“Our land, our rights, our peace”

Nenita Conduz is small in stature and pregnant with her third child. She is also courageous and defiant.

This tiny mother is leading her Subanen people in the struggle to defend their ancestral land in the southern Philippines, where a Canadian owned mining company is harming their land, their community and their way of life.

Because of her commitment to speak truth, Nenita lives under constant threat.

Nenita Conduz

Nenita Conduz. Photo courtesy Antonio Nercua Ablon

Nenita recently visited Canada, as one member of a delegation of 5 leaders from the Philippines, bringing a message of how Canadian mining companies are harming their land and their communities. The delegation met with government officials on Parliament Hill and did a speaking tour of major cities, calling for respect of “our land, our rights, our peace.” I heard Nenita speak in Winnipeg.

The delegation’s visit was sponsored by KAIROS, an ecumenical social justice coalition, of which MCC is a member. KAIROS has been advocating for years for accountability mechanisms for Canadian extractive companies overseas as part of a wider Open for Justice campaign. Canada is a global leader in international extractive industry; but has very weak mechanisms to hold mining companies to human rights and environmental standards.

The Subanen people – one of numerous Indigenous groups in the Philippines – lives on the Zamboanga Peninsula of Mindanao Island in the southern part of the country. Zamboanga is rich in natural resources; it is also one of the most militarized regions in the country.

The Subanen have received certification of their ancestral domain, with the attending right of free, prior and informed consent to any extractive activities on their land. But this has not stopped foreign corporations from accessing the mineral resources or for using armed force to put down the resistance of the Subanen people.

Nenita focused her critique on Calgary-based TVI Pacific and its Philippine subsidiary TVIRD, which is extracting copper from Subanen land. According to her testimony, as well as the findings of a KAIROS delegation to the Philippines in 2014, the company began its operations without the due process of free, prior and informed consent.  Moreover, its arrival in the community coincided with the cancellation of business permits for small scale mining operations, the deployment of armed “security” personnel, and the escalation of widespread human rights violations.

Nenita 3

Philippine delegation with KAIROS hosts. Photo/KAIROS

The reported human rights violations include: extrajudicial killings, illegal detention, kidnappings, destruction of property, homes and livelihoods, forcible eviction, as well as threats, harassment and intimidation. Thousands of people have been affected.

Nenita herself is continually being watched and harassed and is currently not able to return to her home because of fears she could be assassinated.

But this courageous woman refuses to be silenced. “Defending our ancestral land is of prime importance to us,” she says. “We cannot live without our land.”

She notes that land is not just a place for the Subanen people to live. The land defines their life, their health, the social fabric of their community, and their very identity.

Nenita is aware that the struggle of the Subanen people is part of a global struggle by Indigenous peoples seeking to protect lands that are coveted by governments and corporations for their forests, waters and minerals.

“We are calling for respect for Indigenous peoples rights,” she insists. “We hope our efforts to expose what is happening in the Philippines will touch people’s hearts and minds and lead to support for the global struggle.”

open-for-justice-logo-temp-TRANS.PSDThe Open for Justice campaign, which MCC supports, urges the Canadian federal government to take action in two specific ways:

  • to appoint an independent ombudsperson mandated to monitor Canadian extractive operations overseas, to investigate complaints and to take action where needed to uphold human rights (current mechanisms are voluntary and ineffectual); and
  • to allow access to Canadian courts for non-Canadians who have been harmed by the international operations of Canadian companies.

The recently released federal budget failed to allocate funds for the creation of a human rights ombudsperson.

We owe it to people like courageous Nenita – and Indigenous peoples everywhere – to support their call for “our land, our rights, our peace.”

by Esther Epp-Tiessen, Public Engagement Coordinator for the Ottawa Office

Another effort to hold mining companies to account

Rumour has it that the federal budget may come down sooner rather than later. Civil society organizations are hoping to see some positive policy signals when it’s tabled—from more money committed to international development, to the establishment of a federal ombudsperson for the extractives sector (the mining, oil and gas industry).

Establishing an ombudsperson with the power to investigate Canadian mining companies implicated in wrongdoing abroad is something experts have advised the government on since 2007.

Liberals supported the idea of an ombudsperson while they were in Opposition (in fact, four of the five political parties have supported it), and there has been chatter around Ottawa for the last few months that they’ve been “seriously reviewing” the creation of such a position.

This is welcome news.

Home to the majority of the world’s mining companies, Canada is a superpower in the global extractives industry, with thousands of active projects in more than 100 countries.

Marlin Mine

The Marlin Mine in San Marcos, Guatemala is owned by Canadian mining giant Goldcorp. MCC photo by Anna Vogt

Unfortunately, Canadian mining companies have a mixed record. While mining has the potential to bring socioeconomic benefits to a host country, jobs are often short-lived, financial benefits to the economy meager (particularly in mining-rich areas), and communities not consulted. As our partners have told us, mining often displaces communities, destroys agricultural land, contaminates water, exacerbates social tensions, and leaves long-term ecological damage in its wake. What’s more, people who defend their rights often lack protection and are even targeted by threats of violence.

To promote the industry, the Canadian government provides strong diplomatic and financial support to mining companies in a variety of ways. And although the government has now implemented mandatory revenue disclosure requirements for mining, oil, and gas companies—something MCC actively supported—most of the accountability mechanisms in Canada are entirely voluntary in nature.

For this reason, Canada’s Corporate Social Responsibility strategy has been widely critiqued by civil society actors (and the UN) as falling short of what is needed to hold mining companies accountable to human rights, labour, and environmental standards.

How do people harmed by the overseas operations of Canadian extractive companies seek redress?

Currently, Canada has two mechanisms that can receive complaints by local communities—the Corporate Social Responsibility Counsellor (2009), and the OECD National Contact Point (2000).

From the outset, these mechanisms have been widely criticized as being toothless—lacking in independence, investigatory powers, and the ability to recommend sanctions for non-compliance. And, given that neither mechanism can obligate companies to participate (a rather significant problem!), they have not proven effective in resolving cases or curbing corruption.

Enter the Open for Justice Campaign—an initiative of the Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability (CNCA), KAIROS, Development aopen-for-justice-logo-temp-TRANS.PSDnd Peace, and others. This campaign calls for the establishment of an independent extractives-sector ombudsperson, as well as legislated access to Canadian courts for people seriously harmed by overseas mining operations (which is really gaining steam, thanks to recent high-profile court decisions).

Last spring, over 50 Canadian civil society organizations, including MCC, became signatories to a public statement that echoed these calls.

An effective ombudsperson—operating at arms length from the government—would have the power to investigate complaints, recommend the suspension of government support to companies found in non-compliance, and be mandated to perform these functions regardless of a company’s willingness to participate.

In the fall, the CNCA even launched model legislation—the Global Leadership in Business and Human Rights Actto provide the blueprint for creating such a non-judicial grievance mechanism.

Not only would this provide access-to-remedy for affected communities, but it could benefit companies in the long-run (we’ve even seen some pro-ombudsperson commentary from industry!). When extractive projects generate conflict, unless community grievances are effectively resolved, companies risk operating delays and negative publicity.

Through this, and other effective mechanisms that put human rights at the centre of the government’s approach, Canada can help facilitate an operating environment where responsible business practices are recognized and rewarded.

Of course, a more comprehensive review of the government’s CSR strategy would be welcomed. Given Canada’s status as a global mining power, it ought to be part of a rigorous foreign policy debate.

In the meantime, please let your MP know that you support the establishment of an independent and effective ombudsperson office to oversee Canadian mining, oil and gas projects abroad

By Jenn Wiebe, MCC Ottawa Office Director

A new era of accountability in Canadian mining, or business as usual?

Change often comes slowly, if at all. At least that’s what we’re told, especially when it involves the impact of advocacy on government policies and practices.

Ken Battle, President of the Caledon Institute of Social Policy, coined the term “relentless incrementalism” to describe the often slow-moving nature of advocacy. Advocacy is often a laborious task requiring endless patience, as we often see only little droplets of change at a time.

But what happens when it is clear that a government has no intention of moving forward on particular legislation or actions that would bring about change?

This appears to be the case when it comes to enacting tougher accountability laws and standards for Canadian companies operating at home and abroad—something civil society advocates have long been calling for.

Marlin Mine

Goldcorp’s Marlin Mine, San Marcos, Guatemala. Photo by Anna Vogt

In terms of global business, Canada is, by a wide margin, home to the majority (75%) of the world’s mining companies. In Latin America, specifically, in the last 10-15 years the proportion of Canadian companies active in exploration and extraction has increased significantly. According to MCC coalition partner the Canadian Council for International Cooperation (CCIC), in the five years between 2002-2007, the proportion of Canadian mining companies operating in the region jumped from 30 to 50 percent. Within certain countries, these numbers are up to 70 percent. Over 500 Canadian companies are active within Latin America, with investments of over $40 billion.

In many of the contexts in which Canadian companies operate, mining activities play a role in fueling violence and exacerbating tensions, damaging the environment, negatively impacting health, and causing community displacement.

In many mining-heavy contexts such as Peru, Colombia, Honduras, Guatemala, and Mexico, countless communities, civil society groups, and human rights defenders have also been threatened or targeted for speaking out against mining projects, particularly when the government has a vested interest in the profits.

colombia-march-620

Citizens of Bucaramanga, Colombia defend their water supply from a Canadian-owned gold-mining project, 2013. Photo courtesy Pastor Virviescas Gómez / CBC.

Further, in many countries legal and illegal armed groups have a stake in the mining industry, either because they offer direct security services to mining companies or because they profit from the trafficking of natural resources. There have been many notable instances—Hudbay Minerals’ abuses in Guatemala, for example—in which the local security forces hired to protect mining projects are accused of carrying out violence and human rights abuses against nearby communities. When it comes to trafficking, in a context such as Colombia there have been reports that some illegal armed groups have abandoned the production and trafficking of illicit crops as a means to fund their operations in favour of controlling mining projects instead.

Companies fall under the laws and regulations of the countries in which they operate. Proponents of tougher corporate social responsibility, however, point to the weaker legal frameworks of host governments when it comes to things like environmental protection, working conditions, and transparency of financial reporting. And, even when the laws exist on paper, the lack of robust enforcement and broken judicial systems make them virtually meaningless.

Most of what the Canadian government has put in place when it comes to corporate social responsibility standards has been voluntary in nature and ineffective for holding companies accountable.

For instance, the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Counsellor, a position established in 2009 under the previous government to assess and mediate complaints about Canadian companies committing abuses abroad, has been widely criticized as having a mandate with little-to-no power. In addition to the process being entirely voluntary for companies, the counsellor has no civil or criminal powers of enforcement, nor can he/she impose remedy or issue sanctions against a company.

Reportedly, this mandate apparently will remain unchanged under the new Liberal government, despite earlier promises to the contrary.

In light of these realities, many civil society organizations such as Development and Peace, Mining Watch Canada, KAIROS, and Publish What You Pay are calling for a more robust system of corporate social responsibility in Canada.

open-for-justice-logo-temp-TRANS.PSDOne campaign, named “Open for Justice,” calls for a number of changes to Canada’s framework. This includes an independent ombudsman with the power to monitor, investigate and impose economic and legal sanctions on Canadian mining companies that violate clearly-established environmental or human rights standards. The campaign also demands that Canadian courts be open to hearing and processing complaints from communities where Canadian mining companies are accused of abuses and local judicial systems are broken.

During the fall election campaign, the Liberals promised to establish such an independent ombudsman. This is apparently no longer the case. Will they consider reassessing Canada’s CSR strategy overall to ensure better accountability for the extractives sector?

If Canada’s CSR standards remain unchanged, one has to wonder what kind of impact mining operations will continue to have in Latin America and around the world.

Do we dare to expect, or even hope to see, change on the horizon when it comes to the actions and consequences of Canadian mining operations abroad? Given how important the extractives industry is to Canada, how will values of justice, human rights, and sustainable development play against economic gain?

By Bekah Sears, MCC Ottawa Office Policy Analyst

Hopes and concerns: Canada’s involvement in Haiti

By Rebekah Sears, MCC Ottawa Office policy analyst.

I love watching our Canadian political processes unfold: elections, tracking the promises, critiquing the results, the whole game of politics. In a time of transition – a change in Prime Minister and also a change in the governing party – there are endless things to watch and monitor: who is in charge of what file, what are the governing party’s plans and promises, when can we expect results?

For us at MCC’s Ottawa Office, some of the files in which we are especially interested include those relating to Canada’s role in the world.  All the work related to foreign affairs, international development and trade is now grouped in the newly-christened Global Affairs Canada (GAC), formally the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development (DFATD).

The new Liberal government has promised to “refocus our development assistance on helping the poorest and most vulnerable” (Liberal Party Platform). The platform goes on to accuse the outgoing government of focusing too much on economics and not enough on development. “The [previous] government has shifted its aid priorities to reflect political and commercial interests to the detriment of the needs of the poorest and most fragile countries.”

Haitian cashews

In Mombin Crochu, Haiti, cashew nuts are cooked to be processed into a product that can be transported and sold in larger markets. (MCC photo/José Magloire-van der Vossen)

But the question remains: what will a shift like this really look like on the ground in countries and regions that have been identified as the “most vulnerable” – countries like Haiti?

Haiti has long been a priority for Canada. Successive governments have provided support for rapid onset crisis situations but also for long-term development. Haiti is the least developed country in the Americas, according to the UN’s Human Development Index, and on the global stage ranks 167 out of 187 countries. Haiti continues to be one of the biggest recipients of Canadian humanitarian and development assistance, and Canada is one of its biggest donors.

In the mid-2000s, Canada focused its development assistance on a list of 25 priority countries – selected because of poverty and the possibilities for effective development. Haiti was a prominent member of this list. Strong support for Haiti continued under the Conservative government, even as much of the focus, particularly in the Latin America Caribbean region, shifted to countries that could offer Canada significant opportunities for  free trade and other economic benefits, as opposed to focusing primarily on development.

RS47450_Haiti House of Hope 2015 spring 3-scr

Students practice embroidery in the courtyard of House of Hope, a remedial education program run by MCC partner Ecumenical Foundation for Peace and Justice (FOPJ) in Carrefour Feuilles, Haiti. MCC photo by Lowell Brown.

Some development specialists have referred to Haiti as a bit of an anomaly in terms of Canada’s involvement in the region over the last decade (as it has no free trade agreement with Canada). Nevertheless, given Haiti’s ongoing need, they regard this involvement positively.

Earlier in 2015 the Canadian government committed to at least five more years of in-depth engagement in Haiti. Given the ongoing poverty, under-development and corruption, and the new Liberal government’s development priorities, Haiti will no doubt remain a priority.

However, aside from sweeping general commitments to re-focus Canada’s development work on poverty, there are few specifics to the new government’s plan. What form will this development take? Who will be involved? And who will benefit — specifically in Haiti?

It should be noted that Canada’s involvement in Haiti from the early days to the present has not always been welcome. Accusations are still floating around about Canada’s alleged interference within the Haitian state for our own self-interest (especially in terms of rising wages in the textile industries which would cut into Canadian profits), its involvement in the 2004 coup, as well as its participation in the highly criticized UN peacekeeping mission, MINUSTAH.

In the current context, another significant concern is the role of the mining industry in Haitian development. Both before and after the devastating earthquake of 2010, mining companies, including at least two major Canadian companies (Eurasian Minerals and Newmont Mining), have been seeking contracts for exploration and operations in Haiti.

Haiti visit

Ted and Katharine Oswald, MCC workers in Haiti, visited the Ottawa Office in July 2015.  They are shown here with Bernard Sejour (R), Ottawa Catalyst for Mennonite Conference of Eastern Canada. MCC photo.

Proponents of mining look to the possibilities for development and job creation. However, opponents, including many civil society organizations, fear the consequences on Haiti in general and the areas around the mines in particular. Their concerns include: an already corrupt state; degradation of water, land and other resources; increased violence and persecution of dissidents and human rights defenders; growing inequality and more.

Mining operations in Haiti have been suspended since early 2013 as a new mining law is being drafted. However, as an election process in Haiti slowly unfolds, the Haitian parliament has been suspended for months, causing opponents of mining to worry that a new mining law could be brought in without public debate.

At the same time, the future for Canadian mining operations remains unclear with our new government. Some people speculate the new government will come down harder on Canadian mining companies, enforcing more regulations to ensure as little damage as possible to the local contexts in which they operate. However, trade and economic interests abroad continue to be a major priority for the new government – and mineral imports and trade from Canadian mining operations fall under this overall trade spectrum. Although Canada and Haiti do not share a free trade agreement, general trade priorities are to increase economic opportunities for Canadians. Obviously trade and a focus on economics are important in our globalized world, but context matters in terms of the potential impacts, both positive and negative. As Prime Minister Trudeau noted during the Canadian election campaign,

The Liberal Party of Canada strongly supports free trade, as this is how we open markets to Canadian goods and services, grow Canadian businesses, create good-paying jobs, and provide choice and lower prices to Canadian consumers.

For now, we at MCC’s Ottawa Office — together with our partners in Haiti — are closely watching and waiting to see what Canadian development assistance and economic priorities and actions will look like for countries like Haiti, and beyond.

Donuts and mining: Canadian elections, trade and foreign policy

This week’s guest writer is Anna Vogt, MCC advocacy and policy analyst for the Latin America Caribbean region. She lives in Bogota, Colombia and is from Canada’s Yukon territory. This piece originally appeared on MCC’s Latin America Advocacy Blog.

I was in a grocery store in a small Colombian city the other day, hoping against hoping to find the elusive holy grail of imports: cheddar cheese. While I did not find any cheese, what I did come across was even more unlikely. There, in the middle of the bakery section, were stacks of boxed donuts, each one adorned with a maple leaf sticker proudly proclaiming the contents a Product of Canada.

Just like those donuts, we may not often expect to find Canada in Latin America, yet the longer I live in Latin America, the more I learn of Canadian presence in the region.

The Marlin Mine,  San Marcos, Guatemala.  Photo by Anna Vogt

The Marlin Mine, San Marcos, Guatemala. Photo by Anna Vogt

We are currently in the midst of an election campaign in Canada, but within all the rhetoric, there is not a lot of honest analysis about our policies outside of Canadian borders, especially in the Americas. Part of what it means to be part of an active citizenship, however, is being aware not only how Canada’s policies impact Canadians, but how our policies also impact those living in other parts of the world, such as Latin America.  What Canada does as a country in the rest of the world shapes who we are as Canadians? Elections are a strategic time to think critically about connections and possibilities.

The current government has three goals for its engagement in the American Hemisphere, first outlined in 2007 under the title The Americas: Our Neighbours, Our Priority:

  • Increasing Canadian and hemispheric economic opportunity;
  • Addressing insecurity and advancing freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law; and
  • Fostering lasting relationships.

In practice, these goals have been highly focused on trade and economic policy in the region, implemented through Free Trade Agreements (FTAs). Currently, Canada has Free Trade Agreements with seven countries in Latin America (Honduras, Colombia, Panamá, Perú, Costa Rica, Chile and Mexico) and is in negotiations for five more (Caribbean community, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and the Dominican Republic).

Guatemalan community displaced to build the Marlin Mine. Photo by Anna Vogt.

Guatemalan community displaced to build the Marlin Mine. Photo by Anna Vogt.

Trade can have a positive impact on a society, but if precautions are not taken, engaging in trade with few regulations in countries of conflict or with high levels of human rights violations can increase harm and cause negative social impacts. In the majority of Canadian FTA negotiations, local civil society has spoken out against the agreement because of fear of worsening conditions. Colombia, for example, is the most dangerous country in the world to be a union leader. Civil society worries that the current FTA, which does not adequately monitor its impact on human rights, provides implicit approval for impunity. Also in Colombia, the FTA has opened the doors for assault weapons export–weapons currently banned in Canada–to Colombia, a country that already has over six million internally displaced people because of violence.

Many of our FTAs facilitate Canadian company access to extractive sectors in Latin American countries. These corporations are viewed as the most important actors in generating economic growth, yet there is a concerning lack of accountability, amid accusations of human rights violations and irreparable environmental destruction. Currently, Canadian companies are only responsible for upholding voluntary corporate social responsibility standards. As a recent Globe and Mail article states “Canada is host to 75 per cent of the world’s largest exploration and mining companies, as well as more than 100 medium– to large-sized oil and gas companies, many of which operate in developing countries. Major and minor players in Canada’s extractive industry have been the subject of serious allegations of complicity in grave human rights abuses.”

Small farm near the Marlin Mine. Photo by Anna Vogt.

Small farm near the Marlin Mine. Photo by Anna Vogt.

The Marlin Mine in Guatemala, owned by the Canadian company GoldCorp, is one of the most emblematic for concerns raised about human rights violations, environmental degradation and lack of prior consultation, but it is not unique. In Honduras, for example, Canadian mining has displaced Indigenous groups and contributed to violence, after an FTA was signed after a military-backed coup in 2009.

In fact, laws and regulations currently in place favour the activities of Canadian companies abroad above all other considerations.  A report entitled The Impact of Canadian Mining in Latin America and Canada’s Responsibility, outlines how Canadian companies are taking advantage of, and actively encouraging, weak legal frameworks around extraction in multiple Latin American countries.

It is important to keep in mind that previous governments, from other political parties, have also encouraged similar policies in the past, especially where extractive industries and free trade are concerned. We must hold all parties and candidates to account on these issues.

Let’s make sure, therefore, to ask questions to all parties about their foreign policy platforms when in office, including questions about economic policies. Is trade conditional on human rights standards being met by local governments, or does Canada engage in trade under any condition? How will different parties regulate Canadian companies working abroad accountable to respect human rights and uphold environmental protections?

As a Canadian living in Latin America, I would like Canada to be more known in the region for its donuts than for harmful foreign policy. Sadly, this has not been the case so far, but elections are a great opportunity to raise critical questions and demand change.

Another Canadian gold mine: Barrick Gold and the Indigenous communities of Huasco, Chile

This week’s guest writer is Adrienne Wiebe, staff person for MCC Alberta. A trained anthropologist, Adrienne summarizes the findings of a longer report she undertook for MiningWatch Canada and the Latin American Observatory of Environmental Conflicts (Observatorio Latinoamericano de Conflictos Ambientales or OLCA).

Huasco River valley

The Huasco Valley in the arid Andes Mountains of Chile and the glacier fed river that enables cultivation. Photo by Adrienne Wiebe.

In March of this year, I visited the beautiful Huasco River valley in the Andes Mountains in northern Chile to learn about the impact of a gold mine on the local people and their valley. The mine is operated by Toronto-based Barrick Gold, the largest gold mining company in the world. Straddling the height of the Andes Mountains between Chile and Argentina, the Pascua-Lama site boasts one of the largest reserves of gold and silver ever discovered – an estimated 15.4 million ounces of gold and 675 million ounces of silver.

The mine has been plagued with challenges and controversy since construction began in the late 1990s. Of primary concern has been the negative environmental impact of the project, particularly given the location of mineral reserves underneath and near glaciers that are part of a watershed that serves this fragile but fertile valley. The small glacier-fed river in the valley enables small-scale irrigation and cultivation of food crops and vineyards. Threats to the supply and quality of the water have been the primary concern. Several times over the last 15 years, operations have been halted because of environmental violations. A denunciation by local community groups was accepted by the Inter-American Human Rights Commission in 2009.

Indigenous peoples and social license

A meeting with Diaguita community leaders in the Huasco Valley, Chile to talk about the impact of the Pascua-Lama mine. Photo by Adrienne Wiebe.

A meeting with Diaguita community leaders in the Huasco Valley, Chile to talk about the impact of the Pascua-Lama mine. Photo by Adrienne Wiebe.

Given the generally negative local perception of the mine, Barrick has been focusing in the past ten years on gaining the support of the local Indigenous population. These are people who identify as Diaguita, the traditional Indigenous people in the area, and who represent about half of the current area population. However, until 2006, the Diaguita were not an official “ancestral people” recognized by the Chilean government.

Barrick was involved from the beginning in the process of what the company called “rescuing” Diaguita culture. The company funded cultural classes and documentation and application for Indigenous status for residents. It was also involved in the formation of Indigenous state-recognized community groups.

In May 2014, the company signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with 15 Diaguita  communities that it helped to form. According to Barrick Gold officials, the agreements met the requirements of international guidelines of the rights of Indigenous peoples to consultation, participation, and to set their own development priorities as laid out by the international Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention, (International Labour Organization ILO – No. 169). Barrick felt that this MOU set a new standard for mining companies around the world in their relationships with local Indigenous communities.

A problematic process

Palinay

Palinay, a Diaguita community member, impacted by Barrick’s Pascua Lama gold mine in the Andes Mountains of Chile. Photo by Adrienne Wiebe.

However, local community members presented a different story. Palinay, a Diaguita artisan, objects to the commodification and exploitation of her Indigenous identity:

“We dress up for ceremonies and photos when we sign agreements. We are learning the Quechua language, the language of the Inca Empire, not the local language, because [Barrick brought] someone from the Quechua area who came to teach ceramics and taught people some Quechua words. Those people signing the MOU are a caricature of our culture. Barrick is using Indigenous status to legitimize its presence. We need to make an effort to guard our authentic culture, preserve it, and transmit it to our children.”

Jhon Meléndez, a Diaguita and a spokesperson for the Coalition for Water of Huasco Alto (Asamblea del Agua del Huasco Alto), is a member of a small Diaguita community which was one of the groups that did not sign the MOU with Barrick:

“Although we have lost a lot of our culture, we maintain our traditions. We are not ‘rescuing’ our Indigenous identity, like Barrick says; rather we are ‘preserving’ our identity.”

For many of the local people, Barrick Gold was in a conflict of interest when it utilized its immense resources to finance the registration of Indigenous identity, form government-recognized Indigenous communities, and then sign agreements with these groups.

The result: social conflict

According to the community members I spoke with, the development and approval of the MOU was a confusing process, which lacked transparency, and created social conflict and division. Barrick Gold provided handouts of money to community groups that resulted in accusations of mismanagement, bribery, and cronyism. Because of the conflicts, today there are two or three Indigenous organizations in communities where  previously only one existed.

Since 2013, mining operations at Pascua-Lama have been suspended because of environmental and regulatory compliance issues. In early September 2015, an indefinite halt of operations was announced because of escalating costs (the project has cost more than $5 billion to date), the declining price of gold on the international markets (a price of $1,500 per ounce is needed to make the project feasible), and share-holder dis-satisfaction with performance.

However, while mining operations may have halted for now, the Pascua-Lama mining project has done enduring damage to the social fabric of the valley.

Read the full report published by MiningWatch Canada and OLCA (Observatorio Latinoamericano de Conflictos Ambientales).

“Do you know?” Canada, mining and the global cry of the people

“Do you know?” asked Jennifer Henry, the Executive Director of KAIROS at a recent symposium entitled Mining Extraction and Justice: The Global Cry of the People. It is a question that has been deliberately directed to her as a Canadian, time after time, by KAIROS’ global partners.

“Do you know:

  • about the prominence of Canadian companies among mining corporations all over the world?
  • about the extent to which mining is impacting our water, health and physical environment?
  • about how the expansion of mining operations has resulted in countless forced displacements and greatly increased danger to community leaders who speak out against the industry?”
A group of Ontario young people stand on the edge of the Marlin Mine in San Marcos, Guatemala. The mine is owned by Goldcorp of Vancouver BC.

A group of Ontario young people stand on the edge of the Marlin Mine in San Marcos, Guatemala. The mine is owned by Goldcorp of Vancouver BC.

These questions hit home for participants in the two-day conference, which tackled  Canada’s prominent role in the mining industry, the impact of mining on the daily lives of affected people at home and around the world, and the possibilities for advancing mining  practices that promote human dignity and care for creation.

One of the principle messages expressed at the conference was the need to humanize the process — and to put a human face at the centre of mining policy and practice. This message was repeated by panelists including representatives from national and international NGOs, churches, communities directly impacted by mining in Canada and abroad, the mining sector, parliamentarians, and academics. Through their presentations, we encountered the human face from Asia to Africa to Latin America and back to Canada.

Having just returned from an MCC term in Latin America, where mining is a contentious issue to say the least, I thought of my own interactions with the stories and the faces touched by mining. During a short stint in Guatemala I visited the Marlin Mine in the western highlands, owned and operated by the Canadian-owned Goldcorp, where I experienced my own “Do you know?” moments.

We met community groups organizing protests to shut down operations due to unfulfilled promises, the lack of development programs and degrading health. We also met a family who had refused to leave their traditional lands and, as a result, were at risk from contaminated water and constant tremors from the mine. In both visits, when the local people requested international action and advocacy, everyone looked at me. I was, after all, the Canadian.

“Do you know?” Do we know about the extent of Canada’s role as a major player within the world of mining? If the answer is yes, we must then ask: “What are we doing about it?”

open-for-justice-logo-temp-TRANS.PSDConfronting the injustice perpetuated by the mining industry can overwhelm us, and make us feel both angry and helpless. But in this Advent season, as we celebrate the coming of Christ and the hope Christ brings, we can look to words of hope from the prophet Isaiah. In chapter 40, Isaiah speaks of God’s promise to comfort his people who are suffering. We also look to Luke 4 where Jesus claims the promises expressed in Isaiah 61: to embody the one who will bring good news to the poor, heal the brokenhearted and set the captives free.

These promises of hope and comfort also call us to action — to draw strength from and find our place within the many initiatives and campaigns already underway to work for mining justice.

Development and Peace, KAIROS and others groups, through the Open for Justice Campaign, are calling for more accountability of mining companies, and the ability of impacted communities to raise concerns publicly, safely and effectively through an ombudsman with real authority to enforce corporate social responsibility. In line with this campaign, and as a reminder of the personal responsibility of consumers, KAIROS invites all of us to join an Advent Campaign, “All I Want for Christmas is Mining Justice.”

AA-14-11-AllIWantForChristmasThe Canadian Mining Association, which was also represented at the symposium, is standing with Canadian NGOs like Publish What You Pay and Oxfam in petitioning the Canadian Government for more open and robust policies to eliminate corruption and help communities in mining areas around the world access promised financial and social benefits.

And then there are the countless efforts, projects and movements directly supporting local communities in mining areas as they demand truth and justice from mining companies and respective governments.

Together, let’s be inspired and stand with The Global Cry of the People, here in Canada and around the world.

Rebekah Sears is policy analyst with the Ottawa Office.