Category Archives: Mining

Unifor Aligns with Liberal Foreign Policy instead of International Solidarity

Inviting Chrystia Freeland to address this week’s Unifor convention undermines the union’s claims of international solidarity. As Foreign Affairs Minister, Freeland has pursued staunchly pro-corporate and pro-US policies. She has been bad for workers and their families around the world. Let us count a few of the ways:

  1. Freeland’s department continues to offer diplomatic and other forms of support to mining companies responsible for major abuses abroad. The Liberals broke their promise to establish a genuine ombudsperson to supervise Canadian mining companies’ international operations.
  2. Freeland has campaigned aggressively to overthrow Venezuela’s government. She played a central role in establishing the “Lima Group” of governments opposed to President Nicolas Maduro and has introduced four rounds of unilateral sanctions against Venezuelan officials. The Associated Press reported on Canada’s “key role” in building international diplomatic support for claiming the right wing head of Venezuela’s national assembly was president, which included Freeland speaking to Juan Guaidó “the night before Maduro’s swearing-in ceremony to offer her government’s support should he confront the socialist leader.”
  3. One of Freeland’s allies in the Lima Group, which claims to be promoting Venezuela’s constitution, explicitly defied his own constitution in running for re-election. Global Affairs Canada immediately endorsed Honduran narco-dictator Juan Orlando Hernandez’ farcical 2017 election ‘victory’.
  4. Freeland has pressured Havana to turn on Caracas. Joining Washington’s effort to squeeze Cuba, Global Affairs Canada recently closed the visa section at its embassy in Havana, forcing Cubans wanting to visit Canada or get work/study permits to travel to a Canadian embassy in another country to submit their documents.
  5. Elsewhere in the Caribbean, Ottawa has propped up a corrupt, repressive and illegitimate Haitian president who has faced multiple general strikes and mass protests calling for his removal.
  6. The Liberals have also failed to keep their promise to re-engage diplomatically with Iran. Worse still, Freeland has echoed the warmongers in Washington and Tel Aviv.
  7. Freeland has deepened ties to an opponent of Iran pursuing violent, anti-democratic, policies in Yemen, Libya and Sudan. Last May Freeland met United Arab Emirates foreign minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed and the Liberals have signed a series of accords with the repressive monarchy.
  8. Freeland is anti-Palestinian. Just before a November meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Freeland touted Canada’s “unwavering and ironclad” support for Israel and her ministry has justified the killing of peaceful Palestinian protesters. Isolating Canada from world opinion, Freeland sided with the US, Israel and some tiny Pacific island states in opposing a resolution supporting Palestinian statehood backed by 176 nations.
  9. Freeland’s grandfather was a Nazi propagandist. While obviously not responsible for her grandpa’s misdeeds during World War II, Freeland has praised him and deflected questions on the matter by saying Moscow may be trying to “destabilize” Canadian democracy. In so doing she has stoked Russophobia. Ottawa has ramped up its military presence on Russia’s doorstep (Ukraine, Poland and Latvia) and recently added Ukraine to Canada’s Automatic Firearms Country Control List, which allows Canadian companies to export weapons to that country with little restriction.

A March 2017 memo from the US embassy in Ottawa to the State Department in Washington entitled “Canada Adopts ‘America First’ Foreign Policy” claimed Justin Trudeau appointed Freeland foreign minister in order to promote the interests of the Donald Trump administration. The cable was authored just weeks after Freeland was appointed foreign minister and in it US officials conclude that Trudeau promoted Freeland “in large part because of her strong U.S. contacts” and that her “number one priority” was working closely with Washington.

A knowledgeable critic of Canadian foreign policy recently told me they thought Freeland was worse than Conservative foreign minister John Baird. This may be true. The question for Unifor is what more would Freeland have to do to make her unacceptable as a keynote speaker?

Inviting Freeland to their convention is part of the union’s controversial embrace of the Liberal Party (Prime Minister Trudeau also spoke). But, it also reflects indifference to the injustices Canada contributes to abroad. I couldn’t find a single Unifor statement that directly criticized Freeland or Canadian foreign policy (the union is a member of Common Frontiers, which has criticized Canadian policy in Venezuela and Honduras). But, the union has devoted significant energy and resources to promoting a boycott of GM cars made in Mexico. On Tuesday when Freeland addresses the convention Unifor is giving their Nelson Mandela award to Romeo Dallaire. As I detail here, applauding the aggressive liberal imperialist is wrong and giving Dallaire an award named after Mandela is simply embarrassing.

Giving a former general an award, boycotting Mexican cars and inviting Freeland/Trudeau – combined with failing to challenge Canadian foreign policy – reflects a union aligned with Canada’s ruling class against working people elsewhere. It’s a shame that six years after its creation Unifor has jettisoned the progressive, internationalist rhetoric that was part of its founding.

Hopefully, rank and file members can reclaim their union. A good way to start might be to demonstrate their disapproval

Canada enables corrupt Haitian president to remain in power

At the front of a protest against Haiti’s president last week a demonstrator carried a large wooden cross bearing the flags of Canada, France and the US. The Haiti Information Project tweeted that protesters “see these three nations as propping up the regime of President Jovenel Moïse. It is also recognition of their role in the 2004 coup.”

Almost entirely ignored by the Canadian media, Haitian protesters regularly criticize Canada. On dozens of occasions since Jean Bertrand Aristide’s government was overthrown in 2004 marchers have held signs criticizing Canadian policy or rallied in front of the Canadian Embassy in Port-au-Prince. For their part, Haiti Progrès and Haiti Liberté newspapers have described Canada as an “occupying force”, “coup supporter” or “imperialist” at least a hundred times.

In the face of months of popular protest, Canada remains hostile to the protesters who represent the impoverished majority. A recent corruption investigation by Haiti’s Superior Court of Auditors and Administrative Disputes has rekindled the movement to oust the Canadian-backed president. The report into the Petrocaribe Fund accuses Moïse’s companies of swindling $2 million of public money. Two billion dollars from a discounted oil program set up by Venezuela was pilfered under the presidency of Moïse’s mentor Michel Martelly.

Since last summer there have been numerous protests, including a weeklong general strike in February, demanding accountability for public funds. Port-au-Prince was again paralyzed during much of last week. In fact, the only reason Moïse — whose electoral legitimacy is paper thin — is hanging on is because of support from the so-called “Core Group” of “Friends of Haiti”.

Comprising the ambassadors of Canada, France, Brazil, Germany and the US, as well as representatives of Spain, EU and OAS, the “Core Group” released another statement effectively backing Moise. The brief declaration called for “a broad national debate, without preconditions”, which is a position Canadian officials have expressed repeatedly in recent weeks. (The contrast with Canada’s position regarding Venezuela’s president reveals a stunning hypocrisy.) But, the opposition has explicitly rejected negotiating with Moïse since it effectively amounts to abandoning protest and bargaining with a corrupt and illegitimate president few in Haiti back.

In another indication of the “Core Group’s” political orientation, their May 30 statement “condemned the acts of degradation committed against the Senate.” Early that day a handful of opposition senators dragged out some furniture and placed it on the lawn of Parliament in a bid to block the ratification of the interim prime minister. Canada’s Ambassador André Frenette also tweeted that “Canada condemns the acts of vandalism in the Senate this morning. This deplorable event goes against democratic principles.” But, Frenette and the “Core Group” didn’t tweet or release a statement about the recent murder of journalist Pétion Rospide, who’d been reporting on corruption and police violence. Nor did they mention the commission that found Moïse responsible for stealing public funds or the recent UN report confirming government involvement in a terrible massacre in the Port-au-Prince neighborhood of La Saline in mid-November. Recent Canadian and “Core Group” statements completely ignore Moise’s electoral illegitimacy and downplay the enormity of the corruption and violence against protesters.

Worse still, Canadian officials regularly promote and applaud a police force that has been responsible for many abuses. As I detailed in a November story headlined “Canada backs Haitian government, even as police force kills demonstrators”, Frenette attended a half dozen Haitian police events in his first year as ambassador. Canadian officials continue to attend police ceremonies, including one in March, and offer financial and technical support to the police. Much to the delight of the country’s über class-conscious elite, Ottawa has taken the lead in strengthening the repressive arm of the Haitian state since Aristide’s ouster.

On Wednesday Frenette tweeted, “one of the best parts of my job is attending medal ceremonies for Canadian police officers who are known for their excellent work with the UN police contingent in Haiti.” RCMP officer Serge Therriault leads the 1,200-person police component of the Mission des Nations unies pour l’appui à la Justice en Haïti (MINUJUSTH).

At the end of May Canada’s ambassador to the UN Marc-André Blanchard led a United Nations Economic and Social Council delegation to Haiti. Upon his return to New York he proposed creating a “robust” mission to continue MINUJUSTH’s work after its planned conclusion in mid-October. Canadian officials are leading the push to extend the 15-year old UN occupation that took over from the US, French and Canadian troops that overthrew Aristide’s government and was responsible for introducing cholera to the country, which has killed over 10,000.

While Haitians regularly challenge Canadian policy, few in this country raise objections. In response to US Congresswoman Ilhan Omar’s recent expression of solidarity with Haitian protesters, Jean Saint-Vil put out a call titled “OH CANADA, TIME TO BE WOKE LIKE ILHAN OMAR & MAXINE WATERS!” The Haitian Canadian activist wrote:

While, in Canada, the black population is taken for granted by major political parties who make no effort to adjust Canadian Foreign policies towards African nations, Haiti and other African-populated nations of the Caribbean, where the Euro-Americans topple democratically-elected leaders, help set up corrupt narco regimes that are friendly to corrupt Canadian mining companies that go wild, exploiting the most impoverished and blackest among us, destroying our environments in full impunity… In the US, some powerful voices have arisen to counter the mainstream covert and/or overt white supremacist agenda. Time for REAL CHANGE in Canada! The Wine & Cheese sessions must end! We eagerly await the statements of Canadian party leaders about the much needed change in Canadian Policy towards Haiti. You will have to deserve our votes, this time around folks!

Unfortunately, Canadian foreign policymakers — the Liberal party in particular — have co-opted/pacified most prominent black voices on Haiti and other international issues. On Monday famed Haitian-Canadian novelist Dany Laferrière attended a reception at the ambassador’s residence in Port-au-Prince while the head of Montréal’s Maison d’Haïti, Marjorie Villefranche, says nary a word about Canadian imperialism in Haiti. A little discussed reason Paul Martin’s government appointed Michaëlle Jean Governor General in September 2005 was to dampen growing opposition to Canada’s coup policy among working class Haitian-Montrealers.

Outside the Haitian community Liberal-aligned groups have also offered little solidarity. A look at the Federation of Black Canadians website and statements uncovers nothing about Canada undermining a country that dealt a massive blow to slavery and white supremacy. (Members of the group’s steering committee recently found time, however, to meet with and then attend a gala put on by the anti-Palestinian Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.)

A few months ago, Saint-Vil proposed creating a Canadian equivalent to the venerable Washington, D.C. based TransAfrica, which confronts US policy in Africa and the Caribbean. A look at Canadian policy from the Congo to Venezuela, Burkina Faso to Tanzania, suggests the need is great. Anyone seeking to amplify the voices from the streets of Port-au-Prince should support such an initiative.

Matters of Water: Dubious Approvals and the Adani Carmichael Mine

When a company wields such power that it can cause a Minister to rush an approval process, cut corners and make significant errors, it is cause for serious concern.

— Kelly O’Shanassy, Australian Conservation Foundation, June 12, 2019

While the proposal is of a diminished monster, the travails over Adani’s efforts to open up the Galilee Basin in Queensland to mining have yielded fruit. Brute corporate strength, and the customary cowering of politicians, has seen an Indian mining giant gain approval for the construction of the Carmichael mine.  Many a stick and carrot were procured in the endeavour, and the outcome of the ballot box in May, returning a pro-coal Coalition government, was always going to have some propulsion.

The environmental aspects of the case have been gradually sidelined and placed in storage.  Prior to the federal election, Queensland’s Labor government was expressing reservations, suggesting stonewalling and vacillation.  A divide between the metropolitan centre and the rural areas was being teased at the federal level: areas where a mining development might create jobs was touted as a drawcard; the metropolitan centre was deemed indulgently green, coffee-sipping and distant.

The drawcard aspect was trumpeted by the Queensland Resources Council: “The Adani Carmichael mine is one of six in the Galilee Basin that could create tens of thousands of jobs in construction and operation and deliver billions of dollars in royalties over their working lifespan.”  At the same time, there were concerns about irreversible environmental damage, the sort that could only be dealt with by means of management plans.  The versions, and delays, proliferated.

This left the state Palaszczuk government, despite a fear of wobbling, still keen to let the Queensland environmental regulator decide, a vain attempt to keep politics out of the equation.  The season was not a good one for the thorough minded. The federal government had essentially muzzled the then Environment Minister Melissa Price prior to the election, weighing upon her to approve aspects of the project.  It was then left to the state government to consider the water management plans.

All sense of permitting the regulator to engage in its quest unmolested were banished by Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk.  The electoral outcome at the federal level had unhinged her.  She was “fed up” at delays at both federal and state level. The Environment Department was given the due hurry up.  Last Thursday, the approval for Adani came through.  Queensland Environment Minister Leeanne Enoch, rather unconvincingly, suggested that the process had been robust and cognisant of “some of the most rigorous environmental protections in the country”.  Former general manager for water allocation and planning in the Queensland government Tom Crothers saw it differently.  “Science has been thrown in the bin for political expediency.”

Federal Resources Minister Matt Canavan, who remains cocooned by environmental denial and coal rich nirvana, was visibly delighted at this next stage in the Adani saga.  “It has been more than 50 years since a new coal basin has opened in Queensland, so this development is of huge importance to the economic future of Queensland.”

Adani Australia’s chief executive Lucas Dow expressed his “excitement” as well he might but seems to have put the cart well ahead of the horse in terms of the number of jobs promised.  A number he previously subscribed to was 1,500 direct jobs, to be made in north and central Queensland.  Another 6,750 indirect jobs would spring forth during “the ramp-up and construction phase”. But numbers, as they can in any induced fantasy, vary.

Deputy Nationals leader Bridget McKenzie has claimed that a hundred ongoing jobs could be assured while Federal Nationals MP Michelle Landry, despite championing the mine as a creator of votes in her seat of Capricornia, professes to having no idea about numbers.

Not all pro-coal voices have warmed to the decision.  Alan Jones, who rules the Sydney airwaves from the 2GB radio station made the obvious point that the Queensland Environment Department “would have been under massive political pressure to approve Adani’s groundwater management plan.”

There are, however, several knotting twists.  No actual digging of coal will take place till pipeline and railway matters are sorted out, though box cut mining may take place at the site itself.  Then comes the understanding that the mining company will do further work over the next two years to identify alternative sources of that most precious of resources: water.  Giving Adani approval to mine may be tantamount to sentencing the Permian aquifers (Colinlea) to extinction, a point that featured in the Queensland Environment Department’s order that the mining company install a new bore.  Further approvals will be needed regarding the impact on the Doongbulla Springs.

As Jones points out, “hydrogeochemical analysis of groundwater from different springs” will be undertaken, suggesting that approval, while it has been granted, has been done in circumstances of considerable ignorance: “no one seems to know what will happen to [the] groundwater.”  The new bores will also be subjected to isotopic analysis and air sampling.

The contingent nature of any such analysis has coloured the overall assessments, further suggesting the dangers in any continuation of the project. When the Queensland Environment Department consulted the scientific bodies of CSIRO and Geoscience Australia, it received little in the way of certitude.  Both “confirmed that some level of uncertainly in geological and groundwater conceptual models always exists.”

Another twist is a legal one. When Price had the federal portfolio, she decided, all too conveniently, to ignore the “water trigger” feature to the pipeline element of Adani’s proposal, one that would require 12.5 billion litres of water a year.  Deemed an essential feature in assessing the impacts of large coal and coal seam gas projects on water, Price avoided it altogether. This led to a challenge from the Australian Conservation Foundation in December 2018.

The case duly expanded to incorporate an additional dimension.  Wading through public submissions, especially in the order of 2,200, takes time, and expedient politics, by its nature, resists care and consideration.  One tends to rule out the other.

In an underreported feature of the approvals, last week’s legal victory of the ACF in the Federal Court against the assessment of Adani’s North Galilee Water Scheme shifted focus back to the federal government.  As ACF’s Chief Executive Kelly O’Shanassy put it, “The government conceded it did not properly consider more than 2,000 public submissions from Australians with concerns about the mine and the water scheme.”  Submissions had also gone missing. The environmental laws had been applied with carefree shoddiness.  The result is that the proposal will return for consideration by the new Environment Minister, Sussan Ley.

The road is a potted one, but the opening of the Galilee Basin will be, not merely an environmental crime but one inflicted with irresponsible futility.  Sensing that point, the banks and insurers have already ruled themselves out in funding the venture.  Indian demand for coal will diminish, however much it is being heralded now as a moral entitlement to development, and the white, albeit dirty elephant that is Adani’s mining project will remain a travesty of optimistic human barbarism.

Welcome to Hell: Peruvian Mining City of La Rinconada

No one can agree how high above the sea level that La Rinconada really lies at: 5,300 meters or 5,200 meters? On the access road, a metal plate says 5,015. But who really cares? It is indisputably the highest settlement in the world; a gold mining town, a concentration of misery, a community of around 70,000 inhabitants, many of whom have been poisoned by mercury. A place where countless women and children get regularly raped, where law and order collapsed quite some time ago, where young girls are sent to garbage dumps in order to ‘recycle’ terribly smelling waste, and where almost all the men work in beastly conditions, trying to save at least some money, but where most of them simply ruin their health, barely managing to stay alive.

I decided to travel to La Rinconada precisely during these days when the socialist Venezuela is fighting for its survival. I drove there as the European elites in Bolivia were trying to smear the enormously popular and successful President of Bolivia, Evo Morales, while the elections were approaching.

Welcome to La Mona Mine

As in so many places in the turbo-capitalist and pro-Western Peru, La Rinconada is like a tremendous warning: this is how Venezuela and Bolivia used to be before Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales. This is where Washington wants the entire Latin America to return to. Like those monstrous and hopeless slums surrounding Lima, La Rinconada should be a call to arms.

Just some five years ago we thought: This is how Latin America was never supposed to look again. We thought so, before the extreme right-wing forces in Washington managed to regroup and to deploy old dogmas of the Monroe Doctrine back to the frontlines, against Latin American independence and socialism.

*****

A driver refused to take me to La Rinconada, alone. For me, the fewer people involved the better. Even in Afghanistan, I work alone, only with my trusted Pashtun driver. But here it is different: the reputation of La Rinconada is that “you can enter, but you will never manage to leave.” I am told about the new mafia that operates there, and about the totally deteriorating security situation. In the end, I had no choice but to accept a crew of two men: a driver and a person “who is familiar with the situation related to Peruvian mines”.

Nature is nothing to gold diggers

We leave the city of Puno in the morning, passing along the magnificent shores of Lake Titicaca, which with a surface elevation of 3,812 meters, is the highest navigable lake in the world, shared by Peru and Bolivia.

“From the Peruvian side, the lake is getting poisoned by mercury,” explained Freddy, a mining expert. “La Rinconada and its gold mines are still very far, but the River Ramis is now bringing contaminated water from the area, particularly from the mining town of Ananea, directly into the lake.”

There is some sort of a motorway between Puno and Juliaca, a ‘center of commercial activity’ in the region; in fact, a huge, unkempt dusty city full of slums. Right after Juliaca, it is just rural misery.

I used to work in Peru during the so called ‘Dirty War’, fought between two Communist guerillas (the Maoist Shining Path and the Marxist, pro-Cuban MRTA) and the Peruvian state, which officially ended in 1992. Since then, the rural misery of Peru has not changed: dwellings made of earth, the desperate faces of villagers, and almost no social services, have remained. Right across the border, in socialist Bolivia, life in the countryside improves dramatically, continuously. But not here; not in Peru. And so, tents of thousands of anxious men are ‘going up’, reaching tremendous heights, risking their lives and ruining their heath, for at least a tiny chance to find gold, and to escape the endemic misery.

Miners taking a break

“My wife saved me,” I was told by a driver who, two days earlier, took me from the Bolivian border of Desaguadero, to the Peruvian city of Puno:

I was totally broke. We just had a baby. I had no idea what to do. And so, I told my family that I am going to La Rinconada. My wife stood up and said: ‘If you go, you will never return. And if you do, you will not be the man that I love, anymore. You stay in Puno and work here. I will work, too. We will somehow manage. Don’t you know: La Rinconada is a death sentence.’ I stayed. She was right. I saw people who went and came back totally destroyed.

*****

It is getting cold. Our Toyota Hilux climbs up, grumpily, with badly damaged suspension, but going nevertheless. The higher we climb, the colder it gets. It rains, then it stops.

Aluminum hell

The views are magnificent, but the countryside is covered by garbage. The river is filthy. The Llamas are eating garbage, cars are being washed in the rapids, and entire villages appear to be abandoned, turned into ghost towns.

After more than four hours of driving, after insane, neck-breaking serpentines, the first mines appear on the horizon. Then more filth, primitive machinery, and a mining town – Ananea.

Ms. Irma, the owner of a local eatery, prepares strong coffee and coca leaves soaked in hot water, the best remedy for altitude sickness. She is chatty, realizing that we represent no danger:

Sometimes, miners from La Rinconada, escape here. Ananeo is a bit below, and safer. We have water here. There, it is all poisoned; by mercury and other horrible stuff. You know the concept, how they work up there: 29 days they are laboring for free, and then for one day a month, they are allowed to grab what they find. It is a gamble: if they are lucky, they get rich during that one day. Or they find very little, or nothing. And even if they do, at night, it can get stolen from them.

She sounds old, maternal, compassionate, concerned. She has seen it all, it appears.

We pay and drive up.

Then, we see it: enormous lakes, yellowish, brownish, with streams coming from their surface. Long blue hoses. Everything is ruined and poisoned. Freddy says that there are some new technologies that could be used to extract gold, but the miners here use mercury, as it is cheaper. Primitive machinery is at work, just like on the Indonesian island of Kalimantan/Borneo; there, illegal mining is poisoning mighty rivers, here, it is leveling entire mountains, creating huge lakes, and moonscapes at some 5,000 meters of altitude.

The guards are obviously very unhappy about our presence. Still, I manage to film and photograph, and then we drive even further up.

The piles of garbage appear. Behind them, two tremendous mountains covered by snow. And an ironic metal sign: Welcome to La Rinconada”, “Do not litter.”

*****

I have seen a lot, on all the continents, but La Rinconada is truly ‘unique’.

Mountains and valleys are dotted with metal shacks, with makeshift structures. The filth is everywhere. There is no water supply. Electricity is scarce.

Cemetery covered with garbage

Garbage even covers the humble graves of a local cemetery.

In the main square, heavy drinking is in progress. It is dangerous to photograph here. I hide; use zoom. Two plastered miners are lying on their stomachs, and someone is throwing food into their open mouths, as if it was feeding time in a zoo.

Hand feeding smashed drunk miners at the main square

Prostitution is rampant. Children are doing odd jobs. At one of the garbage dumps, I ask two young girls about their age.

“25,” comes the ready answer. I guess 15, at most. But their faces are covered.

“How dangerous is it here?” I ask one of the miners.

He replies readily: “Very dangerous, but we have no choice.”

“Do people get injured on jobs? Do they get killed?”

“Of course. It happens very often. We are all taking risks. Some people get horrible injuries, others die. If they cannot treat them here, they take them to Ananeo, and if they are lucky, to a Juliaca hospital. Others are left here to die. It’s life. Some get saved, some don’t.”

Do they blame capitalism, the extreme savage pro-market system, adopted by their country?

“It’s life,” I hear the same fatalistic reply.

Do they know about Bolivia; about the great changes just across the border? Do they know that some 30 kilometers away from here, ‘as the condor flies’, on the Bolivian side, there is the pristine Uila Uila National Fauna Reserve?

Some know that it is much better ‘there’, in Bolivia, now. But they do not associate it with socialism or with the independent and pro-people policies of President Evo Morales. And they know very little about Venezuela.

All they know is that they were barely surviving on Altiplano, and that they are fighting for their lives, here, in La Rinconada.

Like in Indonesia, another savage pro-Western capitalist regime, people here are too preoccupied with their immediate essential problems; they cannot be bothered with ‘abstract’ thoughts about the environment, or lawlessness.

I see people pissing in the middle of the street.

“It is not just mercury,” I am told. “Everything here is mixed: poisons related to mining, urine, shit, urban waste…”

The urban landscape

The altitude is hitting me hard. 4,000 in Puno is bad; over 5,000 here is fatal. I am being held by two people as I film on the edge of a ravine, in order not to fall down.

Somehow, in a very twisted way, I acknowledge that the vistas around me are beautiful, stunning. I am impressed. Impressed by the ability of human beings to survive under almost any conditions.

Virtually all of this is illegal. But hundreds of millions are made, and washed.

People gain nothing; almost nothing. A miner makes 800 to 1,000 Soles (roughly $250 to $300) per month. Private companies and corrupt government gain billions. Once again, Latin America is getting poorer. But the West is not pushing for ‘regime change’ in Peru, or in Paraguay, or Brazil. This is how it is supposed to be; this is how Washington likes it.

Another miner dares to talk to me:

Most of the gold goes abroad. But before it does… If gangs do not rob us, miners, at night, they often murder small middlemen, those who buy gold directly from us.

Is he scared?

“Everyone here is scared,” he confirms. “Scared and sick. This is hell.”

“It is like a war…” I utter.

“It is a war,” he confirms.

But almost nobody comes here to report and to investigate. The life of a poor Peruvian person is worth nothing; nothing at all.

I film, I document… It is all that I can do for them. And for Bolivia, for Venezuela.

While I work, I feel that hell is near, it is here. It is not abstract, religious: it is real. But it could, it should be stopped.

Post-mining craters

• All photos by Andre Vltchek

• First published by RT

La Rinconada: The Devil’s Paradise

La Rinconada, 5,000 to 5,400m above sea level, corrugated iron shacks, glued to the hills of the surrounding mountains, home to some 50,000 to 70,000 mining inhabitants and competing mafia mobs that control them.  La Rinconada, in the Peruvian Andes, the world’s highest, chaotic, poisonous and illegal goldmines, some 210 km northeast of Puno, a 4-hour drive by car over partially paved, albeit potholed roads. La Rinconada, near the just barely more civilized mining town of Ananea (about 4,700 m above sea level), is also considered one of the most horrific places on earth: a crime gang-run city, spreading through a valley and up the surrounding hills, no running water, no sewerage, no electricity grid. La Rinconada looks and smells like a wide-open garbage dump, infested by a slowly meandering yellowish-brownish mercury-contaminated brew – tailings from illegal goldmining – what used to be a pristine mountain lake.

The thin, oxygen-poor air is loaded with mercury vapor that slowly penetrates people’s lungs, affecting over time the nervous system, memory, body motor, leading often to paralysis and early death. Average life expectancy of a mine worker is 30-35 years, about half of Peruvian’s average life expectancy.

Life has no value. People are killed for carrying a rock that may contain some tiny veins of gold. Bodies are often just thrown on to garbage heaps to rot. Occasionally a body is found and then buried right on the garbage dump. It’s not unusual to find a grave right in the midst of a field of trash.

Human rights do not exist in Rinconada. Child work is common place. And so is child prostitution, women and drug trafficking. Time off is a life of drunkenness and drug deliria. Life is worthless. See also Andre Vltchek’s essay – “Welcome to Hell: The Peruvian Mining City of La Rinconada”.

Small boys are used to work in underground mining galleries, where adults hardly fit. When the galleries collapse and a child – or several – dies – nobody cares. Many are not even identified. Most likely they are not missed. They are children of non-parents, like in non-humans, those that run this hellish mining industry, and those who send their children there to help them make a living. No love, no ethics, no respect for anything but the legendary gold nugget, for greed and necessity. No mercy. That’s La Rinconada.

Miners come “voluntarily”. Nobody forces them. Most are poor and jobless. They come for necessity. Some are just greedy  -– the never-dying ‘Gold Rausch’ attracts them. The dream of getting rich in the goldmine makes them accept the most horrendous working and living conditions: surviving in an open dump-ground of everything, garbage, toxic heavy metals, wading in mercury-polluted tailings, thin air, contaminated by poisonous vapors, no heating, most of the year sub-freezing temperatures –trash and debris everywhere. But the miners don’t complain. Some bring their wives, few bring also their kids. it’s their choice. Some stay ‘temporarily’ only, 6 months, 12 months, 2 years. For some the dream of hitting the riches never dies; they stay until they die. – They know they will be abused, enslaved. They know they can take it or leave it.

Miners work for usually long hours and are working during 29 days for free. On the 30th day they may keep whatever they take out of the ground, amounting on average to about 800 to 1,000 Soles per month (US$250 – $320). Sometimes day 30 brings nothing. Sometimes some rocks with traces of gold. All are hoping for a gold nugget. This type of mining wage is not unique to Peru. Bolivia and other Andean countries that are open to the most environmentally and socially destructive industry – mining – apply similar systems. The illusion to hit it BIG by finding the legendary ‘gold rock’ is a passion; it is obsessive. And if and when a miner does find a treasure to keep, he is vulnerable of being robbed, even killed, body discarded – another miner gone missing. Or not. Just disappeared. Maybe in a garbage dump. They are endless in Rinconada. They reflect the character of Rinconada. Refuse, waste, stench and death.

Nobody cares – or not enough to investigate the death, the missing. It’s the name of the game. Miners come by their free will. They are not coerced. They enslave themselves, in the vane hope to get rich. Instead, they intoxicate themselves from mercury fumes, from a totally poisonous environment, daily exposure to heavy metals. Their nervous system slowly but surely fails them. Memory loss; brain damage, muscular dystrophy, collapsing lungs, paralysis, early death. For many, it’s a dream gone dead. That’s what poverty does; it kills while dreaming of a better world.

Rinconada – mafia rules. Police work in connivance. Murders and assassinations are of the order. Prostitution, alcohol and drug abuse is rampant. Nobody cares. It’s survival of the fittest and often survival succumbs to hardship, misery and yet hope for a better life.

These criminal organizations are all local, meaning from the vicinity, Puno, Juliaca and thereabouts. No foreign mining companies are allowed. They, huge world (in)famous gold and precious metals corporations, are waiting ‘downstream’ to buy the blood-ware, without identity, without origins. So that nobody can trace them to the crime.

Women generally do not work in the mines. Superstition. They bring bad luck. They make the gold veins disappear. They distract the men. The mines are masculine. Only men are allowed to work them. The mountains may get jealous, and who knows what jealousy is capable of doing. Women have other chores: collecting loose rocks that may contain some remnants of gold; they clean, prepare food, mind the household, children, if a family is unwise enough to bring their offspring to this hellhole – and, they are “taking care of the men”, in more ways than one.

La Rinconada – one of the most horrible places on earth. Hardly known to the rest of the world. Most people in Lima, the capital of Peru, have no idea that Rinconada exists, and if they have heard the name, they associate it with a lush country club in the elite district of “La Molina” of Lima. They don’t know what it also stands for – The Devil’s Paradise.

What Rinconada produces is “blood gold”, akin to blood diamonds, blood emeralds in other parts of the world.

Who buys this gold?

Large corporations. One of them is the Swiss registered Metalor, one of the world’s largest gold foundries. Annually, about 3,000 to 3,500 tons of gold are mined across the globe. Switzerland refines about 70% to 80% of all the gold in the world. An estimated 20% to 30% of it is considered ‘blood gold’ – gold that stems from illicit mining practices, child labor, environmental and social destructions, land theft, corruption – like from Rinconada.

As of now, Switzerland, the host of the globe’s largest mining corporations and gold foundries does not want to know the origin of the gold – possibly the environmentally and socially most destructive precious metal. Switzerland does not impose a code of ethics on the corporations that enjoy the Swiss tax-haven. The Swiss Government pretends that these mining corporations have their own codes of conduct, and the Swiss authorities trust that they adhere to their own standards of ethics. What an easy way out!

When challenged with evidence to the contrary; i.e., Rinconada, or Espinar (also Peru), where Glencore beats up defenseless indigenous women, because they attempt to protect their properties and water from Glencore’s illegal confiscation with the corrupt help of the local Peruvian authorities – the Swiss authorities close their eyes to open crimes of their corporations and if pressed, they simply say, “if we are too harsh with them, they will leave Switzerland” and  “if they are doing something illegal, they are responsible to their host country”, apparently ignoring that corruption buys everything in most of these “host countries”.

That’s the level of ethics one of the richest and reputedly most noble countries of the universe applies to keep her corporations happy. Naturally, Switzerland is also the only OECD member that allows her parliamentarians to sit in as many corporate Boards of Directors as they wish. Imagine!  A totally legalized conflict of interest. And nobody says ‘beep’. The Swiss populace just accepts this blunt aberration. Most of them don’t even know it exists. They live comfortably and well, and don’t care much about Human Rights abusing corporations, and less so that their Parliament is a humongous built-in corporate and banking lobby. In this environment of white-collar illicit behavior, corporations like Metalor and Glencore flourish.

A recently launched people’s referendum propagating ‘Responsible Mining’, was undermined in the Swiss Parliament by the ‘built-in’ mining lobby. It is common practice that Parliament, as well as the Swiss Executive, give their votum before the public vote on a referendum, another unfair practice, as it influences the voters’ final decision.

In the meantime, the Government of Peru accuses the Swiss foundry Metalor of financing and buying tons of gold from suspicious sources in Peru, meaning illicit gold – or ‘blood gold’. Metalor is also investigated for participating in organized crime and money laundering from illicit gold deals (Ojo Público, Peru, 14 March 2019):

“The Metalor Group was the exclusive importer of gold from illegal mining, sold or shipped by Minerales del Sur SRL (Minersur) in the period from 2001 to 2018 in the amount of more than US$ 3.5 billion. Metalor is headquartered in the Canton of Neuchatel, Switzerland.”

Metalor is also being investigated for financing Minersur’s purchasing and sales transactions of gold from illegal sources. One of these illegal sources is La Rinconada. Other illegal sources stem from gold-digging in Peru’s Madre de Dios Amazon Region, where thousands of hectares of rainforest are being raided and devastated by mafia-type organizations, similar to the ones in Rinconada. Metalor denies the accusation, saying they only deal with reputable mining corporations. The case is wide open and the stench of illegality that has been permeating Metalor for many years is as sickening as Rinconada itself.

What is it about gold that makes it destroy the environment, precious fresh water resources, the human spirit, sowing conflict among entire societies, abolishing their social fabric and bringing death to countless millions for centuries in exploited and abused regions of the globe? The real industrial value of gold is only about 15% to 20% of its speculative market value. But the gold fever is such that banks invented ‘paper gold’, meaning that Mr. and Mrs. Anybody can buy gold without ever seeing the gold bar. The bank simply issues a certificate, an IOU for a certain amount of gold which, in theory, could be exchanged for the real thing at any time Madame Anybody would like to keep her gold bar in her personal household vault. Not so easy. There is more than 100 times more paper gold floating around than real gold is available on the market. If everybody would like to exchange their paper gold into real gold, the banking system would collapse, or would just simply fail to deliver.

Case in point was Germany. By tradition Germany had about 1,200 tons of gold, worth about US$ 50 billion, deposited in the FED in New York. In 2013, when the Germans awareness that their gold is being stored outside of German borders resulted in a public outcry, the Bundesbank wanted to withdraw and repatriate all of their foreign stored gold by 2020, but the FED said no, they could not deliver. The gold was simply not available. Was the FED using the German gold and the gold of so many other countries deposited in the FED’s treasuries for speculation – rent seeking with somebody else’s assets?

Blood and crime are intimately linked to gold, it seems. Our western monetary system was for a long time backed by gold. Today, western moneys are fiat money, not even backed by gold, just hot air. But the Russian ruble and the Chinese yuan are backed by gold, as well as by their respective economies.  Who knows? As a last-ditch effort to save the US-dollar and the western fiat money pyramid from collapsing, the west may again revert to some kind of gold standard, a man-made folly, when, in fact, the only real value reflected in a county’s monetary system is its economy.

Back to La Rinconada, Metalor and Switzerland, home of more than two thirds of the world’s gold refining, how much of the reserve gold in the coffers of countries around the world is “blood gold”?  How many people, children and eventually entire generations have to live in misery, their health degenerating from exposure to heavy metals and eventually leading to early and painful death, until human consciousness is able to stop the gold craze? Closing down hellholes like Rinconada and Madre de Dios mafia-run, all-destructive gold mines?  And hundreds more of similarly devastating type mines around the world. Perhaps when the value of gold becomes what it ought to be — its industrial value, and nothing more and nothing less — humanity becomes richer by the values of human decency and respect for each other.

La Rinconada: The Devil’s Paradise

La Rinconada, 5,000 to 5,400m above sea level, corrugated iron shacks, glued to the hills of the surrounding mountains, home to some 50,000 to 70,000 mining inhabitants and competing mafia mobs that control them.  La Rinconada, in the Peruvian Andes, the world’s highest, chaotic, poisonous and illegal goldmines, some 210 km northeast of Puno, a 4-hour drive by car over partially paved, albeit potholed roads. La Rinconada, near the just barely more civilized mining town of Ananea (about 4,700 m above sea level), is also considered one of the most horrific places on earth: a crime gang-run city, spreading through a valley and up the surrounding hills, no running water, no sewerage, no electricity grid. La Rinconada looks and smells like a wide-open garbage dump, infested by a slowly meandering yellowish-brownish mercury-contaminated brew – tailings from illegal goldmining – what used to be a pristine mountain lake.

The thin, oxygen-poor air is loaded with mercury vapor that slowly penetrates people’s lungs, affecting over time the nervous system, memory, body motor, leading often to paralysis and early death. Average life expectancy of a mine worker is 30-35 years, about half of Peruvian’s average life expectancy.

Life has no value. People are killed for carrying a rock that may contain some tiny veins of gold. Bodies are often just thrown on to garbage heaps to rot. Occasionally a body is found and then buried right on the garbage dump. It’s not unusual to find a grave right in the midst of a field of trash.

Human rights do not exist in Rinconada. Child work is common place. And so is child prostitution, women and drug trafficking. Time off is a life of drunkenness and drug deliria. Life is worthless. See also Andre Vltchek’s essay – “Welcome to Hell: The Peruvian Mining City of La Rinconada”.

Small boys are used to work in underground mining galleries, where adults hardly fit. When the galleries collapse and a child – or several – dies – nobody cares. Many are not even identified. Most likely they are not missed. They are children of non-parents, like in non-humans, those that run this hellish mining industry, and those who send their children there to help them make a living. No love, no ethics, no respect for anything but the legendary gold nugget, for greed and necessity. No mercy. That’s La Rinconada.

Miners come “voluntarily”. Nobody forces them. Most are poor and jobless. They come for necessity. Some are just greedy  -– the never-dying ‘Gold Rausch’ attracts them. The dream of getting rich in the goldmine makes them accept the most horrendous working and living conditions: surviving in an open dump-ground of everything, garbage, toxic heavy metals, wading in mercury-polluted tailings, thin air, contaminated by poisonous vapors, no heating, most of the year sub-freezing temperatures –trash and debris everywhere. But the miners don’t complain. Some bring their wives, few bring also their kids. it’s their choice. Some stay ‘temporarily’ only, 6 months, 12 months, 2 years. For some the dream of hitting the riches never dies; they stay until they die. – They know they will be abused, enslaved. They know they can take it or leave it.

Miners work for usually long hours and are working during 29 days for free. On the 30th day they may keep whatever they take out of the ground, amounting on average to about 800 to 1,000 Soles per month (US$250 – $320). Sometimes day 30 brings nothing. Sometimes some rocks with traces of gold. All are hoping for a gold nugget. This type of mining wage is not unique to Peru. Bolivia and other Andean countries that are open to the most environmentally and socially destructive industry – mining – apply similar systems. The illusion to hit it BIG by finding the legendary ‘gold rock’ is a passion; it is obsessive. And if and when a miner does find a treasure to keep, he is vulnerable of being robbed, even killed, body discarded – another miner gone missing. Or not. Just disappeared. Maybe in a garbage dump. They are endless in Rinconada. They reflect the character of Rinconada. Refuse, waste, stench and death.

Nobody cares – or not enough to investigate the death, the missing. It’s the name of the game. Miners come by their free will. They are not coerced. They enslave themselves, in the vane hope to get rich. Instead, they intoxicate themselves from mercury fumes, from a totally poisonous environment, daily exposure to heavy metals. Their nervous system slowly but surely fails them. Memory loss; brain damage, muscular dystrophy, collapsing lungs, paralysis, early death. For many, it’s a dream gone dead. That’s what poverty does; it kills while dreaming of a better world.

Rinconada – mafia rules. Police work in connivance. Murders and assassinations are of the order. Prostitution, alcohol and drug abuse is rampant. Nobody cares. It’s survival of the fittest and often survival succumbs to hardship, misery and yet hope for a better life.

These criminal organizations are all local, meaning from the vicinity, Puno, Juliaca and thereabouts. No foreign mining companies are allowed. They, huge world (in)famous gold and precious metals corporations, are waiting ‘downstream’ to buy the blood-ware, without identity, without origins. So that nobody can trace them to the crime.

Women generally do not work in the mines. Superstition. They bring bad luck. They make the gold veins disappear. They distract the men. The mines are masculine. Only men are allowed to work them. The mountains may get jealous, and who knows what jealousy is capable of doing. Women have other chores: collecting loose rocks that may contain some remnants of gold; they clean, prepare food, mind the household, children, if a family is unwise enough to bring their offspring to this hellhole – and, they are “taking care of the men”, in more ways than one.

La Rinconada – one of the most horrible places on earth. Hardly known to the rest of the world. Most people in Lima, the capital of Peru, have no idea that Rinconada exists, and if they have heard the name, they associate it with a lush country club in the elite district of “La Molina” of Lima. They don’t know what it also stands for – The Devil’s Paradise.

What Rinconada produces is “blood gold”, akin to blood diamonds, blood emeralds in other parts of the world.

Who buys this gold?

Large corporations. One of them is the Swiss registered Metalor, one of the world’s largest gold foundries. Annually, about 3,000 to 3,500 tons of gold are mined across the globe. Switzerland refines about 70% to 80% of all the gold in the world. An estimated 20% to 30% of it is considered ‘blood gold’ – gold that stems from illicit mining practices, child labor, environmental and social destructions, land theft, corruption – like from Rinconada.

As of now, Switzerland, the host of the globe’s largest mining corporations and gold foundries does not want to know the origin of the gold – possibly the environmentally and socially most destructive precious metal. Switzerland does not impose a code of ethics on the corporations that enjoy the Swiss tax-haven. The Swiss Government pretends that these mining corporations have their own codes of conduct, and the Swiss authorities trust that they adhere to their own standards of ethics. What an easy way out!

When challenged with evidence to the contrary; i.e., Rinconada, or Espinar (also Peru), where Glencore beats up defenseless indigenous women, because they attempt to protect their properties and water from Glencore’s illegal confiscation with the corrupt help of the local Peruvian authorities – the Swiss authorities close their eyes to open crimes of their corporations and if pressed, they simply say, “if we are too harsh with them, they will leave Switzerland” and  “if they are doing something illegal, they are responsible to their host country”, apparently ignoring that corruption buys everything in most of these “host countries”.

That’s the level of ethics one of the richest and reputedly most noble countries of the universe applies to keep her corporations happy. Naturally, Switzerland is also the only OECD member that allows her parliamentarians to sit in as many corporate Boards of Directors as they wish. Imagine!  A totally legalized conflict of interest. And nobody says ‘beep’. The Swiss populace just accepts this blunt aberration. Most of them don’t even know it exists. They live comfortably and well, and don’t care much about Human Rights abusing corporations, and less so that their Parliament is a humongous built-in corporate and banking lobby. In this environment of white-collar illicit behavior, corporations like Metalor and Glencore flourish.

A recently launched people’s referendum propagating ‘Responsible Mining’, was undermined in the Swiss Parliament by the ‘built-in’ mining lobby. It is common practice that Parliament, as well as the Swiss Executive, give their votum before the public vote on a referendum, another unfair practice, as it influences the voters’ final decision.

In the meantime, the Government of Peru accuses the Swiss foundry Metalor of financing and buying tons of gold from suspicious sources in Peru, meaning illicit gold – or ‘blood gold’. Metalor is also investigated for participating in organized crime and money laundering from illicit gold deals (Ojo Público, Peru, 14 March 2019):

“The Metalor Group was the exclusive importer of gold from illegal mining, sold or shipped by Minerales del Sur SRL (Minersur) in the period from 2001 to 2018 in the amount of more than US$ 3.5 billion. Metalor is headquartered in the Canton of Neuchatel, Switzerland.”

Metalor is also being investigated for financing Minersur’s purchasing and sales transactions of gold from illegal sources. One of these illegal sources is La Rinconada. Other illegal sources stem from gold-digging in Peru’s Madre de Dios Amazon Region, where thousands of hectares of rainforest are being raided and devastated by mafia-type organizations, similar to the ones in Rinconada. Metalor denies the accusation, saying they only deal with reputable mining corporations. The case is wide open and the stench of illegality that has been permeating Metalor for many years is as sickening as Rinconada itself.

What is it about gold that makes it destroy the environment, precious fresh water resources, the human spirit, sowing conflict among entire societies, abolishing their social fabric and bringing death to countless millions for centuries in exploited and abused regions of the globe? The real industrial value of gold is only about 15% to 20% of its speculative market value. But the gold fever is such that banks invented ‘paper gold’, meaning that Mr. and Mrs. Anybody can buy gold without ever seeing the gold bar. The bank simply issues a certificate, an IOU for a certain amount of gold which, in theory, could be exchanged for the real thing at any time Madame Anybody would like to keep her gold bar in her personal household vault. Not so easy. There is more than 100 times more paper gold floating around than real gold is available on the market. If everybody would like to exchange their paper gold into real gold, the banking system would collapse, or would just simply fail to deliver.

Case in point was Germany. By tradition Germany had about 1,200 tons of gold, worth about US$ 50 billion, deposited in the FED in New York. In 2013, when the Germans awareness that their gold is being stored outside of German borders resulted in a public outcry, the Bundesbank wanted to withdraw and repatriate all of their foreign stored gold by 2020, but the FED said no, they could not deliver. The gold was simply not available. Was the FED using the German gold and the gold of so many other countries deposited in the FED’s treasuries for speculation – rent seeking with somebody else’s assets?

Blood and crime are intimately linked to gold, it seems. Our western monetary system was for a long time backed by gold. Today, western moneys are fiat money, not even backed by gold, just hot air. But the Russian ruble and the Chinese yuan are backed by gold, as well as by their respective economies.  Who knows? As a last-ditch effort to save the US-dollar and the western fiat money pyramid from collapsing, the west may again revert to some kind of gold standard, a man-made folly, when, in fact, the only real value reflected in a county’s monetary system is its economy.

Back to La Rinconada, Metalor and Switzerland, home of more than two thirds of the world’s gold refining, how much of the reserve gold in the coffers of countries around the world is “blood gold”?  How many people, children and eventually entire generations have to live in misery, their health degenerating from exposure to heavy metals and eventually leading to early and painful death, until human consciousness is able to stop the gold craze? Closing down hellholes like Rinconada and Madre de Dios mafia-run, all-destructive gold mines?  And hundreds more of similarly devastating type mines around the world. Perhaps when the value of gold becomes what it ought to be — its industrial value, and nothing more and nothing less — humanity becomes richer by the values of human decency and respect for each other.

Corporate Canada Behind Slow Motion Coup Attempt in Venezuela

It’s convenient but incorrect to simply blame the USA for Ottawa’s nefarious role in the slow motion attempted coup currently underway in Venezuela.

Critics of the Liberal government’s push for regime change in Venezuela generally focus on their deference to Washington. But, Ottawa’s hostility to Caracas is also motivated by important segments of corporate Canada, which have long been at odds with its Bolivarian government

In a bid for a greater share of oil revenue, Venezuela forced private oil companies to become minority partners with the state oil company in 2007. This prompted Calgary-based PetroCanada to sell its portion of an oil project and for Canadian officials to privately complain about feeling “burned” by the Venezuelan government.

Venezuela has the largest recognized oil reserves in the world. The country also has enormous gold deposits.

A number of Canadian companies clashed with Hugo Chavez’ government over its bid to gain greater control over gold extraction. Crystallex, Vanessa Ventures, Gold Reserve Inc. and Rusoro Mining all had prolonged legal battles with the Venezuelan government. In 2016 Rusoro Mining won a $1 billion claim under the Canada-Venezuela investment treaty. That same year Crystallex was awarded $1.2 billion under the Canada-Venezuela investment treaty. Both companies continue to pursue payments and have pursued the money from Citgo, the Venezuelan government owned gasoline retailer in the US.

In 2011 the Financial Post reported, “years after pushing foreign investment away from his gold mining sector, Venezuelan President Chavez is moving on to the next stage: outright nationalization.” Highlighting its importance to Canadian capital, the Globe and Mail editorial board criticized the move in a piece titled “Chavez nationalizes all gold mines in Venezuela.”

In a further sign of the Canadian mining sector’s hostility to the Venezuelan government, Barrick Gold founder Peter Munk wrote a 2007 letter to the Financial Times headlined “Stop Chavez’ Demagoguery Before it is Too Late”: “Your editorial ‘Chavez in Control’ was way too benign a characterization of a dangerous dictator — the latest of a type who takes over a nation through the democratic process, and then perverts or abolishes it to perpetuate his own power … aren’t we ignoring the lessons of history and forgetting that the dictators Hitler, Mugabe, Pol Pot and so on became heads of state by a democratic process? … autocratic demagogues in the Chavez mode get away with [it] until their countries become totalitarian regimes like Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, or Slobadan Milosevic’s Serbia … Let us not give President Chavez a chance to do the same step- by-step transformation of Venezuela.”

A year earlier, the leading Canadian capitalist told Barrick’s shareholders he’d prefer to invest in the (Taliban controlled) western part of Pakistan than in Venezuela or Bolivia. “If I had the choice to put my money in one of the Latin American countries run by (Bolivian President) Evo Morales or Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez — I know where I’d put my buck,” said Munk, referring to moves to increase the public stake in resource extraction to the detriment of foreign investors.

Benefiting from the privatization of state-run mining companies and loosened restrictions on foreign investment, Canadian mining investment in Latin America has exploded since the 1990s. No Canadian mining firm operated in Peru or Mexico at the start of the 1990s yet by 2010 there were nearly 600 Canadian mining firms in those two countries. Canadian mining companies have tens of billions of dollars invested in the Americas. Any government in the region that reverses the neoliberal reforms that enabled this growth is a threat to Canadian mining profits.

Corporate Canada’s most powerful sector was none too pleased with Chavez’ socialistic and nationalistic policies. Alongside Canadian mining growth, Canadian banks expanded their operations in a number of Latin American countries to do more business with Canadian mining clients. More generally, Canadian banks have benefited from the liberalization of foreign investment rules and banking regulations in the region. A few days after Chavez’s 2013 death the Globe and Mail Report on Business published a front-page story about Scotiabank’s interests in Venezuela, which were acquired just before his rise to power. It noted: “Bank of Nova Scotia [Scotiabank] is often lauded for its bold expansion into Latin America, having completed major acquisitions in Colombia and Peru. But when it comes to Venezuela, the bank has done little for the past 15 years – primarily because the government of President Hugo Chavez has been hostile to large-scale foreign investment.” While Scotiabank is a powerhouse in Latin America, Canada’s other big banks also do significant business in the region.

At the height of the left-right ideological competition in the region the Stephen Harper government devoted significant effort to strengthening the region’s right-wing governments. Ottawa increased aid to Latin America largely to stunt growing rejection of neoliberal capitalism and in 2010 trade minister Peter Van Loan admitted that the “secondary” goal of Canada’s free trade agreement with Colombia was to bolster that country’s right-wing government against its Venezuelan neighbour. The Globe and Mail explained:  “The Canadian government’s desire to bolster fledgling free-market democracies in Latin America in an ideological competition with left-leaning, authoritarian nationalists like Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez is rarely expressed with force, even though it is at the heart of an Ottawa initiative.” An unnamed Conservative told the paper: “For countries like Peru and Colombia that are trying be helpful in the region, I think everybody’s trying to keep them attached to the free-market side of the debate in Latin America, rather than sloshing them over into the Bolivarian [Venezuelan] side.”

Ottawa wants to crush the independent/socialistic developments in Venezuela. More generally, the growth of Canadian mining, banking and other sectors in Latin America has pushed Ottawa towards a more aggressive posture in the region. So, while it is true that Canada often does the bidding of its US puppet master, capitalists in the Great White North are also independent actors seeking to fill their own pockets and thwart the will of the Venezuelan people.

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.