Monday, November 30, 2009

Kill Us But you Will Never Stop Us!

Assassination of a Leader Opposed to Mining Exploitation in Chiapas
Elio Henriquez
Correspondent for “La Jornada”
Saturday 28th November, 2009

On Friday night, 27th , Mariano Abarca Roblero was assassinated by gunshot. Mariano was one of the strongest opposition leaders against mining exploitation by the Canadian mining company Blackfire in the hills of Chiapas, Mexico.

Gustavo Castro, of the Network of Mexicans Affected by Mining (REMA for its initials in Spanish), said that according to those close to Mariano he was assassinated around  8:30 PM in the main part of Chicomuselo, close to the border with Guatemala, by a motorcyclist carrying a high-caliber weapon.

They explained that Abarca Roblero was talking outside of his house with Orlando Velásquez, also a member of REMA-Chipaas, when an unidentified person shot Abarca in the head and the chest. Velásquez was also was wounded and was transported immediately to a hospital en the city of Comitán.

Last August 17th, Mariano Abarca was arraigned by the Prosecutor General of State Justice after he was accused by Blackfire of various charges including organized crime.  Due to a national and international outcry against this injustice, he was freed on the 24th of the same month, where he immediately joined the sit-in with his fellows in the municipal seat of Chicomuselo to press for the immediate removal of the company. At the end of August, the participants in a second meeting of Chiapas members of REMA in Chicomuselo, celebrated his release.

Castro said that the opposition leader in the exploitation of mines had filed a criminal complaint against a man (whose name was not provided) who was supposedly used by Blackfire to incarcerate Mariano in August.  He said that this person had been summoned to appear before the proper authorities yesterday, but the case was postponed until next Thursday.

Gustavo Casrtro put forth his theory that the murder of Mariano Abarca is related to his years of campaigning against mining exploitation.

According to data from REMA, the federal authorities have authorized 54 permissions for mining exploitation to Canadian Companies in their municipalities: to Blackfire extract barite, gold and antimony en more than 10 concessions; Linear Gold Corp, with 24 concessions, mostly gold and some of them granted for 50 years; Frontier Dev. Group with 12 projects, and also with New Gold Inc. with three concessions and Radius Gold with 7, although apparently these last ones have been withdrawn.

28th November 2009

The Mexican Alliance for the People’s Self-determination (AMAP for its initials in Spanish) expresses its condemnation for the assassination of Mariano Abarca Roblero, which occurred the night of the 27th of November in Chicomuselo, Chiapas.  The same attack also resulted in the grave wounding of his companion Orlando Velazquez.

Mariano led a citizen’s resistance in the municipality of Chicomuselo against the Canadian mining company Blackfire and participated actively in REMA (the Mexican Network of People Affected by Mining).  Given his intense activity he was harassed on many occasions ans arbitrarily detained last August, where he was kept for 10 days before being released.

However, the hostility against his person has recently increased.  Only a few days ago he filed formal charges against the Directors of the Blackfire, who had delivered death threats in a public manner and appear to have followed through on them.

AMAP demands that this crime not go unpunished and beseeches to the government of Chiapas led by Juan Sabines that the material and intellectual perpetrators of this crime be prosecuted to the full extent of the law , and that the Attorney General’s office immediately follow the investigations already begun on the denunciation made by Mariano against LUIS ANTONIO FLORES VILLATORO and CIRO ROBLERO PEREZ, the first of these head of public relations for the Blackfire mine, who had publicly threatened to kill Mariano Abarca.

No more crimes against defenders of social justice!  End the criminalization of citizen protest!

For the National Coordinator of AMAP
Carlos Beas Torres

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Who is the Culprit? Shifting of Blames

The world is now faced with what a number of people have termed as “the greatest threat of all time – Climate Change” but I have always wondered whether people take into consideration on what has led to this calamity befalling our beautiful universe. Let’s take the trip together to reflection world...

In the recent past we have heard of a number of pledges from countries, individuals for hefty amounts of money to curb deforestation and cutting down carbon emissions; right from the USA to the palace where Prince Charles sits and now we read,  “US pledges $275m to scheme for reducing deforestation and cutting carbon emissions.”
But there is an element that has been showing an ugly face since mid 2000. That is the shifting on blame where the pastoralism communities largely in Africa and the poor and marginalised communities in the developing countries are blamed to be the sole contributors to the climatic changes. I must state affirmatively that Cattle grazing in Africa has been more friendly to the environmental sustainability for ages that the mass growing of eucalyptus growing.

Craze for Cleaner Environment
Back in 2004 while I worked as a journalist in Tanzania, there were three big issues that emerged as concerns to the Civil Society Organisations (Religious and non-Religious). One was the obsolete stockpiles of DDT in Tanga region, reintroduction of DDT for indoor residual spraying to curb malaria (which I am against to my grave) and government giving out massive chunks of arable land to investors (also known as infesters) to grow plants that are rich in the production of Biofuel and ethane.
The alarm was raised after a number of comparative studies and consultations were conducted. The questions raised at this time which are still valid in my view to date are; who was going to benefit from the Biofuel production in Tanzania, Zambia and other countries in Africa where this project was taking off with the blessings of the international financial institutions? When Biofuel production begins, what type of fuel will be used in taking the work forward fossil fuel or the so advertised and glorified environmental friendly Biofuel? Where will the end user be – in other words where is the market and consumer?
With all these questions in mind, I would like us also to look at the current issue dominating the media limelight. The Northern countries who have played a negative role on the economies of the countries in the so-called ‘third world,’ led in atrocities against humanity and take lead on environment abuse now come around to say that the developing countries are causing climate change when in reality it is not for the safety and welfare of the whole world they are looking for but their own comfort at the disadvantage of the mass. Another question which comes out of all this is, Craze for cleaner

Manage Your Own Mistakes
The political principles adopted by the Northern countries in terms of sovereignty, promotion of patriotism and holding to superpower-complex are interesting but tragic. The interesting part of this is that citizens of the countries involved in atrocities against humanity and abuse of the environment live in oblivion and are proud to be part of that kind of society, the tragic side of it all is the truth that has never been told but well known; that the safe havens and clean atmosphere in the Northern and developed world is founded on the blood of the innocent in the developing countries.
With this in view then, it is time for the western countries to manage their own waste and be responsible for their crimes. There is no point of blaming the pastoral communities for grazing in their own lands and call for reduction of the number of cattle kept by family units in Tanzania and or any other country where pastoralists have their roots just to cover the atrocities committed – led by the craze for superiority. Sadly, I heard my President Jakaya Kikwete at one point and at the wake of rush for land in Tanzania for Biofuel calling pastoralism a “backward tradition!”

Some Statistics
Let me turn your attention to some of the statistics which threw me off balance when I read and reflected on them closely:
  • 70% of the population in a number of the Natural Resource rich Countries lives in Poverty
  •  ½ of the worlds riches is controlled by 2% of world’s population
  • 20% of world’s population consumes 80% of its resources
  • The World spends 12 times more on military than aid to developing countries (which has been looted      thoroughly by the developed world)
  • Nearly 1 billion people of the world’s population go hungry
  • 5,000 people die each day by drinking dirty and or contaminated water (a number as direct results of multinational investments in the Extractive and Agricultural sectors
  • 1 billion people worldwide have no access to safe drinking water
  • 50% of grain traded around the world is for animal/livestock feed and Biofuel
  • 40% arable land have suffered irreparable damage
  • 13 million hectares of natural rain forest disappear every year
  • ¾ of World’s fishing grounds are exhausted, depleted or in dangerous decline
  • 1 mammal in 4, a bird in 8, an amphibian out of 3 are threatened with extinction
Gaps and New Findings
When that remains to be the truth it will suffice also to say here that the gap between the poor and rich in the society is wider than ever before. Hunger is spreading, forests are depleted and arable land give for food for livestock while other land s are plundered for minerals which a number of developed world do not need but cannot let go of for the sake of vain glory.
There are new and emerging wars on Tar sands, Gold mining on and under the glaciers and undersea mining and oil extraction. There is more exploration and the most recent finding says that water has been found on the moon. What if they found Gold, Uranium and other extractable precious metals and stones on the moon?
It will definitely be a rush and the first ones to go there are the ‘first’ nations to take the loot while Africa and other developing countries take the blame. Let’s not forget though that all living matter is linked and what you do to one will certainly, affect all.

The Forgotten Glory!

LOGS FOR SALE! This is the sight that meets the eyes of a traveller on the road to the Copperbelt - Zambia. Local Community Members are hit hard by poverty and have no other thing but to be involved in felling of trees, contributing to the clearing of the natural rainforest in the country. PHOTO/ER

While the world is appalled on the decreasing rates of natural rain forests through illegal logging and ‘logging’ by local community members for domestic use purposes; we are faced with the questions as to who gives the permission for the felling of trees, how the timber is used and who audits the revenues from the logging that continues to ravage the once vibrant rain forest in Africa. Let’s read on, discuss and find solutions to bring back the lost glory of African Flora and Fauna...

“In our day, felling of trees for domestic use was not an issue to ask permission for therefore no one should today tell us that we have to be allowed by some authority.” These words were spoken by a senior citizen when we were on a live radio programme talking about the natural resources.

This is the view carried out by many which in many instances carries with it valid argument and implying that the natural resources should there for the benefit of all in the society and or those within the borders of a political jurisdiction. But this argument as valid as I would like to see it misses one important factor; and that is the regulatory legislatures that govern the controlled use and sustainability of the natural resources for the use of future generation without putting at risk the livelihoods of the present.

Deforestation in Africa
It is an undeniable truth that a number of countries in Africa have had a rich ecosystem over the years but which is now faced with depletion. Clearing of the natural rainforest for whatever purposes; has resulted in deadly floods and now making the changes in climate which poses great concerns. By and by, biodiversity is becoming a forgotten word if not already forgotten.

In the context of Africa and countries in the continent rich in natural resources in the extractive industry, forestry and fishing; the clearing of the natural rain forest is attributed to the growing business in the extractive and agricultural industries.

There has been a rush in the extractive and the agricultural industry where massive lands are given out by governments to investors in the mining industry and modern farming industry where deforestation is done to extract Gold, Copper, Cobalt, Uranium and other precious metals and stones or for purposes of feeding livestock.

Zambia and Tanzania comes to close view as the activities are proactively carried out through direct foreign investments. When you fly over the two countries one is shocked at the level of clearing of the natural rain forest. In Tanzania the clearing is caused by the extractive industry and agro-fuels while in Zambia it is caused by the extractive industry, livestock feeds (for the growing beef industry), agro-fuels and charcoal burning for both domestic use and  income generation by the local community members. The latter is shared in both countries.

With the said in focus, a number of questions come to mind; one - who benefits from all this, and two; who audits the revenues from the timber harvested when our natural rain forest is cleared – especially by the investors in our countries?
Deforestation and World Statistics
It is recorded that “barely in 40 years the world’s vibrant natural rainforest has been reduced at the rate of 20%.” This injustice against the environment is committed to feed livestock and replacement of the natural with plantations of Eucalyptus and Palm Oil trees in order to produce paper, cosmetics, fuel and false arguments on provisions of employment opportunities for local population.

The other sharp contrast which is also a huge contributor to the lost glory of the once vibrant ecosystem is the charcoal burning by the local communities to meet daily needs resulting from poor developmental infrastructures, imperialistic attitude of the Northern countries, lack of political will and  corruption in the poor countries which otherwise are rich in natural wealth.

Copenhagen and Ecological Debt
As we approach the summit for Climate Change in Copenhagen, there’s a need for those who will be attending from Africa and other developing economies in the world whose resources have for so long been looted to make economies in the Northern hemisphere strong to make their points clear.

As the looting continues, our water sources are polluted and environment degraded to irreparable measures. We need to stand and ensure that the ecological debt is dealt with. One question I would like to ask is this; what agenda does my colleagues from Africa and developing countries have as they will attend the Climate Change Summit in Copenhagen in a few weeks time?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Firm Sues Government of Tanzania on Mining Contracts

What we have longed to see in Tanzania for a long time is now taking place. The government of Tanzania have played the accessory role and have helped a lot in continuing heinous crimes against Tanzanians by the mining companies with Barrick Gold Corporation topping the list. Our hopes now is that Civil Society and faith Based Organisations will back up these deliberate efforts by patriotic sons and daughters of the land...
By Bernard James 

A constitutional petition has been filed in the High Court, seeking to have all the mining contracts entered into by the government without Parliament's approval declared null and avoid, in an effort to curb the plunder of the country's natural resources. 

A Dar es Salaam-based environmental and human rights activist, Mr Rugemeleza Nshala, and a company called Mtetezi Limited, have sued the minister for Energy and Minerals and the Attorney General. 

They want the court to immediately stop the operations of the holders of special mining licences and mining companies that have signed Mining Development Agreements (MDAs) with the government "because their activities are unconstitutional". 

The petitioners claim that the powers conferred on the minister for Energy and Minerals to sign MDAs are unconstitutional, as they interfere with the duties of other ministries, councils, agencies and departments. 

The petitioners are challenging the Mining Act No 5 of 1998 that gives the minister powers to sign MDAs on behalf of the government. 

They now want the court to declare that all the MDAs signed with the holders of the special mining licences, which were not approved by Parliament in line with the mandatory requirements of articles 63 (3) (a-e) of the Constitution, be scrapped. 

The article gives the National Assembly powers to deliberate on and ratify all treaties and agreements to which the United Republic of Tanzania is a party, and lists provisions, which require ratification. It also empowers Parliament to put any questions to any minister concerning public affairs. 

The petitioners are accusing the energy minister of granting mining concessions to foreign mining companies of unlawfully, and allocating large areas that were initially owned by villagers and artisanal miners to foreign firms. 

They assert that the allocations are responsible for the forceful displacement of millions of agriculturalists, peasants, pastoralists and artisan miners from their lands, in total disregard of their land and property rights enshrined and protected in the Constitution. 

The petitioners want the court to order that all the people displaced to pave the way for large-scale mining be resettled on their land and paid compensation. 

"We feel that our country's mineral resources are being squandered, as the current exploitation is only benefiting the foreign mining companies and yet the current mining and its taxation legal regime are not only illegal, but also unconstitutional," they argue. 

The petitioners are also arguing that the granting of mining concessions to foreign companies through local affiliates under the guise of Section 10 (1) and (2) of the Mining Act No 5 1998, not only grants unconscionable incentives to those firms, but also purports to supplant the laws of the land, and curtail the legislative powers of Parliament. 

The section prevents Parliament from passing any law that might in "one way or another interfere with their tax, social and economic obligations that they found at the time they came to invest in the country". 

The petitioners argue that "the curtailment of the parliamentary powers is not only wantonly violates Article 13, which calls for equal treatment under the law, but also the entire democratic framework enshrined in the Constitution." 

Article 63 (3) (a) to (e) grant Parliament powers to oversee, monitor and supervise the workings and operations of the government, including the ratification of all agreements signed in the name of the United Republic of Tanzania. 

"Yet the respondents have never presented any Mining Development Agreement (MDAs) signed with foreign mining companies to Parliament for deliberation, review, ratification or rejection." 

The petitioners are also accusing the government of granting "generous and unwise incentives", including tax-holidays, tax exemptions, "unlimited immigration quotas for their so-called experts", and the fuel levy, all of which, they claim, have led to the plunder the country's mineral resources. 

To back up their petition, the petitioners are citing the tax-free sale of several mining companies. 

These include Lusu gold mine, which was sold by Samax Resources of Canada to Ashanti Goldfield in 1998, at $213 million, the Bulyanhulu gold mine disposed of by Sutton Resources of Canada to Barrick Gold, at $348 million in 1999, and Nyabigena and Nyabirama mines in Tarime district that were sold by East Africa Gold Mine to the Placer Dome at $252 million. 

During the hearing, the petitioners say they will demand that the minister and the AG produce in court all the documents on the sale of those assets by the foreign mining companies. 

They say they will also to rely heavily on the findings of commission on mining management (the Bomani team) appointed by President Kikwete in 2007. 

According to the Bomani report, while the foreign mining companies were raking in millions of dollars from Tanzania�s mineral resources, they paid no income tax and still enjoyed a lot of tax waivers. 

The petitioners will show to the court how six foreign mining companies were granted an Excise duty waiver of Sh39.8 billion and Sh59.0 billion in 2006/07 and 2007/08, respectively. 

The petitioners also challenge Section 10 (1) and (2) of the Mining Act No. 5 1998, which allows the minister to limit environmental management responsibilities of the holders of special mining licences, the obligations of which are demanded by sectoral environmental legislation and the Environmental Management Act No 20, 2004. 

Mr Nshala and the company are also challenging the dispute settlement procedure by way international arbitration, as set out in the Mining Act 1998. 

It is their contention that the procedure voids the jurisdiction of domestic courts in determining mining investment disputes, contrary to Article 107 (1) of the Constitution, which vests in the Judiciary the powers to hear and determine all disputes arising in the country. 

The petitioners are accusing the government of abdicating its responsibility of policy design, formulation and implementation and becoming an agent of the World Bank, implementing the latter's dictates, including the Strategy for African Mining, 1992, which paved the way for enactment of the Mining Act, No 5, 1998.