Tuesday, December 12, 2017

How LAB works: selected case studies

LAB returns frequently to certain key themes, because these are what most concern and affect our partners in the Region. We report what is happening to these partners, publish interviews or reproduce stories about them. Sometimes we can observe a direct effect —the story on our website is picked up in other places; liked and echoed in social media; LAB is quoted; ultimately the policy of governments or companies may even be altered in positive ways. More often the impacts are more indirect. But the fact that we provide a public and well-respected platform for these issues is valuable in itself.

Logging and dams in the Brazilian Amazon

Illegal logging

Ever since we published the seminal book Fight for the Forest – Chico Mendes in his own words (1992), about the legendary leader of the Brazilian rubber tappers, LAB has followed and reported on the threats to the Amazon rainforest and all who live and work there. In 2012 LAB editor Sue Branford visited the Xingu river and Altamira areas, in Pará state where construction of the vast Belo Monte hydro-electric dams threatens the livelihoods of local people.

The main purpose of her visit, however, was to document how illegal logging is continuing, largely hidden in patches too small to be detectable by satellite and aerial photography, and often taking advantage of the well-intentioned Sustainable Development Projects (PDS) to ‘launder’ the origin of the high-value timber being extracted. She was accompanied by a local researcher, Mauricio Torres, which meant that she was immediately trusted by local activists and leaders of social movements.

As Sue graphically reported: “In 2005 the timber companies realised that the PDS was an opportunity for them to legitimise their illegal logging. They created what amounted to phantom communities, going to towns and villages with loudspeakers, promising land for people who signed up to become the beneficiaries of a PDS. Armed with this list of randomly selected people, a logger and one of his stooges, introduced as the ‘leader of the community’, went to INCRA and got it to set up a PDS.” Local people resisting this pressure were subjected to threats and worse —the American nun Sister Dorothy was murdered in 2005 for her resistance to abuses by landowners and loggers.

Impact: Apart from being widely read on the LAB website, these blogs were translated and published altogether in a long article in the Brazilian magazine, Caros Amigos. Since then, they have become a reference point and routinely quoted, even in court cases. They have also been used as evidence of the kind of abuse that a courageous Brazilian nun, Sister Angela Sauzen, receives from landowners. They are a good example of how LAB can work with local movements to get their views and concerns into the media.   

Sue’s extraordinary and vivid diary of this trip can be read here.

Violence Against Women

Campaign for justice for the Cotton Field victims

Many of LAB’s partners, especially in Central America, are deeply concerned by what appears to be a rising tide of violence against women —in the home, at work and in the community. Some of the worst stories come from Mexico and Central America, especially Honduras and Guatemala. With our partner Central America Women’s Network we published two newsletters dedicated to this and other issues affecting women (see here, and here), and we continue to carry regular articles highlighting it:

Honduras: the never-ending struggle —features an interview with human rights defender Dina Meza, discussing violence and impunity as it affects women and journalists.

Guatemala: an inconvenient attorney-general —an interview with the extraordinary Claudia Paz y Paz, responsible for some of the most high profile prosecutions in Guatemala’s history. These include the successful case against a dozen leaders of the Mexico-based Zetas drug trafficking gang; numerous prosecutions for femicide; and the genocide case against former President, Efraín Ríos Montt.

Femicide in Mexico: the Cotton-field case and its sequels —tells the story of the massacre in 2001 of a number of women maquila workers in Ciudad Juárez and the subsequent ‘Ni Una Más’ campaign for justice for these and the many other victims of femicide and abuse.

El Salvador: Truce for the gangs, no truce for women —welcomes the sudden and dramatic drop in violence that followed the government’s unofficial truce in early 2012 with the country’s savage urban gangs. Fewer women are dying, but there has been an increase in non-lethal sexual violence against them and other forms of exploitation continue unabated.

Girls in Play: Sexual exploitation and the World Cup —a brilliant comic-strip by LAB’s São Paulo-based partner A Pública, depicting the trafficking of young girls from the countryside to Brazil’s cities and beaches, and the risk that this trade will increase dramatically during the World Cup tournament.

Indigenous, Quilombo and other local Communities

In 1996 LAB co-published with Cassell and Temple University in the US, Phillip Wearne’s book Return of the Indian: Conquest and Revival in the Americas. Throughout LAB’s history we have sought to give voice to the concerns of both indigenous and other rural communities, as they confront major development projects (dams, roads and urbanisation), extraction (mining, water supplies, monocrop agriculture), pollution (pesticides, fertiliser run-off, oil and chemicals) and land-grabs by large corporations and waves of settlers from other areas.

In 2013 LAB editors Sue Branford and Nayana Fernandez returned to Pará, Brasil and travelled along the Tapajós river, one of the largest tributaries of the Amazon, to examine the effects of dams, logging and mining on the Mundukuru Indian communities. Later they went on to the Trombetas river, visiting Quilombo communities, settled originally by escaped slaves. The Quilombos have fought a long battle for recognition and legal title to lands they have occupied for many generations.

Sue and Naya’s journey is chronicled here,  and Naya is preparing a documentary film which will be released in late 2014.

Impact: The next flashpoint for resistance to the Brazilian government’s plans for large and environmentally harmful hydroelectric dams will be the Tapajós river, where the 13,000-strong Munduruku indians are organising fierce resistance. Through contacts made in this trip, LAB is now poised to play a key role in publicising their struggle. Footage filmed by indians themseleves on their mobile phones of an indian killed in the resistance has already been sent to LAB’s website and went viral on hundreds of Brazilian websites.

Recently LAB has recruited the distinguished Argentinian writer Eduardo Civalleros to report on indigenous issues. He has written on:

  • The struggle of the Diaguita communities in northern Chile and Argentina against the vast Pascua-Lama mining project (Read more)
  • The demands for recognition of Argentina’s Qom communities, who have camped out this year on Buenos Aires’ Plaza de Mayo (Read more)

Mining, oil and hydro-electric projects

Throughout Latin America large mining, oil-drilling and hydro-electric dam projects threaten to damage the environment, pollute water-courses, and displace or disrupt established communities and the rural economy. The activities of the large, mostly foreign-owned companies involved, provoke conflict, often violent, with local people, as the companies deploy their own private armies of security guards and encourage or bribe local and national police, civil servants and judiciaries to defend their operations. Consultation, where it takes place at all, is often perceived by locals to be a public relations charade. National governments of all political persuasions find it hard to resist the inducements: short term cash to fund social programs and the promise of investment in vital infrastructure — roads, rail, ports and power generation.

LAB works to report on these developments with Lima-based MAC (Miningandcommunities.org) and the London Mining Network, as well as with single country-focused partners such as Peru Support Group and ABColombia. Recent articles we have published include:

Peru: Giant phosphate mine threatens fisheries —about a vast opencast mine on the coast at Bayovar, owned by Brazilian mining giant Vale.

Colombia: What happens when Auntie AngloGold comes to stay —how AngloGold Ashanti is busily buying land and influence in Cajamarca province, future site of its vast La Colosa gold mine.

Catholic Church: Moving mountains —discusses the stance of the new Pope Francis who recently said: “Water is more important than gold”, and discusses the sometimes ambivalent stance of church leaders to the big mining corporations.

Ecuador wins a partial victory in its battle with Chevron —describes an Ecuadorean court ruling that Chevron Oil must pay for the environmental damage it has caused at Lago Agrio in Sucumbios province, in the Amazon basin, although it reduced the amount by more than half to US$9.51billion. In pique, Chevron has turned to the US courts to pursue the US lawyers who helped and advised the Ecuadorean villagers.

Peru: El Marañón -the environment, communities and rivers be dammed —reports on plans to resist the Chadin II hydro-electric project on the Marañon river, destined to supply energy to the vast Conga copper and gold mine, and which threatens local farmers and their crops.

Uruguay: saying ‘no’ to open pit mining —reports on a rally in Montevideo of 2,000 people, including environmentalists and horse-riding farmers, to protest against three large scale mining-related projects: London-based Zamin Ferrous’s $3 billion Valentines iron ore project, a regasification plant and a new port for shipping the iron ore.