalf of an Oil company, and such barbarous acts of violence inflicted upon Indigenous peoples cannot be defended. These attacks by RCMP are nothing less than Human Rights violations as defined by the United Nations, and acts of extreme detriment to the inherent sovereignty of the Wet’suwet’en. The Wet’suwet’en have asserted self-governance over their territories since time immemorial, and it is their inherent right to defend their lands, resources and bodies from foreign aggressors. They have signed no treaties nor have they relinquished title to their lands. They are not part of so-called Canada and have not consented to bearing the burden of the world’s dependence on an extractive industry such as oil.

We will continue to support the Wet’suwet’en in their struggle and call on others to join us in supporting our relatives. From disrupting business as usual to divesting from banks funding the theft of Indigenous lands, there are steps we can all take to stand with our relatives. These barbarous acts of violent aggression must cease and the inherent right to self determination must be upheld.

How You Can Help:
Over the past two days heavily militarized RCMP tactical team have descending on Coyote Camp with snipers, assault rifles, and K9 units,

In total, eleven people were arrested at Coyote Camp, including Gidimt’en Checkpoint spokesperson, Sleydo’, and Dinï’ze Woos’ daughter, Jocey. Four more were arrested at 44km later that day, including Sleydo’s husband, Cody.

Solidarity actions began immediately. Now is the time. Plan, organize or join an action where you are.

🔥Issue a solidarity statement from your organization or group and tag us.

🔥Host a solidarity rally or action in your area.

🔥Pressure the government, banks, and investors. http://yintahaccess.com/take-action-1

🔥Donate. http://go.rallyup.com/wetsuwetenstrong

🔥Spread the word. #WetsuwetenStrong #AllOutForWedzinKwa #ShutDownCanada

More information and developing stories:

Website: Yintahaccess.com

IG: @yintah_access

Twitter: @Gidimten

Facebook: @wetsuwetenstrong

Youtube: Gidimten Access Point

TikTok: GidimtenCheckpoint

Background:

The Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs represent a governance system that predates colonization and the Indian Act which was created in an attempt to outlaw Indigenous peoples from their lands.

The Wet’suwet’en have continued to exercise their unbroken, unextinguished, and unceded right to govern and occupy their lands by continuing and empowering the clan-based governance system to this day. Under Wet’suwet’en law, clans have a responsibility and right to control access to their territories.
The validity of the Wet’suwet’en house and clan system was verified in the Delgamuukw and Red Top Decisions that uphold the authority of the hereditary system on Wet’suwet’en traditional territories.

At this very moment a standoff is unfolding, the outcome of which will determine the future of Northern “BC” for generations to come. Will the entire region be overtaken by the fracking industry, or will Indigenous people asserting their sovereignty be successful in repelling the assault on their homelands?

The future is unwritten. What comes next will be greatly influenced by actions taken in the coming days and weeks. This is a long-term struggle, but it is at a critical moment. That is why we say: The Time is Now. If you are a person of conscience and you understand the magnitude of what is at stake, ask yourself how you might best support the grassroots Wet’suwet’en.

Indigenous mine opponents targeted in raids during state of siege in Guatemala

Indigenous mine opponents targeted in raids during state of siege in Guatemala

This story was first published in Mongabay.

By

  • In the midst of a long conflict and recent protest over a nickel mine in El Estor, in eastern Guatemala, police have carried out more than 40 raids and 60 arrests, and the government has declared a 30-day state of emergency.
  • Indigenous Mayan opponents to the mine say they were never properly consulted about the mine and its impacts on their lands, livelihoods and lake, and protested on the town’s main road, refusing passage to mining vehicles.
  • Four police were shot during the police crackdown on protests by what the government blames as armed protestors, although mine opponents say the assailants were not involved in the protest.
  • There are concerns mining operations will pose environmental damages to Guatemala’s largest lake, home to diverse fish, bird, reptile and mammal species, including the endangered Guatemalan black howler monkey (Alouatta pigra).

EL ESTOR, Guatemala — Germán Chub was still sleeping when police and military personnel showed up outside his home. It was the fourth day of a month-long state of siege, akin to martial law, in El Estor, eastern Guatemala, in the wake of the latest flashpoint in a decades-long, multifaceted conflict over a nickel mine.

Chub’s wife went out the door a few minutes before six o’clock in the morning on Oct. 27, on her way to grind the maize she would make into tortillas for the day. Police waiting in the street informed her they were there to search the house and entered with personnel from the country’s Office of the Public Prosecutor. Chub was forced to get up and get into his wheelchair.

“It scared me,” Chub told Mongabay. “They just said they were there for a raid and that they had been sent.”

The home of German Chub, paralyzed in 2009 when he was shot by the Fenix mine head of security at the time, was raided during the ongoing state of siege in El Estor. Image courtesy of Sandra Cuffe.

It was not the first time Chub had experienced fallout from the mining conflict. During protests against the Fenix nickel mine in 2009 over land rights, he was shot and paralyzed from the waist down by Mynor Padilla, the mine’s head of security, who also shot dead anti-mining activist Adolfo Ich Chamán. Mongabay first spoke to Chub in 2015 during the trial and again in 2017 when Padilla was initially acquitted. After appeals, Padilla eventually took a plea deal and was convicted this past January.

The Fenix nickel mine has been tied to conflict and violence for more than half a century, when it was formerly owned by EXMIBAL, a subsidiary of Canadian miner Inco. Indigenous Maya Q’eqchi’ residents were never consulted, and their exclusion from a court-ordered consultation process prompted protests, a crackdown and violence that left four police officers with gunshot wounds in October this year. The ensuing state of siege and raids targeting community leaders, outspoken mine opponents and local journalists — all Indigenous Maya Q’eqchi’ — have sparked alarm and condemnation in Guatemala and beyond.

“I do not even have the words to express myself about what they are doing,” Chub said. “Everything they are doing in El Estor is unjust.”

Police raided the homes of two journalists and at least nine community authorities, fishers’ guild leaders and protesters during the last week of October. In early November, Mongabay visited several families in El Estor whose homes were raided and spoke with other leaders in hiding. Hundreds of police officers, soldiers and marines were in the area, patrolling and stationed at different points around town, including fanned out along a stretch of road between El Estor and the mining complex 6 kilometers (4 miles) to the west.

Guatemalan marines fan out along the access street to a pier during the state of siege in El Estor. Image courtesy of Sandra Cuffe.

The Fenix project is now owned by the Solway Investment Group, a private mining and metals corporation based in Switzerland, after decades of Canadian ownership. When it acquired the Fenix mine in 2011, Solway was based in another tax haven, Cyprus, and widely acknowledged to be a Russian company.

Protests and condemnation related to the state of siege continue to target both the Swiss and Russian embassies in Guatemala. Solway’s press office told Mongabay in a written statement that the company is fully owned by European Union citizens and that there is no Russian capital or investment in the company. Russian is one of the company’s working languages because Solway operated several projects in that country in the past, according to the company. Many high-level employees at the Fenix project in Guatemala are Russian.

The project includes mountaintop mining and ferronickel processing facilities near the shore of Lake Izabal, the country’s biggest lake. The lake, waterways and lands in the region are at the heart of sustained opposition to the mine. Indigenous communities in the region primarily live from subsistence agriculture and fishing, and want to ensure the environment can sustain those livelihoods for future generations.

“That’s why we were supporting the resistance. People want to look out for their children, their grandchildren,” Chub said.

Battles over proper consultation

The municipality of El Estor is home to some 82,500 people, more than 90% of them Q’echi’, according to the most recent national census. In 2019, Guatemala’s Constitutional Court ruled in favor of El Estor’s small-scale fishers’ guild and other local plaintiffs, and determined that Indigenous communities in the mine’s area of influence were never properly consulted about the project. The court issued an injunction, ordering the suspension of the mining license held by Solway subsidiary CGN, pending consultation.

The ongoing operation of the ferronickel processing plant despite a court order suspending operations at the mine is one of the drivers of recent protests (2017). Image courtesy of Sandra Cuffe.

In a 2020 ruling, the Constitutional Court reiterated the suspension order and laid out guidelines for a consultation process to be carried out by the Ministry of Energy and Mines. Free, prior and informed consultation is required under the International Labour Organization’s Convention 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples, which Guatemala ratified in 1996.

The defendant in the case was the Ministry of Energy and Mines, not the company, the Solway Investment Group’s press office noted. “The company received the order to suspend the license on February 4, 2021, and ceased its operating activities at the Fenix mine as of February 5, 2021,” according to the press office.

However, the ferronickel processing plant kept running. Operated by another subsidiary of Solway, Pronico, rather than CGN, the subsidiary whose license was suspended, the plant is now processing ore from other mining operations in the region. Mine opponents say the distinction between the subsidiaries is spurious and argue the suspension should apply to the plant because it is located within the mining license area.

The continuation of mining operations, long after the court rulings, has stoked discontent, as has the government’s management of the pre-consultation process. The Constitutional Court ruling addressed how formally recognized entities ostensibly representing local populations do not necessarily represent or speak for Indigenous peoples. Many Q’eqchi’ residents say that is the case with the pre-consultation dialogue, which includes a formally recognized Indigenous council that mine opponents have argued for years is coopted by mining interests.

“They just self-elect themselves. They were not going to look out for the interests of the people,” said Luis Adolfo Ich, a primary school teacher and community leader whose home was raided on Oct. 27, along with that of his mother, Angélica Choc. Ich is the son of Adolfo Ich Chamán, the community leader killed by the Fenix mine security personnel on Sept. 27, 2009, the same day Chub was shot. Padilla, the former head of security, was also convicted on Jan. 6, 2021, for killing Ich Chamán.

“The state really does not respect the rights of Indigenous peoples,” Ich said in a telephone interview from another part of the country, where he and some other community leaders had fled out of fear for their safety. “A decision was made to organize another ancestral council,” he said.

Two Q’eqchi’ women watch an army truck carrying soldiers drive past along a main street in El Estor during the state of siege. Image courtesy of Sandra Cuffe.

On Jan. 30, traditional local authorities, elders, midwives, fishermen, community leaders and other Q’eqchi’ residents from around the municipality gathered in El Estor at an assembly to form a new Q’eqchi’ ancestral authorities council. They elected representatives, including Ich, from several dozen communities. Ever since, they have been unsuccessfully attempting to get the Guatemalan government to recognize the council for inclusion in the pre-consultation process.

The Ministry of Energy and Mines held the first pre-consultation dialogue meeting Sept. 28 in Puerto Barrios, 120 km (75 mi) from El Estor. Thirty-eight representatives from 13 national and local government institutions, universities, the CGN mining company, and the controversial Indigenous council participated. The Q’eqchi’ ancestral council was excluded and called a protest that began Oct. 4 on the main road into El Estor, refusing passage to vehicles related to mining activities, and in particular trucks hauling ore out and bringing in coal needed to fuel the processing facilities. The protesters stood their ground for two and a half weeks, demanding inclusion in the pre-consultation process and the suspension of the mine’s processing plant operations.

Police and company officials attempted to persuade the protesters to clear the road and allow coal trucks to pass, but were turned away. On Oct. 22, police moved in, using force and tear gas to disperse people and clear the road. Police officers later escorted coal trucks heading to the Fenix mine complex, running alongside them to ensure their passage.

Maya Q’eqchi’ residents of El Estor watch as riot police fire tear gas at the previous May 27, 2017 protests on the Fenix mine. Image courtesy of Sandra Cuffe.

Dozens of raids and a monthlong crackdown

During the crackdown, four police officers were shot in the leg. They are recovering at home, a national police spokesperson told Mongabay. Q’eqchi’ mine opponents told Mongabay that some protesters threw rocks at police but that any armed assailants who shot at police were not involved in any way in the protest. The Guatemalan government issued a public statement Oct. 24, accusing the protesters of shooting police officers “after 17 days of illegal blockades by a small group of people who it is assumed do not live in the area.”

Cristián Xol was one of the El Estor residents there, including on the day in question. “I participated but it was a really peaceful protest,” said the 25-year-old. When police cracked down, the situation became chaotic and there were shots fired, but not by protesters at the action led by Q’eqchi’ community leaders, he said.

At least two of the several pro-mine Facebook accounts sharing local news insinuated Xol may have shot police, in a post that included three unrelated photographs: one of Xol, one of someone else with a gun, and one of guns. Police had a screenshot of the Facebook post in hand when they raided Xol’s home looking for guns, he said.

Finding weapons was also the key aim of a previous search warrant covering nine other properties. “Find firearms, homemade weapons, vehicles reported stolen and objects of unlawful origin,” reads an instruction emphasized in bold, underlined, and upper case on the final page of the warrant.

The raid on the Xol family home occurred a week after the government’s declaration of a 30-day state of siege in the municipality of El Estor. However, news of the Oct. 23 decree did not surface until the following morning. Under the dictatorship-era Public Order Law, Guatemala has five kinds of states of emergency — prevention, alarm, calamity, siege, and war — under which some constitutional rights and freedoms can be suspended and military involvement warranted.

Soldiers descend from an army truck parked in a block along the Lake Izabal shore that the military is using as a staging area during the state of siege in El Estor, Guatemala. Image courtesy of Sandra Cuffe.

By law, the military is now in charge of civilian authorities in El Estor for the duration of the state of siege, though spokespersons for the Ministry of Defense and National Civilian Police both told Mongabay that in reality it is a very coordinated, interinstitutional effort. Freedoms of assembly and movement are restricted and a curfew from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. is in place. The constitutional rights to legal detention and legal interrogation are suspended.

“This is a textbook intervention,” said Iduvina Hernández, executive director of the Association for the Study of Security in Democracy. “It is a pattern of systematic actions to halt the progress of the Q’eqchi’ resistance in El Estor.”

Roughly 600 police officers and 300 military personnel are currently in El Estor, according to the spokespersons for the two institutions. So far, police have carried out more than 40 raids and more than 60 arrests, according to the police spokesperson.

Some El Estor residents say they’re relieved the government declared a state of siege. “When there is a state of siege, one can sleep a little easier. There are many gang members that break into houses to steal,” a woman told Mongabay early one morning shortly after the curfew lifted while she fished from the edge of a lakeshore block the military was using as a staging area. She requested anonymity, citing potential retaliation from local criminals.

“The mine has brought quite a lot of development to the town,” she said, holding the line she had baited with pieces of tortilla to catch small fish for consumption. She also sells cosmetic products and said the wives of mine and plant workers are good clients, adding that workers spend their wages at local businesses. “Blockades affect the population,” she said of the recent protests. “They are people who do not want to work.”

A woman who supports the mine and state of siege in El Estor holds a fish she just caught from a little concrete pier along the Lake Izabal shore. Image courtesy of Sandra Cuffe.

While Mongabay was in El Estor, a few dozen people had traveled to Guatemala City to rally in favor of mining and the state of siege. At least one protest sign was already requesting the government to extend the state of siege for another 30 days. “The residents of El Estor collected more than 1,300 signatures on open letters of gratitude to the police, the Ministry of the Interior, and the President of Guatemala,” according to Solway’s press office, which added that neither it nor its subsidiaries had requested the police presence or state of siege.

National and international human rights organizations, on the other hand, have condemned the police crackdown on protests, the state of siege, raids, and attacks on local press. “The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) condemns the use of excessive force against protesters and members of Maya Q’eqchi’ communities as well as acts of repression against journalists and media outlets recorded in recent days in the municipality of El Estor,” the IACHR wrote Nov. 4 in a Spanish-language statement. 

Local press targeted

The local Xyaab’ Tzuultaq’a community radio station was a target on Oct. 24, day one of the state of siege. It broadcasts almost exclusively in the Q’eqchi’ language and is a means of news, communication and coordination for communities throughout El Estor, some of which do not have cellphone reception or even electricity. In some Q’eqchi’ areas, many people, especially women and elders, speak little or no Spanish.

“Companies have a hatred for the radio,” said Robin Macloni, executive director of Defensoría Q’eqchi’, a nonprofit local rights group linked to the volunteer-run radio it helped get off the ground in 2017. In practice, though, “the radio is the hands of ancestral authorities,” Macloni said. During the October protests, Q’eqchi’ council members used the radio to let people know which communities had turns maintaining the protest camp on which days, as they were taking rotating shifts around the clock.

When police cracked down on the protests, Defensoría Q’eqchi’ and Xyaab’ Tzuultaq’a knew they would be targeted. On the morning of Oct. 24, they read the state of siege decree on air, announced they would have to suspend broadcasting, and removed all the transmission equipment from the building, Macloni said. Police did not raid the station as no one was present at the property.

Two days later, police raided the homes of local journalists Juan Bautista Xol and Carlos Ernesto Choc. As local correspondents for Prensa Comunitaria, an independent community-based digital publication, they had been covering the protests and crackdowns, later becoming targets of police violence in the mix. Since the raids, their relatives have reported being followed, questioned and surveilled by uniformed police officers as well as unmarked gray pickup trucks with tinted windows.

At the local prosecutor’s office in El Estor, human rights lawyer, Francisco Vivar, and Q’eqchi’ journalist, Carlos Ernesto Choc, speak out against attacks on the local press. Image courtesy of Sandra Cuffe.

“Human rights defenders and especially journalists [like Choc] who have denounced this situation … are at high risk,” Francisco Vivar, a lawyer with the Center for Human Rights Legal Action, said in early November outside the local prosecutor’s office in El Estor, where he was accompanying Choc.

Choc had fled El Estor for safety but had to sign a registry at the prosecutor’s office every month as part of his bail conditions. Four years ago, Choc had reported on El Estor small-scale fishers’ guild protests against the mine and was later criminalized alongside several fishermen. This included guild president Cristóbal Pop, whose home was also raided during the state of siege, and former guild vice president Eduardo Bin, who was arrested during the state of siege on an old, expired arrest warrant. He was later released.

Fears for Guatemala’s largest lake

Fishermen have noted changes and fish stock depletion for years in Lake Izabal. In 2017, a red patch of discolored water appeared in the lake, and the fishers’ guild blamed the mine, filed a formal complaint, and organized protests. With a surface area of 590 square kilometers (228 square miles), Lake Izabal sustains local livelihoods but also important ecosystems and protected areas home to diverse fish, bird, reptile and mammal species, including the endangered Guatemalan black howler monkey (Alouatta pigra). The lake itself, which drains into the Caribbean, is also home to a population of manatees (Trichechus manatus), the symbol of the town of El Estor.

El Estor residents, particularly women and children, bait fishing line with pieces of tortilla and bread to catch small fish from the Lake Izabal shore. Image courtesy of Sandra Cuffe.

Government studies have shown that “90% of the water pollution is generated not by the company’s operations but by the local communities residing along the Polochic River [that feeds into Lake Izabal]. The company’s contribution to the water pollution is minimal,” Solway wrote in a 2017 public statement. The company does not discharge any type of waste water and “carries out the most extensive environmental monitoring of water quality in Lake Izabal in the region,” the company’s press office told Mongabay.

Many Q’eqchi’ fishermen and community members do not trust the company or government. A private Guatemalan university, Universidad del Valle, was conducting research in the area when Solway acquired the Fenix project. The following year, in 2012, three biology students were killed on mining company property while monitoring crocodiles and taking water samples as part of a university-company exchange program. In 2019, a court convicted a CGN mining company biologist of culpable homicide and found CGN civilly responsible. The sentence was overturned in September 2021 and the legal battle continues.

The deaths fed local perceptions of mining pollution and a cover-up. “In the future we will see the consequences,” Luis Adolfo Ich said of all the mining and oil palm industry operations around the lake. “The struggle of the ancestral authorities and the guild is to protect the lake from pollution.”

Maya Q’eqchi’ fishermen set out on Lake Izabal shortly after the curfew lifts. Image courtesy of Sandra Cuffe.

Fishers’ guild protests in El Estor in May 2017 blocked the road leading to the Fenix mine, and riot police cracked down on May 27, firing tear gas and some live rounds. Local Q’eqchi’ fisherman Carlos Maaz was shot in the chest and killed, one of the latest in a long list of people killed in connection with the mine.

In 1965, a military dictatorship granted mining rights to EXMIBAL, a 50:50 joint venture between the Guatemalan government and Canada’s International Nickel Company (INCO). EXMIBAL’s operations took place during the 1960-1996 armed conflict between leftist guerrillas and the state. The military committed the first large-scale massacre of civilians in 1978 in Panzós, 26 miles west of El Estor, where Q’eqchi’ villagers were protesting for rights to their traditional lands, a massive swathe of which had been given to EXMIBAL.

Mining company personnel shot some El Estor community residents while they were on their way to the Panzós protest, according to a United Nations-backed truth commission into crimes against humanity during the armed conflict. A congressman and another member of an ad-hoc committee investigating EXMIBAL’s acquisitions were assassinated in 1970 and 1971.

Over time, EXMIBAL became CGN and Guatemala’s 50% stake decreased to 1%. In the 2000s, there were waves of evictions and crackdowns while the project was owned by Skye Resources and then Hudbay Minerals, both Canadian companies that tried to get the project up and running. Solway acquired the Fenix project in 2011 and restarted production in 2014.

“Responsible Mining” reads a sign in 2007 at the Fenix mine owned by CGN, then a subsidiary of Skye Resources, a Canadian company. Image courtesy of Sandra Cuffe.

“The story remains unchanged. It is the same,” said Olga Che, treasurer of El Estor’s small-scale fishers’ guild, a member of the new Q’eqchi’ authorities council, and a prominent figure at the recent protests. “The history of the armed conflict remains unchanged.”

In 1980, when Che was 2 years old, the military showed up and took away her father, who was never seen again. He was a very active member of the Catholic church at a time when the military government was targeting church figures openly sympathetic to human rights and land rights struggles. Che’s father is one of an estimated 45,000 people who disappeared during the armed conflict.

“We do not know if he is alive, if he is dead, or if they threw him somewhere. Who knows,” Che told Mongabay.

When soldiers and police showed up outside Che’s mother’s house on Oct. 26, lining the block, she was reminded of the incident in 1980 when the military took her husband. She has been unwell ever since the raid, said Che, whose own home was also raided while she and her husband and kids were at her mother’s place. Police dug holes in the dirt floor of the home.

A police officer threatened Che’s 11-year-old daughter with a beating and another grabbed her 8-year-old son by the arms, telling them to “tell the truth” about weapons on the property, Che said. Police also stole and ate tamales from the kitchen, according to the family. Che also said she and her husband were coerced into signing the written record drawn up at the end of the raid without getting a chance to read it.

Olga Che, a community leader in El Estor and local fishers’ guild treasurer, sits outside her mother’s home, where she and her family were staying when it was raided. Image courtesy of Sandra Cuffe.

Those claims are false, according to the national police spokesperson, who said that personnel from the prosecutor’s office were on site along with police during raids. Had something like that occurred, residents should have filed a formal complaint with the prosecutor’s office or the police’s inspectorate-general, the spokesperson told Mongabay, adding that “anything like that would not have been tolerated.”

While Che discussed the raid, 182 km (113 mi) away in another department, the Ministry of Energy and Mines wrapped up the third and final meeting of the pre-consultation process concerning the Fenix mine. None of the meetings took place in El Estor, and two of the three were held during the ongoing state of siege. The actual consultation process, consisting of an informational phase and then “intercultural dialogue,” is set to begin during the state of siege and wrap up in December.

“If they do not listen to us we have the right to protest,” Che said. “I was there to defend our mountains and to defend our lake.”

Editor’s note: Sandra Cuffe has voluntarily contributed to and written for Prensa Comunitaria, including reporting fishers’ guild protests and the killing of Carlos Maaz in May 2017. She has sent photos and videos of other events.

Banner image: A group of riot police advance at the outset of a crackdown on a May 27, 2017, fishers guild protest over Lake Izabal pollution they associate with the mine. Image courtesy of Sandra Cuffe.

Indigenous Leaders Hail Biden’s Proposed Chaco Canyon Drilling Ban as ‘Important First Step’

Indigenous Leaders Hail Biden’s Proposed Chaco Canyon Drilling Ban as ‘Important First Step’

Editor’s note: We would hope that this action would be a turning point where the United States stops its management planning philosophy of “natural resources” and focuses on the protection of all living beings. Yet how tenative only 10-mile buffer for only 20 years and does not include all extractive industries. Basically less than undoing what Trump illegally did. After all they still have the Gulf of Mexico.


This story first appeared in Common Dreams.

“We are most hopeful that this action is a turning point where the United States natural resource management planning philosophy focuses on the protection of all living beings.”

November 15, 2021

A coalition of Southwestern Indigenous leaders on Monday applauded President Joe Biden and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland following the announcement of a proposed 20-year fossil fuel drilling ban around the sacred Chaco Canyon in northwestern New Mexico—even as the administration prepares to auction off tens of millions of acres in the Gulf of Mexico for oil and gas extraction later this week.

“While there is still work to be done, these efforts to safeguard tribes and communities will be essential to protect the region from the disastrous effects of oil and gas development.”

“Chaco Canyon is a sacred place that holds deep meaning for the Indigenous peoples whose ancestors lived, worked, and thrived in that high desert community,” Haaland—the first Native American Cabinet secretary in U.S. history—said in a statement Monday.

“Now is the time to consider more enduring protections for the living landscape that is Chaco, so that we can pass on this rich cultural legacy to future generations,” she added. “I value and appreciate the many tribal leaders, elected officials, and stakeholders who have persisted in their work to conserve this special area.”

Carol Davis, executive director of the group Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment (Diné CARE), asserted that “the people in the Greater Chaco Landscape live by this maxim: What you do to the Earth; you do to the people.”

“Today President Biden is not just protecting and healing the earth and sky, he is protecting and healing the people,” she added. “We are most hopeful that this action is a turning point where the United States natural resource management planning philosophy focuses on the protection of all living beings.”

According to the Greater Chaco Coalition:

The Greater Chaco region is a living and ancient cultural landscape. A thousand years ago, Chaco Canyon in northern New Mexico was the ceremonial and economic center of the Chaco Cultural Landscape, an area encompassing more than 75,000 square miles of the Southwest in New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, and Utah and sacred to Indigenous peoples.

Today, Chaco Canyon in northwestern New Mexico is a National Park and UNESCO World Heritage Site, considered one of the most important archaeological sites in the Americas, yet the vast majority of the area is leased to oil and gas activities. Indigenous people, primarily Pueblo and Navajo (Diné) peoples, sacred cultural sites, precious water resources, and the area’s biodiversity are all under a grave and growing threat from fracking.

“For over a century, the federal government has quite literally treated the Greater Chaco Landscape like a national energy sacrifice zone,” the coalition continued. “The region has been victim to large-scale resource exploitation, which includes a history of Navajo displacement and land repatriation that has carved the Greater Chaco Landscape into a complex checkerboard of federal, state, private, and Navajo allotment land.”

“A maze of federal and state agencies control the area, which has allowed oil, gas, and mining companies to exploit layers of law, regulations, and oversight agencies,” it added. “A recent boom of industrialized fracking across New Mexico has made it the second-biggest oil producer in the United States, with more than 91% of available lands in the Greater Chaco area leased for fracking.”

Diné Allottees Against Oil Exploitation (DAoX) said that “we and our heirs greatly welcome the action by President Biden to not just protect the 10-mile buffer surrounding the Chaco Canyon National Historic Park boundaries but to protect the Greater Chaco Landscape in its entirety. Our rights as landowners, our trustee relationship with the federal government, as well as our communities’ public health, has been greatly impacted by oil and gas industry fracking, alongside other extractive industries in the area, for decades.”

The group continued:

Because of the absence of free, prior, and informed consent, nearly all of the rubber-stamping actions from federal management agencies across the Greater Chaco Landscape are textbook examples of the absence of meaningful tribal engagement, and represent the impacts of environmental and institutional racism. We were not adequately informed and did not consent to more than 40,000 oil and gas wells that already litter the Greater Chaco region.

The oil and gas industry is second to none when it comes to disrespecting tribal communities, furthering institutional and environmental racism against our people and across this landscape. Most reprehensible was the fact that federal agencies facilitated the destruction and contamination of our communities while a global pandemic raged.

“This federal racist injustice cannot be forgotten. President Biden and Secretary Haaland’s actions today start to turn this racist status quo on its head,” DAoX added. “We feel that the racial injustice that has been perpetrated on our communities has caused the coming of an unavoidable reckoning to the people who knowingly permitted the destruction of our communities.”

Raena Garcia, fossil fuels and lands campaigner at Friends of the Earth, called the administration’s Chaco Canyon announcement “an important first step towards permanent protection.”

“While there is still work to be done, these efforts to safeguard tribes and communities will be essential to protect the region from the disastrous effects of oil and gas development,” she added.

The Interior Department’s announcement arrives as the Biden administration—which has come under fire from Indigenous and environmental leaders for approving more fossil fuel drilling projects on public lands than either of its two predecessors—prepares to auction off more than 80 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico for fossil fuel extraction on Wednesday.

The lease sale will take place just days after the president pleaded with world leaders for “every nation to do its part” to combat the climate emergency at the recently concluded United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland.

“It’s hard to imagine a more dangerous, hypocritical action in the aftermath of the climate summit,” Kristen Monsell, a lawyer for the Center for Biological Diversity, told ABC News. “Holding this lease sale will only lead to more harmful oil spills, more toxic climate pollution, and more suffering for communities and wildlife along the Gulf Coast.”

Banner image: source (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Three Indigenous delegates talk COP26 and what’s missing in Canada’s climate efforts

Three Indigenous delegates talk COP26 and what’s missing in Canada’s climate efforts

Editor’s note: You don’t have to be indigenous to love the land you live on but it certainly gives moral authority. And in the fight against settler colonialism gives a much greater legitimate claim to virtue. They don’t even follow their own rules. Broken Treaties.

This story first appeared in The Narwhal.

Indigenous Peoples bear the brunt of environmental inaction — and sometimes action. The Narwhal speaks to three women on what they hope to address at the UN climate change summit in Glasgow

Nuskmata wants to combat myths about mining in Canada.

This is one of her goals at the United Nations climate summit in Glasgow.

Nuskmata, mining spokesperson for Nuxalk Nation, spoke to The Narwhal from her home in British Columbia prior to leaving for the summit, also known as the 26th annual meeting of the Conference of Parties (COP26) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

She said she wants to centre solutions around Indigenous governance and emphasize how Indigenous Peoples are bearing the burden of climate policies, even well-intentioned ones like switching to electrification and renewable energy — that still requires mining precious metals, she said.

“You can’t be sacrificing Indigenous Peoples and clean water in order to get solar panels,” she said.

“It’s not just swapping out oil and gas. It’s about changing the system so that it’s sustainable for everybody.”

Nuskmata is one of many Indigenous delegates at COP26 determined to pursue Indigenous solutions, along with debunking myths and adding context to Canada’s global commitments.

She said she also hopes to deliver a message that mining “is not a green solution” to the climate crisis.

At COP26, the more than 100 countries in attendance will update their 2015 Paris Agreement commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, intended to meet the urgent need to limit global warming to 1.5 C. This will require profound changes, as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a sobering report in August which found Earth could exceed the 1.5 C warming limit by the early 2030s if we don’t curb emissions. To stay below 2 C warming, countries have to meet net-zero emissions around 2050, the report found.

Already in Scotland, nearly all countries have signed a deal committing to end deforestation by 2030, including Canada — though logging here is seen as renewable and therefore not affected by the deal. Delegates have pledged $1.7 billion in funding to Indigenous Peoples, recognizing the critical role they play in forest conservation.

On Monday Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pledged to cap and then cut emissions from Canada’s oil and gas sector, repeating one of his 2021 campaign promises. But according to a new report from Environmental Defence Canada and Oil Change International, oil and gas producers only have vague commitments that rely on carbon-capture technology.

Some critics say COP26 is excluding Indigenous leaders from key parts of the international discussions. Regional Chief of the British Columbia Assembly of First Nations Terry Teegee said in a public statement “there is a noticeable failure to include First Nations while negotiating the collective future of our planet internationally and locally.”

Read the full article at The Narwhal.

Banner image: Nuskmata is one of three Indigenous women The Narwhal spoke to about the message they’re bringing to COP26 in Glasgow.

Uncontacted tribe’s land invaded and destroyed for beef production

Uncontacted tribe’s land invaded and destroyed for beef production

This article originally appeared in Survival International.

Featured image: Piripkura men Baita and Tamandua, photographed during an encounter with a FUNAI unit. The two men, who are uncle and nephew, have had sporadic interactions with the local FUNAI team, but returned to live in the forest.
© Bruno Jorge

New overflight photos have revealed that the land of one of the world’s most vulnerable uncontacted tribes is being illegally invaded and destroyed for beef production.

The land invasion now underway is in flagrant violation of a 6-month Land Protection Order issued in September which bans all outsiders from the Piripkura Indigenous Territory.

Only two members of Brazil’s Piripkura tribe are known to live in the territory, though others are also believed to live there, having retreated to the depths of the forest. Many Piripkura have been killed in past massacres.

The overflight was conducted last month for the “Uncontacted or Destroyed” campaign and petition organized by COIAB (the Coordinating Body of Indigenous Organizations of the Brazilian Amazon) and OPI (the Observatory for the Human Rights of Uncontacted and Recently Contacted Indigenous Peoples), with the support of APIB (Articulação dos Povos Indígenas do Brasil), ISA (Instituto Socioambiental) and Survival International.

The campaign has just released a dossier “Piripkura: an indigenous territory being destroyed for beef production.“ It’s revealed:

– Land clearances for cattle ranching have now reached an area where the uncontacted Piripkura are known to live.

– Roads, fencing and even an airstrip have been constructed, and hundreds of cattle brought in.

– The rate of deforestation in the territory has “exploded” – by more than 27,000% in the last two years.

OPI has also released a report on the invasion of the Piripkura lands. Their research has revealed that the Piripkura’s is now the most deforested uncontacted indigenous territory in Brazil. More than 12,000 hectares has already been destroyed.

The Uncontacted or Destroyed campaign highlights several uncontacted territories currently shielded by Land Protection Orders which are due to expire soon.

The only contacted Piripkura, a woman known as Rita, recently told Survival in a unique video appeal that outsiders operating illegally inside her people’s territory could soon kill her relatives, and described how nine of her relatives were massacred in one attack.

Sarah Shenker, head of Survival’s Uncontacted Tribes campaign, said today: “There could be no greater proof of the total impunity – indeed, active support – that land invaders enjoy under President Bolsonaro than this: commercial ranching operations in a vitally important indigenous territory that’s supposed to be protected by law. The invaders are fast approaching the uncontacted Piripkura. They’re resisting with all their might, and so must we. Only a major public outcry can prevent the genocide of the Piripkura and other uncontacted tribes. And an added bonus? A far cheaper and more effective way to protect Amazon rainforest than the fatal ‘solutions’ pushed by governments at COP.”

Elias Bigio of OPAN said today: “That area we flew over has been newly-cleared for beef production. They’ve already logged it, now they’re turning it into pasture for cattle.”

OPI said: “The Indigenous Territory and the Piripkura are extremely threatened. It’s the same thing that’s happened in other uncontacted tribes’ territories – the destruction is the ‘Bolsonaro Effect’, as it’s accelerated since 2019.”