Trespassers on their own land?

This article was published in the November/December 2012 issue of Briarpatch.

Trespassers on their own land?

Resource extraction is displacing traditional economies

by Sandra Cuffe

Jobs. In a nutshell, this is the solution proposed by government and industry for communities facing high levels of poverty and unemployment in northern Alberta and Saskatchewan.

Economic development based on resource extraction and other high- impact activities continues at the expense of traditional Indigenous land-based economies. While military, oil and gas, and uranium industry development in traditional Dene, Cree, and Métis territories offers some wage labour, it displaces traditional labour such as hunting, trapping, fishing, and gathering.

“Once there’s development in an area, we’re shut off,” Brian Grandbois, a longtime land defender from Cold Lake First Nation in Alberta, told Briarpatch. “The energy corporations have access to Dene Nene [land] and the Denesuline are reduced to beggars and trespassers on their homeland.”

Sixty years ago, the construction of the Cold Lake air force base and the million-hectare Cold Lake Air Weapons Range (CLAWR), spanning the Alberta-Saskatchewan border, resulted in the displacement of many Indigenous people from their traditional territories. The CLAWR is Canada’s only tactical bombing range, and is now home to oil and gas extraction activities as well.

Aside from a land claim settlement concerning the military base, the Cold Lake First Nation band council has also signed agreements with hydrocarbon corporations, and owns a number of contracting companies serving the military and oil and gas industries.

“They’re extracting huge amounts of resources, both in gas and oil. You know, the Native people might be small players,” Grandbois told Briarpatch in an interview. “But we were promised that we’d be able to train our people and have steam engineers and people, you know, with education, to fit into that whole economic scenario. But if you look in the Air Weapons Range today in 2012, you’ll find the Denesuline are cleaning toilets for executives.”

Not only are local First Nations workers relegated to the lowest tiers of employment, but when industry, money, and economic opportunity take precedence over the survival of future generations, the price tag is high, says Grandbois.

Cold Lake First Nation members are permitted to hunt inside parts of the CLAWR on weekends, unless the Canadian Forces decide otherwise due to military exercises or other events. Oil and gas extraction both in and out of the CLAWR has further reduced the accessible land base. “Hunting was always a part of the Dene culture…But the Denesuline of Cold Lake now have nowhere to hunt,” says Grandbois.

Over the past six decades, military and extractive industry development in the area have steadily taken over the lands used for basic survival, and continue to leave toxic waste behind.

“Nobody traps anymore. A few odd people fish,” Cold Lake Elder Sam Minoose told Briarpatch in an interview at Palmbere Lake. “All the old berry patches are fenced off. We have to go miles, like into Saskatchewan,” he says. Minoose is one of many people from Cold Lake and other areas dominated by industrial development in northeastern Alberta who now travel to Beauval and elsewhere in Saskatchewan to pick berries and gather medicinal plants.

When berry-pickers cross the provincial border, they find that even further north another industry continues to expand. A Cameco billboard along the roadside promotes uranium mining, proclaiming that Cameco is “Canada’s #1 industrial employer of Aboriginal people.”

Northern Saskatchewan is the leading global producer of uranium, and home to all uranium currently mined in Canada. Two of the world’s leading uranium mining companies – Saskatoon-based Cameco and French corporation AREVA – dominate the landscape. The province’s Northern Administrative District has a population of almost 37,000, approximately 80 per cent of whom are Indigenous – principally Dene, Cree and Métis.

The effects of decades of uranium mining are felt throughout the North. At a Survival Celebration Camp in August 2012 at Lac Île-à-la-Crosse’s South Bay, Elders from Patuanak, Pinehouse, and beyond explained that their opposition to a potential nuclear waste storage site near their communities is informed in part by the changes they have seen in their traditional lands over the course of the development of Key Lake and other uranium mines. Speaker after speaker spoke of the gradual disappearance of wild game and other animals. “There’s definitely something wrong in our trad-itional areas,” Dene Elder Delia Black told participants at the camp through a translator. “All the wild food that we used to have, it’s not there anymore,” she said.

Traditional herbalist Victor Mispounas knows the lands, forests and lakes of northwestern Saskatchewan well. He whistles as he walks, skirting around the Lac Île-à-la-Crosse lakeshore, looking for wild mint. His tall, wiry frame disappears into the brush only to reappear seconds later, pointing out another medicinal plant and explaining its use. “There’s not too many traditional people like me who practice herbal cures. It has almost all been lost – everything, just about everything lost,” says Mispounas.

People travel from near and far for healing at Victor Mispounas’ home on the La Plonge reserve, part of the English River First Nation. He learned most of his plant knowledge in secret, at a time when traditional practices were forbidden by federal government agents. The intergenerational teaching of medicinal plant knowledge was interrupted by the residential school system, and the fear of being jailed or having one’s children taken away for using traditional methods of healing.

Seated at a picnic table by the shore of South Bay as storm clouds roll in, Mispounas tells Briarpatch how he was one of the lucky ones and how he gained the knowledge that allows him to carry on his work today. “There were just a few odd ones like my parents, [who] taught me in secret,” he says. He recalls how his parents of mixed Cree, Dene, and Saulteaux descent instilled in him from a young age the need to stay silent about what he learned with them in the bush. “Even at that time, I remember them saying, you know…‘whatever we teach you here, don’t tell anybody. Don’t let nobody know, even your best friend.’” Today, Mispounas is an active member of the Committee for Future Generations. In the summer of 2011, he participated in the 7,000 Generations Wanska! walk from Pinehouse to Regina to protest nuclear waste transport and storage. Despite advice urging him to take a break when the soles of his feet were covered in blisters and sores, he would often hit the road early in the morning before some people even woke up.

Protecting medicinal plants in the region is at the root of his involvement. “That’s why I joined the movement. When I joined the walk against nuclear waste last summer, that was my main reason for joining, [to] protect our wild medicinal plants. I’m very afraid that if some nuclear disaster ever occurred from the burial of wastes that all our plants would all be destroyed…And then where would I go from there? Where would my future generations go from there? That’s what I joined for – [to] protect our lands and resources, our herbal medicines,” says Mispounas.

Métis couple Rose and Ric Richardson also harvest medicinal herbs, berries and other plants both for their own use and to share with others. Their Green Lake café, the Keewatin Junction Station, is often a hub of activity and discussion about the future and sustainability of northern Saskatchewan. Longtime outspoken opponents of the uranium industry, they envision a northern economy based on an entirely different model of resource use.

According to Ric, organizations, government agencies, and companies come to the north proposing solutions. Outside agencies cite the high levels of poverty and unemployment in the region, while the uranium and timber industries extract billions of dollars worth of resources from northern Saskatchewan. “We live in a resource-rich area…We should be rich,” he says at the at the Survival Celebration Camp.

The Richardsons propose a model of northern development involving trad-itional knowledge and activities based on fair trade principles. They have been trying to get a non-timber forest product co-operative off the ground to process wild blueberries and eliminate the intermediary between pickers and the market. Their proposal is dependent on the protection of the land, and challenges the dominant model of northern development based on extractive industries.

The footprint of the military, oil and gas, and uranium industries continues to grow in the North, and the displacement of land-based life in Dene, Cree, and Métis traditional territories continues.

Indeed, there are some jobs, as government and industry claim. But the cost is high. The reality, as explained by Grandbois, is, “We run into big steel gates that say ‘no trespassing’ on our own territories.”

Sandra Cuffe is a Vancouver-based freelance journalist and member of the Vancouver Media Co-op. She came to Saskatchewan for a few days, stayed for almost two months, and still didn’t really want to leave.

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Marketing Consent

This investigative feature was published in the September/October 2012 issue of The Dominion.

Marketing Consent

A journey into the public relations underside of Canada’s mining sector

by Sandra Cuffe

VANCOUVER—It’s no secret that Canadian mining companies are fanned out around the world. Conflicts linked to large-scale mining projects have come to the fore as some of the most intense social and environmental struggles in this hemisphere and beyond. But well outside of the headlines, another industry, one that purports to link Indigenous people internationally in order to benefit from resource extraction, has slowly taken off.

Whether or not they are upfront about their connections to mining companies, Canadians with labyrinthine corporate, consulting and Indigenous affiliations have been paying unexpected visits to Indigenous communities throughout the Americas. A closer look at an example of this intervention reveals how their promotion of the Canadian mining industry in impoverished communities undermines local struggles to protect territory and exacerbates conflict.

In Panama, Vancouver-based Corriente Resources began promoting the Cerro Colorado copper deposit in recognized Ngabe-Bugle territory three years ago, even though the company never secured permits from the government. In February 2011, Law 8 was passed, revising the 1963 mining code to allow direct foreign investment in mining concessions. Together with a proposed hydro-electric dam, mining interests at play even before the legislation changes were at the heart of intense protests and repression. The government repealed Law 8 in March 2011, but protests demanding a definitive ban on mining in Ngabe-Bugle territory continued.

Two Indigenous protesters were killed on February 5, 2012 when police opened fire on highway blockade actions taken to defend the Comarca’s land and resources. On March 21, after an agreement between the government and the elected Ngabe-Bugle leadership, the National Assembly of Panama passed Special Law 415, prohibiting mining concessions and development in the Ngabe-Bugle territory, and requiring consent for hydro-electric development.

The Ngabe-Bugle Comarca—a State-recognized territory with some degree of political autonomy—was established by the Panamanian government in 1997, in large part due to political pressure from the Ngabe and Bugle peoples seeking political autonomy and control over lands threatened by resource exploitation. With the largest Indigenous population in the country, the level of poverty in the Ngabe-Bugle Comarca is among the highest in the country. Since the Panamanian government did not cede subsoil or water rights as part of the agreement, struggles to protect the territory, subsistence agriculture and traditional culture are ongoing.

While Corriente is only one of many threats, the company’s presence has involved much more than mine exploration: Canadian Don Clarke has been active in the Comarca. Clarke is a member of the Black River First Nation, head of a consulting company, Kokopelli, and was previously a community relations representative of Ecuacorriente, a Corriente subsidiary in Ecuador. During his time in Ecuador, Clarke was involved at the inception of a small pro-mining Indigenous Shuar federation led by a man who was expelled from other Indigenous organizations and confederations, according to a report by MiningWatch Canada.

In western Panama, the Jadran Nigwe Nirien Ngwaire Ngobe Association appeared around the same time Clarke was first reported to be promoting mining in the Comarca. Jadran claims to represent the majority of the Ngobe communities. According to the association, communities want a 50 per cent stake in the Cerro Colorado deposit so that, in the event of its sale to a mining corporation, the money can be used to finance community development. At the same time, Jadran insisted that it was not necessarily in favour of mining; the association claimed that its objective of a 50 per cent stake in the deposit’s ownership did not entail support for mining activities in the Comarca.

Jadran has denounced organizations opposing mining as unrepresentative foreign-influenced groups. In a letter to the editor published by the Panama America newspaper last December, Jadran president Adriana Sandoya called on the government to reject the claims and demands of organizations opposing mining in Ngabe-Bugle territory. “Our association rejects the so-called ‘Special Law’ promoted by the so-called ‘Coordinadora,’ [for the Defense of Natural Resources and the Rights of the Ngabe-Bugle and Peasant Farmers] which represents no one, was never elected by anyone, and that only seeks to propagate and increase the existing levels of poverty in our Comarca,” she wrote.

Despite Sandoya and Jadran’s claims that the association speaks for thousands of local residents in the Ngabe-Bugle Comarca, its own membership process is questionable. In early 2011, a post on Jadran’s website explained how to become a member: “If you want to be a member of Jadran and join our struggle, you only have to sign our membership book during our meetings and it’s done!”

This process allows the organization to unilaterally enroll members without their explicit consent, mirroring a practice common among mining companies, which often claim consultation with, and support from, anyone signing an attendance list.

In February of 2011, Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli signed a decree to halt speculation over mining activities in the Ngabe-Bugle Comarca. The Government of Panama subsequently issued a public statement that gave foreigners involved in promoting activities relating to mining in Ngabe-Bugle territory a deadline of two weeks to leave the jurisdiction of the Comarca.

According to widespread reports in the Panamanian press, the primary reason for the measure was the persistence of Kokopelli, Clarke and Chilean associate Loreto Cubillos in promoting mining in the region.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, an individual working with Corriente Resources told The Dominion that Clarke held a position with the company five or six years ago in Ecuador, but has not since been employed by Corriente or any of its subsidiaries. He later had a contract with the company to work in Panama, but both the contract and all company activities in Panama were terminated when the company was taken over by a subsidiary of a Chinese consortium in 2010. According to the Corriente source, however, Clarke may well be working with other mining companies in Panama. While none were specified, Canadian corporations Petaquilla Gold and Inmet are both active in the country.

“We’re seeing that a lot of these companies don’t have the understanding and the experience to understand the local communities and of course you’re seeing a lot of conflict,” Don Clarke told the CBC in 2007. At the time, Clarke was pitching the idea that First Nations could sell their expertise on managing conflicts over natural resources to the Southern Chiefs Organization and Manitoba Keewatinook Ininew Okimowin. “We see a real business opportunity for our First Nations people to capitalize on the knowledge that we have and the experiences,” he told the CBC.

The same CBC article identifies Clarke as “an adviser to the mining committee of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce” in Ecuador. But Clarke’s titles were many: adviser of International Affairs, Southern Chiefs Organization; Clarke Educational Services; and Black River First Nation. This chameleonic identification allows for the obfuscation of ties to industry when it is advantageous.

In Panama, it would appear that Clarke’s presence instigated activity by a small vocal group advocating for involvement in a mining concession and criticizing opponents, something that was not achieved through his interactions with the Diaguita council in northern Chile.

Sergio Campusano, President of the Diaguita Huascoaltino Indigenous and Agricultural Community in northern Chile, has a clear memory of Clarke.

Campusano’s community council has long been an outspoken opponent of Canadian mining projects in their territory. In 2005, at beginning of organized Diaguita opposition to Barrick Gold’s planned Pascua Lama gold mega-project, the community was approached by the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC).

“What happened is that at that time, it was the first time we were faced with a project of that scope,” said Campusano. “They said that in Canada, Indigenous Peoples had good agreements with the companies in their territories—they received up to 50 per cent of the production profits, that they were given university [education], that thanks to the money they had houses, had work,” Campusano told The Dominion this June.

The Diaguita Huascoaltino community was opposed to Barrick Gold’s Pascua Lama project, but open to learning more about the proposal and weighing their options.

After Campusano and the directive council met with AMC representatives—including political advisor Don Clarke—in Vina del Mar, Chile, they researched his claims with the help of a Chilean Indigenous rights group. Campusano said that try as they might, they could not find an example of an Indigenous community in Canada receiving any more than four per cent of the production profits, plus some education and other benefits. Clarke, Campusano and others met again in Santiago to discuss cultural and other exchanges, and an International Agreement of Indigenous Co-operation on January 19, 2006.

Six days later, the AMC assembly passed a resolution to establish an International Relations Committee of Chiefs. The AMC resolution focused on trade and cultural relationships in broad terms, but on the ground it became apparent that they were seeking to intercede in negotiations with Barrick Gold.

“The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, through then [Grand] Chief Ron Evans, said that they could achieve much more than that, but only as long as we gave them the mandate to negotiate for us, because they had experience getting more money, more profits for the benefit of the community,” Campusano told The Dominion, adding that the mandate sought by the AMC for negotiations with Barrick Gold was a sort of power of attorney. “It was as legally authorized representatives.”

The Diaguita Huascoaltino leaders took each proposal back to their own bi-annual community assemblies, which chose to negate the right of the AMC to negotiate or act on their behalf. The communities did request a visit by Ron Evans, which was accepted by the AMC.

“He said he was going to go. We prepared a massive ceremony. We made a tremendous schedule. And only Don Clarke shows up,” said Campusano. The Diaguita Huascoaltino authorities informed the AMC that without a visit by Ron Evans and clarification as to connections to Barrick Gold, the co-operation agreement was null and void.

“I have documents where the famous Don Clarke wrote to me and every time he wrote these emails to the institutional Huascoaltino email, there would be copies sent to three high-ranking Barrick Gold representatives,” said Campusano. According to documents obtained by The Dominion, copies of an update were sent by Clarke to Barrick Gold VP of Operations Kelvin Dushinisky and Barrick South America Director of Community Relations Rod Jimenez.

“So that was when I realized that this mining company was behind it,” said Campusano.

Clarke’s involvement in Chile is far from the exception to the rule. Not only is he just one among several similar consultants for hire, but mining companies are also not the only financiers of Indigenous partnerships in the mining sector.

The Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) has also been involved in the Indigenous promotion of mining activities over the past two decades. One project under CIDA’s ongoing Indigenous Peoples Partnership Program (IPPP) was a “Mining Sector–Indigenous Capacity Building” project in Guyana, Colombia and Suriname from 2007 to 2011, to “[enable] two-way learning between Canadian Indigenous peoples and Indigenous partners in Latin American and the Caribbean regarding interactions with mining companies and governments,” according to CIDA’s project description.

“The initiatives supported by the IPPP were conceived both by indigenous organizations in the Latin American and Caribbean region and their Canadian Aboriginal partners,” wrote CIDA media relations representative Katherine Heath-Eves in an email to The Dominion.

But closer examination shows the initial project documents were not developed by Indigenous organizations in either Latin America or in Canada. They were instead developed by a consultant who frequently works for Canadian mining corporations.

Although not Indigenous himself, the founder and president of Canadian consulting company Wayne Dunn & Associates has often worked in Indigenous communities through contracts in dozens of countries around the world over the past 20 years. His clients include government agencies, extractive industry corporations and other sectors.

“I actually had the contract to develop the initial documents for the Indigenous Peoples Partnership Program for CIDA,” Dunn told The Dominion in a telephone interview from California.

Aware of some of his prior work in Canada regarding Indigenous business partnerships, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) asked him to submit a proposal for a project under the auspices of the UN’s International Decade of the World’s Indigenous People, 1995-2004. “So I made them a proposal and next thing I know I was mission leader on this seven-country mission that started this whole Inter-Indigenous Partnerships thing,” said Dunn.

What began as a 1994 UNDP scoping mission for Indigenous-to-Indigenous business and trade opportunities in Central America soon became a larger project for Apikan Indigenous Network, Dunn’s consulting company at the time, with funding from CIDA, the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank and several other agencies. In fact, Dunn accompanied Jean Chretien on his first Prime Ministerial Trade Mission to Latin America in January 1995, shortly after the initial scoping mission.

At the same time, the Canadian government began involving Indigenous individuals and particularly First Nations band council Chiefs in its trade, business and investment promotion visits and activities in Latin America.

Proposed mines continue to spring up around the world and governments, corporations and non-governmental organizations are increasingly focusing their attention on Corporate Social Responsibility. The forecast for the niche market of extractive sector consultants seeking “social license” in Indigenous territories has never been brighter.

“Businesses—especially extractive sector businesses—need to be able to work effectively with local people and communities. And I think, you know, participation in the Trade Mission is able to talk about how some Canadian companies have been able to do that,” said Dunn. “We see [a] broader group of Canadian Indigenous Peoples involved internationally than we did, you know, 15 years ago. We see more individual First Nations and Indigenous businesses directly involved than we did then.”

In the context of questions about how Indigenous communities are approached where there is conflict or opposition regarding a proposed mining project, Dunn emphasized the importance of companies focusing getting a return on their “social license investment” just as they would on other things.

“My role is to help [companies] to find ways that they can produce more local benefits for less costs, or that they can get a better return on what they’re investing in. I find often when I go into a project that…companies can be investing a lot of money in trying to do it, but they’re just not strategic about it,” he told The Dominion. “We’ve developed some pretty sophisticated and successful frameworks and strategies around that.”

In Panama and throughout the Americas, consulting company strategies and the involvement of Indigenous individuals acting on behalf of Canadian mining interests continues. Whether this will be enough to overcome the increasingly militant opposition to multi-national mining ventures remains to be seen.

Sandra Cuffe is a Vancouver-based freelance journalist who has way too much fun doing research.

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Defending the Land from Nuclear Waste

This article was published by The Dominion.

Defending the Land from Nuclear Waste

Indigenous community elders, activists gather in northern Saskatchewan against nuclear waste site

by Sandra Cuffe

SOUTH BAY, SK—The storm clouds had moved on by the time people arrived at South Bay on lake Ile-a-la-Crosse last Friday for a grassroots gathering against a potential nuclear waste site in northern Saskatchewan. Dene, Cree and Métis elders from affected communities, grassroots activists from around Saskatchewan and others from as far as the west coast and Germany shared coffee, songs, experiences and a whole lot of moose meat from August 3 to 6 at the Survival Celebration Camp for Sustainable Earth.

“We have to protect the land,” Jules Daigneault told those gathered in a sharing circle around the campfire. When the 70-year-old elder heard about the gathering happening in South Bay, he travelled across the lake to the camp from his home in Ile-a-la-Crosse in a boat he made himself. “Everything comes from the land. All our food comes from the land.”

Gunter Wippel traveled to the camp from Germany, where he has been actively involved in anti-nuclear activism for decades. Wippel has been visiting northern Saskatchewan since the late 1980s, involved with struggles against the expansion of the uranium mining industry in northern Saskatchewan, the source of 40 per cent of the world’s uranium. He was also in the province in the mid-90s for the Seaborn panel hearings on nuclear waste management in Canada.

“I can’t believe that we still have to protest that same shit,” Wippel remarked during the closing circle on Monday.

As is the case in most countries with nuclear power production, spent fuel bundles are stored onsite at reactors in Canada—in Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick. The federal Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) is planning a deep geological repository to place all of Canada’s nuclear waste underground in the rock. No permanent waste storage facility exists anywhere in the world, largely due to opposition from scientific, environmental, activist and other communities.

In the latest stage of the decades-long search for a long-term nuclear waste disposal site, NWMO has received expressions of interest to host the site. Although Saskatchewan is already host to the tailings and waste from the uranium mining industry producing the uranium to be refined and processed for nuclear energy elsewhere, the province was included in the search for a willing host community. Along with several places in Ontario, NWMO has three locations in northern Saskatchewan on the map: Pinehouse, the English River First Nation and Creighton.

But elders and community members from Pinehouse and the English River First Nation say that their communities are largely opposed to hosting nuclear waste in their territories. Despite the money that NWMO and Saskatchewan-based uranium mining giant CAMECO have recently been pouring into the local councils, community promoters and other programs, they say that they did not initially even know that their own councils—municipal in Pinehouse and Band in English River—were advocating for the multi-million-dollar proposals.

“The Chiefs there don’t say nothing to us. They just talk about money, budgets,” Dene elder Louis Wolverine told The Dominion. Wolverine, 84, was one of several elders who attended the camp from Patuanak, near the part of the English River First Nation seemingly identified for the waste site.

“They say that it’s okay, that nothing’s very dangerous,” he said of CAMECO and NWMO. The people in Patuanak don’t want nuclear waste, he said. “The elders too—they don’t want it.”

Elder Mary Jane Wolverine spoke to people attending the elder’s circle in Dene, with translation into English by another elder from Patuanak. Several elders spoke of the impacts of uranium mining on fishing, hunting and gathering grounds. Some had traplines and seasonal camps where the Key Lake mine is now located. They are now speaking out to protect their traditional territory, the interconnected lakes and waterways, the animals and the medicinal plants from further destruction.

“We have our children, our future grandchildren growing up…Myself, I don’t want it in our country,” she said. “All the elders are saying the same thing, that we don’t want anything to do with nuclear waste.”

In Pinehouse, a town located along the road up to the Key Lake uranium mine, the mayor and municipal council have been meeting with NWMO behind closed doors, says Fred Pederson, an outspoken Cree elder from the community. NWMO has a group of paid promoters, an elder’s group and access to young students, says Pederson.

But 60 per cent of eligible voters in Pinehouse signed a petition against nuclear waste disposal in northern Saskatchewan, without the petition even having reached the whole population. The Committee for Future Generations, a grassroots organization in the region, presented the petition with more than 12,000 signatures to the provincial legislature last year. Opposition continues to grow in Pinehouse and around the province.

“It’s not the people that want it. It is just our leaders that are promoting it,” Pederson told The Dominion. He and several others at the gathering also raised the issue of systemic racism by the provincial and federal governments in their search for a nuclear waste disposal site in northern Saskatchewan, in Indigenous and Metis traditional territories. “It’s just like we don’t count, like they can kill us off.”

When the nightly conversation and music around the fire continued into the wee hours of Monday morning, those who stayed awake extending their time together on the last night of the gathering were rewarded. The northern lights made a surprise appearance in the night sky, with shimmering green lights dancing overhead as the last people wandered off to their tents, campers and the beach.

Elders from affected northern communities, the Committee for Future Generations, and others who attended the camp from further away reiterated their commitment to the struggle against nuclear waste in northern Saskatchewan. Revitalized by the camraderie, inspired by the elders, and energized by the young children playing along the beach, those involved with the gathering have plans well underway to continue the campaign over the next few months.

“If we band together, people produce power,” said Pederson. “We can stop all of this. We can stop the destruction.”

Sandra Cuffe is a Media Co-op editor based in Vancouver, and a member of the Vancouver Media Co-op.

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Hemispheric Resistance to Canadian Mining

This article was published online by The Dominion, re-posted by UpsideDownWorld, and widely circulated in the lead-up to the August 1 Day of Action.

Hemispheric Resistance to Canadian Mining

Day of Action organizers speak out about repression, connections, solidarity

by Sandra Cuffe

VANCOUVER—From Canada to Argentina, preparations are well underway for the Continental Day of Action Against Canadian Mega Resource Extraction on August 1.

Dozens of organizations have signed a call for the day of protest in solidarity with communities impacted by Canadian extractive industries. The event is meant to highlight the dominance of the Canadian mining industry worldwide. Their demands range from divestment to putting people before profit.

But some activists in North America argue that the serious repression accompanying Canadian mining around the world requires going further than those initial demands. They say that acknowledgment, a sense of urgency and a deeper strategic analysis for concrete local action are also needed. Communities and organizers resisting extractive industry projects in Latin America continue to face displacement, harassment, threats, and death, often dismissed as part of unrelated violence and conflicts.

Decentralized actions will be taking place throughout the western hemisphere on Wednesday, including a national day of mobilization in regions of mining conflict in Colombia, a memorial in Vancouver to remember those who have lost their lives opposing mining projects and a rally outside the Canadian Embassy in San Salvador.

The National Roundtable Against Metallic Mining (Mesa Nacional Frente a la Mineria Metalica) in El Salvador, comprised of community-based groups affected by mining as well as environmental and other organizations across the country, will be actively participating in the day of action. Vidalina Morales spoke with The Dominion from her home in the department of Cabanas, El Salvador, where Vancouver-based Pacific Rim’s plans to develop a gold mine have been fraught with controversy.

“We’re going to rally in front of the Canadian Embassy here in El Salvador,” said Morales, adding that there will also be a press conference on-site. Over the course of the Roundtable’s actions and campaigns, many affiliated organizations have faced ongoing human rights violations, particularly in Cabanas.

The community-based resistance to the Pacific Rim mining project in Cabanas has suffered extreme repression, including murders of several active community organizers and activists from communities in the vicinity. Earlier this month, 19-year-old engineering student David Alexander Urias was murdered in the community of Palo Bonito, says Morales, only a few kilometres from Pacific Rim’s operations. His murder has been reported as being gang-related, but Morales says local community organizers suspect otherwise.

“Because we continue directly in the region where we’re in conflict and where the company has shown so much recent interest in mineral exploration, we’ve seen some things that seem surprising to us—when families that have been longtime supporters of our efforts are attacked. Here in this department where we live, a youth [David] who was only 19 years old was recently murdered—a young student who is the son of a woman who has been very involved in this struggle,” she said.

“Here, anything that happens, they always blame it on the gangs, because it’s the easiest way to deny links to other things,” said Morales.

In Colombia, murders, threats and other repression against individuals and communities facing large-scale mining activities around the country take place amid an ongoing armed conflict. Mario Valencia, a member of the Colombian Network Against Large-Scale Transnational Mining—RECLAME—spoke with The Dominion via telephone from Bogota, where preparations for the August 1 day of action are in full swing.

“In the middle of this conflict, the issue of mining can’t be seen as unconnected because many of these conflicts take place in zones that are rich in natural resources…It’s a struggle for territory. It has to do with taking possession of these areas—for example, displacing small-scale miners from territories where they have been mining for years, or even for centuries, and the conflict becomes a tool for that to happen,” said Valencia. “The National Confederation of Miners of Colombia, which unites small and medium-scale miners, is currently threatened and being persecuted by the government, to make way for transnational companies.”

In Colombia, a national day of mobilization “to stop the mining-energy locomotive” is being organized, coordinated by an alliance of unions, communities, and organizations, including the National Confederation of Miners and RECLAME. Rallies, marches, carnival-style parades and cultural festivals will be held in over a dozen different departments, all regions with mining conflicts. In Caldas, for example, actions will denounce the displacement of communities to make way for Canadian company Gran Colombia Gold’s Marmato mining project, says Valencia.

“Mining is one of the principal activities in the Colombian economy. The government’s idea is that Colombia should be a mining country, so the most important issue is territorial defense. We have proposed to take this on as the defense of life, the defense of water, the defense of territory, so that these transnational companies can’t find the conflict, the pretext to enter these regions,” he told The Dominion.

Valencia says that organizations in Colombia realized that they would not be able to confront the mining policy alone—a mining policy imposed on the country from outside but fiercely adopted by the Colombian government. Some of the sectors that have joined forces against transnational mining in Colombia may not seem like natural allies to some people, he says, given that they include communities resisting mining, mining and energy sector workers, small-scale miners and environmental organizations.

“Obviously not everything is all rosy and there are conflicts, but we are fundamentally united in RECLAME for one reason,” Valencia explained, adding that the unity is a product of years of discussion. “We came to the understanding that the main aspect of the contradiction on the issue of mining isn’t between workers and communities or between environmentalists and small-scale miners, but that the principal contradiction is with transnational large-scale mining companies.”

Root Force, a campaign based out of Tucson, Arizona, also connects environmental, social and other justice issues through a strategic anti-infrastructure approach to solidarity with communities in Latin America resisting extractive industry projects. Root Force has signed onto the call for the Continental Day of Action, although concrete actions are left to the discretion of the various autonomous collectives and affiliate groups scattered throughout the southwestern US, the Pacific Northwest and beyond.

“The sort of broader goal of Root Force is to help bring down this global economic system that is at the root of the various injustices that so many of the environmental and social justice groups are organizing against,” Ben Pachano, an organizer with Root Force, told The Dominion in a telephone interview. “The method that we’ve identified for doing that is by preventing the expansion of this resource extraction and transportation infrastructure that underlies the system.

“The actions that Root Force promotes and that, you know, our affiliate and allied groups take are aiming toward that ultimate goal, which is itself an act of solidarity, because the idea is that oppression of an Indigenous community resisting a mine, say in Guatemala, is coming in large part because of the demand for that metal in the first world,” said Pachano.

The organization provides resources to facilitate connections between like-minded groups, to raise awareness about struggles against extractive and infrastructure projects in Latin America and their connections to the US, and to promote effective strategic action at the local level.

“Because of that sort of interconnected nature of basically a globalized capitalist economy, that means that you don’t necessarily need to be in the place where the resources are being extracted to take actions affecting that extraction,” he said.

In Canada, which is home to companies that together own more than 3,000 mining projects around the world, actions are planned across the country. In Toronto, where many corporate headquarters and the Toronto Stock Exchange are located, people will mobilize at Queen’s Park. In Vancouver, another city with a huge number of mining company offices, the local Mining Justice Alliance is hosting a memorial action outside of Goldcorp’s head office.

Latin American communities spearheaded the Continental Day of Action, but the Vancouver action is also in solidarity with communities in Asia-Pacific, in Africa, locally and around the world, Mining Justice Alliance member Beth Dollaga told The Dominion. She is also a founding member of Canada-Philippines Solidarity for Human Rights and sees the same patterns of extraction and repression that occur in the Philippines happening elsewhere as well. Paramilitaries around the world are often trained not just to protect corporate infrastructure, she says, but also to harass communities resisting mining and people who speak out in support of community resistance.

“We know that the aggressive extraction—mining—it’s not just the environment plundered or killed, but also mostly Indigenous people, because this happens in the remotest areas of places, like in Latin America or anywhere in Asia-Pacific. So most of these places are actually the Indigenous ancestral domain. And people are killed,” she said.

“Part of this event is also to remember them. And to continue. It’s not just remembering those people, those martyred activists, but also to carry on and pick up from [where they left off], in solidarity, from wherever we are,” said Dollaga.

Dollaga is not the only one to recognize that solidarity organizing with resistance to Canadian extractive projects is often a matter of life or death for people from affected communities. Pachano also emphasizes that for many, it is a fight for survival.

“When you look at a lot of communities that are opposing mega-extraction projects, often the root of their opposition is that they believe that these projects will destroy their way of life and that at the end of the day it’s a battle for survival,” said Pachano. “Solidarity requires that we take that—that we sort of take to heart the urgency of the battles we’re in solidarity with.”

“Ultimately, true solidarity requires looking at the systems that are producing these types of exploitations and actively trying to take them down.”

Sandra Cuffe is a Vancouver-based freelance journalist.

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Canada and Chile Meddling in Honduras’s Economic and Security Policies

Co-authored with Karen Spring, this article was published by UpsideDownWorld.

Canada and Chile Meddling in Honduras’s Economic and Security Policies

by Karen Spring and Sandra Cuffe

Few people would likely draw connections between a Canadian diplomat, Honduran public security reform, a retired Chilean General, and an extractive industry draft law proposal in Honduras. But Canada and Chile are jointly involved in both public security reform and proposed mining, oil and gas legislation in Honduras.

Earlier this week, the Canadian government appointed Adam Blackwell as the country’s representative to the five-member Honduran Public Security Reform Commission, according to reports in the Honduran press. Currently the Organization of American States (OAS) Secretary of Multidimensional Security, Blackwell was previously an outspoken advocate of mining legislation reform favourable to Canadian companies as a diplomat in the Dominican Republic.

Established by the Honduran Congress in January, the Public Security Reform Commission’s mandate is to design, plan and certify a process of integral reform of public security in Honduras. The Commission’s work will include investigating and evaluating the performance not only of the national police force, but also that of public prosecutors and judges.

At the same time, the governments of Canada and Chile – the origin of the other international member of the Commission – have been involved in the development of the new Honduran mining and hydrocarbons law, providing advisors and experts to the Honduran government to review the draft legislation. Both Canada and Chile have significant mining interests in Honduras. Expected to be ratified by Congress by the end of June, the law would establish a new two percent “Security Tax” on sales and exports, requiring companies to fund Honduran security forces.

Reports of the involvement of State security forces in human rights violations, organized crime, torture and extra-judicial killings continue to surface.

Four local civilian residents of the Honduran Mosquitia region – including two pregnant women – were shot and killed on May 11 in an anti-narcotics operation involving the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), military contractors, helicopters owned by the U.S. State Department, Guatemalan military personnel, and Honduran police.

On May 14, prominent LGBT activist Erick Martinez was found murdered. Two days later, the body of journalist Alfredo Villatoro was found, a week after he had been kidnapped. Dozens of journalists and LGBT activists have been murdered since the June 2009 coup that ousted President Manuel Zelaya. Many of them were actively involved in the resistance movement to the coup and in most cases no one has been brought to justice for their murders.

Arrests were made last week, however, in connection with the death of Villatoro, a close friend of President Porfirio Lobo Sosa. One of the people detained in relation to Villatoro’s murder is a police officer, National Autonomous University of Honduras (UNAH) rector Julieta Castellanos told HRN radio on May 20.

“Human rights in Honduras are in a state of emergency,” says Bertha Oliva, director of the Committee of Relatives of the Detained-Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH). “There is no governance because all institutions involved in ‘justice’ sustain and promote injustice, and are involved in crime.”

Canadian and Chilean Influence on Honduran Public Security Reform Commission

The Canadian government’s appointment of Adam Blackwell completes the five-member Honduran Public Security Reform Commission. The commission’s other foreign representative is Aquiles Blu Rodriguez, a retired General from Chile’s Carabineros national police force. Blackwell and Blu Rodriguez will sit alongside the three Hondurans on the Commission: Jorge Omar Casco, Matias Funes, and Victor Meza.

In 2011, Blu Rodriguez was accused by former Carabineros Lieutenant Alvaro Ureta Sepulveda of covering up a drug trafficking network in Chile, of being responsible for the disappearance of 20 kilograms of cocaine, and of altering a police report to benefit the son of a former military official. Blu Rodriguez retired shortly after the scandal made the Chilean news. The Honduran government’s acceptance of his appointment to the Commission by the government of Chile has been openly questioned by Honduran Congressman Augusto Cruz, among others.

In October 2011, the son of the UNAH rector Castellanos was murdered along with a friend by police in the Honduran capital city, Tegucigalpa. Their murder led to a national and international outcry for Honduran security reform. Although some restructuring of the national police force took place in late 2011, the National Congress established the Honduran Public Security Reform Commission in January 2012.

But many Honduran human rights organizations have very little faith that government-appointed commissions will produce any tangible results.

“Since the coup, the State of Honduras has received a lot of recommendations including from the Truth Commission, in which national and international representatives – including a representative from Canada – participated at the service of [President Porfirio] Lobo,” explains Oliva, one of the country’s most prominent human rights activists. “They gave [over 80] recommendations and none have been complied with.”

“The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has also given many recommendations and none have been fulfilled,” says Oliva. “The state has appointed two or three commissions to examine the recommendations, but they will not do anything.”

Victor Meza, Minister of the Interior during the Zelaya Administration, is a well-known intellectual and has expressed critical perspectives about Honduran security forces.

“With little capacity for investigation, the police do not have any public credibility. They are despised by the public since the coup for the role they played in repressing the marches [of the resistance movement to the coup],” says Meza. “When I started studying the problem, I thought that the police were part of the solution and then later I realized they were part of the problem. Now, they are the problem.”

Violence and social conflict in Honduras are often presented as being largely a product of gang violence, organized crime, and drug trafficking. But Meza points out that social conflict is most often related to the country’s natural resources. In fact, a 2008 study by the Honduras Documentation Center found that the source of 52% of all conflict in Honduras was the management of natural resources, including lands, water, forests, and mines.

A Canadian Diplomat’s Conflict of Interests

Adam Blackwell, the Canadian representative to the Honduran Public Security Reform Commission, is currently the OAS Secretary for Multidimensional Security. Prior to his post at the OAS, Blackwell was the Canadian Ambassador to the Dominican Republic from 2002 to 2005.

During his diplomatic term in the country, the government of the Dominican Republic began bilateral Free Trade Agreement negotiations with Canada, reformed its mining legislation, and signed several deals for Canadian corporate investment projects in various sectors – including a permit allowing GlobeStar Mining Corp to mine the Cerro de Maimon gold and copper deposits.

According to the DR1 news compilation service, the El Caribe newspaper reported that at a February 2003 ‘Canada and Dominican Republic: Closer than ever’ trade seminar in the Dominican Republic, Blackwell said that “certain changes in the mining laws are required to entice serious investments in this area […] Blackwell said that Placer Dome, the massive Canadian mining consortium, is holding back a US$300-million investment in Pueblo Viejo, Azua until these changes can be effected.”

On April 14, 2003, during an official visit to the Dominican Republic by then Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien, Congress passed changes to the country’s mining legislation. The congressional act formalized approval for a 25-year lease agreement with Vancouver-based Placer Dome for the Pueblo Viejo gold deposit, which had previously been exploited as a state-run mining operation during the 1980s and 1990s. The mine is now jointly owned by Toronto-based gold mining giant Barrick and Vancouver-based Goldcorp, with production slated to commence in mid-2012.

“This is now the green light,” Ambassador Blackwell said back in April 2003, according to the Globe and Mail. In 2004, El Caribe reported that Canada had become responsible for ninety per cent of all investment in the mining sector in the Dominican Republic.

Mining, Oil and Gas Companies to Fund State Security

While Blackwell and Blu Rodriguez represent Canada and Chile on the Honduran Public Security Reform Commission, both governments have also been involved in the development of a new mining, oil and gas law in Honduras, slated for congressional approval by the end of June.

In March 2012, while in Toronto attending the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) convention, Cuellar told El Heraldo reporter Claudia Gamez that SERNA had sought the review of the proposed Honduran law by international experts, made possible through the agreements signed with Chile and Canada. The same El Heraldo reporter writes that the Secretariat of Natural Resources and the Environment (SERNA) made an agreement with the Canadian government to contract international advisors – to be paid by Canadian government funds – to review the proposed General Law on Mining and Hydrocarbons before it is ratified. In January 2012, Chilean Vice Minister of Mines Pablo Wagner San Martín signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Rigoberto Cuellar, Secretary of SERNA, to begin a process of technical cooperation on mining.

In its current draft form, Article 70 of the General Law on Mining and Hydrocarbons would establish royalties in the form of a monthly tax, requiring mining, oil and gas companies to pay four and a half per cent of the value of their sales and exports. Two percent would be paid to the municipality in which the extractive activities take place, a half percent would be destined for the Mining Authority, and the remaining two percent would be paid to the national treasury as a ‘Security Tax’ (Tasa de Seguridad).

Legislated direct funding of Honduran State security by mining, oil and gas corporations is not contemplated in previous proposals of extractive industry legislation nor does it exist in the current law.

The existing General Mining Law of Honduras was ratified by Congress without debate in 1998, while the country was scrambling from the devastation of Hurricane Mitch. Diverse campaigns on mining issues gathered steam a few years later, after Canadian mining company Glamis Gold – now Goldcorp – developed the San Martin open pit gold mine in the Siria Valley, an hour and a half northeast of the capital.

Honduran and international non-governmental organizations (NGOS) have engaged in their own campaigns on the issue, for law reform and corporate accountability; however, the grassroots movement in Honduras has largely been led by local community members from the Siria Valley and other areas directly affected by mining projects and concessions. The latter, a movement of popular resistance, has fought for an outright ban on large-scale metallic mining in the country.

In March 2006, lawyer Clarissa Vega brought a case to the Supreme Court of Honduras on behalf of members of the Siria Valley Environmental Committee, the Mother Earth Movement, the Committee for the Defense and Development of Flora and Fauna of the Gulf of Fonseca (CODDEFFAGOLF), and others. They sought to have the 1998 mining law declared unconstitutional. Some NGOs had cautioned that the initiative was unrealistic and opted not to participate, choosing instead to continue their campaigns for more moderate legislative reforms.

But the grassroots groups’ Supreme Court case was ultimately successful.

On October 4, 2006, the Supreme Court ruled that 13 different articles of the General Mining Law contravened the Honduran Constitution and were thus declared null and void. The articles in question dealt with issues including the forced expropriation of lands in the name of public interest, royalties, workers’ rights, and environmental impact assessments. The Supreme Court ruling also set important jurisprudence in the country, recognizing the right to a healthy environment, the precautionary principle, the importance of consultation, and the fact that mining is “highly contaminating and damaging to life.”

In the wake of the Supreme Court decision, mining concessions in Honduras were suspended and a temporary moratorium on new concessions was enacted. The grassroots movement of resistance to mining held demonstrations and actions throughout the Zelaya Administration both to ensure the ongoing renewal of the moratorium and to demand a new mining law banning open pit metallic mining. Work on draft legislation to that effect, developed by affected communities and NGOs alongside presidential advisors, was cut short by the 2009 coup. A Congressional Committee had also been working on a mining law proposal requiring fifty per cent State involvement in all mining ventures.

With advisors reviewing the current draft General Law on Mining and Hydrocarbons, Canada and Chile are the origin of extractive industry corporations with interests in Honduras. As is the case around the world, Canadian companies in particular have dominated the mining industry in Honduras. Vancouver-based Goldcorp’s San Martin gold mine in the Siria Valley is now closed, but the affected communities continue to fight for justice for ongoing environmental and health impacts. The company also has several other concessions in the country.

Canadian company Aura Minerals acquired the San Andres open-pit heap leach gold mine in western Honduras in August 2009. The El Mochito zinc mine in western Honduras was previously operated by Canadian company Breakwater Resources Ltd before the company was taken over by European Nyrstar in August 2011. Mining concessions are also owned by several Canadian junior companies engaged in exploration.

The involvement of Canada and Chile in extractive industry legislation development and public security reform is clear. How their interventions unfold in Honduras, however, remain to be seen.

Currently in Honduras, Karen Spring is a human rights and mining justice activist working with Rights Action. She lived and worked in Honduras from 2008 to 2011 and is now based out of Vancouver. Karen can be reached at: spring.kj(at)

Sandra Cuffe lived in Honduras from 2003 to 2007, working as a human rights activist and researcher with Rights Action, and returned in July 2009 as an independent reporter for several months. She is currently a Vancouver-based freelance journalist and can be reached at: sandra.m.cuffe(at)

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Resistance to Pipelines Heats Up in Northern BC

Co-authored with Dawn Paley, this article appeared in the March/April 2011 issue of Canadian Dimension.

Resistance to Pipelines Heats Up in Northern BC

Pipelines for Tar Sands Expansion Increases Pressure on Indigenous Communities and the Environment

by Dawn Paley and Sandra Cuffe

Oil pipelines have been likened to a 21st century version of the railway: opening up new lands for state and corporate control in order to move valuable commodities that keep the economic motor of the nation running. Corporate publicity materials confirm the comparison: “We’re building Canada, bringing growth to the north,” reads an Enbridge brochure.

The explosion of oil production in the Alberta tar sands has created a new push to build pipelines throughout North America. In northern British Columbia, most of which is unceded indigenous land, there are overlapping proposals for new ports and pipelines to transport tar sands oil. These come hand in hand with new proposals for mining mega projects, dams, roads, power lines, shale gas and other infrastructure that would crisscross important ecosystems through out the north.

“They’re trying to justify the means of things like pipelines, not just pipelines in general, but raw logs, raw minerals, [and] unrefined mock oil from the tar sands,” Mel Bazil from the Wet’suwet’en and Gitxsan Nations told Canadian Dimension.

Perhaps the most well known of the proposed projects is the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline project, which consists of twin pipelines spanning the territories of 30 First Nations, for a total of 1,172 km. According to figures released by Enbridge, the total cost of the project is $5.5 billion.

If completed, a pipeline measuring nearly a meter in diameter would transport 520,000 barrels of tar sands bitumen per day from just outside of Edmonton to the north coast of British Columbia. The other pipeline would be 50 cm wide, and would serve to push 193,000 barrels of condensate, a chemical substance used in the extraction of tar sands oil, in the opposite direction. The company also plans to build a port in the town of Kitimat that would see about 220 oil supertankers in and out per year.

From the port at Kitimat, bitumen would be transported to Asia, opening up an important new market for the world’s dirtiest fossil fuel.

The pathway of the proposed pipelines, which will be buried one meter underground, crosses hundreds of rivers and streams, including the headwaters of the Fraser and Skeena rivers. A leak, spill, or explosion would have devastating effects on numerous ecosystems spanning hundreds of kilometers all the way to the coast.

Oil Spills: Not a question of if, but when

“The real fears are around the potential for an accident,” West Coast Environmental Law (WCEL) staff lawyer Andre Gage told Canadian Dimension. Gage explained that the path of both the proposed pipeline and tanker routes cross geographically isolated areas that include “some of the most important biodiversity in the world.”

“It’s not a question of whether there will be leaks,” said Gage, explaining that a failure or spill is a certainty at some point along such an extensive pipeline. “There’s a debate about how frequently these spills would occur. The recovery rate would be a very small percentage of the oil. We’ve seen Enbridge having trouble cleaning up the impact of that spill in Michigan,” he added, emphasizing that the affected regions in that case were much more accessible for clean-up crews than many areas along the proposed path of the Northern Gateway pipeline.

Enbridge is no stranger to such happenings along the 15,280 kilometers of pipelines they operate in North America. In 2010, a leak along one of their pipelines in Michigan resulted in millions of barrels of crude oil being spilled into the Kalamazoo River. This spill, coming after the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, garnered Enbridge negative attention, and was followed by a second spill outside of Chicago.

Duty to consult

The Northern Gateway project is currently before the Federal Joint Review Panel (JRP), which is a three member panel: two representatives named by the National Energy Board, and a third by the Federal Minister of the Environment.

The NEB representatives are tasked with determining whether or not the project is in the “national interest,” while the representative from the Ministry of the Environment must decide if it will have significant adverse impacts on the environment.

“The duty to consult is there, by the governments, but it’s being manipulated,” said Russell Diabo of Kahnawake. Diabo is a First Nations policy analyst and editor of the First Nations Strategic Bulletin.

But opponents of the project claim that Enbridge and the Canadian government are employing consultation in order to push the project ahead. The JRP process allows for “reasonable accommodation” of feedback from “stakeholders.” First Nations and other communities along the path of the proposed pipelines are slotted into the category of “stakeholders,” instead of being considered the rightful owners of the land.

In a mid-December 2010 interview with the Calgary Herald, Enbridge CEO Pat Daniel said that Enbridge “[feels] very strongly the regulator will rule in favour of the project and it’s very much in Canada’s national best interest, which is the main test the NEB will apply.”

Though there have been some recent successes for indigenous communities fighting the extractive industries in BC at the JRP level, including the cancellation of the proposed Kemess North copper and gold mining project in Tse Keh Nay and Gitxsan territories, and more recently the Prosperity Mine in Tsilqot’in Territory, there is no doubt that environmental regulations at the federal level are lax.

“The fact is that the federal environmental assessment system has only ever found an unacceptable environmental impact in three cases of the more than 10,000 considered since 2003,” wrote Gage in a report titled Beneath Enbridge’s PR Spin. “For example, a massive tar sands project which will by itself contribute more than 1 percent of Canada’s annual Greenhouse Gas emissions, has been found by a joint review panel not to have any significant environmental impact.”

If the JRP proceeds according to the timeline currently set out, there should be a decision about the pipeline by the end of 2012.

To date, no First Nation has publicly stated their support for the Northern Gateway, despite company assertions that there are First Nations and community members that support the project. Though some indigenous and environmental organizations have registered as participants in the process in order to voice their concerns and, in some cases, their complete opposition to the pipeline. Some of the participating First Nations have made statements clarifying that participation in the JRP and in protocol agreements in no way signifies support for the project.

“Enbridge has pointed to 30 ‘protocol agreements’ signed with indigenous nations and claims support for their pipelines. In fact, Enbridge’s public documents show that these agreements do not indicate support but simply ‘establish the ground rules and points of contact for discussion on all aspects of the Northern Gateway project that might affect or involve First Nations and Metis communities,’” clarified Xaxli’p Chief Art Adolph of the St’at’imc Nation, in a December press release by the Yinka Dene Alliance.

Many more First Nations are actively engaged in grassroots resistance to the Northern Gateway and refuse to participate in the Joint Review process or dialogue with Enbridge. Members of the Wet’suwet’en nation have already issued a trespass notice to Enbridge officials, and held an action camp against the pipelines last summer.

“It’s non community members telling community members how they see the production happening,” said Bazil of the JRP. He says Enbridge and other corporate interests take a fragmented approach to the construction of pipelines and other infrastructure which ignores the cumulative impacts on the land.

Cumulative impacts on unceded land

“We don’t want to just weigh the potential and possibilities and impacts based only on only the pipelines. Pipeline companies are trying to say things like ‘we don’t deal with dirty oil, we just deal with pipelines,’” Bazil told Canadian Dimension. “They’re trying to minimize the impacts … they’re trying to tell us, in our communities, that we have no say in what goes on in our territories.”

The vast majority of British Columbia’s lands and resources belong to the First Nations that ceded neither territory nor sovereignty through treaties or agreements with governments. “There will be no proposed pipelines coming into Wet’suwet’en territory,” said Toghestiy, a hereditary chief from the Wet’suwet’en nation, during a presentation at the Everyone’s Downstream Conference in Edmonton in November. “Our laws never died. Our governance system has never died,” he said.

On December 2nd, 61 First Nations published their Save the Fraser Gathering of Nations Declaration as a full page ad in the Globe and Mail.

“This project which would link the tar sands to Asia through our territories and the headwaters of this great [Fraser] river, and the federal process to approve it, violate our laws, traditions, values and our inherent rights as indigenous peoples under international law,” reads the Declaration.

“We will not allow the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipelines, or similar Tar Sands projects, to cross our lands, territories and watersheds, or the ocean migration routes of Fraser River salmon,” it continues.

The publication of the Declaration prompted a swift response from Enbridge. “The Northern Gateway team wants to assure you that these people do not speak for everybody. There are a great many people, including First Nations and community members along the proposed route, who understand that this project can be built and operated safely. These are the same people who support the project,” Enbridge countered in a press release that came out the following day.

“Enbridge talks about having the so-called ‘support of First Nations,’ but I don’t know of a single First Nation that supports them,” said Chief Jackie Thomas of the Saik’uz First Nation, in a press release. “There are over 80 nations that have come out against their pipelines and tankers.”

In another blow to Enbridge’s attempt to convince Canadians that indigenous peoples support the Northern Gateway pipeline, five First Nations of the Yinka Dene Alliance turned down what they say was an offer from the company to turn them into shareholders in the project.

Enbridge went into damage control, claiming that they had never made such an offer to the Yinka Dene Alliance, but the company was again unable to name a single First Nation that has declared its support for the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline.

The voices of indigenous peoples and their allies fighting new oil pipelines and tanker traffic have been reinforced by recent actions on the municipal and federal levels. On October 1, the Union of British Columbia Municipalities voted resoundingly against the Enbridge pipeline and tanker traffic up the coast. “Understanding of the issue is growing, and that is leading to stronger opposition across the province,” said Carol Kulesha, Mayor of the Village of Queen Charlotte, in a press release.

In December, a motion forwarded by the New Democratic Party calling for a ban on new tanker traffic in BC was passed, garnering the support of all three opposition parties. Amidst the actions and declarations against the pipeline, executives from both the Canadian Pacific Railroad and the Canadian National Railway raised the possibility of a rail pipeline at a tar sands conference in Calgary. CN Rail already operates a program they call Pipeline On Rail. PipelineOnRail™ is an economically sound, surprisingly fast way to ship crude oil products within Alberta, to the rest of Canada, the US Midwest, the Gulf coast, and other export markets,” reads CN’s website.

No matter the mode of transportation of the oil, if the Enbridge pipeline ends up stalled, the proposals alone have already had an impact on indigenous people and their way of life. “Proposed production is an impact on our way of life in itself, then we have to educate ourselves on these issues, and maybe its not even gonna happen,” said Bazil. “How much time are we wasting? How much time are we not spending on building a sustainable economy?”

Dawn Paley is a Vancouver-based journalist. Sandra Cuffe is a contributing member of the Vancouver Media Co-op. Although currently based out west she is contemplating heading east, learning about the north, and often has the south on her mind.

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The Snakes Sleep: Attacks against the Media and Impunity in Honduras

This article was published by UpsideDownWorld.

The Snakes Sleep: Attacks against the Media and Impunity in Honduras

by Sandra Cuffe

In Honduras, there is a particular quote by Uruguayan author Eduardo Galeano that has been adopted into the country’s rich lexicon of idioms: “Justice is like snakes. They only bite the barefoot.”

Of the thousands of human rights violations committed in Honduras since the coup in June 2009, in most cases the only serious investigations have been carried out by the grassroots organizations involved with the Human Rights Platform and the resistance movement. Very few charges have been laid against the human rights violators who ordered and carried out illegal detentions, kidnappings, beatings, torture, rape, and extrajudicial executions.

At the international level, however, there have recently been positive signals that spark the hope that justice may one day be served. Last week, the International Criminal Court announced that preliminary investigations are underway to determine whether or not the Court has jurisdiction over a case related to Honduras. Essentially, the Court is investigating whether or not war crimes and/or crimes against humanity have been committed in Honduras since the coup on June 28, 2009.

Also earlier this month, Honduras faced its Universal Periodic Review at the United Nations, a process that each UN member State undergoes every four years. Tellingly, Cuba, Venezuela and Bolivia did not attend because they do not recognize the government of Porfirio Lobo Sosa, who was elected President in November 2009 in highly controversial elections that many contend were simply the prolongation of the illegitimate rule of the civic and military authorities that coordinated the overthrow of democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya Rosales. Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, El Salvador and Ecuador explicitly clarified that they do not recognize the government of Honduras, but intervened in the Review process nonetheless in order to support the human rights of the Honduran people.

At the Universal Periodic Review in Geneva, several concerns were voiced about the impunity surrounding human rights violations in general, and the murder of journalists in particular. Nine journalists have been murdered in Honduras in 2010 to date. According to the “Death Watch” compiled by the International Press Institute (IPI), Honduras is now the second most dangerous country for journalists, second only to Mexico. Prior to 2010, the countries with the most murders of journalists were mainly countries officially deemed to be in conflict, such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Somalia. When the Honduran population of less than eight million is taken into account, the statistics are exponentially more serious.

According to the IPI’s research, from 1997 when the Institute started the “Death Watch” until the coup, only seven journalists were killed. At the Universal Periodic Review, UN member States demanded investigations and justice in the cases of the nine journalists killed in 2010 alone. While the final report will not be adopted until the Human Rights Council meets again to discuss the case in March 2011, the Honduran government stated its acceptance of the 129 recommendations during the Review process earlier this month. In the case of the journalists, however, the promise to investigate and to prosecute those responsible did not come without a rebuttal.

“In none of the cases investigated have the victims or their families alleged political motivations, nor have the investigations turned up evidence that such a pattern exists,” said Honduran Vice President Maria Antoineta Guillen de Bogran during the Review.

Earlier this year, in an interview with the Tribuna newspaper on May 3rd, Honduran Minister of Security Oscar Alvarez went even further, stating: “I guarantee that in all of the cases [of the journalists’ murders], there is no connection to indicate that it is due to their work as journalists. That is to say that there is no person or people trying to silence journalists; it is simply that, just as other people, after their work as reporters, journalists spend their time on their own personal situations.”

Of course, as murdered journalists themselves, Gabriel Fino Noriega, Joseph Hernandez Ochoa, David Meza Montesinos, Nahum Palacios, Jose Bayardo Mayrena, Manuel Juarez, Jorge Alberto Orellana, Luis Arturo Mondragon, and Israel Zelaya Diaz are not able to contest the statements by Vice President Guillen and Security Minister Alvarez. In most cases, however, journalists who have been threatened, kidnapped, beaten, and tortured have demonstrated the clear connection between their work as critical journalists supporting or reporting on the resistance movement and the human rights violations they have endured.

In the case of direct attacks against media outlets, the evidence is clear. Most of the violent assaults against radio stations and the confiscation of equipment took place either on June 28th, 2009, the morning of the coup, or three months later, on September 28th, 2009, after a specific executive decree including more curfews and martial law also addressed media outlets. The decree established a State of Emergency and restricted several basic rights and freedoms, including the freedom of expression, giving authorities the green light to “halt the coverage or discussion through any media, be it verbal or printed, of demonstrations that threaten peace and public order” or that compromised the “dignity” of government authorities or decisions.

“The decree [defined] the framework of a military dictatorship,” asserted well-known radio journalist Felix Molina.

“Honduras had not seen – not even during the dirty war of the 1980s, when the military governed with a civilian facade – something like what we saw the morning of June 28th 2009, which was repeated the morning of September 28th 2009, exactly three months later. The arrival in person of soldiers to a media outlet. Confiscation. Well, on June 28th, there was no confiscation of equipment, but in September, Channel 36’s equipment was destroyed and confiscated and completely confiscated from Radio Globo,” explained Molina after the military assault on Radio Globo and Cholusat Sur, the only radio and television stations, respectively, with nation-wide coverage to clearly identify with the resistance movement against the coup.

“In the 24 hours after the publication of the decree in the official newspaper, the army invoked it to take away equipment and take two media outlets off the air… And we could have expected anything to happen, but as a journalist, I would have never expected that a media outlet be physically dismantled by the army, and yet that is what we saw at dawn on September 28th,” said Molina.

On June 28th, in the hours after the Honduran army sprayed the house of elected President Zelaya with bullets and forced him onto a flight to Costa Rica, several radio stations around the country reporting the urgent news were targeted by the armed forces and forced off the air. That same morning, a nation-wide consultation was to have taken place for people to express their support or opposition for a fourth ballot box in the 2010 elections concerning a Constituent Assembly to rewrite the Constitution. The initiative was supported and coordinated both by Zelaya and much of the Honduran social movement. Many of the media outlets that would later support the coup either simply did not report anything that morning, or reported the official version of events involving Zelaya’s resignation and voluntary departure. Electrical power blackouts also occurred in much of the country.

One of the radio stations attacked and forced to stop broadcasting on June 28th 2009 was Radio Juticalpa, located in the state of Olancho, home to both ousted President Zelaya and current controversial President Lobo. When station director Martha Elena Rubi arrived before dawn, she found the windows and walls of the studio shot up from outside. The shells inside the studio were all from M-16s, the assault rifles assigned to the Honduran army. Witnesses also identified the armed forces as responsible for the violent attack, but Rubi went ahead and broadcast the news of the coup.

“We thought that this time, if we informed the people of what was really going on, we would help neutralize it. So, knowing that I was going to do this work, what they did was that when I got here, at about five thirty or five o’clock in the morning, [they thought that] I would realize that they had shot up the station and that I would be afraid and not even go on air,” said Rubi.

“I knew they were going to come,” added Rubi, “so I had little time to tell people the truth, and for the town to realize the way in which they were trying to silence what we were, in an impartial way, saying: the truth. So I knew that I was racing against the clock and I committed to getting people to wake up to reality. About two or three hours later, they came with orders for me to shut down the station.”

There was a power blackout in Juticalpa, but Radio Juticalpa had a solar plant and therefore became the only radio station on the air in the entire region. When the heavily armed soldiers were approaching, Rubi stopped her news coverage and switched to music. However, the station was forced off the air for the rest of the day. Luckily, Rubi and her colleague Andres Molina were able to prevent the army from confiscating their equipment.

Likely due in large part to the persistence of Honduran human rights organizations and mounting international pressure, Colonel Rene Javier Palao Torres and sub-official Juan Alfredo Acosta Acosta were charged with Abuse of Authority for the assault on Radio Juticalpa and sentenced to prison in Juticalpa, Olancho. The military officials appealed the verdict, however, and the sentence was overturned earlier this month by the Court of Appeals.

The number of cases in which charges have not even been laid is unfortunately far greater than those that have at least made it to court. Flying in the face of the statements by Vice President Guillen and Security Minister Alvarez, one such case is the kidnapping and torture of 29-year-old Delmer Membreno on September 28th 2009, the same day as the military attacks on Radio Globo and Cholusat Sur. A former photographer for the Tribuna newspaper and the Spanish News Agency, the resistance-supporting El Libertador newspaper photographer Membreno was forced into a vehicle by armed men in Tegucigalpa.

“They put a balaclava over my head, they handcuffed me, and they burned my body. They hit me, and they uttered threats against the newspaper I work for: El Libertador,” said Membreno, with the bruises and burn marks still visible on his face and body.

“They beat me. They burned my body with cigarettes. Here [on my arm], my face, and my chest. They ripped my shirt and left me without shoes… ‘Cry, cry! Why aren’t you crying, you commie?’ That’s what they said… They said that the director better be careful, that they were following him, and that what they had done to me was nothing in comparison to what they were going to do to him,” narrated the wounded photographer.

When the torture of Membreno took place, there had already been so many cases of human rights violations against journalists and media outlets that the Committee of Relatives of the Detained-Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH) had petitioned the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) for precautionary measures specifically for a long list of journalists and media outlets that had been attacked. From July 2009 on, the IACHR granted precautionary measures to a long list of journalists and media outlets; however, during two separate IACHR hearings that took place one month ago in Washington DC, evidence began to pile up that Honduras had not been carrying out the measures.

On July 24th, 2009, the IACHR granted precautionary measures to television journalist Nahun Palacios, the news director of Aguan Television on channel 5 in Tocoa, Colon, in the Aguan Valley. Palacios had immediately and publicly voiced his opposition to the coup and reported on the mobilizations against the coup and in support of the fourth ballot box and the Constituent Assembly. Only two days after the coup, on June 30th, soldiers raided Palacios’ home, intimidated his family, held his children at gunpoint, and seized his vehicle and some work-related equipment.

Despite the IACHR precautionary measures granted the following month, Palacios never received any communication from the State, let alone any effective protection. Eight months later, on March 14th, 2010, 34-year-old Nahun Palacios was traveling home when his vehicle was intercepted and gunned down with AK47s, automatic weapons that are illegal but easily acquired in Honduras. Two unknown men fled the scene, leaving Palacios dead in the street, his body and vehicle riddled with dozens of bullets. Another passenger in the car was seriously injured and died later in the hospital.

As in many of the other murders of journalists this year, all of which remain unsolved, police did not carry out a proper investigation at the scene of Palacios’ murder. After failing to gather sufficient evidence from the body back in March, the police exhumed Palacios’ body in August, further upsetting his distraught relatives who still wait for justice eight months later, despite the State’s international assurances that they are carrying out investigations and precautionary measures.

Nahun Palacios’ murder in March 2010 was only one of five journalists killed that month. Due to the overwhelming impunity in the country, others have been forced to flee into exile. Many have also remained in Honduras, carrying out their vital work despite the ongoing threats and attacks.

“They can intimidate. You know, yes, of course there is fear, but I don’t think that it will stop us from informing the people of the truth,” said Delmer Membreno after his kidnapping and torture.

The announcement of the International Criminal Court about its preliminary investigations into possible war crimes or crimes against humanity in Honduras, as well as the ongoing pressure within the United Nations and Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, would not be possible without the work of the innumerable committed Honduran journalists, media outlets, and human rights organizations from day one.

For now, back in Honduras, however, the snakes of justice are far from trying their fangs out on the high-ranking military, police and political leaders behind both the coup and outrageous human rights violations. Justice may simply be sleeping like so many court cases in the country. Or perhaps Zelaya and democracy were not the only ones forced into exile at gunpoint on June 28th, 2009.

Sandra Cuffe is a writer and activist of no fixed address. After living and working in Honduras for four years from 2003 to 2007, she returned five days after the coup, and stayed through April 2010, collaborating with COFADEH and other local organizations.

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