Category Archives: Mining

Journey into Obsolescence: The Adani Carmichael Project

The Carmichael mine being pursued in the Galilee Basin in Central Queensland is a dinosaur before its creation.  On paper, it is hefty – to be some five times the size of Sydney harbour, the largest in Australia and one of the largest on the planet.  Six open cut and five underground mines covering some 30 kilometres are proposed, a gargantuan epic.  The coal itself would be transported through the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and World Heritage Area, and would feature a rail line subsidised by the money of Australian taxpayers.

Even before the initial steps are taken, its realisation is doomed to obsolescent indulgence and environmental wearing.  It has been endorsed by a bribed political class best represented by Liberal senator Matt Canavan, who sees Adani through tinted glasses as a “little Aussie batter”; it is run by an unelected plutocratic one.  This venture has seen Australian politicians, protoplasmic and spineless, do deals with a company run by a billionaire in a way that sneers at democracy and mocks the common citizenry.

The Adani group, run by its persistent Chairman Gautam Adani, has worked out what political figures want to hear and how far it can go, even in the face of mounting opposition.  His closeness to the halls of power has been noted: influential be he who has the ear of the Indian Prime Minister, Nahendra Modi.

How divisive the Carmichael project is between Australia’s morally flexible politicians and a growing body of disaffected citizenry can be gathered from the open letter to the Adani Group from some 90 notable Australians that was submitted in the first part of last year.  The list was impressively eclectic: authors such as Richard Flanagan and Tim Winton; investment banker Mark Burrows; and former Australian test cricket captains Ian and Greg Chappell.  (“The thought,” Ian Chappell ruefully, “that this could affect the relationship, hopefully that’ll get through.”)

The text of the note was simple enough.  “We are writing to respectfully ask you to abandon the Adani Group’s proposal in Queensland’s Galilee Basin… Pollution from burning coal was the single biggest driver of global warming, threatening life in Australia, India and all over the world.”

That same year, the British medical journal The Lancet deemed the Adani mine project a “public health disaster” though Australian authorities remain indifferent to recommendations that independent health assessments be conducted on the impact of the mine.

In very tangible ways, air pollution arising from the burning of coal is a global killer.  Australia’s menacing own contribution to this casualty list comes in at around three thousand a year; in India, the list, according to a 2013 study by the Mumbai-based Conservation Action Trust, is an eye-popping 115,000. “I didn’t expect the mortality figures per year,” remarked Debi Goenka, executive trustee of the Conservation Action Trust, “to be so high.”

The trends in energy generation and resources are against fossil fuels, and even the banks have heeded this, refusing to supply a credit line to the company.  But Adani knows a gullible audience when he sees one.  Like a sadhu aware of a westerner’s amenability to mysticism, the chairman and his worthies say the right things, and encourage the appropriate response from the ruling classes they are wooing.  The company feeds them the fodder and rose water they wish to hear, and massages them into appreciative stances. The campaign by the Indian company has been so comprehensive as to include decision makers from every level of government that might be connected with the mine.

Adani, not to be deterred by delays of some six years, has suggested that it will pursue a different model, though this remains vague.  Extravagance is being reined in, supposedly trimmed and slimmed: targets will be cut by three-quarters, and the company has now promised to finance the project itself.  “We will now,” claimed Adani Mining CEO Lucas Dow this week, “be developing a smaller open-cut mine comparable to many other Queensland coal mines and will ramp up production over time.”

Nothing this company says should ever be taken at face value.  Exaggeration and myth making is central to its platform.  Slyly, the company’s Australian operation is also given a deceptive wrapping; a visit to the company’s website will see information on Adani’s efforts to “become the leading supplier of renewable energy in Australia.”

Dow has become a missionary of sorts, repeatedly telling Queenslanders that the project can only mean jobs, and more jobs.  Astrological projections more in league with tarot card reading are used.  Last November, Dow, in a media statement, was brimming with optimism over those “indirect jobs” that would be created in Rockhampton, Townsville, Mackay and the Isaac region.  “Economic modelling, such as that used by the Queensland Resources Council in its annual resources industry economic impact report, show that each direct job in the industry in Queensland supports another four and a half jobs in related industries and businesses, therefore we can expect to see more than 7,000 jobs created by the initial ramp up of the Carmichael project.”

Not merely does the Carmichael mine smack of a crude obsolescence before the first lumps of coal are mined; it is bound to take a wrecking ball to any emissions reduction strategy Australia might intend pursuing.  (Matters are already half-hearted as they are in Canberra, poisoned by a fractious energy lobby and ill-gotten gains stakeholders.)  Professor Andrew Stock of the Climate Council has explained that once coal begins being burned, Australia’s “total emissions” are set to double, nothing less than an act of “environmental vandalism”.  Work on the mine will also contribute to such despoliation: the clearing of 20,200 hectares of land will add to the climate chance quotient; the Great Artesian Basin’s groundwater system will also be affected.

Another graphic projection is also being suggested.  For the duration of its projected 60 year lifespan, as epidemiologist Fiona Stanley reminds us, Adani’s venture will produce as much carbon as all of Australia’s current coal fired power stations combined.  All this, even as the Indian state promises to phase out thermal coal imports, rendering the Adani coal project a white, if vandalising, elephant.  The only difference now is that the elephant proposed is somewhat smaller in scale and size.

500 years is long enough! Human Depravity in the Congo

I would like to tell you something about human depravity and illustrate just how widespread it is among those we often regard as ‘responsible’. I am going to use the Democratic Republic of the Congo as my example.

As I illustrate and explain what has happened to the Congo and its people during the past 500 years, I invite you to consider my essential point: Human depravity has no limit unless people like you (hopefully) and me take some responsibility for ending it. Depravity, barbarity and violent exploitation will not end otherwise because major international organizations (such as the UN), national governments and corporations all benefit from it and are almost invariably led by individuals too cowardly to act on the truth.

The Congo

Prior to 1482, the area of central Africa now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo was part of the Kingdom of the Kongo. It was populated by some of the greatest civilizations in human history.

Slavery

However, in that fateful year of 1482, the mouth of the Congo River, which flows into the Atlantic Ocean, became known to Europeans when the Portuguese explorer Diogo Cao claimed he ‘discovered’ it. By the 1530s, more than five thousand slaves a year (many from inland regions of the Kongo) were being transported to distant lands, mostly in the Americas. Hence, as documented by Adam Hochschild in King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa, the Congo was first exploited by Europeans during the Atlantic slave trade.

Despite the horrific depredations of the militarized slave trade and all of its ancillary activities, including Christian priests spreading ‘Christianity’ while raping their captive slave girls, the Kingdoms of the Kongo were able to defend and maintain themselves to a large degree for another 400 years by virtue of their long-standing systems of effective governance. As noted by Chancellor Williams’ in his epic study The Destruction of Black Civilization: Great Issues of a Race from 4500 B.C. to 2000 A.D. the Kingdoms of the Congo prior to 1885 – including Kuba under Shyaam the Great and the Matamba Kingdom under Ngola Kambolo – were a cradle of culture, democracy and exceptional achievement with none more effective than the remarkable Queen (of Ndongo and Matamba), warrior and diplomat Nzinga in the 17th century.

But the ruthless military onslaught of the Europeans never abated. In fact, it continually expanded with ever-greater military firepower applied to the task of conquering Africa. In 1884 European powers met in Germany to finally divide ‘this magnificent African cake’, precipitating what is sometimes called ‘the scramble for Africa’ but is more accurately described as ‘the scramble to finally control and exploit Africa and Africans completely’.

Colonization

One outcome of the Berlin Conference was that the great perpetrator of genocide – King Leopold II of Belgium – with the active and critical support of the United States, seized violent control of a vast swathe of central Africa in the Congo Basin and turned it into a Belgian colony. In Leopold’s rapacious pursuit of rubber, gold, diamonds, mahogany and ivory, 10 million African men, women and children had been slaughtered and many Africans mutilated (by limb amputation, for example) by the time he died in 1909. His brutality and savagery have been documented by Adam Hochschild in the book King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa which reveals the magnitude of human suffering that this one man, unopposed in any significant way by his fellow Belgians or anyone else, was responsible for inflicting on Africa.

If you want to spend a few moments in touch with the horror of what some human beings do to other human beings, then I invite you to look at the sample photos of what Leopold did in ‘his’ colony in the Congo. See A Nightmare In Heaven – Why Nobody Is Talking About The Holocaust in Congo.

Now if you were hoping that the situation in the Congo improved with the death of the monster Leopold, your hope is in vain.

The shocking reality is that the unmitigated horror inflicted on the Congolese people has barely improved since Leopold’s time. The Congo remained under Belgian control during World War I during which more than 300,000 Congolese were forced to fight against other Africans from the neighboring German colony of Ruanda-Urundi. During World War II when Nazi Germany captured Belgium, the Congo financed the Belgian government in exile.

Throughout these decades, the Belgian government forced millions of Congolese into mines and fields using a system of ‘mandatory cultivation’ that forced people to grow cash crops for export, even as they starved on their own land.

It was also during the colonial period that the United States acquired a strategic stake in the enormous natural wealth of the Congo without, of course, any benefit to the Congolese people. This included its use of uranium from a Congolese mine (subsequently closed in 1960) to manufacture the first nuclear weapons: those used to destroy Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Independence then Dictatorship

By 1960, the Congolese people had risen up to overthrow nearly a century of slavery and Belgian rule. Patrice Lumumba became the first Prime Minister of the new nation and he quickly set about breaking the yoke of Belgian influence and allied the Congo with Russia at the height of the Cold War.

But the victory of the Congolese people over their European and US overlords was shortlived: Patrice Lumumba was assassinated in a United States-sponsored coup in 1961 with the US and other western imperial powers (and a compliant United Nations) repeating a long-standing and ongoing historical pattern of preventing an incredibly wealthy country from determining its own future and using its resources for the benefit of its own people.

So, following a well-worn modus operandi, an agent in the form of (Army Chief of Staff, Colonel) Mobutu Sese Seko was used to overthrow Lumumba’s government. Lumumba himself was captured and tortured for three weeks before being assassinated by firing squad. The new dictator Mobutu, compliant to western interests, then waged all-out war in the country, publicly executing members of the pro-Lumumba revolution in spectacles witnessed by tens of thousands of people. By 1970 nearly all potential threats to his authority had been smashed.

Mobutu would rape the Congo (renamed Zaire for some time) with the blessing of the west  – robbing the nation of around $2billion – from 1965 to 1997. During this period, the Congo got more than $1.5 billion in US economic and military aid in return for which US multinational corporations increased their share of the Congo’s abundant minerals.  Washington justified its hold on the Congo with the pretext of anti-Communism but its real interests were strategic and economic.

Invasion

Eventually, however, Mobutu’s increasingly hostile rhetoric toward his white overlords caused the west to seek another proxy. So, ostensibly in retaliation against Hutu rebels from the Rwandan genocide of 1994 – who fled into eastern Congo after Paul Kagame’s (Tutsi) Rwanda Patriotic Army invaded Rwanda from Uganda to end the genocide – in October 1996 Rwanda’s now-dictator Kagame, ‘who was trained in intelligence at Fort Leavenworth in the United States, invaded the Congo with the help of the Clinton Administration and Uganda. By May 1997 the invading forces had removed Mobutu and installed the new (more compliant) choice for dictator, Laurent Kabila.

Relations between Kabila and Kagame quickly soured, however, and Kabila expelled the Rwandans and Ugandans from the Congo in July 1998. However, the Rwandans and Ugandans reinvaded in August establishing an occupation force in eastern Congo. Angola, Zimbabwe and Namibia sent their armies to support Kabila and Burundi joined the Rwandans and Ugandans. Thus began ‘Africa’s First World War‘ involving seven armies and lasting until 2003. It eventually killed six million people – most of them civilians – and further devastated a country crushed by more than a century of Western domination, with Rwanda and Uganda establishing themselves as conduits for illegally taking strategic minerals out of the Congo.

During the periods under Mobutu and Kabila, the Congo became the concentration camp capital of the world and the rape capital as well. ‘No woman in the path of the violence was spared. 7 year olds were raped by government troops in public. Pregnant women were disemboweled. Genital mutilation was commonplace, as was forced incest and cannibalism. The crimes were never punished, and never will be.’

Laurent Kabila maintained the status quo until he was killed by his bodyguard in 2001. Since then, his son and the current dictator Joseph Kabila has held power in violation of the Constitution. ‘He has murdered protesters and opposition party members, and has continued to obey the will of the west while his people endure unspeakable hells.’

Corporate and State Exploitation

While countries such as Belgium, Canada, China, France, Germany, the Netherlands, South Korea, Switzerland and the UK are heavily involved one way or another (with other countries, such as Australia, somewhat less so), US corporations make a vast range of hitech products including microchips, cell phones and semiconductors using conflict minerals taken from the Congo . This makes companies like Intel, Apple, HP, and IBM culpable for funding the militias that control the mines.

But many companies are benefitting. For example,a 2002 report by the United Nations listed a ‘sample’ of 34 companies based in Europe and Asia that are importing minerals from the Congo via, in this case, Rwanda. The UN Report commented: ‘Illegal exploitation of the mineral and forest resources of the Democratic Republic of the Congo is taking place at an alarming rate. Two phases can be distinguished: mass-scale looting and the systematic and systemic exploitation of resources’. The mass-scale looting occurred during the initial phase of the invasion of the Congo by Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi when stockpiles of minerals, coffee, wood, livestock and money in the conquered territory were either taken to the invading countries or exported to international markets by their military forces or nationals. The subsequent systematic and systemic exploitation required planning and organization involving key military commanders, businessmen and government structures; it was clearly illegal.

For some insight into other issues making exploitation of the Congo possible but which are usually paid less attention – such as the roles of mercenaries, weapons dealers, US military training of particular rebel groups and the secret airline flights among key locations in the smuggling operations of conflict minerals – see the research of Keith Harmon Snow and David Barouski.

Has there been any official attempt to rein in this corporate exploitation?

A little. For example, the Obama-era US Dodd-Frank Financial Reform Act of 2010 shone a spotlight on supply chains, pressuring companies to determine the origin of minerals used in their products and invest in removing conflict minerals from their supply chain. This resulted in some US corporations, conscious of the public relations implications of being linked to murderous warlords and child labor, complying with the Act. So, a small step in the right direction it seemed.

In 2011, given that legally-binding human rights provisions, if applied, should have offered adequate protections already, the United Nations rather powerlessly formulated the non-bindingGuiding Principles on Business and Human Rights‘.

And in 2015, the European Union also made a half-hearted attempt when it decided that smelters and refiners based in the 28-nation bloc be asked to certify that their imports were conflict-free on a voluntary basis!

However, following the election of Donald Trump as US President, in April 2017 ‘the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission suspended key provisions of its “conflict minerals” rule’. Trump is also seeking to undo the Obama-era financial regulations, once again opening the door to the unimpeded trade in blood minerals by US corporations.

Today

Despite its corrupt exploitation for more than 500 years, the Congo still has vast natural resources (including rainforests) and mineral wealth. Its untapped deposits of minerals are estimated to be worth in excess of $US24 trillion. Yes, that’s right: $US24trillion. With a host of rare strategic minerals – including cobalt, coltan, gold and diamonds – as well as copper, zinc, tin and tungsten critical to the manufacture of hi-tech electronic products ranging from aircraft and vehicles to computers and mobile phones, violent and morally destitute western governments and corporations are not about to let the Congo decide its own future and devote its resources to the people of this African country. This, of course, despite the international community paying lip service to a plethora of ‘human rights’ treaties.

Hence, violent conflict, including ongoing war, over the exploitation of these resources, including the smuggling of ‘conflict minerals’ – such as gold, coltan and cassiterite (the latter two ores of tantalum and tin, respectively), and diamonds – will ensure that the people of the Congo continue to be denied what many of those in western countries take for granted: the right to life benefiting from the exploitation of ‘their’ natural resources.

In essence then, since 1885 European and US governments, together with their corporations and African collaborators, have inflicted phenomenal ongoing atrocities on the peoples of the Congo as they exploit the vast resources of the country for the benefit of non-Congolese people.

But, you might wonder, European colonizers inflicted phenomenal violence on the indigenous peoples in all of their colonies – whether in Africa, Asia, Central and South America, the Caribbean or Oceania – so is their legacy in the Congo any worse?

Well, according to the The Pan-African Alliance, just since colonization in 1885, at least 25 million Congolese men, women and children have been slaughtered by white slave traders, missionaries, colonists, corporations and governments (both the governments of foreign-installed Congolese dictators and imperial powers). ‘Yet barely a mention is made of the holocaust that rages in the heart of Africa.’ Why? Because the economy of the entire world rests on the back of the Congo.

So what is happening now?

In a sentence: The latest manifestation of the violence and exploitation that has been happening since 1482 when that Portuguese explorer ‘discovered’ the mouth of the Congo River. The latest generation of European and American genocidal exploiters, and their latter-day cronies, is busy stealing what they can from the Congo. Of course, as illustrated above, having installed the ruthless dictator of their choosing to ensure that foreign interests are protected, the weapon of choice is the corporation and non-existent legal or other effective controls in the era of ‘free trade’.

The provinces of North and South Kivu in the eastern Congo are filled with mines of cassiterite, wolframite, coltan and gold. Much mining is done by locals eking out a living using Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining (ASM); that is, mining by hand, sometimes with rudimentary tools. Some of these miners sell their product via local agents to Congolese military commanders who smuggle it out of the country, usually via Rwanda, Uganda or Burundi, and use the proceeds to enrich themselves.

Another report on South Kivu by Global Witness in 2016 documented evidence of the corrupt links between government authorities, foreign corporations (in this case, Kun Hou Mining of China) and the military, which results in the gold dredged from the Ulindi River in South Kivu being illegally smuggled out of the country, with much of it ending up with Alfa Gold Corp in Dubai. The unconcealed nature of this corruption and the obvious lack of enforcement of weak Congolese law is a powerful disincentive for corporations to engage in ‘due diligence’ when conducting their own mining operations in the Congo.

In contrast, in the south of the Congo in the former province of Katanga, Amnesty International and Afrewatch researchers tracked sacks of cobalt ore that had been mined by artisanal miners in Kolwezi to the local market where the mineral ore is sold. From this point, the material was smelted by one of the large companies in Kolwezi, such as Congo Dongfang Mining International SARL (CDM), which is a smelter and fully-owned subsidiary of Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt Company Ltd (Huayou Cobalt) in China, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of cobalt products. Once smelted, the material is typically exported from the Congo to China via a port in South Africa.

In its 2009 report ‘“Faced with a gun, what can you do?” War and the Militarisation of Mining in Eastern Congo’ examining the link between foreign corporate activity in the Congo and the military violence, Global Witness raised questions about the involvement of nearly 240 companies spanning the mineral, metal and technology industries. It specifically identified four main European companies as open buyers in this illegal trade: Thailand Smelting and Refining Corp. (owned by British Amalgamated Metal Corp.), British Afrimex, Belgian Trademet and Traxys. It also questioned the role of other companies further down the manufacturing chain, including prominent electronics companies Hewlett-Packard, Nokia, Dell and Motorola (a list to which Microsoft and Samsung should have been added as well). Even though they may be acting ‘legally’, Global Witness criticized their lack of due diligence and transparency standards at every level of their supply chain.

Of course, as you no doubt expect, some of the world’s largest corporate miners are in the Congo. These include Glencore (Switzerland) and Freeport-McMoRan (USA). But there are another 20 or more mining corporations in the Congo too, including Mawson West Limited (Australia), Forrest Group International (Belgium),  Anvil Mining (Canada), Randgold Resources (UK) and AngloGold Ashanti (South Africa).

Needless to say, despite beautifully worded ‘corporate responsibility statements’ by whatever name, the record rarely goes even remotely close to resembling the rhetoric. Take Glencore’s lovely statement on ‘safety’ in the Congo: ‘Ask Glencore: Democratic Republic of the Congo’. Unfortunately, this didn’t prevent the 2016 accident at a Congolese mine that one newspaper reported in the following terms: ‘Glencore’s efforts to reduce fatalities among its staff have suffered a setback with the announcement that the death toll from an accident at a Congolese mine has risen to seven.’

Or consider the Belgian Forrest Group International’s wonderful ‘Community Services’  program, supposedly developing projects ‘in the areas of education, health, early childhood care, culture, sport, infrastructure and the environment. The Forrest Group has been investing on the African continent since 1922. Its longevity is the fruit of a vision of the role a company should have, namely the duty to be a positive player in the society in which it operates. The investments of the Group share a common core of values which include, as a priority, objectives of stability and long-term prospects.’

Regrettably, the Forrest Group website and public relations documents make no mention of the company’s illegal demolition, without notice, of hundreds of homes of people who lived in the long-standing village of Kawama, inconveniently close to the Forrest Group’s Luiswishi Mine, on 24 and 25 November 2009. People were left homeless and many lost their livelihoods as a direct consequence. Of course, the demolitions constitute forced evictions, which are illegal under international human rights law.

Fortunately, given the obvious oversight of the Forrest Group in failing to mention it, the demolitions have been thoroughly documented by Amnesty International in its report ‘Bulldozed – How a Mining Company Buried the Truth about Forced Evictions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’  and the satellite photographs acquired by the American Academy for the Advancement of Science have been published as well.

Needless to say, it is difficult for Congolese villagers to feel they have any ‘stability and long-term prospects’, as the Forrest Group’s ‘Community Services’ statement puts it, when their homes and livelihoods have been destroyed. Are company chairman George A. Forrest and its CEO Malta David Forrest and their family delusional? Or just so familiar with being violently ruthless in their exploitation of the Congo and its people, that it doesn’t even occur to them that there might be less violent ways of resolving any local conflicts?

Tragically, of course, fatal industrial accidents and housing demolition are only two of the many abuses inflicted on mining labourers, including (illegal) child labourers, and families in the Congo where workers are not even provided with the most basic ‘safety equipment’ – work clothes, helmets, gloves, boots and face masks – let alone a safe working environment (including guidance on the safe handling of toxic substances) or a fair wage, reasonable working hours, holidays, sick leave or superannuation.

Even where laws exist, such as the Congo’s Child Protection Code (2009) which provides for ‘free and compulsory primary education for all children’, laws are often simply ignored (without legal consequence). Although, it should also be noted, in the Congo there is no such thing as ‘free education’ despite the law. Consequently, plenty of children do not attend school and work full time, others attend school but work out of school hours. There is no effective system to remove children from child labour (which is well documented). Even for adults, there is no effective labour inspection system. Most artisanal mining takes places in unauthorized mining areas where the government is doing next to nothing to regulate the safety and labour conditions in which the miners work.

In addition, as noted above, given its need for minerals to manufacture the hi-tech products it makes, including those for western corporations, China is deeply engaged in mining strategic minerals in the Congo too.

Based on the Chinese notion of ‘respect’ – which includes the ‘principle’ of noninterference in each other’s internal affairs – the Chinese dictatorship is content to ignore the dictatorship of the Congo and its many corrupt and violent practices, even if its investment often has more beneficial outcomes for ordinary Congolese than does western ‘investment’. Moreover, China is not going to disrupt and destabilize the Congo in the way that the United States and European countries have done for so long.

Having noted the above, however, there is plenty of evidence of corrupt Chinese business practice in the extraction and sale of strategic minerals in the Congo, including that documented in the above-mentioned Global Witness report.

Moreover, Chinese involvement is not limited to its direct engagement in mining such as gold dredging of the Ulindi River. A vital source of the mineral cobalt is that which is mined by artisanal miners. As part of a recent detailed investigation, Amnesty International had researchers follow cobalt mined by artisanal miners from where it was mined to a market at Musompo, where minerals are traded. The report summarised what happens:

Independent traders at Musompo – most of them Chinese – buy the ore, regardless of where it has come from or how it has been mined. In turn, these traders sell the ore on to larger companies in the DRC which process and export it. One of the largest companies at the centre of this trade is Congo Dongfang Mining International (CDM). CDM is a 100% owned subsidiary of China-based Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt Company Ltd (Huayou Cobalt), one of the world’s largest manufacturers of cobalt products. Operating in the DRC since 2006, CDM buys cobalt from traders, who buy directly from the miners. CDM then smelts the ore at its plant in the DRC before exporting it to China. There, Huayou Cobalt further smelts and sells the processed cobalt to battery component manufacturers in China and South Korea. In turn, these companies sell to battery manufacturers, which then sell on to well-known consumer brands.

Using public records, including investor documents and statements published on company websites, researchers identified battery component manufacturers who were listed as sourcing processed ore from Huayou Cobalt. They then went on to trace companies who were listed as customers of the battery component manufacturers, in order to establish how the cobalt ends up in consumer products. In seeking to understand how this international supply chain works, as well as to ask questions about each company’s due diligence policy, Amnesty International wrote to Huayou Cobalt and 25 other companies in China, Germany, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, UK, and the USA. These companies include some of the world’s largest and best known consumer electronics companies, including Apple Inc., Dell, HP Inc. (formerly Hewlett-Packard Company), Huawei, Lenovo (Motorola), LG, Microsoft Corporation, Samsung, Sony and Vodafone, as well as vehicle manufacturers like Daimler AG, Volkswagen and Chinese firm BYD. Their replies are detailed in the report’s Annex.

As backdrop to the problems mentioned above, it is worth pointing out that keeping the country under military siege is useful to many parties, internal and foreign. Over the past 20 years of violent conflict, control of these valuable mineral resources has been a lucrative way for warring parties to finance their violence – that is, buying the products of western weapons corporations – and to promote the chaotic circumstances that make minimal accountability and maximum profit easiest. The Global Witness report ‘Faced with a gun, what can you do?’ cited above followed the supply chain of these minerals from warring parties to middlemen to international buyers: people happy to profit from the sale of ‘blood minerals’ to corporations which, in turn, are happy to buy them cheaply to manufacture their highly profitable hi-tech products.

Moreover, according to the Global Witness report, although the Congolese army and rebel groups – such as the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a rebel force opposed to the Rwandan government that has taken refuge in the Congo since the 1994 Rwanda genocide – have been warring on opposite sides for years. They are collaborators in the mining effort, at times providing each other with road and airport access and even sharing their spoils. Researchers say they found evidence that the mineral trade is much more extensive and profitable than previously suspected: one Congolese government official reported that at least 90% of all gold exports from the country were undeclared. And the report charges that the failure of foreign governments to crack down on illicit mining and trade has undercut development endeavors supposedly undertaken by the international community in the war-torn region.

Social and Environmental Costs

Of course, against this background of preoccupation with the militarized exploitation of mineral resources for vast profit, ordinary Congolese people suffer extraordinary ongoing violence. Apart from the abuses mentioned above, four women are raped every five minutes in the Congo, according to a study done in May 2011. ‘These nationwide estimates of the incidence of rape are 26 times higher than the 15,000 conflict-related cases confirmed by the United Nations for the DRC in 2010’. Despite the country having the highest number of UN peacekeeping forces in the world – where the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) has operated since the turn of the century – the level of sexual violence soldiers have perpetrated against women is staggering. Currently, there is still much violence in the region, as well as an overwhelming amount of highly strategic mass rape.

Unsurprisingly, given the international community’s complete indifference, despite rhetoric to the contrary, to the plight of Congolese people, it is not just Congolese soldiers who are responsible for the rapes. UN ‘peacekeepers’ are perpetrators too.

And the Congo is a violently dangerous place for children as well with, for example, Child Soldiers International reporting that with a variety of national and foreign armed groups and forces operating in the country for over 20 years, the majority of fighting forces have recruited and used children, and most still exploit boys and girls today with girls forced to become girl soldiers but to perform a variety of other sexual and ‘domestic’ roles too. Of course, child labour is completely out of control with many impoverished families utterly dependent on it for survival.

In addition, many Congolese also end up as refugees in neighbouring countries or as internally displaced people in their own country.

As you would expect, it is not just human beings who suffer. With rebel soldiers (such as the Rwanda-backed M23), miners and poachers endlessly plundering inadequately protected national parks and other wild places for their resources, illegal mining is rampant, over-fishing a chronic problem, illegal logging (and other destruction such as charcoal burning for cooking) of rain forests is completely out of control in some places, poaching of hippopotamuses, elephants, chimpanzees and okapi for ivory and bushmeat is unrelenting (often despite laws against hunting with guns), and wildlife trafficking of iconic species (including the increasingly rare mountain gorilla) simply beyond the concern of most people.

The Congolese natural environment – including the UNESCO World Heritage sites at Virunga National Park and the Okapi Wildlife Reserve, together with their park rangers – and the indigenous peoples such as the Mbuti (‘pygmies’) who live in them, are under siege. In addition to the ongoing mining, smaller corporations that can’t compete with the majors, such as Soco, want to explore and drill for oil. For a taste of the reading on all this, see ‘Virunga National Park Ranger Killed in DRC Ambush‘, ‘The struggle to save the “Congolese unicorn“‘, ‘Meet the First Female Rangers to Guard One of World’s Deadliest Parks‘ and ‘The Battle for Africa’s Oldest National Park‘.

If you would like to watch a video about some of what is happening in the Congo, either of these videos will give you an unpleasant taste: ‘Crisis In The Congo: Uncovering The Truth‘ and ‘Conflict Minerals, Rebels and Child Soldiers in Congo‘.

Resisting the Violence

So what is happening to resist this violence and exploitation? Despite the horror, as always, some incredible people are working to end it.

Some Congolese activists resist the military dictatorship of Joseph Kabila, despite the enormous risks of doing so.

Some visionary Congolese continue devoting their efforts, in phenomenally difficult circumstances including lack of funding, to building a society where ordinary Congolese people have the chance to create a meaningful life for themselves. Two individuals and organizations who particularly inspire me are based in Goma in eastern Congo where the fighting is worst.

The Association de Jeunes Visionnaires pour le Développement du Congo, headed by Leon Simweragi, is a youth peace group that works to rehabilitate child soldiers as well as offer meaningful opportunities for the sustainable involvement of young people in matters that affect their lives and those of their community.

And Christophe Nyambatsi Mutaka is the key figure at the Groupe Martin Luther King that promotes active nonviolence, human rights and peace. Christophe’s group particularly works on reducing sexual and other violence against women.

There are also solidarity groups, based in the West, that work to draw attention to the nightmare happening in the Congo. These include Friends of the Congo that works to inform people and agitate for change and groups like Child Soldiers International mentioned above.

If you would like to better understand the depravity of those individuals in the Congo (starting with the dictator Joseph Kabila but including all those officials, bureaucrats and soldiers) who enable, participate in or ignore the violence and exploitation; the presidents and prime ministers of western governments who ignore exploitation, by their locally-based corporations, of the Congo; the heads of multinational corporations that exploit the Congo – such as Anthony Hayward (Chair of Glencore), Richard Adkerson (CEO of Freeport-McMoRan), George A. Forrest and Malta David Forrest (Chair and CEO respectively of Forrest Group International), Christopher L Coleman (Chair of Randgold Resources) and Srinivasan Venkatakrishnan (CEO of AngloGold Ashanti) – as well as those individuals in international organizations such as the UN (starting with Secretary-General António Guterres) and the EU (headed by Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission), who ignore, provoke, support and/or profit from this violence and exploitation, you will find the document ‘Why Violence?‘ and the website ‘Feelings First‘ instructive.

Whether passively or actively complicit, each of these depraved individuals (along with other individuals within the global elite) does little or nothing to draw attention to, let alone work to profoundly change, the situation in the Congo which denies most Congolese the right to a meaningful life in any enlightened sense of these words.

If you would like to help, you can do so by supporting the efforts of the individual activists and solidarity organizations indicated above or those like them.

You might also like to sign the online pledge of ‘The People’s Charter to Create a Nonviolent World‘ which references the Congo among many other examples of violence around the world.

And if you would like to support efforts to remove the dictatorship of Joseph Kabila and/or get corrupt foreign governments, corporations and organizations out of the Congo, you can do so by planning and implementing or supporting a nonviolent strategy that is designed to achieve one or more of these objectives.

If you are still reading this article and you feel the way I do about this ongoing atrocity, then I invite you to participate, one way or another, in ending it.

For more than 500 years, the Congo has been brutalized by the extraordinary violence inflicted by those who have treated the country as a resource – for slaves, rubber, timber, wildlife and minerals – to be exploited.

This will only end when enough of us commit ourselves to acting on the basis that 500 years is long enough. Liberate the Congo!

Can President-elect Lopez Obrador pull Mexico out of slumber?

After decades of stagnation, corruption and deadly dependency on the United States, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is considered by many ordinary people, as well as by intellectuals, to be the last chance for Mexico.

His only hope is Obrador

Two important news developments are circulating all over North America: US President Donald Trump will not attend the inauguration of the Mexican left-wing President elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO). And, yes, despite all tensions and disagreements, the new deal to replace NAFTA has been reached. It is called the USMCA – the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement.

Paradoxically, if Obrador is to fulfill at least half of his electoral promises, it would inevitably lead to a clash between Mexico and both the United States and Canada. The US absorbs around 80 percent of Mexican exports. Various Mexican intellectuals believe that their country was, until now, nothing more than a colony of their ‘big brother’ in the north. Canadian mining companies are brutally exploiting Mexico’s natural resources, and united with local politicians and paramilitaries, are tormenting almost defenseless native people.

National Folcloric Ballet of Mexico marching, joining revolution

After decades of inertia and decay, Mexico is ready for dramatic, essential change which, many argue, will this time not arrive directly under red banners and through revolutionary songs, but with the carefully calculated, precise moves of a chess player.

Only a genius can break, without terrible casualties, the deadly embrace of the United States. And many believe that President-elect Obrador is precisely such leader.

‘Not a poker player, but a chess player’

Mexico is in a ‘bad mood’, despite the victory of a left-wing leader. Hope is in the air, but it is fragile hope, some even say ‘angry hope’. Decades of stagnation, corruption and deadly dependency on the US, have had an extremely negative impact on the nation.

John Ackerman, US-born, Mexican naturalized legendary academic at UNAM (Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico) explained during our encounter in Coyoacan:

This has been a long time coming. Throughout Latin America there has been great transformation, except in Mexico. Mexico has been the same since 1946 since PRI was created… Education, healthcare, serious commitment to social system, infrastructure; he promises to improve all this… in terms of working-class population, he expresses great interest in the union democracy, which could be a true vehicle of revolution … unions could be used to create democratic participation in the country.

We both agree that Obrador is not Fidel, or Chavez. He is pragmatic and he knows how dangerous the proximity of Mexico to the US is. Governments get overthrown from the north, and entire socialist systems get derailed, or liquidated.

Professor Ackerman points out:

Obrador is not a poker player, like Trump; Obrador is a chess player.

He is extremely well informed; on his own and through his wife, an accomplished Mexican academic from a prominent left-wing family, Irma Sandoval-Ballesteros. She will soon become Minister of Public Administration in the Obrador administration, which means she will fight against endemic Mexican corruption.  This will be, no doubt, one of the toughest jobs in the country.

The author and Irma Sandoval-Ballesteros

Among the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) member countries Mexico has the second highest degree of economic disparity between the extremely poor and extremely rich. According to the government, about 53.4 million of Mexico’s 122 million people were poor in 2016.

Crime is out of control, and so is corruption. According to Seguridad Justicia y Paz, a citizen watch dog NGO in Mexico, five out of ten cities with the highest homicide rates in the world are located in Mexico: Los Cabos (1), Acapulco (3), Tijuana (5), La Paz (6), and Ciudad Victoria (8).

Gang land, Tijuana

Some 460,000 children have been recruited by the drug rings in Mexico, according to the incoming Minister of Public Security of the Obrador government. As bodies are piling up and insecurity grows (recently, at least 100 dead bodies have been found in the state of Jalisco), the Mexican police continues to be hopelessly corrupt and inefficient. But it is now everywhere, ‘true reason for astronomic crime rate’, say many.

Misery everywhere

It is all elegance and style at one of an old hacienda, lost in time in the middle of jungle, in the State of Yucatan. Some twenty years ago I used to live very near this place, working on my novel, in self-imposed-exile. Even then, Yucatan was poor, conservative, and traditional. But there was pride and dignity even in the poorest of the villages.

Things changed dramatically, and not for the better. Now naked misery is everywhere. Just two kilometers from the hacienda Temozon, traditional rural houses have holes in the roofs, and many dwellings have already been abandoned. People are not starving; not yet, but that is mainly due to the fact that in Yucatan, there is still a great sense of community and solidarity.

Don Alfredo Lopez Cham and Dona Consuelo

Don Alfredo Lopez Cham lives in a village of Sihunchen. Half of the roof of his house is missing. He is blind in one eye. He is dirt poor. I asked him how things have been here, since I left. He just nodded his head, in despair:

You just saw my house, there… You can imagine how it is…I cannot fix anything. For years I did not have any work. And now I am old.

Senora Consuelo Rodriguez, his neighbor, jumps in. She is an outspoken, tough but good-hearted matron, always surrounded by a flock of chickens:

Look, he has really nothing! Here, we are trying to help those in need, but ourselves we have close to nothing. Few years ago, the government sent some people to help to fix our houses, but they never came back again.

In theory, Mexico has free education and health care, but in practice, it is just for those who hold government or good private jobs. President-elect AMLO  is promising to fix all that, but people all over the country are skeptical, including Senora Consuela.

If we get sick, we have to pay, unless we have insurance from our work. And most of us, here, don’t have any steady job.

Do people here have faith in the new government? She shrugs her shoulders:

We will see.

This is what I hear everywhere, from coast to coast of this enormous and potentially rich country, which is the 15th largest economy in the world. There is very little enthusiasm: the majority of people adopted a ‘wait and see strategy’.

Don Rudy Alvarez who has worked for more than 20 years at one of the luxury hotels in Yucatan, is only cautiously optimistic about the future.

Even we who have permanent jobs at the multi-national establishments, cannot dream very big. I can feed my family well, and I can send one son to study law at the university. But no bigger dreams. My family would never be able to afford a car or any other luxury. We hope that Obrador (AMLO) will change things. Here, many people feel that Yucatan has been sold to tourists as the ‘Mayan Disneyland’, with very little respect for our culture.

Mexico is the second most visited country in the Western hemisphere, right after the United States. But income from tourism very rarely brings a better life for local people.

Crime and drug wars are far from being the only concerns. In the center of the indigenous and historic city of Oaxaca, the armed forces are blocking the entrance to the Governor’s Palace. Why? The graffiti protesting against disappearances and extrajudicial killings of the activists, as well as forced evictions of indigenous people by the multinational companies.

Ms. Lisetta, who lives with many others, as a protest, in a tent right in front of the palace, explained:

For 9 years we have no home. Paramilitaries and the government forces came and threw us out of our dwellings, in San Juan Copala. Some people were killed, women raped, many disappeared. We are here to demand justice.

Recently, police came, broke my cell phone, and then injured my arm…

She showed me her bruises.

At night, live bands are playing old ballads, all over the city center. People are dancing, drinking and promenading. But displaced men, women and children living in the tents are brutal reminder of real Mexico, of true suffering of many poor and almost all native people.

Sra. Lorena Merina Martinez, Spokesperson of the Displaced Persons from the Autonomous Community of San Juan Copala, Oaxaca State.

I found Sra. Lorena Merina Martinez, Spokesperson of the Displaced Persons from the Autonomous Community of San Juan Copala, Oaxaca State. She spoke to me bravely, coherently and with passion:

In 2007, San Juan Copala declared autonomy and became autonomous municipality.  There was much peace and tranquility in our community. Then in 2009 the PRI-led government of Oaxaca started making noise as San Juan Copala is the ‘head’ of 32 communities of Trique District. The PRI-government did not want autonomy of San Juan Copala, thus unilaterally finished it in 2009. From 2010 we resisted for 10 months so that we could bring food to our children. They had blocked our roads. We didn’t have anything to eat anymore. They were killing our colleagues, but also children. Women were raped as they went looking for food and brought it back to their children. They cut off their hair as well. I am talking about the rape of a 65-year-old community member, for instance.  Another woman was gravely injured. The attackers and rapists all escaped.

For ten months we resisted with no water, no food, no electricity as the PRI-government had cut us off from everything. The date of 16 September 2010 was when PRI-backed paramilitaries entered our community, first to the municipality building, and used big microphone to tell us to leave our houses. We were not given any time at all to leave. Because they saw smoke come from houses, which was basically because we were cooking, they were shooting at our houses and us. We just had to escape with nothing and were forced to find a way to survive with our children, with nothing at all, not even our id cards. We needed to make sure to escape with our children because we were warned that if we didn’t, then they would burn alive our children. By 18 September 2010, PRI-backed paramilitaries started entering our houses, burning and destroying them.  We fled as by then they had killed another community member who had been resisting forced displacement. This is when a group of women started demanding the State Government to intervene in our community. The State nor Federal Government ever intervened.  We demanded that something is done, so that we could safely return to our community. Since September 2010, we have been here.  But they have never done anything to let us return, nor to get rid of those who displaced us because they were the accomplice of those paramilitaries who made us forcibly displaced.

I asked her why it happened? Were multi-national companies involved?

Yes, there are mineral resources. The government wants to take charge of this community. We have very futile lands. Lots of water, vegetables, fruits. The government wants to suck everything from our community.

I recalled massacres in Chiapas, that I covered some two decades ago and later described, under different name in my revolutionary political novel Point of No Return  (Point of No Return – ebook).

At the Center of Photography Manuel Alvarez Bravoin Oaxaca, Mr. Leo (who only gave his first name), confirmed:

It is terrible what happened to those people. Imagine that you are at home, and suddenly someone comes, with armed forces, and kicks you out. But in Mexico it’s normal, and not only in this area. Multinational companies, particularly Canadian ones, are controlling around 80 percent of the mining in this country. People, particularly indigenous ones, are treated brutally. Mexico suffered terribly from the Spanish colonialism, but it often feels that things didn’t change much. We are not in full control of our country!

And the new administration of Obrador? Leo and his colleagues are only moderately optimistic.

We are not sure he would dare to touch essential problems: the dependency of this country on the North, and the horrendous disparities between the rich and poor, between the descendants of the Europeans and the majority, which consists of the indigenous people. Until now you can see it everywhere: Westerners and their companies come and do what they want, while the native people are left with nothing.

But many others remain hopeful. AMLO’s left-wing Moreno Party will soon govern in a coalition with PT (Partido del Trabajo) and the conservative Social Encounter Party. Again, it is unlikely that Mexico will follow the path of Cuba or Venezuela, but the Bolivian model is very likely. It could be a silent revolution, a change based on an extremely progressive and truly socialist constitution of the country, remarkably dating back to 1916.

A Mexican academic, Dr. Ignacio Castuera who teaches at Claremont University in California, explains:

I believe Obrador has to bring several factions together to implement some of what he wants to achieve. No individual alone can solve the problems of a nation. I hope many rally around him, if that happens then significant changes can be brought about. The long shadow of the US policies and corporations will continue to exert major influence.

*****

Construction of US-Mexico wall

In Tijuana I witness absolute misery. I visit multinational maquiladoras that pay only an equivalent of $55 USD per week to their workers. I manage to enter gangland, and I see how the US is building a depressing wall between two countries.

Sra. Leticia facing the wall

I spend hours listening to stories of Sra. Leticia, who lives just one meter away from the wall.

They are cutting across our land, and it harms many creatures who live here. It also prevents water from circulating freely.

All this used to be Mexico. North Americans had stolen several states from us. Now they are building this wall. I visited their country on several occasions. And let me tell you: despite all our problems, I like where I am, at this side!

Then, late at night, I listen to a man who knows his country from north to south, from east to west. We are sitting in a small café; sirens are howling nearby, another murder has just taken place. He faces me squarely and speaks slowly:

Mexico has its back against the wall. This situation cannot continue. This is our last chance – Andrés Manuel López Obrador. We will rally behind him, we will help him. If he delivers what he promises, great; then Mexico will change and prosper. If not, I am afraid that our people will have no other choice but to take up arms.

From the revolutionary days

• Photos by Andre Vltchek

• This is extended version. Essay was originally published by RT.

Glencore and Other Mining Corporations Make Record Profits and get Away with Murder Literally

Glencore, according to statistica.com is the world’s largest mining company by revenues. As a way of introduction, here is what statistica.com has to say about Glencore.

Glencore-Xstrata is a public limited company founded in 1974 by Marc Rich whose headquarters are based in Baar, Switzerland and also has registered office based in Saint Helier, New Jersey. Glencore-Xstrata is also a mining company whose headquarters are based in the United Kingdom. On May 2nd, 2013, the current company was established through a merger between Glencore and Xstrata. Glencore-Xstrata is the third largest family owned business in the world and was ranked number 10 on the list of Fortune Global 500 in 2015. Glencore Xstrata is the leading mining company in the world with estimated revenue earned in 2017 of $205 billion, on a rebound from 2015 (US$ 147billion) and compared to the best year so far, 2012 (US$237billion). Net earnings have skyrocketed in 2017 to US$ 5.8 billion, more than 4 times higher than in 2016 (US$ 1.4 billion).

The four next mining corporations in world ranking include BHP Billiton, Australia; British-Australian Rio Tinto; China state-owned Shenhua Energy, and Vale, Brazil. Their mining practices may not differ a lot from those of Glencore’s. However, what distinguishes Glencore is its particularly aggressive business style. Aggressive from all points of views – tax avoidance, corruption, total neglect for employees as well as communities they work in, non-responsiveness to critique.

Though it looks like Glencore’s aggressive business model is paying off. Glencore’s tax rate negotiated in Switzerland is next to zero. The Canton of Zug, where the city of Baar, seat of Glencore’s headquarters (HQ) is located, is the number one tax haven in Switzerland.  Glencore pays 0.2% taxes on its net earnings.

Glencore is exploiting developing countries to the maximum, not respecting any social and environmental laws or even humanitarian standards, brushing them aside and pushing ahead – poisoning and killing people on their way with toxic effluents from their mining practices, no regard, no attention to their fate, to their families, irrespective of whether they have been working for a Glencore mine, when they are sick they are out, no compensation; or whether they are just living in the contaminated environment, in communities on their own plots, exposed on a daily basis to water-ways and soil polluted with cancer-causing deadly heavy metals. The average life expectancy in South American mines is between 32 and 40 years for mine workers. Glencore leaves hardly any tax money or royalties in the country they exploit, on average about one cent per dollar of net earnings, as their tax residence is Switzerland.

This article looks specifically at an event which I witnessed and was able to interview victims about, at Glencore’s copper mine in Espinar, near Cusco, Peru, some 4,200 m above sea-level. Gold is a side product. Where there is copper, there is almost without fail also gold to be found and vice-versa. The mining and refining of both metals is highly toxic, leaving poisonous heavy metals, such as mercury, cyanite, cadmium, arsenic, chromium, lead and many more disease-causing toxins in water, soil, and air, poisoning fauna, flora and humans.

On April 3, 2018, a dozen or so indigenous unarmed, women – the poorest of the poor –protested with their bare hands in defense of their only water way left, a small stream. Glencore wanted to deviate it – totally illegally – for Glencore’s use. The women were attacked by police in full riot gear, beaten with batons. It is openly known that Glencore, like other mining corporations, literally buys the national or local police services for this type of abject brutality.

The police were helped by Glencore’s own security forces. All this was recorded on video and in photos. Arriving the following day on location with a group of locals, we interviewed several of the victims. See also my earlier article on the subject

As the above essay went to press, I wrote directly to Glencore’s CEO, Ivan Glasenberg, suggesting a personal meeting to discuss the event and the general circumstances that led to it. Mr. Glasenberg replied promptly through his director for Sustainable Development (sic), who proposed to meet – which we did, in a neutral place, a hotel lobby in Bern. The Glencore delegation consisted of the Sustainable Development director and her lawyer.  I was alone.

What transpired during a roughly two-hour non-confrontational, rather peaceful dialogue, I recorded in an Aide-Memoire, asking for their approval, comments or suggestions for change. The answer a few days later was a full rejection, saying none of the contents of the AM reflected our conversation. This is, of course, a flagrant lie. Under the circumstances, I decided to make the gist of our two-hour conversation public, as reflected in the Aide-Mémoire.

The conversation covered three key topics

  1. Beating of unarmed indigenous women in Alta Huata, Espinar, Cusco Province, Peru, by Police and Glencore’s Security Forces on 3 April 2018;
  2. Glencore’s contamination of water, soil, air, flora, fauna and humans by toxic chemicals used in the mining process; and
  3. Blood and urine samples – people who are sick from intoxication with mine effluents, working for the mine and/or living in the close vicinity of the mine, sought testing their blood and urine for heavy metals. They were never given the results from the tests from medical doctors, clinics and laboratories. Why?

Addressing point by point, starting with the Beating of unarmed women – the dozen or two bare-handed indigenous women were protesting in defense of their water against Glencore workers, wanting to deviate, actually steal the little stream for Glencore’s own use. They were brutally beaten by national police in government issued riot gear – imagine, in riot gear! – with the help of Glencore’s own security forces. This happened around noon on 3 April, when the women were alone, even more defenseless, while village men were working at the mine or in their small agricultural plots.

According to several accounts from the local population as well as from people in the town of Espinar, Glencore intended to reroute the small stream providing the only water source for the six or so villages higher up on the mountain. This is further corroborated by the large pile of big-sized pipes, deposited on the land next to the small stream. A nearby gigantic earth moving machine and fresh tracks traversing the small water way were also clear signs that water deviation works were planned.

In the early morning hours of 4 April, we went to Glencore’s copper mine at Alta Huata, about 4,200m above sea level, to meet with the mistreated women and to interview them. Still affected by indignation and pain, some of them under tears, showed us their badly bruised body parts. Evidence of the police assault and aggression by Glencore’s security forces is available as independent testimony in the form of short videos and photographs. An elderly woman (65) was beaten so severely, she was resting and moaning in a rickety stone shack which apparently was destroyed by Glencore’s bulldozers the week before and hastily rebuilt by the local population. The woman had pain all over her body, could not move, and got no medical attention, no pain medication – nothing – she was a ‘high risk’ case. Later, we learned, she was miraculously recovering with the care of the villagers.

The villagers told us they wanted to file a complaint with the local police which did not receive them. It is clear, if Glencore hired the police to do their dirty work, they, the police, will not receive the villagers’ complaint. It’s a revolving-door corruption at every level that is being practiced. I wonder whether Glencore’s boss, Mr. Glasenberg, is aware of it. If not, then at least this article which will be sent to him should remind him that he is complicit in serious crimes of his company by letting them happen.

During our meeting, the Glencore ‘sustainable development’ people said the workers were only doing repair work when the women appeared interfering with their job. Another flagrant lie. But how could they know? They are repeating what they are told by their people on the ground. And whenever they go to visit the area, we understand, they never set foot in the affected villages, to talk to the people or to the mayor, but only talk the inside-talk to Glencore insiders, another revolving door approach to resolving problems by being blind to them and keeping perpetuating the lies. The sustainable development people of Glencore also denied that Glencore had anything to do with the beating, that Glencore could not control the police. They dismissed the assertion, against all evidence on video, that Glencore’s security forces were also involved and, of course, that they actually called and hired the police in the first place.

Later we talked to villagers who lived in the mine-surrounding areas. With anguish, sadness and even resignation, they told us that contamination of water, soil, air, flora, fauna – and humans was evident. It appeared in the water ways and was reported in soil samples. Plants adjacent to water courses, rivers and effluents from the mine, were all contaminated by heavy metals, poisoning animals, as well as humans. Farm animals became sick and often died.

Many inhabitants of the mine-surrounding communities, so we were told, including by the former mayor, were sick with cancer and other terminal diseases which were caused by contact with, or ingestion of, contaminated water or food. To purify water efficiently from heavy metals – cyanide, mercury, lead, arsenic, cadmium and more – a complex and expensive process is required. It’s called reverse osmosis. In most cases, mining companies do not use this process. In the case of Glencore and Espinar, reverse osmosis is not in use, leaving the effluent waters highly and dangerously polluted.

We talked to several people, some working for the mine, others just living in the immediate vicinity of the mine – say, in a radius of 1 to 5 km. All said, they felt sick; their bodies hurt, they had respiratory problems and many suspected having different types of cancers, mainly lung cancer. The disease rate increased the closer they lived to the mine.

One of the peasants said that young people in his neighborhood were dying “like flies” from cancer. He added that the average life expectancy of people living near the mine was drastically reduced. He also said, that most people by now are just resigned to their fate and were tired of protesting and being frustrated, because Glencore would not respond and do nothing for them. They felt helpless.

To top it off, Glencore’s Sustainable Development people said that Glencore received certification from the municipality that the effluents from their mine were clean and not contaminated by the mine, and that it was common knowledge that the water was not potable, ridiculously ascertaining that contamination occurred naturally in these mountainous streams. This abject manipulation of the truth would be laughable if it weren’t so serious. But the people have no recourses to hire lawyers, and even if they would have the money to do so, no lawyer, no judge, no court would take on a case against Glencore. They are afraid to confront the mobsters from where the money flows – corruption at infinitum! Glencore’s sustainable development representatives rejected all responsibilities for the contamination and said they had no knowledge about the disease rates reported by the local population. They were never informed.

Well, if they didn’t know, they must know now. And Mr. Glasenberg would do well sending an HONEST delegation to Espinar to verify with neutral experts on location the veracity of this account and of the account of the victims. Question is, of course, will there be uncorrupt neutral experts daring to tell Glencore the truth?  And even if that were the case, what would Glasenberg do about it? Glasenberg is the key person. It’s a family business, one of the world’s largest, so if he wants to change the way Glencore does business, he can do it.

Who manages Glencore’s mines on the ground?  Mainly locals, we were told. In Espinar, Peru, it’s a Peruvian. This has two purposes. First, a Peruvian is familiar with the local ‘habits’ of how the ‘turntable’ turns, how to buy favors and how to threaten potential adversaries; and, second, if something goes wrong – like in the present case of brutally beating of inoffensive women, deadly contamination and people dying from cancers caused by intoxication from mine effluents – they, at Swiss HQs can say, we didn’t know; nobody told us. The we didn’t know effect seems to be effective, so effective, in fact, that the entire conversation of two hours was annihilated by the sustainable Glencore people. Even though the conversation took place as recorded, the sustainable people deny its contents.

We also talked with people who lived in the vicinity of the mine, who are feeling ill for years and worsening, mostly the lungs, but also their respiratory and nervous system, yet mine management not only ignores them, but also prevents them, directly or indirectly, from getting their blood and urine samples tested, paid for by the victims themselves. We were told that many of the people living in the communities near the mine, including the people who spoke with us, consulted doctors, clinics, hospitals, laboratories on their own, to get their blood and urine tested for heavy metals. They never received the test results back from these medical establishments.

The truth is beyond suspicion. These medical facilities, are either bought by Glencore, or they fear Glencore to a point that they prefer not to hand out negative health results, of which they know from where they emanate.  The people also said that they get absolutely no medical support from Glencore. They pay their medical expenses from their own pockets and yet, they are refused to see the test results.

Diseases stemming from heavy metals have often long gestation periods; i.e., cyanide and mercury do not necessarily lead to immediate symptoms, rather the impact may be slow, because heavy metals accumulate in the body and are not evacuated as other toxins may be. They affect over time the nervous system, respiratory tracts, the heart and often cause cancer and lead to early death. It is well known that mine workers in general in developing countries have a drastically reduced life expectancy; i.e., in some parts of Peru and Bolivia an average of around 35 years.

The director of the Sustainable Development Department appeared to be shocked. She was unaware, she said, and in an outburst of good will, she offered that any of the people who were sick and concerned may call her directly. Of course, none of this was even acknowledged once they received the Aide-Mémoire.

The moral of this story is multi-fold. There is Glencore, the largest mining corporation in the world, largely a family business, with Ivan Glasenberg, main shareholder, at the helm. He could personally intervene, stop the abuse and high crime, bringing about ‘as clean mining’ as there is, respecting environmental and social ethical rules, regardless of whether the country, where they operate, in this case Peru, is corrupt and can be bought. Glasenberg, the CEO, could become a shining example for ethics in mining which would bode well for the company as well as for the host country, Peru, and not least for their country of residence, Switzerland. The cost of implementing ethical environmental and social standards would hardly make a dent in Glencore’s net earnings, but the gains in positive reputation and improved image are priceless.

On the other hand, you have Switzerland that offers this UK-Swiss mining corporation their tax haven as residency. Yet, the Swiss Government does absolutely zilch, nothing, nada to impose and enforce certain standards of ethics to Glencore and other corporate sinners enjoying the Swiss tax paradise. Talking with people from a so-called Ethics Department (sic) in the Swiss Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the hush answer was, if we are too strict with them, they will leave Switzerland – and as an after-thought, besides, they [these corporations] have their own standards of due diligence and we trust that they adhere to them. If they don’t, then it’s up to their host country; i.e., in this case Peru, to enforce their laws.

Here you have it. The Swiss Government, the paradise for banking and finance and corporate ‘well-being’, the epicenter of neoliberal economics, where privatization reigns, is knowingly and intimately complicit in the crimes committed by these corporations. No wonder the lawmakers, the Swiss parliamentarians, are entitled to sit in as many corporate boards of directors they please – against all rules of ethics and ‘conflict-of-interest’ guidelines of OECD, of which Switzerland is a member. This built-in lobby of parliamentarians is making the laws in their favor, operating on a ‘legal basis’, not unlike a white-collar mafia.

India: The State of Independence

India celebrates its independence from Britain on 15 August. However, the system of British colonial dominance has been replaced by a new hegemony based on the systemic rule of transnational capital, enforced by global institutions like the World Bank and WTO. At the same time, global agribusiness corporations are stepping into the boots of the former East India Company.

The long-term goal of US capitalism has been to restructure indigenous agriculture across the world and tie it to an international system of trade underpinned by export-oriented mono-cropping, commodity production for the global market and debtThe result has been food surplus and food deficit areas, of which the latter have become dependent on agricultural imports and strings-attached aid.

Whether through IMF-World Bank structural adjustment programmes, as occurred in Africa, trade agreements like NAFTA and its impact on Mexico or, more generally, deregulated global trade rules, the outcome has been similar: the displacement of traditional, indigenous agriculture by a corporatized model centred on transnational agribusiness and the undermining of both regional and world food security. The global food regime is in effect increasingly beholden to unregulated global markets, financial speculators and global monopolies.

India, of course, has not been immune to this. It is on course to be subjugated by US state-corporate interests  and is heading towards environmental catastrophe much faster than many might think. As I outlined in this previous piece, the IMF and World Bank wants India to shift hundreds of millions out of agriculture and has been directed to dismantle its state-owned seed supply system, reduce subsidies and run down public agriculture institutions.

The plan for India involves the mass displacement of people to restructure agriculture for the benefit of western agricapital. This involves shifting at least 400 million from the countryside into cities. A 2016 UN report said that by 2030, Delhi’s population will be 37 million.

One of the report’s principal authors, Felix Creutzig, says:

The emerging mega-cities will rely increasingly on industrial-scale agricultural and supermarket chains, crowding out local food chains.

The drive is to entrench industrial agriculture, commercialise the countryside and to replace small-scale farming, the backbone of food production in India. It could mean hundreds of millions of former rural dwellers without any work (India is heading for ‘jobless growth’). Given the trajectory the country seems to be on, it does not take much to imagine a countryside with vast swathes of chemically-drenched monocrop fields containing genetically modified plants or soils rapidly degrading to become a mere repository for a chemical cocktail of proprietary biocides.

The plan is to displace the existing system of livelihood-sustaining smallholder agriculture with one dominated from seed to plate by transnational agribusiness and retail concerns. To facilitate this, independent cultivators are being bankrupted, land is to be amalgamated to facilitate large-scale industrial cultivation and those farmers that are left will be absorbed into corporate supply chains and squeezed as they work on contracts, the terms of which will be dictated by large agribusiness and chain retailers.

Some like to call this adopting a market-based approach: a system in the ‘market-driven’ US that receives a taxpayer farm bill subsidy of around $100 million annually.

The WTO and the US-India Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture are facilitating the process. To push the plan along, there is a strategy to make agriculture financially non-viable for India’s small farms. The result is that hundreds of thousands of farmers in India have taken their lives since 1997 and many more are experiencing economic distress or have left farming as a result of debt, a shift to cash crops and economic liberalisation.

The number of cultivators in India declined from 166 million to 146 million between 2004 and 2011. Some 6,700 left farming each day. Between 2015 and 2022 the number of cultivators is likely to decrease to around 127 million.

For all the discussion in India about loan waivers for farmers and raising their income levels, this does not address the core of the problem affecting agriculture: the running down of the sector for decades, spiralling input costs, lack of government assistance and the impacts of cheap, subsidised imports which depress farmers’ incomes.

Take the cultivation of pulses, for instance. According to a report in the Indian Express (September 2017), pulses production increased by 40% during the previous 12 months (a year of record production). At the same time, however, imports also rose resulting in black gram selling at 4,000 rupees per quintal (much less than during the previous 12 months). This has effectively driven down prices thereby reducing farmers’ already meagre incomes. We have already witnessed a running down of the indigenous edible oils sector thanks to Indonesian palm oil imports on the back of World Bank pressure to reduce tariffs (India was virtually self-sufficient in edible oils in the 1990s but now faces increasing import costs).

On the one hand, there is talk of India becoming food secure and self-sufficient; on the other, there is pressure from the richer nations for the Indian government to further reduce support given to farmers and open up to imports and ‘free’ trade. But this is based on hypocrisy.

Writing on the ‘Down to Earth’ website in late 2017, Sachin Kumar Jain states some 3.2 million people were engaged in agriculture in the US in 2015. The US govt provided them each with a subsidy of $7,860 on average. Japan provides a subsidy of $14,136 and New Zealand $2,623 to its farmers. In 2015, a British farmer earned $2,800 and $37,000 was added through subsidies. The Indian government provides on average a subsidy of $873 to farmers. However, between 2012 and 2014, India reduced the subsidy on agriculture by $3 billion.

According to policy analyst Devinder Sharma, subsidies provided to US wheat and rice farmers are more than the market worth of these two crops. He also notes that, per day, each cow in Europe receives subsidy worth more than an Indian farmer’s daily income.

How can the Indian farmer compete with an influx of artificially cheap imports? The simple answer is that s/he cannot and is not meant to.

In the book The Invention of Capitalism, Michael Perelmen lays bare the iron fist which whipped the English peasantry into a workforce willing to accept factory wage labour. A series of laws and measures served to force peasants off the land and deprive them of their productive means. In India, we are currently witnessing a headlong rush to facilitate (foreign) capital and turn farmers into a reserve army of cheap industrial/service sector labour. By moving people into cities, it seems India wants to emulate China: a US colonial outpost for manufacturing that has boosted corporate profits at the expense of US jobs. In India, migrants – stripped of their livelihoods in the countryside – are to become the new ‘serfs’ of the informal services and construction sectors or to be trained for low-level industrial jobs.

Even here, however, India might have missed the boat as it is not creating anything like the number of jobs required and the effects of automation and artificial intelligence are eradicating the need for human labour across many sectors.

India’s high GDP growth has been fuelled on the back of debt, environmental degradation, cheap food and the subsequent impoverishment of farmers. The gap between their income and the rest of the population, including public sector workers, has widened enormously to the point where rural India consumes less calories per head than it did 40 years ago.

Amartya Sen and former World Bank Chief Economist Kaushik Basu have argued that the bulk of India’s aggregate growth occurred through a disproportionate rise in the incomes at the upper end of the income ladder. Furthermore, Global Finance Integrity has shown that the outflow of illicit funds into foreign bank accounts has accelerated since opening up the economy to neoliberalism in the early nineties. ‘High net worth individuals’ (i.e. the very rich) are the biggest culprits here.

While corporations receive massive handouts and interest-free loans, they have failed to spur job creation; yet any proposed financial injections (or loan waivers) for agriculture (which would pale into insignificance compared to corporate subsidies/written off loans) are depicted as a drain on the economy.

Making India ‘business friendly’

PM Modi is on record as saying that India is now one of the most business-friendly countries in the world. The code for being ‘business friendly’ translates into a willingness by the government to facilitate much of the above, while reducing taxes and tariffs and allowing the acquisition of public assets via privatisation as well as instituting policy frameworks that work to the advantage of foreign corporations.

When the World Bank rates countries on their level of ‘ease of doing business’, it means national states facilitating policies that force working people to take part in a race to the bottom based on free market fundamentalism. The more ‘compliant’ national governments make their populations and regulations, the more ‘business friendly’ a country is.

The World Bank’s ‘Enabling the Business of Agriculture’ entails opening up markets to Western agribusiness and their fertilisers, pesticides, weedicides and patented seeds with farmers working to supply transnational corporations’ global supply chains. Rather than working towards food security based on food sovereignty and eradicating corruption, building storage facilities and dealing with inept bureaucracies and deficiencies in food logistics, the mantra is to let ‘the market’ intervene: a euphemism for letting powerful corporations take control; the very transnational corporations that receive massive taxpayer subsidies, manipulate markets, write trade agreements and institute a regime of intellectual property rights thereby indicating that the ‘free’ market only exists in the warped delusions of those who churn out clichés about letting the market decide.

Foreign direct investment is said to be good for jobs and good for business. But just how many get created is another matter – as is the amount of jobs destroyed in the first place to pave the way for the entry of foreign corporations. For example, Cargill sets up a food or seed processing plant that employs a few hundred people; but what about the agricultural jobs that were deliberately eradicated in the first place to import seeds or the village-level processors who were cynically put out of business via bogus health and safety measures so that Cargill could gain a financially lucrative foothold?

The process resembles what Michel Chossudovsky notes in his 1997 book about the ‘structural adjustment’ of African countries. In The Globalization of Poverty, he says that economies are:

opened up through the concurrent displacement of a pre-existing productive system. Small and medium-sized enterprises are pushed into bankruptcy or obliged to produce for a global distributor, state enterprises are privatised or closed down, independent agricultural producers are impoverished. (p.16)

The opening up of India to foreign capital is supported by rhetoric about increasing agricultural productivity, creating jobs and boosting GDP growth. But India is already self-sufficient in key staples and even where productivity is among the best in the world (as in Punjab) farmers still face massive financial distress. Clearly, productivity is not the problem: even with bumper harvests, the agrarian crisis persists.

India is looking to US corporations to ‘develop’ its food, retail and agriculture sectors. What could this mean for India? We only have to look at the business model that keeps these companies in profit in the US: an industrialised system that relies on massive taxpayer subsidies and has destroyed many small-scale farmers’ livelihoods.

The fact that US agriculture now employs a tiny fraction of the population serves as a stark reminder for what is in store for Indian farmers. Agribusiness companies’ taxpayer-subsidised business models are based on overproduction and dumping on the world market to depress prices and rob farmers elsewhere of the ability to cover the costs of production. They rake in huge returns, while depressed farmer incomes and massive profits for food retailers is the norm.

The long-term plan is for an overwhelmingly urbanised India with a fraction of the population left in farming working on contracts for large suppliers and Walmart-type supermarkets that offer a largely monoculture diet of highly processed, denutrified, genetically altered food based on crops soaked with chemicals and grown in increasingly degraded soils according to an unsustainable model of agriculture that is less climate/drought resistant, less diverse and unable to achieve food security.

Various high-level reports have concluded that policies need to support more resilient, diverse, sustainable (smallholder) agroecological methods of farming and develop decentralised, locally-based food economies. There is also a need to protect indigenous agriculture from rigged global trade and trade deals. However, the trend continues to move in the opposite direction towards industrial-scale agriculture and centralised chains for the benefit of Monsanto, Cargill, Bayer and other transnational players.

Devinder Sharma has highlighted where Indian policy makers’ priorities lie when he says that agriculture has been systematically killed over the last few decades. Some 60% of the population live in rural areas and are involved in agriculture but less than 2% of the annual budget goes to agriculture. Sharma says that when you are not investing in agriculture, you are not wanting it to perform.

It is worth considering that the loans provided to just five large corporations in India are equal to the entire farm debt. Where have those loans gone? Have they increased ‘value’ in the economy. No, loans to corporate houses left the banks without liquidity.

‘Demonetisation’ was in part a bail-out for the banks and the corporates, which farmers and other ordinary folk paid the price for. It was a symptom of a country whose GDP growth was based on a debt-inflated economy. While farmers commit suicide and are heavily indebted, a handful of billionaires get access to cheap money with no pressure to pay it back and with little ‘added value’ for society as a whole.

Corporate-industrial India has failed to deliver in terms of boosting exports or creating jobs, despite the hand outs and tax exemptions given to it. The number of jobs created in India between 2005 and 2010 was 2.7 million (the years of high GDP growth). According to International Business Times, 15 million enter the workforce every year. And data released by the Labour Bureau shows that in 2015, jobless ‘growth’ had finally arrived in India.

So where are the jobs going to come from to cater for hundreds of millions of agricultural workers who are to be displaced from the land or those whose livelihoods will be destroyed as transnational corporations move in and seek to capitalise small-scale village-level industries that currently employ tens of millions?

Development used to be about breaking with colonial exploitation and radically redefining power structures. Now we have dogma masquerading as economic theory that compels developing countries to adopt neoliberal policies. The notion of ‘development’ has become hijacked by rich corporations and the concept of poverty depoliticised and separated from structurally embedded power relations, not least US-driven globalisation policies resulting in the deregulation of international capital that ensures giant transnational conglomerates are able to ride roughshod over national sovereignty.

Across the world we are seeing treaties and agreements over breeders’ rights and intellectual property being enacted to prevent peasant farmers from freely improving, sharing or replanting their traditional seeds. Large corporations with their proprietary seeds and synthetic chemical inputs are trying to eradicate traditional systems of seed exchange. They have effectively hijacked seeds, pirated germ plasm that farmers developed over millennia and have ‘rented’ the seeds back to farmers

Corporate-dominated agriculture is not only an attack on the integrity of ‘the commons’ (soil, water, land, food, forests, diets and health) but is also an attack on the integrity of international institutions, governments and officials which have too often been corrupted by powerful transnational entities.

Whereas some want to bring about a fairer, more equitable system of production and distribution to improve people’s quality of lives (particularly pertinent in India with its unimaginable inequalities, which have spiralled since India adopted neoliberal policies), US capitalism regards ‘development’ as a geopolitical tool.

As economics professor Michael Hudson said during a 2014 interview (published on prosper.org under the title ‘Think Tank Times’):

American foreign policy has almost always been based on agricultural exports, not on industrial exports as people might think. It’s by agriculture and control of the food supply that American diplomacy has been able to control most of the Third World. The World Bank’s geopolitical lending strategy has been to turn countries into food deficit areas by convincing them to grow cash crops – plantation export crops – not to feed themselves with their own food crops.

The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) could further accelerate the corporatisation of Indian agriculture. A trade deal now being negotiated by 16 countries across Asia-Pacific, the RCEP would cover half the world’s population, including 420 million small family farms that produce 80% of the region’s food.

RCEP is expected to create powerful rights and lucrative business opportunities for food and agriculture corporations under the guise of boosting trade and investment. It could allow foreign corporations to buy up land, thereby driving up land prices, fuelling speculation and pushing small farmers out. If RCEP is adopted, it could intensify the great land grab that has been taking place in India. It could also lead to further corporate control over seeds.

Capitalism and environmental catastrophe joined at the hip

In India, an industrialised chemical-intensive model of agriculture is being facilitated. This model brings with it the numerous now well-documented externalised social, environmental and health costs. We need look no further than the current situation in South India and the drying up of the Cauvery river in places to see the impact that this model has contributed to: an ecological crisis fuelled by environmental devastation due to mining, deforestation and unsustainable agriculture based on big dams, water-intensive crops and Green Revolution ideology imported from the West.

But we have known for a long time now that India faces major environmental problems, many of which are rooted in agriculture. For example, in an open letter written to officials in 2006, the late campaigner and farmer Bhaskar Save noted that India, next to South America, receives the highest rainfall in the world. Where thick vegetation covers the ground, and the soil is alive and porous, at least half of this rain is soaked and stored in the soil and sub-soil strata. A good amount then percolates deeper to recharge aquifers, or ‘groundwater tables’. Save argued that the living soil and its underlying aquifers thus serve as gigantic, ready-made reservoirs gifted free by nature.

Half a century ago, most parts of India had enough fresh water all year round, long after the rains had stopped and gone. But clear the forests, and the capacity of the earth to soak the rain, drops drastically. Streams and wells run dry.

Save went on to note that while the recharge of groundwater has greatly reduced, its extraction has been mounting. India is presently mining over 20 times more groundwater each day than it did in 1950. Much of this is mindless wastage by a minority. But most of India’s people – living on hand-drawn or hand-pumped water in villages and practising only rain-fed farming – continue to use the same amount of ground water per person, as they did generations ago.

According to Save, more than 80% of India’s water consumption is for irrigation, with the largest share hogged by chemically cultivated cash crops. Maharashtra, for example, has the maximum number of big and medium dams in the country. But sugarcane alone, grown on barely 3-4% of its cultivable land, guzzles about 70% of its irrigation waters.

One acre of chemically grown sugarcane requires as much water as would suffice 25 acres of jowar, bajra or maize. The sugar factories too consume huge quantities. From cultivation to processing, each kilo of refined sugar needs two to three tonnes of water. This could be used to grow, by the traditional, organic way, about 150 to 200 kg of nutritious jowar or bajra (native millets).

While rice is suitable for rain-fed farming, its extensive multiple cropping with irrigation in winter and summer as well is similarly hogging water resources and depleting aquifers. As with sugarcane, it is also irreversibly ruining the land through salinization.

Save argued that soil salinization is the greatest scourge of irrigation-intensive agriculture, as a progressively thicker crust of salts is formed on the land. Many million hectares of cropland have been ruined by it. The most serious problems are caused where water-guzzling crops like sugarcane or basmati rice are grown round the year, abandoning the traditional mixed-cropping and rotation systems of the past, which required minimal or no watering.

Unfortunately, policy makers continue to look towards the likes of Monsanto-Bayer for ‘solutions’. Such companies merely seek to break farmers’ environmental learning ‘pathways’ based on centuries of indigenous knowledge, learning and practices with the aim of getting farmers hooked on chemical treadmills for corporate profit (see Glenn Stone and Andrew Flach’s paper on path-breaking and technology treadmills in Indian cotton agriculture).

Wrong-headed policies in agriculture have already resulted in drought, expensive dam-building projects, population displacement and degraded soils. The rivers are drying, farmers are dying and the cities are creaking as a result of the unbridled push towards urbanisation.

In terms of maintaining and creating jobs, managing water resources, regenerating soils and cultivating climate resilient crops, agroecology as a solution is there for all to see. Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka are now making a concerted effort to roll out and scale up zero budget agroecological agriculture.

Solutions to India’s agrarian crisis (and indeed the world’s) are available, not least the scaling up of agroecological approaches which could be the lynchpin of rural development. However, successive administrations have bowed to and continue to acquiesce to the grip of global capitalism and have demonstrated their allegiance to corporate power. The danger is that without changing the capitalist relations of production, agroecology would simply be co-opted by corporations and incorporated into their global production and distribution chains.

In the meantime, India faces huge problems in terms of securing access to water. As Bhaskar Save noted, the shift to Green Revolution thinking and practices has placed enormous strain on water resources. From glacial melt in the Himalayas that will contribute to the drying up of important rivers to the effects of temperature rises across the Indo Gangetic plain, which will adversely impact wheat productivity, India has more than its fair share of problems. But despite this, high-level policy makers are pushing for a certain model of ‘development’ that will only exacerbate the problems.

This model is being driven by some of the world’s largest corporate players: a model that by its very nature leads to environment catastrophe:

… our economic system demands ever-increasing levels of extraction, production and consumption. Our politicians tell us that we need to keep the global economy growing at more than 3% each year – the minimum necessary for large firms to make aggregate profits. That means every 20 years we need to double the size of the global economy – double the cars, double the fishing, double the mining, double the McFlurries and double the iPads. And then double them again over the next 20 years from their already doubled state.

— Jason Hickel

While politicians and bureaucrats in Delhi might be facilitating this economic model and all it entails for agriculture, it is ultimately stamped with the logo ‘made in Washington’. Surrendering the nation’s food sovereignty and the incorporation of India into US financial and geopolitical structures is the current state of independence.

Final thoughts

Neoliberalism and the drive for urbanisation in India have been underpinned by unconstitutional land takeovers and the trampling of democratic rights. For supporters of cronyism and manipulated markets, which to all extents and purposes is what economic ‘neoliberalism’ across the world has entailed (see thisthis and this), there have been untold opportunities for well-placed individuals to make an under-the-table fast buck from various infrastructure projects and privatisation sell-offs.

According to the Organisation for Co-operation and Economic Development, the doubling of income inequality has made India one of the worst performers in the category of emerging economies.

Unsurprisingly, therefore, struggles (violent and non-violent) are taking place in India. The Naxalites/Maoists are referred to by the dominant class as left-wing extremists who are exploiting the situation of the poor. But how easy it is to ignore the true nature of the poor’s exploitation and too often lump all protesters together and create an ‘enemy within’. How easy it is to ignore the state-corporate extremism across the world that results in the central state abdicating its redistributive responsibilities by submitting to the tenets of Wall Street-backed ‘structural adjustment’ pro-privatisation policies, free capital flows and largely unaccountable corporations.

Powerful (mining) corporations are shaping the ‘development’ agenda in India and have signed secretive Memorandums of Understanding with the government. The full backing of the state is on hand to forcibly evict peoples from their land in order to hand it over to mineral-hungry industries to fuel a wholly unsustainable model of development. Around the world, this oil-dependent, urban-centric, high-energy model of endless consumption is stripping the environment bare and negatively impacting the climate and ecology.

In addition to displacing people to facilitate the needs of resource extraction industries, unconstitutional land grabs for Special Economic Zones, nuclear plants and other projects have additionally forced many others from the land.

Farmers (and others) represent a ‘problem’: a problem while on the land and a problem to be somehow dealt with once displaced. But food producers, the genuine wealth creators of a nation, only became a problem when western agribusiness was given the green light to take power away from farmers and uproot traditional agriculture in India and recast it in its own corporate-controlled image.

This is a country where the majority sanctifies certain animals, places, rivers and mountains. It’s also a country run by Wall Street sanctioned politicians who convince people to accept or be oblivious to the destruction of the same.

Many are working strenuously to challenge the selling of the heart and soul of India. Yet how easy will it be for them to be swept aside by officialdom which seeks to cast them as ‘subversive’. How easy it will be for the corrosive impacts of a rapacious capitalism to take hold and for hugely powerful corporations to colonise almost every area of social, cultural and economic life and encourage greed, selfishness, apathy, irretrievable materialism and acquisitive individualism.

The corporations behind it all achieve hegemony by altering mindsets via advertising, clever PR or by sponsoring (hijacking) major events, by funding research in public institutes and thus slanting findings and the knowledge paradigm in their favour or by securing key positions in international trade negotiations in an attempt to structurally readjust retail, food production and agriculture. They do it by many methods and means.

Before you realise it, culture, politics and the economy have become colonised by powerful private interests and the world is cast in their image. The prevailing economic system soon becomes cloaked with an aura of matter of factuality, an air of naturalness, which is never to be viewed for the controlling hegemonic culture or power play that it really is.

Seeds, mountains, water, forests and biodiversity are being sold off. The farmers and tribals are being sold out. And the more that gets sold off, the more who get sold out, the greater the amount of cash that changes hands and the easier it is for the misinformed to swallow the lie of Wall Street’s bogus notion of ‘growth’ – GDP.

If anyone perceives the type of ‘development’ being sold to the masses is actually possible in the first instance, they should note that ‘developing’ nations account for more than 80% of world population but consume only about a third of the world’s energy. US citizens constitute 5% of the world’s population but consume 24% of the world’s energy. On average, one American consumes as much energy as two Japanese, six Mexicans, 13 Chinese, 31 Indians, 128 Bangladeshis, 307 Tanzanians and 370 Ethiopians.

Consider that the Earth is 4.6 billion years old and if you scale this to 46 years then humans have been here for just four hours. The Industrial Revolution began just one minute ago, and in that time, 50% of the Earth’s forests have been destroyed.

We are using up oil, water and other resources much faster than they can ever be regenerated. We have also poisoned the rivers, destroyed natural habitats, driven species to extinction and altered the chemical composition of the atmosphere – among many other things.

Levels of consumption were unsustainable long before India and other countries began striving to emulate a bogus notion of ‘development’. The West continues to live way beyond its (environmental) limits.

This wasteful, high-energy model is tied to what ultimately constitutes the plundering of peoples and the planet by powerful transnational corporations. And, as we see all around us, from Libya and Syria to Afghanistan and Iraq, the outcome is endless conflicts over fewer and fewer resources.

The type of ‘progress and development’ and consumerism being sold makes beneficiaries of it blind to the misery and plight of the hundreds of millions who are deprived of their lands and livelihoods. In Congo, rich corporations profit from war and conflict. And in India, tens of thousands of militias (including in 2005, Salwa Judum) were put into tribal areas to forcibly displace 300,000 people and place 50,000 in camps. In the process, rapes and human rights abuses have been common.

If what is set out above tells us anything, it is that India and other regions of the world are suffering from internal haemorrhaging. They are being bled dry from both within and without:

There are sectors of the global population trying to impede the global catastrophe. There are other sectors trying to accelerate it. Take a look at whom they are. Those who are trying to impede it are the ones we call backward, indigenous populations – the First Nations in Canada, the aboriginals in Australia, the tribal people in India. Who is accelerating it? The most privileged, so-called advanced, educated populations of the world.

— Noam Chomsky.

Underpinning the arrogance of such a mindset is what Vandana Shiva calls a view of the world which encourages humans to regard man as conqueror and owner of the Earth. This has led to the technological hubris of geo-engineering, genetic engineering and nuclear energy. Shiva argues that it has led to the ethical outrage of owning life forms through patents, water through privatization, the air through carbon trading. It is leading to appropriation of the biodiversity that serves the poor.

And therein lies the true enemy of genuine development: a system that facilitates such plunder, which is presided over by well-funded and influential foreign foundations and powerful financial-corporate entities and their handmaidens in the IMF, World Bank and WTO.

If we look at the various western powers, to whom many of India’s top politicians look to for inspiration, their paths to economic prosperity occurred on the back of colonialism and imperialist intent. Do India’s politicians think this mindset has disappeared? The same mentality now lurks behind the neoliberal globalisation agenda hidden behind terms and policies like ‘foreign direct investment’, ‘ease of doing business’, making India ‘business friendly’ or ‘enabling the business of agriculture’.

Is India willing to see Monsanto-Bayer, Cargill and other transnational corporations deciding on what is to be eaten and how it is to be produced and processed. A corporate takeover spearheaded by companies whose character is clear for all to see:

The Indo-US Knowledge Initiative in Agriculture with agribusinesses like Monsanto, WalMart, Archer Daniels Midland, Cargill and ITC in its Board made efforts to turn the direction of agricultural research and policy in such a manner as to cater their demands for profit maximisation. Companies like Monsanto during the Vietnam War produced tonnes and tonnes of ‘Agent Orange’ unmindful of its consequences for Vietnamese people as it raked in super profits and that character remains.

— Communist Party of India (Marxist)

Behind the World Bank/corporate-inspired rhetoric that is driving the overhaul of Indian agriculture is a brand of corporate imperialism which is turning out to be no less brutal for Indian farmers than early industrial capitalism was in England for its peasantry. The East India company might have gone, but today the bidding of elite interests (private capital) is being carried out by compliant politicians, the World Bank, the WTO and lop-sided, egregious back-room trade deals.

Rescues, Caves and Celebrity Salvation

It all risks becoming pornographic, looped and re-run with an obsessive eye for updates and detail about despair and hope.  The twenty-four hour news cycle tends to encourage this sort of thing, ever desperate for snippets, obsessively chasing the update.  With a soccer team of twelve youths and their coach trapped in Tham Luang Nang Non cave some one kilometre below the surface, the curious, the gormless, and those with an unhealthy interest in the morbid have assumed couch position.

First came the discovery of the team by British divers after the group had gone missing for nine days.  They were found on a ledge inside the Northern Thai cave system.  Divers Rick Stanton and John Volanthen were feted as being among the best in the world, the former having been awarded an MBE for, of all things, services in cave diving.

There was much hooting and tooting in celebration, something prompted by the fact that any hope of finding them alive, according to the governor of Chiang Rai province, was nigh impossible.  But the mechanics of extricating the team from the cave started to mount in complexity and desperation, bursting the initial balloon of celebration.

With 2.5 miles of flooded cave between the team and the entrance, a sense of imperilment has grown.  This is compounded by a dreaded risk that adds a televisual ghastliness to the tale: the prospect of more heavy rain on the weekend, something that will foil current efforts to drain the excess water.

A village of international rescue experts including military personnel has grown around the enterprise, not to mention a vast hive of media representatives.  Four questions seem to be doing the rounds: to leave the team in the cave till there is a receding of the water level (dangerous given the monsoon season); pumping out the water to an extent to enable the trapped team to wade out; teaching the youths how to scuba dive, something which would be no mean feat given the length of time it would take for them to journey out of the cave (some five hours) and their status as virginal divers; and finally, drilling into the cave system.

Thai Navy Seals have been deployed, and much help is at hand, but the goriness has not been entirely dissipated.  The Navy Seal Chief Rear Adm. Arpakorn Yoo-kongkaew has been feeding the story to journalists keen to strike the optimistic note.

The Rear Admiral did not disappoint.  “Now we have given food to the boys, starting with food that is easy to digest and provides high energy.” He stressed that care has been given to the youths “following the doctor’s recommendation.  So do not worry, we will take care of them with our best.  We will bring all of them with safety.  We are now planning how to do so.”  Such confidence was given a dint with the subsequent death of one of his crew, Samarn Poonan, who perished due to lack of oxygen during a dive.

One similar incident stands out to what is currently unfolding in Thailand: the initial loss, the recovery and sanctifying of the “Los 33”, the Chilean miners who became celebrities of salvation in 2010.  They spent 69 days in the collapsed San Jose mine near Copiapó.  Over time, a process of mythologising began to take place.

It was fame imposed on the ordinary, confected by the mere fact, as important as that fact was, that they had survived.  Like Church miracle artefacts, they were vested with allure, attraction, and sheer pulling power.  They were also there to be exploited, used, and interpreted.  Otherwise, they were uncomplicated creatures of animal and mineral, many of whom believed that God had been the thirty-fourth miner keeping them resolute.

As the rescue effort unfolded, the minor celebrity bandwagon grew.  US radio personality Ryan Seacrest sent prayers and well wishes hoping, rather insipidly, “to see everyone on the surface soon.” The clownish Irish song duo of Jedward sent their own message of tinny idiocy: “All the miners remember it’s not about mining it’s about finding dinosaurs and dragons.” The late English presenter Keith Chegwin expressed some mock shame that “Dig Brother” had ended.  “Wonder what Chile 4 will put on now.”

The miners would subsequently add a touch of mysticism to the rescue, essentially sacralising it.  Jorge Galleguillos spoke of seeing “a white species… a butterfly” falling “like a paper” into the mine.  “Faith is nourishment… Faith is life.”  Stories abounded of how medical ailments were healed by prayer.  The drill used to tunnel to the miners was guided, according to miner Ariel Ticona, “by the hand of God”.

The miners became the heralds of a modern success story.  They were invited as guests of honour to Manchester United.  They did the US chat show circuit.  As a statement of pure fantasy, they went to that composite of fantasy, Disneyland. Then, for another sort of miracle dream work, they ventured to the Holy Land.  Expenses were footed.

Amidst the celebratory orgy typical of myth came a few sceptical qualifiers.  The degree of medical danger posed to them, for instance, had been given undue embellishment.  Dr. James Polk, deputy chief medical officer and chief of space medicine at NASA put this down to “not having all the facts, and things that people did not know about the situation”.

The workers were, for instance, trapped at sea level and could hardly have suffered from decompression sickness.  The miners were less confined as was portrayed, able to continue their labours underground.  Nor were they at risk of Vitamin D deficiency. “Chilean authorities,” according to Polk, “anticipated this, and they gave them a large dose of Vitamin D3 as part of their nutritional supplementation.”

Many of the rescued miners subsequently faced the ruination of imposed fame.  Mario Sepúlveda spoke of “fame but not money. It is the worst possible thing.”  The camera that had given him and his colleagues celebrity had also consumed them.  His world remains one of anti-depressants and a return to mining, where the darkness comforts.

The “Los 33” effect is very much at play regarding this young football team even as the rescue crews are busying themselves on tactics.  The big and the moneyed are seeking their place in the sun, offering advice.  Some are constructive; others are simply sentimental.  Elon Musk, according to a spokesman, has revealed that negotiations are underway on supplying location technology using Space Exploration Technologies Corp. or Boring Co. technology for digging purposes, or providing Tesla Inc. Powerwall battery packs.  But to every little bit of brain storming comes the deadly qualifier: engaging such services as that of Boring Co., with its colossal drills, might simply be too dangerous.

Even now, the young team has drawn on the heartstrings of the football community, encouraging a measure of faith.  Liverpool Football manager Jürgen Klopp, in an official video intended for the youngsters and their coach, spoke of “hoping every second that you see the daylight again.  You’ll never walk alone.” Such language, heartfelt yet tinged with a sense of funereal doom.

Multi-Millionaire Mass Murderer for Senate

Donald Leon “Don” Blankenship isn’t just another typical rich, white, tall, 68-year-old Republican multi-millionaire ideologue serving out the last probationary year of his federal criminal sentence in Las Vegas while running for the US Senate in West Virginia.  He’s also an endlessly, self-righteously self-justifying mass murderer.

Don Blankenship isn’t your typical extermination-camp-type mass murderer. He’s a lifelong coal executive. Mostly his activities kill people slowly, in their natural habitat, or what used to be a natural habitat before coal mining started destroying mountains, rivers, aquifers, and other life-sustaining ecosystems.

None of this is much of an issue in the Republican primary race for the West Virginia Senate nomination. The primary is scheduled for May 8. As of April 5, Blankenship was rising in the polls, now standing second with 27% in a six-way race, nine points higher than a month ago. The leader has 29%, down four points over the past month (down 13 since February). In 2016 Donald Trump won 68% of the vote in West Virginia. In 2014 the Republican Senate candidate won 62%. Blankenship is self-funding his campaign and has reportedly already spent millions. Blankenship spokesman Greg Thomas framed the situation carefully:

While we don’t have much confidence in other people’s polls, it is not surprising that more and more West Virginians would be supporting Don Blankenship. Don’s message of being a proven job creator and a conservative leader in West Virginia who will fight against the D.C. establishment is being received well everywhere we go….

The more people know about Don, the more they like him. We are doing everything we can to make sure people hear our positive message.

Reality is a variable, especially in politics. Even in West Virginia, running as a former CEO convicted of conspiring to cut safety measures, directly leading to 29 dead miners, probably is not the best image to project, even though it’s precisely true. But that was back in 2010, back before the Trump era blossomed upon us, back when the US government actually tried to prosecute people who killed their employees, back when Rolling Stone described Blankenship with refreshing venom:

You might not know that he grew up in the coal fields of West Virginia, received an accounting degree from a local college, and, through a combination of luck, hard work and coldblooded ruthlessness, transformed himself into the embodiment of everything that’s wrong with the business and politics of energy in America today — a man who pursues naked self-interest and calls it patriotism, who buys judges like cheap hookers, treats workers like dogs, blasts mountains to get at a few inches of coal and uses his money and influence to ensure that America remains enslaved to the 19th-century idea that burning coal equals progress. And for this, he earns $18 million a year — making him the highest-paid CEO in the coal industry — and flies off to vacations on the French Riviera.

In 2010, Blankenship was in his tenth year as CEO and chairman of the Massey Energy Company, the largest coal company in Central Appalachia and one of the largest in the US (sold in 2011 to Alpha Natural Resources). Under Blankenship’s leadership, Massey was notorious for valuing productivity over safety. In October 2000, a Massey subsidiary unleashed some 300 million gallons of slurry laced with mercury and arsenic, killing all aquatic life nearby and polluting hundreds of miles of downstream waterways; the Bush administration cut short the investigation and Labor Secretary Elaine Chao (Mitch McConnell’s wife) assessed a $5,600 fine on Massey (which also spent about $50 million on cleanup and local fines).

In January 2006, safety violations led to a mine fire that killed two, and Massey’s culpability led to a settlement (over the objections of the widows) in which Massey paid $4.2 million in criminal and civil penalties, then the largest settlement in the coal industry’s history (but no one was prosecuted). In February 2006, a bulldozer fire killed the operator, leading Massey to plead guilty to 10 criminal charges in a plea deal that cost Massey $2.5 million, but again prosecuted no one. In 2008, Massey paid $20 million to settle thousands of clean water violations with potential total fines of $2.4 billion, which is a pretty good incentive for the company to go on polluting. In 2009, the US cited Massey for 495 violations at the company’s Upper Big Branch coal mine and proposed fines totaling $911,802.

On April 5, 2010, Massey safety failures led directly to an explosion that killed 29 miners (out of 31), the worst US mine catastrophe since 1970, which became known as the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster. The US assessed $10.8 million in penalties for 369 citations issued to Massey (which was cited more than 1,100 times for the same mine over the previous three years). On December 3, 2010, Blankenship resigned from Massey, three days before the mine safety report was issued. A year after the explosion, a state investigation fixed the blame on Massey leadership, up to and including Blankenship. On November 13, 2014, a federal grand jury indicted Blankenship on several felony charges of conspiring to violate federal safety standards, lying, and security fraud. In December 2015, a federal jury acquitted Blankenship of the felony charges, but convicted him of a misdemeanor charge of conspiring to violate safety standards. A federal judge ordered the maximum sentence for the conviction, one year in prison and a $250,000 fine. Blankenship appealed and lost, entered prison, appealed again and lost. His final appeal to the US Supreme Court was still pending when he was released on May 10, 2017, after serving his year. On October 10, 2017, the Supreme Court refused to hear Blankenship’s appeal. Blankenship responded to the court’s decision with a prepared statement that blamed the court system with a classic Republican trope of irrelevance and arrogance:

Our court system is so tangled up trying to decide whether illegal is illegal and whether males can use female public restrooms that they have no time to concern themselves with whether American citizens have received a fair trial. The judicial system is broken top to bottom and it’s not fixable.

Currently, still playing the victim, Blankenship is claiming his trial was tainted by prosecutorial misconduct and that “the actions of the prosecution are being reviewed by the Department of Justice Office of Professional Responsibility.” The Justice Department has neither confirmed nor denied Blankenship’s claim. Blankenship contends that the fatal mine explosion was the fault of federal prosecutors and that his prosecution was part of an Obama administration conspiracy to demonize the coal industry. Blankenship also denies climate change.

Mass murderers are not known for their repentance or humility or integrity or sense of accountability, but that won’t make him stand out in the Senate, if he gets there. He probably wouldn’t even be the first actual mass murderer in the Senate, but he might be the most blatant and successful, at least by the numbers.

When you stop, rational and detached, to think about the Senate, you realize that there’s not one senator who’s not complicit in mass murder more widespread than Blankenship perhaps even dreamed of. There is not a single US senator who’s not a war criminal, and there’s also probably not a single senator who will be charged for war crimes, much less tried for and convicted of war crimes. Punishing a US senator for culpability in any of the American war crimes of recent decades is all but unimaginable.

Of all the members of the House and Senate since 2001, only Democratic congresswoman Barbara Lee of Oakland has any right to a presumption of innocence. And she may even be actually innocent of even the most tangential participation in our government’s daily execution of war crimes and crimes against humanity. But that innocence, that pure innocence, is hard to imagine. Barbara Lee sits in Congress, and she votes for bills that may seem beneficial or benign. And how many are truly beneficial or benign? The war economy is woven into the national fabric so pervasively that almost every act directly or indirectly facilitates our killing and our preparations to kill. The fine print in a bill to feed children in America (unlikely as that has become of late) also makes it possible to kill other children in distant places where they die anonymously and alone for the sake of our national security. Somehow.

Blankenship’s rise is reportedly raising concern among Republican incumbents, who profess to be shocked – shocked – to find Republican values so vividly personified. If he gets the nomination, Blankenship will be running against Democrat Joe Manchin, who said after the mine killings that Blankenship had blood on his hands. That hardly makes him unqualified to sit in “the world’s greatest deliberative body” (self-styled) which remains all too content not to talk about its bloody hands all over Iraq and Yemen, while giving less than lip service to its hands-off approach to the deadly suffering of Americans in Puerto Rico and Flint, Michigan.

Swiss Mining Corporations in Flagrant Violation of Human Rights: Swiss Government Complicit

Peru, Espinar (Cusco Province), 4 April 2018 – Violent attacks have been carried out by the copper mining giant Glencore’s security forces and Glencore-contracted national police on defenseless women and even children, on the poorest of the poor segment of Peru’s population. Glencore is a Swiss registered Anglo-Swiss mining corporation, exploiting mineral resources in developing countries around the globe, where they pay almost no taxes, as their profit center is in Switzerland, in Baar, Canton Zug, one of the Cantons, that has the lowest tax rates in Switzerland.

In addition, none of the socio-environmental standards to protect the environment and the local communities are generally applied in developing countries. In the specific case of Peru, local laws are totally ignored. In fact, never mind Peruvian laws; they are like non-existent for the corporate world. They are simply bought. Never mind Glencore’s own “Due Diligence” rules. They are not respected in a country so corrupt, where laws, judges, lawyers, police, politicians – and even medical facilities are bought.

Above Espinar, on about 4,000 to 4,200 m elevation, Glencore operates open pit copper mining complexes, Tintaya and Antapaccay (“Antapaccay” was a Peruvian mining company bought by Glencore in 2013). The mine is also yielding gold (copper and gold usually go together), at the tune of some 221,000 tons of copper and 115,000 Troy ounces of gold per year (Troy ounce = 31.1 grams). Both figures are for 2016. To do so, Glencore moves some 80,000 to 100,000 tons of earth and rock per day.

An adjacent new mining area, Coroccohuayco, is being explored for continuous exploitation as the current mine is approaching its end. The capacity of this mining complex is estimated at 20 to 30 years, about two and a half generations of rural dwellers will be exposed to this horrendous Glencore atrocities and injustice if nobody takes actions in their defense. Plus, after the mine is fully exploited, the miners usually pack up and leave – leaving an environmental disaster of poisoned soil and water – what’s left of it – behind. Restauration of such huge areas of mining ruins can take hundreds, if not thousands of years.

Glencore, with a total production of 1.23 million tons (2016) is the world’s third largest copper producer, employing some 55,000 people in 30 countries. According to MarketWatch, Glencore’s profit for 2017 registered a massive increase to $5.78 billion, from $1.38 billion in 2016 (compared to the Swiss food Giant, Nestlé, with CHF 8.3 billion, or US$ 8.6 billion, equivalent – 2017).

Glencore would have no shortfall of money to respect socioenvironmental laws, which includes compensating local communities for confiscated land and water, for avoiding deadly contamination of water and soil, spreading into human and animal bodies, causing countless deaths. They have plenty of means to take such protective measures. But it’s obviously cheaper and less cumbersome to corrupt Peruvian authorities, so that nobody dares opening their mouth and speaking up in front of such abuse. Local authorities are all afraid or bought, or both.

Anti-mining riots in 2012, when the new pits “Antapaccay” opened, caused 3 deaths and more than 100 injured. The mayor, who supported the protesting campesinos was temporarily jailed. Peruvian central government authorities have taken full position in favor of the mining corporations; and this throughout the country, where similar disasters are repeated — no respect for local communities, force-expropriating them, poisoning their waters and soil with toxic heavy metals — mercury, cyanite, cadmium, arsenic and others — causing slow countless deaths and destroying the landscape, water and soil.

Arriving in Espinar in the early morning hours of 4 April, we were hit by the news of violent physical aggressions having been perpetuated by Glencore’s security forces and hired national police, on destitute defenseless, unarmed women around noon the day before, 3 April. This happened when the men were out working either at the mine or in the fields, eking out a modest living for their families.

The mine is surrounded by some 6 mountain communities of an average of 1,200 people. None of them have running water or electricity. They are extremely poor and would fall way below the World Bank standard of extreme poverty (less than US$ 1/day). The community that was attacked has a well and a close-by small river which the mine wants for refining purposes and for diversion to other mining communities where water had already been stolen. There was not even an attempt of negotiating compensations. A local leader, advised about the violence, reached the community towards the end of the assault and took video testimonies of the beaten women.

In an exercise of intimidation, the assault was executed by some 30 to 50 Glencore security forces and hired police. The police were equipped with government provided riot gear. They were beating down on the totally vulnerable women with their typical police batons. In one case, four men grabbing a 65-year-old woman, beating her almost to death. A bulldozer was ready to destroy their modest stone shacks. While one house was already destroyed about two weeks ago, thanks to the protesting women and the village men that eventually came to their rescue, it didn’t happen this time.

We met with activists, including the former mayor of Espinar. They all confirmed the Glencore assault. Then we went to the mining area, surrounded by small impoverished farmer communities. We met with the women who told us in tears what happened, showing their bruises all over their bodies – crying. The elderly 65-year-old woman was so badly beaten, she almost died. She was laying in her rickety stone hut that was earlier demolished and shakily rebuilt, moaning from pain, possibly with several broken ribs, no medication and no medical attention. Her situation is highly precarious. In addition to her state of health, her stone hut could collapse at any moment from the tremors of the daily mining explosions.

This bullying campaign is by no means new. It’s a common practice, as was confirmed by former mine workers and farm laborers of the area. Glencore wants to expropriate the peasants without compensation, because they want their water. Mining needs a huge amount of water to the detriment of the population, and Glencore doesn’t pay a penny for the water they consume and pollute with toxic heavy metals. Glencore doesn’t even offer the peasants alternative housing and living areas. The women attempted to file complaints with the local police, but the police refused to even hear them. Of course, they are paid and fully under Glencore’s control.

Other leaders and activists told us about their health situation. How people die like flies from cancer around them and living in the vicinity of the mine even if they are not directly working for the mine. Water, earth and vapor contamination of the air they breathe is so toxic, affecting every living being in the surrounding area, eventually dying a slow death.

Corruption is almost unimaginable. Glencore buys literally not only all police, lawyers, judges, politicians, but also medical doctors, clinics, laboratories in the vicinity. Two community inhabitants told us how already three months ago they were giving blood and urine samples to be tested for heavy metals. The analysis results have not been returned yet and will probably never be handed out to the victims, as they would reveal the heavy intoxication. One of them said under tears that he had lost one of his sons (31) to mine-induced cancer.

According to them, a similar fate afflicts a number of other inhabitants living in the zone. Some 1,200 victims suffer from various heavy-metal related diseases, mostly in their lungs and joints, extreme tiredness, memory loss and lack of concentration. Heavy metals accumulate in the body and are known to affect the nervous system. Several of the people interviewed said they and many of their neighbors and friends were resigned to simply die without any help.

Not only does Glencore not provide for medical assistance, but mine workers are hired from other regions of Peru. When they get sick, protest or die they are immediately ‘repatriated’ to their home region, so as not to cause havoc in the Espinar vicinity. Hence, it follows Glencore’s unethical logic: They pay doctors, clinics and labs not to reveal the level of toxins they discover in the victims’ bodies.

According to testimonies from several inhabitants of the region, including the ex-mayor of Espinar, mental retardation of children and other birth defects are increasing exponentially since Glencore first started operating in 2006 under Xstrata which later merged with Glencore.

The Swiss Government is fully aware of and consequently complicit with these corporate crimes. They know what is going on outside the Swiss borders — inside of which the same corporations would have to adhere to strict rules and follow the rule of law. About four years ago, a Swiss parliamentary delegation visited the Glencore site in Espinar. The visit was announced much in advance, so that Glencore had plenty of time to “clean up”, getting rid of potentially protesting voices. The delegation met with the then mayor, who worked in defense of the people and who gave the Swiss parliamentarians a dose of reality. Nevertheless, the delegation was wined and dined during two days by Glencore. The report back to Parliament was accordingly benign.

When recently approached on another case of flagrant mining abuse, including child work, prostitution and drug trafficking – in this case goldmining related to Metalor in Rinconada, near Puno, Peru – representatives of the Swiss Foreign Ministry’s Ethics Office simply said they had nothing to do with this case. Each one of these companies observed their “Due Diligence” and the government trusts them to adhere to their own standards. In case they wouldn’t, it was up to the host government where they work; i.e., Peru, to hold them responsible. Period.

That’s the noble stand of the Swiss authorities, who know very well that in Peru, like in many other countries where these Swiss-registered corporations operate, corruption is so rampant that they buy themselves out of every crime, including homicide caused by intoxication of heavy metals from their mining operations. After all, Switzerland, like other countries, has diplomatic representations in almost all countries, reporting back home on the state of their host country.

It is not widespread knowledge among the Swiss people that the highest echelons of the Swiss Government meet regularly with CEOs of key corporations to discuss Switzerland’s future finance and economic policies. This may be common practice also in Germany, France and other EU countries — typical for neoliberal economies, that big business decide on the economic fate of the people.

Switzerland is the only OECD country where parliamentarians are allowed to sit in as many Boards of Directors of the business and finance sectors as they please. It is a virtually built-in lobby. This accepted inherent conflict of interest is diagonally opposed to the democratic principles of which Switzerland boasts itself as being a model.

Switzerland has long ceased being the Switzerland where I was born. I feel deep pain for the peasant women living in the area of the Glencore exploited mine, the victims of Glencore’s abject and shameless human rights abuses, and for other sufferers of unethical corporate misconduct.

Pakistan: 11 Coal Miners killed in Spate of Deadly Accidents

A series of deadly accidents has claimed the lives of 11 coal miners in Pakistan since late March. The tragic deaths of the miners once again demonstrates the dismal state of worker safety in the country. The accidents also highlight the deeply exploitative character of the mining industry, which after years of privatization is now dominated by private corporations.

The most recent accident occurred on the night of April 4, when 6 workers were suffocated by poisonous gas at a coal mine in the Sikandarabad area of Kalat in Balochistan, Pakistan’s poorest province. According to reports, the miners were digging deep inside the mine where a lethal amount of methane gas had accumulated, causing them to lose consciousness. Workers outside the mine tried desperately to rescue their friends and colleagues, but to no avail. They had all perished by the time rescue teams arrived. The mine was operating illegally, without the requisite government license, according to the Mines and Minerals Development Department of Balochistan’s provincial government.

A few days earlier, on April 1, 4 coal miners were killed at Ali Mines in the Jhelum district of Punjab. They were among 6 workers trapped under debris when an explosion caused a roof to collapse. Those killed included, Rehmatullah, Sabir Rehman and pair of brothers, Naseebzadah and Naseebullah, all of whom hailed from the Shangla district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

According to the Pakistan Central Mines Labour Federation, another coal miner, Faiz Ullah, was killed in an accident at the Sharigh Coal Mine in Balochistan on March 27.

Poverty-stricken Pakistan has a long history of industrial accidents, which have claimed the lives of countless workers across various industries. According to sources familiar with Pakistan’s coal industry, at least 275 coal miners have been killed in accidents since January 2010. While mining is a dangerous job anywhere, it is especially perilous in Pakistan, where working conditions are deplorable and miners are made to follow outdated procedures. In addition to the threat of lethal accidents, miners are also exposed to toxic chemicals and dust that take a toll on their health. They are forced to endure these conditions while earning a pittance.

The country’s coal mining industry is unregulated. It is also plagued by the illegal ownership and operation of mines, lack of implementation of existing safety and health laws and a severely overburdened mining inspectorate. Mine owners routinely flout the existing regulations, fully cognizant of the fact they won’t suffer any consequences.

Pakistan’s coal miners are also insufficiently organized, with many lacking union representation. The existing unions, meanwhile, tend to limit their activities to appeals directed at the country’s crooked politicians and various domestic and international NGOs.

Last month, IndustriALL Global Union, an international federation of unions, launched a campaign to improve worker safety in Pakistan’s mines. The campaign was launched in partnership with its 10 Pakistani affiliates. IndustriALL has called on the government of Pakistan to immediately ratify the International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention 176 on safety and health in mines. First adopted in 1995, ILO Convention 176 establishes a framework for countries to create safer mining conditions and provides miners with increased rights. Most significantly, it recognizes the right of workers to participate in workplace safety through independent representation and acknowledges the right of workers to refuse to perform dangerous tasks. While the ratification and implementation of ILO Convention 176 would significantly improve worker safety in mines, only 32 countries have ratified it over the past 23 years.

If history is any guide, the call by IndustriALL to ratify ILO Convention 176 will fall on deaf ears. Successive governments in Pakistan have proven that the country’s elite is utterly impervious to the plight of the working class. Indeed, the response of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (N) and the opposition parties to the recent accidents has been one and the same—silence.

The exploitative mine and factory owners will continue to take advantage of this state of affairs until workers unite across industries to fight for safe and humane working conditions.

Ecuador Endangered

The tropical Andes of Ecuador are at the top of the world list of biodiversity hotspots in terms of vertebrate species, endemic vertebrates, and endemic plants. Ecuador has more orchid and hummingbird species than Brazil, which is 32 times larger, and more diversity than the entire USA.

In the last year, the Ecuadorean government has quietly granted mining concessions to over 1.7 million hectares (4.25 million acres) of forest reserves and indigenous territories. These were awarded to transnational corporations in closed-door deals without public knowledge or consent.

This is in direct violation of Ecuadorean law and international treaties, and will decimate headwater ecosystems and biodiversity hotspots of global significance. However, Ecuadorean groups think there is little chance of stopping the concessions using the law unless there is a groundswell of opposition from Ecuadorean society and strong expressions of international concern.

The Vice President of Ecuador, who acted as Coordinating Director for the office of ‘Strategic Sectors’, which promoted and negotiated these concessions, was jailed for 6 years for corruption. However, this has not stopped the huge giveaway of pristine land to mining companies.

From the cloud forests in the Andes to the indigenous territories in the headwaters of the Amazon, the Ecuadorean government has covertly granted these mining concessions to multinational mining companies from China, Australia, Canada, and Chile, amongst others.

Ecuador Cloud Forest

The first country in the world to get the rights of Nature or Pachamama written into its constitution is now ignoring that commitment.

They’ve been here before. In the 80’s and 90’s Chevron-Texaco dumped 18 billion gallons of crude oil there in the biggest rainforest petroleum spill in history. This poisoned the water of tens of thousands of people and has done irreparable damage to ecosystems.

Now 14% of the country has been concessioned to mining interests. This includes a million hectares of indigenous land, half of all the territories of the Shuar in the Amazon and three-quarters of the territory of the Awa in the Andes.

Please sign the petition and contribute to the crowdfund which will help Ecuadorean civil society’s campaign to have these concessions rescinded.

As founder and director of the Rainforest Information Centre (RIC), I’ve had a long history of involvement with Ecuador’s rainforests.

Back in the late ‘80’s our volunteers initiated numerous projects in the country and one of these, the creation of the Los Cedros Biological Reserve was helped with a substantial grant from the Australian Government aid agency, AusAID. Los Cedros lies within the Tropical Andes Hotspot, in the country’s northwest. Los Cedros consists of nearly 7000 hectares of premontane and lower montane wet tropical and cloud forest teeming with rare, endangered and endemic species and is a crucial southern buffer zone for the quarter-million hectare Cotocachi-Cayapas Ecological Reserve. Little wonder that scientists from around the world rallied to the defense of Los Cedros.

In 2016 a press release from a Canadian mining company alerted us to the fact that they had somehow acquired a mining concession over Los Cedros! We hired a couple of Ecuadorean researchers and it slowly dawned on us that Los Cedros was only one of 41 “Bosques Protectores” (protected forests) which had been secretly concessioned. For example, nearly all of the 311,500 hectare Bosque Protector “Kutuku-Shaimi”, where 5000 Shuar families live, has been concessioned. In November 2017, RIC published a report by Bitty Roy, Professor of Ecology from Oregon State University and her co-workers,  mapping the full extent of the horror that is being planned.

Although many of these concessions are for exploration, the mining industry anticipates an eightfold growth in investment to $8 billion by 2021 due to a “revised regulatory framework” much to the jubilation of the mining companies. Granting mineral concessions in reserves means that these reserves aren’t actually protected any longer as, if profitable deposits are found, the reserves will be mined and destroyed.

Ecuador Rainforest

Long-tailed Slyph

In Ecuador, civil society is mobilising and has asked their recently elected government to prohibit industrial mining “in water sources and water recharge areas, in the national system of protected areas, in special areas for conservation, in protected forests and fragile ecosystems”.

The indigenous peoples have been fighting against mining inside Ecuador for over a decade.  Governments have persecuted more than 200 indigenous activists using the countries anti-terrorism laws to hand out stiff prison sentences to indigenous people who openly speak out against the destruction of their territories.

Fortunately, the new government has signalled an openness to hear indigenous and civil society’s concerns, not expressed by the previous administration.

In December 2017, a large delegation of indigenous people marched on Quito and President Moreno promised no NEW oil and mining concessions, and on 31 January 2018, Ecuador’s Mining Minister resigned a few days after Indigenous and environmental groups demanded he step down during a demonstration. On 31 January, The Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador, CONAIE, announced their support for the platform shared by the rest of civil society involved in the anti-mining work. Then on 15 February CONAIE called on the government to “declare Ecuador free of industrial metal-mining”, a somewhat more radical demand than that of the rest of civil society.

Ecuador Rainforest Stream

But we will need a huge international outcry to rescind the existing concessions: many billions of dollars of mining company profits versus some of the most biologically diverse ecosystems on Earth and the hundreds of local communities and indigenous peoples who depend on them.

PLEASE SIGN THE PETITION TO SUPPORT THEIR DEMANDS.

From 2006, under the Correa-Glas administration, Ecuador contracted record levels of external debt for highway and hydroelectric dam infrastructure to subsidize mining. Foreign investments were guaranteed by a corporate friendly international arbitration system, facilitated by the World Bank which had earlier set the stage for the current calamity by funding mineralogical surveys of national parks and other protected areas and advising the administration on dismantling of laws and regulations protecting the environment.

After 2008, when Ecuador defaulted on $3.2 billion worth of its national debt, it borrowed $15 billion from China, to be paid back in the form of oil and mineral exports. These deals have been fraught with corruption. Underselling, bribery and the laundering of money via offshore accounts are routine practice in the Ecuadorean business class, and the Chinese companies who now hold concessions over vast tracts of Ecuadorean land are no cleaner. Before leaving office Correa-Glas removed much of the regulation that had been holding the mining industry in check. And the corruption goes much deeper than mere bribes.

The lure of mining is a deadly mirage. The impacts of large-scale open pit mining within rainforest watersheds include mass deforestation, erosion, the contamination of water sources by toxins such as lead and arsenic, and desertification. A lush rainforest transforms into an arid wasteland incapable of sustaining either ecosystems or human beings.

Without a huge outcry both within Ecuador and around the world, the biological gems and pristine rivers and streams will be destroyed.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Civil society needs an open conversation with the state. Ecuador has enormous potential to develop its economy based on renewable energy and its rich biodiversity can support a large ecotourism industry. In 2010 Costa Rica banned open-pit mining, and today has socioeconomic indicators better than Ecuador’s. Costa Rica also provides a ‘Payment for Ecosystem Services’ to landholders, and through this scheme has actually increased its rainforest area (from 20% to just over 50%).

Ecuador’s society and government must explore how an economy based on the sustainable use of pristine water sources, the country’s incomparable forests, and other natural resources is superior to an economy based on short term extraction leaving behind a despoiled and impoverished landscape. For example, studies by Earth Economics in the Intag region of Ecuador (where some of the new mining concessions are located) show that ecosystem services and sustainable development would offer a better economic solution let alone ecological and social.

The Rainforest Information Centre is launching a CROWDFUND to support Ecuadorean NGO’s to mobilise and to mount a publicity and education campaign and to help advance a dialogue throughout Ecuador and beyond: ‘Extractivism, economic diversification and prospects for sustainable development in Ecuador.’

We have set the crowdfund target at A$15,000 and Paul Gilding, ex-CEO of Greenpeace International is getting the ball rolling with an offer to match all donations $ for $ so that every $ that you donate will be matched by Paul. Donations are tax-deductible in Australia and the US.

When you sign the PETITION you will reach not just to the President of Ecuador and his cabinet. The petition is also addressed to the other actors who have set the stage for this calamity, being:

  • The World Bank who funded a project which collected geochemical data from 3.6 million hectares of Western Ecuador including seven national protected areas and dozens of forest reserves thus doing the groundwork for the mining industry.
  • The international governments and NGO’s who funded the creation and upkeep of these Bosques Protectores and indigenous reserves and other protected sites and who now need to persuade Ecuador to prevent their good work from being undone.
  • The governments of the countries whose mining companies are preparing this devastation.

Australian senator Lee Rhiannon (who was part of helping us create Los Cedros 30 years ago) wrote to the Canadian Environment Minister on our behalf and the Canadian Embassy has expressed concern about the bad name Cornerstone is giving the other Canadian mining projects. They have asked us for a meeting to discuss the reports of bad business practices by the company. Likewise, the Chinese government is beginning to develop some guidance which will come into effect in March 2018. We are lobbying the Australian government to put pressure on BHP, Solgold and other Australian companies preparing to mine protected forests and indigenous reserves in Ecuador.

Visit Ecuador Endangered for more links to the history and causes of Ecuador’s mining crisis. There you will find research, detailed reports and news updates. Contact information can be found for those wanting to be involved in the campaign, which is being run entirely by volunteers. To let the Ecuadorean Government, World Bank and mining companies know you want them to invest in a sustainable future for all, a petition can be found here.

• Photos by Murray Cooper

• See maps here and here