Category Archives: Peru

2019 Latin America in Review: Year of the Revolt of the Dispossessed

A year ago, John Bolton, Trump’s short-lived national security advisor, invoked the 1823 Monroe Doctrine making explicit what has long been painfully implicit: the dominions south of the Rio Grande are the empire’s “backyard.” Yet 2019 was a year best characterized as the revolt of the dispossessed for a better world against the barbarism of neoliberalism. As Rafael Correa points out, Latin America today is in dispute. What follows is a briefing on this crossroads.

Andean Nations

Venezuela, the leader for regional integration and 21st century socialism, continued to be ground zero in the clash between the empire and those nations pursuing post-neoliberal alternatives and a multipolar world.

On the evening of January 22, trained US security asset and head of the suspended Venezuelan National Assembly Juan Guaidó received a call from US Vice President Pence, giving Guaidó the green light to declare himself president of Venezuela. The next day, Guaidó proclaimed his presidency on a Caracas street corner. Within minutes Trump recognized the self-appointment, later followed by some fifty US allies. Still most nations in the world did not recognize Guaidó, and the United Nations continues to recognize Maduro as the constitutional president of Venezuela.

Guaidó called for harsher US sanctions on his own people and even the US “military option.”  Gone was the pretext that sanctions targeted only the government. The former US Ambassador to Venezuela William Brownfield  boasted that these measures “would have an impact on everyone… to accelerate the collapse.” From President Barack Obama’s sanctions in 2015, Trump progressively ratcheted up the pain to the current blockade. This illegal collective punishment had already caused over 40,000 deaths by the beginning of the year according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), in a war by economic means, denying the Venezuelan people vital food and medicine.

Yet Guaidó failed to come to power. His publicity stunt on February 23 to bring “humanitarian aid” from Colombia fizzled. To make things worse, envoys of Guaidó in Colombia were caught embezzling some of the very funds slated for humanitarian assistance. Soon after this debacle, a staged coup on April 30 by Guaidó and a few military officers on an overpass in eastern Caracas aborted. In November, Guaidó made an even more pathetic coup attempt. His ability to garner support atrophied, drawing the ire even of some hardline opposition who formerly backed him, while the Maduro government continued to rally substantial popular demonstrations and signed a peaceful coexistence agreement with some moderate opposition parties in September.

Despite attempts by Washington to incite ruptures within the Venezuelan security forces, the “civic-military union” built by Chavez and continued under Maduro held firm, and the ranks of the militias continue to grow. And despite heavy lobbying by the Trump administration, Venezuela was voted onto the UN Human Rights Council on October 27.

In a bid to compensate for the diminished stature of the anti-Venezuela Lima Group,  on December 3, Colombia convened a summit for the activation of the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (TIAR) against Venezuela, to ratchet up sanctions even further and keep the military option on the table. By the end of 2019, even the Wall Street Journal conceded, “Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro, once thought ripe for ouster, looks firmly in place.”

In Washington, North American solidarity activists defended the Venezuelan embassy from being taken over by Guaidó collaborators (April – May 2019). With the permission of the Venezuelan government and pursuant to international law, the Embassy Protectors held out for 37 days until expelled by the Secret Service. The four last defenders – Margaret Flowers, Kevin Zeese, Adrienne Pine, David Paul – will go to trial, facing possible stiff penalties. On October 25, journalist Max Blumenthal was also arrested and charged (subsequently dropped), as the US government cracks down on dissent both at home and abroad.

Colombia is the chief regional US client state, distinguished by being the largest recipient of US military aid in the hemisphere. Hillary Clinton called Plan Colombia a model for Latin America. Yet this model leads the world in extra-judicial killings of journalists, union leaders, and environmentalists. Meanwhile, Colombia continues to be the planet’s largest supplier of illicit cocaine.

A 2016 peace agreement saw the guerrilla FARC lay down their arms, but the government has honored the agreement mainly in the breach. Death squad activity continued in 2019, targeting former FARC militants. A faction of the FARC returned to the guerrilla path.

In a sign of growing disaffection with the hardline right-wing influence of former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe and his protégé and current President Iván Duque, the far right suffered significant losses in the October regional and municipal elections. Left-leaning Claudia López became the first woman and first lesbian to be mayor of the capital city of Bogotá. By year-end, Colombia experienced massive general strikes opposed to government austerity policies dictated by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Bolivia. Evo Morales was the first indigenous president of this largely indigenous country. Under the 14 years of his Movement for Socialism party (MAS), Bolivia had the highest economic growth rate and the greatest poverty reduction in the Western Hemisphere. Bolivia became a world champion for indigenous and poor people, aligning with the progressive governments of Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua.

Morales was fairly re-elected president on October 20. Because the US-backed candidate lost, the US called his election “fraudulent.” A compliant Organization of American States (OAS) disseminated misleading information on the validity of the election. Thus, the stage was set for the November 10 coup, when Morales was forced to “resign” by the military.

Thirteen US members of Congress sent a “dear colleague” letter condemning the “Administration’s support for [the] military-backed regime and silence on violent repression [which] contributes to spiraling crisis.” This letter stands in stark contrast to the close association of key figures behind the coup with allies in Washington, the OAS Secretary General’s embrace of coup leader Luis Fernando Camacho, and the endorsement of the coup by the right-wing neighbors. President Trump “applauded” the Bolivian military despite its well documented systematic  violations of human rights.

The self-proclaimed President Jeanine Áñez smeared indigenous communities as “satanic” in tweets, later deleted. Morales is now in exile, and the indigenous and other poor continue to protest in the face of lethal, racist repression.  At this writing, Morales, the MAS, and most of the popular sectors have agreed to new elections but efforts are underway by backers of the de facto government to disqualify the MAS from participating in an eventual election.

Ecuador. Speaking of reversals, Ecuador’s President Lenín Moreno took the prize. Moreno had served as vice president in a previous leftist government headed by Rafael Correa, who had campaigned for Moreno. Upon assuming the presidency in 2017, Moreno inexplicably and unexpectedly betrayed the platform, the voters, and the party that put him in office. He jailed his vice president and later other leaders of his former party and put out an arrest warrant for Correa, who is now in exile. On April 11, Moreno handed Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who had been in asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, to the British police.

Moreno withdrew Ecuador from ALBA, the leftist regional organization of Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia, Nicaragua, and some Caribbean nations. Last January, he recognized the US puppet Guaidó as president of Venezuela. By mid-year, Moreno gave the US an airbase on the Galápagos.

Moreno forgave some $4.5 billion in fines and debt by major corporations and oligarchs and then papered it over by an IMF loan. With the loan came austerity measures, el paquetazo, including removing fuel subsidies. The mass protest of the dispossessed, led by the indigenous CONAIE organization, was so overwhelming that Moreno was temporarily forced to flee the capital city of Quito and rescind some elements of the paquetazo. Moreno continues to push IMF stipulated austerity measures, while repressing his former party’s elected representatives.

Peru is in crisis, wracked with corruption scandals. In April 2019, former President Alan García shot himself as the police were preparing to arrest him for corruption, while fellow former President Alberto Fujimori is in jail on corruption accusations and human rights violations.  Former President Alejandro Toledo also faces corruption accusations and is fighting against extradition from the US. Pedro Pablo Kuczynski was the last directly elected president of Peru. Formerly a US citizen and an IMF and World Bank official, he was forced to resign for corruption in March 2018 shortly before he was slated to host a meeting of the anti-Venezuela Lima Group to expose Venezuela for corruption.

Ever since, the presidency of Peru has been disputed. The current moderate-right President Martín Vízcarra dissolved the congress; the congress controlled by the far-right Keiko Fujimori (free after a year in detention for corruption) impeached the executive, although Vízcarra recovered the presidency. In the context of this dog fight among the elites have been massive anti-corruption mobilizations from below.

The Southern Cone

Brazil. New Year 2019 marked the inauguration of Jair Bolsonaro as president of Brazil. The election of hard-right Bolsonaro – called the “Trump of Brazil” by friends and foes alike – was a major reversal from the previous left-leaning Workers Party governments.

Brazil has by far the biggest economy in Latin America and the eighth in the world and is part of the BRICS bloc including Russia, India, China, and South Africa. With a sycophant of Trump heading Brazil, both hemispheric and world geopolitics suffer the loss of a countervailing element to US hegemony. Brazil voted with the US and Israel for continuing the US blockade on Cuba and against 187 other UN members.

Former left-leaning President Lula da Silva would have easily beaten Bolsonaro, if the polls were any indication, but corrupt judge Sergio Moro sent Lula to prison on evidenceless charges. The judge was rewarded by ironically being made minister of justice in the new Bolsonaro government. Similarly, Dilma Rousseff, who was Lula’s left-leaning successor as president of Brazil, had been deposed on a technicality by the right-leaning congress in what amounted to a parliamentary coup in 2016.

An international campaign to free Lula finally succeeded in November, but far too late for him to run against Bolsonaro. Lula is free and fighting now, but could be incarcerated again.

Bolsonaro went about dismantling social welfare measures, firing government workers, and rewarding multinational corporations, while the Amazon burned. Predictably the popular sectors arose leading to an uncertain political situation in Brazil.

Chile. The Chilean people launched a general strike against austerity with slogans such as “neoliberalism was born in Chile and will die here.” Reacting to the “privatization of everything,” the uprising this fall has been truly from the grassroots with the established political parties sprinting to catch up with the popular revolt of the dispossessed.

Over a million protestors have taken to the streets in a country with a population of only 19 million. Many have remained there for weeks despite severe repression by the state, leaving numerous killed by live ammunition and rubber bullets. According to official state data, more than 8,000  have been jailed, almost 3,000 injured, and over 200 suffered ocular damage. Hundreds of  lawsuits for police brutality have been filed, including sexual abuses. The right-wing billionaire President Sebastián Piñera suspended some constitutional rights, declaring a “state of emergency” in a country still under the constitution created by the dictator Pinochet.

Argentina. After right-wing President Mauricio Macri imposed textbook perfect neoliberal economic reforms, the Argentine economy spectacularly and predictably failed with rampant inflation, food shortages, currency free-fall, and capital flight. Even the middle class protested in the streets in enormous uprisings of the dispossessed.

On October 27, the center-left ticket of Alberto Fernández as president and Cristina Fernández as VP won and announced Argentina will leave the regional anti-Venezuela Lima Group. They will also have to deal with Macri’s record breaking $50.1 billion IMF loan, saddling the people with austerity measures in a country that is broke and again at the edge of default.

Uruguay. The ruling left-center Frente Amplio’s candidate, Daniel Martínez, won in the first round of Uruguay’s presidential elections on October 27, but by a too narrow margin to avoid a runoff election. He faced a united right-wing in the November 24 runoff against Luis Lacalle Pou, which ended his party’s 15-year rule.

The Caribbean

Cuba. The US embargo of Cuba, initiated  by US President Kennedy and now a blockade (el bloqueo), along with covert regime-change operations and occupation of Guantánamo have continued in an unbroken policy of aggression through Democratic and Republican administrations alike. Most recently Trump resurrected Title III of the Clinton-era Helms-Burton Act to intensify the blockade. The Cuban people show no sign of capitulating.

Cubans welcomed a new president, as Miguel Díaz-Canel succeeded Raúl Castro. On April 10, they ratified a new constitution, after an extensive consultative process, engaging some 9 million people, 780,000 suggestions, 9,600 proposals, and 133,000 citizen meetings.

Puerto Rico and Cuba were the spoils of the first imperialist war, the 1898 Spanish-American War. Unlike free Cuba, Puerto Rico is still a neglected colonial possession of the US. And that political fact has never been clearer with Puerto Rico still not fully recovered from Hurricane María and still not governing itself to solve its own problems.

Puerto Rico experienced mass protests and a general strike in 2019. Governor Ricardo A. Rosselló was forced to resign on July 22. Puerto Rican liberation hero Oscar López Rivera observed: “Even before the governor announced his resignation, the fact is that he was not governing Puerto Rico.”

Haiti. After the harsh 29-year US-backed Duvalier dictatorships and the subsequent “military transition,” a brief flourishing of democracy ended in Haiti when the US brazenly kidnapped President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and flew him into exile in 2004. Since then, a series of dubiously elected presidents – some literally installed and all propped up by the US – have produced human rights and social welfare conditions worse than under the dictatorships.

Billions in relief after the 2010 earthquake and in Petrocaribe funds from Venezuela have largely “disappeared” into the pockets of corrupt politicians. In response, the ever-restive Haitian populace has yet intensified the uprising of the dispossessed throughout the country. The newly formed Patriotic Forum united 62 social movements, who call not only for the resignation of President Jovenel Moïse, but a complete dismantling of the “system of exclusion” and for a new republic of justice, transparency, and participation. They demanded chavire chodyè a (overturn the cauldron).

Central America and Mexico

Honduras. The designation of Honduras as a narco-state is supported by the October 18  conviction in US federal court of President Juan Orlando Hernández’s (JOH) brother Tony for cocaine smuggling.  JOH, the latest of a line of corrupt presidents since the 2009 US-backed coup, is identified as co-conspirator by the prosecutors. Testimony in the US court revealed that the notorious Mexican drug lord known as El Chapo gave JOH $1 million to help him rig the presidential election in 2013.

The US continued to prop up the tottering JOH regime staggering in the face of huge waves of popular protests including a prolonged national strike this summer. And those not opposing the government in the streets headed for asylum in the US, fleeing from gang violence and government malfeasance.

Guatemala. Right-wing comedian Jimmy Morales became president of Guatemala in August. In response to the revolt of dispossessed against his neoliberal rule, he declared a state of siege in five departments. Tens of thousands marched on Guatemala City, including the indigenous Xinkas, while many more Guatemalans fled the violence and everyday oppression seeking asylum at the US border.

The wounds of the US-backed genocidal dirty war of the 1980s against the largely indigenous population, taking some 200,000 lives, have not been healed but continue to be reinforced by harsh neoliberal measures and a regime of impunity fueling the exodus to the north. While lamenting the plight of these migrants, the corporate press in the US failed to recognize the made-in-America causes of their evacuation.

El Salvador. Likewise, El Salvador, another former victim of the US-backed dirty wars, added to the stream of Honduran and Guatemalan migrants seeking asylum in the US from the conditions created in large part by the country of their intended refuge.

Businessman Nayib Bukele, formerly associated with the left FMLN party and now turned right, was elected under the banner of the right-wing GANA party. He assumed the presidency on June 1, replacing Salvador Sánchez Ceren of the FMLN. Bukele has fallen in line with Washington’s drive to curtail emigration from the Northern Triangle countries (Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador) and has reversed his nation’s foreign policy to accord with the Lima Group’s drive for regime change in Venezuela.

Nicaragua. 2019 was a year of hopeful recovery in Nicaragua, healing from successfully repulsing a US-backed coup the previous year. The domestic perpetrators were granted amnesty by leftist President Daniel Ortega, and social welfare indices were again on the ascent. Although the poorest country in Central America, Nicaraguans were for the most part not fleeing for the US but were rebuilding their homeland.

Mexico is the second largest economy in Latin American and the eleventh in the world. After decades of right-wing rule, left-of-center Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) assumed the presidency last December and his new MORENA party swept local and regional offices with the expectation that corruption, inequality, and other long festering economic injustices would be addressed. AMLO dissented from the anti-Venezuelan Lima Group and instituted a series of progressive domestic reforms.

Trump forced AMLO to contain the Central American immigrants massing on the US southern border or face tariff increases and other measures that would wreck the Mexican economy. As nineteenth century Mexican President Porfirio Díaz famously lamented: “Poor Mexico, so far from God and so close to the United States.”

A New Year’s message

2019 has not been an entirely bullish year for US imperialism, notwithstanding the hard turns to the right in Brazil, Bolivia, and Ecuador.  Powerful winds against neoliberalism are gusting in Brazil, Ecuador, Chile, Peru, Argentina, Haiti, Honduras, Guatemala, and even in the US “Commonwealth” of Puerto Rico. Regime-change operations failed in Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua. US-preferred candidates suffered losses in Mexico, Colombia, and Bolivia (later reversed by a coup). And the hegemon is challenged in its own “backyard” by the increased influence of Russia and especially China, now the second largest trading partner with Latin America and the Caribbean.

Recently Cuban President Díaz-Canel addressed the 120-state Non-aligned Movement (a third of which are sanctioned by Washington) with this perceptive thought for a multi-polar world: “There are more of us. Let us do more.”

In the Eye of the Eagle: From Strict Catholic School to Adventures in Rainforests

A slow, tacking flight: float then flap. Then a pirouette and it has swung on to a different tack, following another seam through the moor as if it is tracking a scent. It is like a disembodied spirit searching for its host…” — description of the strongest of all harriers, the goshawk, by James Macdonald Lockhart in his book, Raptor: A Journey Through Birds

We’re watching a female red-tail hawk rejecting the smaller male’s romantic overtures barely 50 yards overhead.

There it is. Ahh, the male has full extension. So does his girlfriend. I see this every day from here. This courting ritual . . . testing each other’s loyalty. Watching them in a talon lock, spiraling down, now that’s an amazing sight.

I’m with Chris Hatten on his 10 acres overlooking the Siletz estuary along a gravel road. Saying he lives for that typical red-tail hawk behavior would be an understatement. His passion for raptors has taken him to many parts of the globe, and those trips involved exhilaration, danger, risks to his life, and the trials and tribulations of living primitively in tropical zones which Westerners sometimes deridingly call undeveloped countries or third world nations.

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 Wild Harpy eagle being recaptured and treated after being shot in leg, northern Guatemala.

We are traipsing around his property where Chris is ninety percent finished with a two-story 1,400 square foot home, a modern efficient house he’s been building for two years from a kit out of Lynnwood, Washington.

He told me he’ll never do that again – building a full-sized house.

The 42-year-old Hatten got a hold of my name when he found out I write about Oregon coastal people with compellingly interesting lives. He is in the midst of witnessing adjoining land (more than a hundred acres) to his property about to be clear-cut – forested hillside owned by Hancock Timber Resource Group, part of John Hancock Insurance (now owned by a Canadian group, Manulife Financial).

When he first bought the land eight years ago, representatives of Hancock told him that the company had so much timberland it would take years, maybe a decade, to get to this piece of property.

We discuss how Lincoln City and Lincoln County might prevent a clear cut from the side of the hill all the way down to Highway 101. “It’s amazing to witness in this coastal area — that depends on tourism — all this land clear-cut as far as the eye can see.”

The red-tail hawk pair circles above us again, while a Merlin flits about alighting on a big Doug fir.

When he first saw the property — an old homestead which was once a producing dairy farm — Chris said two eagles cawed above where he was standing, which for a bird-man is a positive omen and spiritual sign of good health. He calls his place “The Double-Eagle.”

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Hands on bio blitz Northern Brazil.

Non-Traditional Student Backpacks into Jungles

He’s not living in the house, per se, but rather he has a tent he calls home. “I feel suffocated inside four walls. I want to hear animals, hear the wind, be on the ground.” He’s hoping to rent out the house.

His current kip is set up near a black bear den, where mother bruin and her two cubs share an area he is willing to stay away from. “The mother bear and I have an understanding. We don’t bother each other.”

He’s part Doctor Dolittle, part Jim Fowler (from Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom), and part John Muir. My own intersections with blokes and women around the world like him have put me eye-to-eye with pygmy elephants in Vietnam, great hammerheads off Baja, king cobras in Thailand, schools of barracudas off Honduras, and a pack of 20 javelina chasing me along the Arizona-Mexico border.

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Jaguar rescue northern Belize.

Hatten’s wildlife adventures indeed take it up a few notches.

“When I finished high school, I wanted to follow my dreams.” That was at Saint Mary’s in Salem, a school that was so constricting to Chris he had already been saving up dollars for a one-way ticket out of the country.

He had started working young – aged 8 – picking zucchini and broccoli in fields near where his family of six lived. “You feel invincible when you are young. You’re also more adaptable and more resilient.”

He ended up in Malaysia which then turned into trekking throughout Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, East Timor, and even down south to Darwin, Australia.

Those two years, from age 17 to 19, are enough to fill two thick memoirs. Upon returning to Salem, he applied to the National Park service and bought a one-way ticket to Alaska, working the trails in small groups who lived in tents and cleared trails with 19-Century equipment – saws, shovels, picks, pry bars.

With his cash stake growing, he headed back south, by mountain bike, along the Prudhoe-Dalton Highway. He hit Prince George, Vancouver Island, and stopped in the Olympics.

He then worked summers and attended Chemeketa College in Salem.

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Finding small spot fire Colombia River Gorge, Oregon, working for U.S.F.S.

Homeless-but-inspired at Evergreen State College

He wanted to study temperature rainforests, so he showed up unannounced hoping for an audience with a well-known scientist and faculty member — Dr. Nalini Nadkarni, who is an expert in temperate forests and sap maples. Chris had read the book she co-authored, Forest Canopies.

Before showing up to Evergreen, Chris had developed a sling-shot contraption to propel ropes into forest canopy. He barged into Nadkarni’s office with his invention. She was surprised Chris wasn’t already student, but she quickly made sure he enrolled in the environmental studies program.

Spending his last dollar on tuition, Chris resorted to sleeping in a tent and inside his 1988 Honda Civic while using campus rec department showers. He told me he received free produce on Tuesdays when the farmer’s market would pass out vegetables and fruit after a day’s sales.

Another faculty member, Dr. Steve Herman, motivated Chris to really delve into ornithology. Chris recalls coastal dune ecology trips, from Olympia in motor pool vans, all the way into the southern reaches of Baja. “We looked at every dune system from Baja all the way back north to Florence.”

The ornithologist Herman was also a tango aficionado, and Chris recalled the professor announcing to his students many times, in the middle of dunes in Mexico, it was time for some tango lessons. “He told us there was more to life than just science.”

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Educational Harpy eagle to take into classrooms Panama city, Panama, has one blind eye, could not be released into wild.

Adventures and Misadventures of a Bird Fanatic

My life’s work has been to produce scientists who will seek to protect wildness. But I also just really enjoy teaching people about birds. I’ve been lucky to get to do that for a very long time.

— Steve Herman, Evergreen State College faculty emeritus Steve Herman, 2017

Chris laments the lack of real stretches of wilderness in Oregon, most notably along our coast. These are postage stamp areas, he emphasizes, around Drift Creek, Rock Creek, Cape Perpetua, but “it’s abysmal.”

We have the Cascades in Washington and the Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia, and lots of wilderness in Alaska. But really, nothing along the Pacific in Oregon.

After camping in the forest around Evergreen College, Chris still had the travel bug bad. On one foray, he went to Thailand, studying the mangrove forests there. He traveled with Thai army anti-poaching teams who went after poachers. He came across poachers’ camps, witnessed firefights and saw a few poachers laid out dead. “The captain gave me a pistol and one bullet. He said the torture would be so bad if I got captured by tiger poachers that I’d beg for a bullet.”

He’s worked on the island of Hawaii with the USGS focusing on a biocomplexity project looking at how mosquitoes are moving higher and higher because of global warming. The consequences are pretty connected to other invasives – pigs introduced to the islands several centuries ago – disturbing the entire natural ecosystem.

Pigs chew down the ferns, and places that have never seen pooled water before are now wet troughs where mosquitoes can now breed.

Those insects carry avian malaria, and alas, endangered honey creepers can’t adjust to the mosquitoes like their cousins elsewhere who have evolved over millennia to just rub off the insects. The honey creeper is being decimated by this minor but monumental change.

Peregrine Fund

Right after matriculating from Evergreen with a bachelor’s of science, Chris ended up in Panama, working throughout Central America rehabilitating, breeding and introducing Harpy Eagles – the biggest forest eagle in the world with a wingspan of six and a half feet – into their native jungle habitat.

These are massive birds. They dwarf our American bald eagle, for sure. My job was to follow them when the fledglings were grown and released.

He acted like an adult Harpy who catches prey and puts it in the trees for the youngster to eat and learn some hunting skills. Frozen rats, GPS backpack transmitter fashioned on the birds, and orienteering throughout Belize and Southern Mexico were his tools.

It sort of blew me away that here I was living the dream of studying birds in a rainforest.

Territorial ranges for these birds spread into Honduras and south to Colombia. Wild Harpies eat sloth, aunt eaters, howler monkeys, even giant Military Macaws.

He ended up in the Petén, Tikal (originally dating back 2000 years), one of Central America’s premier Mayan archeological and tourist sites.

His role was to study the orange-breasted falcon, a tropical raptor which is both endangered and stealth. “We got to live on top of pyramids off limits to anyone else,” he says, since the bird was using the pyramids as nesting and breeding grounds.

He recalled tiring of the tourists down below repeating the fact that one of the Star Wars movies was filmed here – “I got tired of hearing, ‘Wow, is this really where Yavin 4,  A New Hope, was filmed? We’re really here.’”

Imagine respecting this ancient Mayan capital, and studying amazing raptors as the antithesis of goofy tourista comments.

No 9 to 5 Working Stiff

He tells me that his idols are people like Jane Goodall and David Attenborough. While he went to school in a conservative Catholic setting where his peers were mostly farm kids —  and some were already pregnant and married (before graduation), his family was not of the same stripe.

“We were like the people in the movie ‘Little Miss Sunshine,’’’ he says with a laugh. His parents took the brood to the Oregon Coast a lot, and that 1976 yellow VW van’s starter was always going out. “I remember we had my sister and mom blocking the intersections in places like Lincoln City while we pushed the van to get it started.”

He’s got a brother, Steve, an RN in Portland, and another Portland-based brother, Mark, owner of a micro-car shop. His older sister, Amy, is a newspaper journalist in Grand Junction, Colorado – a real lifer, with the written word coursing through her blood. She’s encouraged Chris to write down his story.

Their mother went to UC-Berkley, and has been a public education teacher for over 25 years. Their father (divorced when he was 12) got into real estate but is now living in New Zealand.

That one-way ticket to Singapore that got him into Southeast Asia, ended with him running out of money after a year, but he was able to get to Darwin, Australia, by paying a fishing boat in East Timor to get him down under illegally. He spent time picking Aussie Chardonnay grapes to stake himself in order to see that continent.

He was blown away by the kangaroo migration, a scene that involved a few million ‘roos kicking up great clouds of red dust. He ended up going through Alice Springs to see the sacred Uluru (formally known as Ayers Rock). He met undocumented immigrants from El Salvador and Greece while making money picking oranges.

We talk about some frightening times in our travels, and per usual, the worst incidents involved criminals or bad hombres, not with wildlife. For Chris, his close call with death occurred in Guatemala where he, his female supervisor (a Panamanian) and another raptor specialist were confronted by men on horses, brandishing machetes and leading tracker dogs.

“’We’ll let you live if you give us the woman.’ That’s what they gave us as our option.” The bird team went back into the jungle, the two male researchers buried their female companion with leaves, and then Chris and the other guy took off running all night long.

The banditos chased them through the jungle. He laughed saying they ran virtually blind in places where eyelash vipers (one bite, and three steps and you’re dead), coral snakes and tropical rattlesnakes lived in abundance.

“It’s a very creepy feeling being hunted by men with dogs.” Luckily, the female team member headed out the opposite direction, with a radio. All in a day’s work for environmentalists.

That’s saying, “all in a day’s work,” is ominous since we both talk about how most indigenous and local environmental leaders in so many countries have been murdered by loggers, miners, oil men, ranchers, and coca processors (many times executed by paid-for military soldiers).

Never Return or There Will Be Tears

Two telling quotes from world-renown traveler and writer, Paul Theroux, strike me as apropos for a story about Chris Hatten:

Tourists don’t know where they’ve been, travelers don’t know where they’re going.

You go away for a long time and return a different person – you never come all the way back.

We talk about a crackling campfire being the original TV, and how being out in wilderness with 5 or 10 people for an extended period gets one really connected to working with people and counting on them to be friends and support.

“It’s tough going back to places I’ve been,” he says with great lamentation. In Borneo, a return trip years later discombobulated him. “The rainforest is being plowed over daily. I couldn’t tell where I was walking miles and miles through palm oil plantations. It was as if the jungle had been swallowed up.”

What once was a vibrant, multilayered super rich and diverse place of amazing flora and fauna has been turned into a virtual desert of a monocrop.

This reality is some of the once most abundant and ecologically distinct places on earth are no longer that. “This is the problem with any wildlife reintroduction program. You can breed captive animals like, for instance, the orangutan but there’s nowhere to release them. Everywhere is stripped of jungle, healthy habitat.”

The concept of rewilding any place is becoming more and more theoretical.

We climb the hill where the clear-cut will occur. Chris and I talk about a serious outdoor education center – a place where Lincoln County students could show up for one, two or three days of outdoor learning. We’re serious about reframing the role of schools and what youth need to have in order to be engaged and desirous of learning.

That theoretical school could be right here, with Chris as the lead outdoor/ecological instructor.

All those trees, terrestrial animals, avian creatures, smack dab on an estuary leading to a bay which leads to the Pacific is highly unique – and a perfect place from which to really get hands on learning as the core curriculum.

We imagine young people learning the history, geology, biology, and ecology of where they live. Elders in the woods teaching them how to smoke salmon, how to build a lean-to, how to see outside the frame of consumption/purchasing/screen-time.

Interestingly, while Chris has no desire to have children, he has taught tropical biology/ecology to an international student body at the Richmond Vale Academy on the island of Saint Vincent (part of the Grenadines).

Koreans, Russians, Venezuelans, Peruvians and Vincennes learned organic farming, bio-fuel production, solar power design, how to grow passion and star fruit. There is even a little horse program in the school, founded by two Danes.

Chris said that the local population is taught about medicinal plants, recycling and responsible waste disposal. “Everything used to be wrapped in banana leaves in their grandparents’ time. Now there is all this single-use plastic waste littering the island.

Like the dynamic rainforest that once carpeted the Central Coast – with herds of elk, wolves, grizzlies and myriad other species – much of the world is being bulldozed over, dammed and mined. Wildlife leave, stop breeding, never repopulate fractured areas where human activities are the norm.

But given that, when I asked Chris where he might like to go now, he mentioned Croatia, his mother’s side of the family roots. He may have swum with 60-foot-long whale sharks and kayaked over orcas, but Chris is still jazzed up about raptors – maybe he’d end up on the Croatian island of Cres which is a refuge for the spectacular griffon vulture.

“Nature has a purpose beyond anything an extraction-based society puts its monetary value on trees. We have to show young people there is value to natural ecosystems beyond extracting everything for a profit.”

One-Minute Q and A

Paul Haeder: What is your life philosophy?

Chris Hatten: Make the best use of your time. Time is short.

PH: How do we fix this extractive “resources” system that is so rapacious?

CH: We need to value forests for the many multitude of services they provide, not just quick rotations. Forests are not the same as fields of crops.

PH: Give any young person currently in high school, say, in Lincoln County, advice on what they might get out of life if they took your advice? What’s that advice?

CH: Get off your phone, lift up your head, see the world for yourself as it really is, then make necessary changes to it and yourself.

PH: What’s one of the most interesting things you’ve experienced — what, where, when, why, how?

CH: I have had very poor people offer to give me all they had in several different countries. Strangers have come to my aid with no thought of reward.

PH: In a nutshell, define the Timber Unity movement to say someone new to Oregon.

CH: They are people who mostly work in rural Oregon in resource extraction industries and believe they are forgotten.

PH: If you were to have a tombstone, what would be on it once you kick the bucket?

CH: “Lived.”

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 2013-03-15-the-free-horse_0409.jpg

Running in step, at sunset on the beach with horse St. Vincent and Grenadines

Pink Tide Against US Domination Rising Again In Latin America

(Photo from Dissent Magazine)

Once again, the left is rising in Latin America as people revolt against authoritarian regimes, many of whom were put in place by US-supported coups. These regimes have taken International Monetary Fund (IMF) loans and are under the thumb of international finance, which is against the interests of people.After the embattled President of Ecuador claimed that President Nicolas Maduro was the cause of the massive protests against him, Maduro made clear what was occurring in Latin America, saying:

We have two models: the IMF model which privatizes everything and takes away the people’s rights to health, education and work; and the humanist-progressive model which is emerging in Latin America and has the Bolivarian Revolution at the forefront.

Maduro’s clear understanding of the conflict is why it has been so important for the US to remove him. His success in defeating ongoing US coup attempts is a model guiding Latin America to a future independent of US domination.

Ecuadorians celebrate the repeal of Decree 883 (From Twitter)

Ecuador in Rebellion Against IMF and the US Puppet Moreno

On October 4, Moreno proclaimed the end of a 40-year policy of fuel and petrol subsidies, which had traditionally benefited his country’s working-class population. He also announced a 20 percent decrease in the salary of public employees and initiated plans to privatize pensions. He removed workplace and job security safeguards. Decree 883, known as ‘The Package’, was a series of neoliberal policies demanded by the IMF in return for a $4.2 billion dollar loan. It was preceded by policies for the wealthy including reducing their taxes.

The IMF loan was part of Moreno serving as a puppet and bowing to multiple US demands. Ecuador promised to settle a long dispute with Chevron whose oil drilling and pipelines have polluted the country. Tens of billions of dollars in restitution from Chevron are at stake but Moreno said he is willing to give them up. In fact, the IMF loan is strange in that it was dependent on Ecuador paying external debt obligations; i.e., it was not new funds for Ecuador but new debt to subsidize paying back Wall Street.

In making the announcement, Moreno called the people “Zánganos,” or Drone Bees leading to the uprising of the Drone Bees. The mass protests were called by the Popular Front, a group of unions, and the Unified Workers Federation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE). Students and social movements joined protests throughout the nation in Loja, Guayaquil, Cuenca, Ambato, and Riobamba, among other cites as well as Quito, the capital. Moreno claimed without any evidence that the uprising was financed by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and Correa.

Protests in Ecuador were relentless with no end in sight. They grew when 20,000 indigenous people marched into Quito. Police responded with violence, tear gas, and mass arrests. An October 4 video circulated on social media showed nonviolent protesters killed in the street by the police as well as other police violence. On October 5, Moreno declared a 60-day state of Emergency. Sometimes police had to retreat in the face of mass protests. On October 7, Moreno fled the capital to hide in the Navy base 260 miles away in the conservative stronghold of Guayaquil.

As we wrote this newsletter, unrest in Ecuador was escalating. On Saturday, the nation was put on military lockdown. Law enforcement attacked protesters with pellets and tear gas in the immediate vicinity of the  National Assembly. By Sunday, Moreno decreed a 3:00 pm curfew, which people defied. Then, facing an emergency session in the National Assembly, Moreno backed down. Protesters celebrated when Moreno’s government announced that Decree 883 had been repealed after eleven days of popular mobilizations.

Peter Koenig describes a root cause of the problems:

Since January 2000, Ecuador’s economy is 100% dollarized, compliments of the IMF (entirely controlled by the US Treasury, by force of an absolute veto). The other two fully dollarized Latin American countries are El Salvador and Panama.

The US and IMF used the economic crises of the 1990s to dollarize Ecuador’s economy and gain full control over the nation’s riches as Ecuador is the second-largest oil economy in South America. This led to unaffordable goods for Ecuadorians, social unrest and a series of unstable governments until President Correa, who served from 2007 to 17, was elected.

A Center for Economic and Policy Research 2017 report found under Correa Ecuador did well with an average annual GDP growth of 1.5%  compared to 0.6% average for the previous 26 years; a decline of 38% in poverty with extreme poverty reduced by 47%; and a decline in inequality with the Gini coefficient falling substantially. Correa doubled social spending from 4.3% in 2006 to 8.6% in 2016; tripling education spending from 0.7% to 2.1%; and, increasing public investments from 4% of GDP in 2006 to 10% in 2016.

Correa served two terms. A third term would have required a constitutional amendment. Rather than running, Correa endorsed Lenin Moreno who had served as his vice president from 2007-13. He was expected to continue Correa’s policies but instead reversed them.

Moreno was unpopular before announcing ‘The Package’ due to structural poverty increasing from 23.1 percent in June 2017 to 25.5 percent in June 2019 with projections of 30 percent by the end of the year. Injustices like the imprisonment of the popular former Vice President Jorge Glas on dubious charges and his continuous political witch hunt against Rafael Correa and other leaders of the Citizens’ Revolution Party added to his unpopularity. In addition, he has been engulfed in a personal corruption crisis involving an offshore Shell corporation INA, which cast Moreno’s presidency in doubt.

Moreno’s forcible and illegal ejection of Julian Assange from the London embassy in return for payoffs from the US and UK resulted in a national strike in Ecuador in July. This, along with the arrest of Ola Bini, who is being prosecuted falsely as a conspirator with Wikileaks, was unpopular with Ecuadorians.

Will repeal of ‘The Package’ end the protests and the threat to Moreno’s presidency? As we write, the answer to these questions are unclear. The people won a major victory, but the Moreno/IMF infection remains.

Rally in Argentina (By Enfoque Rojo)

Latin Americans Rising Against the Right and US Domination

Latin American countries are rejecting neoliberalism and US domination using multiple strategies to achieve change.

This month the deepening anti-capitalist movement in Bolivia is set to strengthen with the probable re-election of Evo Morales on October 20. Argentina is expected to remove right-wing President Mauricio Macri on October 27 and replace him with Alberto Fernandez. And, Mexico put in place its first progressive, left-of-center government with the election of Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) on July 1, 2018. Elections are also upcoming in Uruguay on October 27 and in Peru in January. Venezuela may have National Assembly elections in January as well.

Bolivia’s Evo Morales has a 13-point lead in polls as his governing party Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) looks to re-election for a third Morales term that will last until 2025. Morales has 38.8 percent, just 1.2 percent short of the 40 percent required for a first-round victory in the upcoming elections. The survey also indicated majority support for the nationalization of gas and strategic industries, 51 percent say that public ownership is positive for the economy. On social programs, 61.7 percent say they are essential for providing dignity to those of low incomes.

Morales has launched a large reforestation plan and put in place a model healthcare program. He is under attack from the United States and segments of Bolivia. Morales leads an independent, sovereign Bolivia that has rejected US dominance, decolonized and displaced neoliberalism. A recent color revolution attempt by the wealthy, with the support of the US and western powers, failed.

Argentina’s first round of voting on August 11 resulted in Fernandez, running with former president Cristina Kirchner, finishing 15 percent ahead of Macri. The surprising landslide brought into question Macri’s ability to govern between now and the election. As a result, the IMF put a $5.4 billion dollar loan on hold part of the $56.3 billion stand-by agreement signed in mid-2018. Fernandez opposed the loan, which required sharp budget cuts affecting public services at a time of increasing poverty.

Under Macri, the economy has gone into crisis with poverty increasing to a record 36.4 percent, a recession accompanied by a 47 percent inflation rate in 2018 and an inflation rate of 25.1 percent during the first seven months of this year. Argentina’s unemployment is at the highest level in 14 years. Poverty was at 19.7 percent when Kirchner left office in 2015. Fernandez has put forward an anti-hunger plan, not dependent on the IMF. Three weeks before the election, thousands of people rallied in Buenos Aires as the Workers Left Front sent a message of opposition to neoliberalism and austerity to the two major political parties.

In Mexico, AMLO won a landslide 53 percent of the vote on July 31 ending decades of right-wing rule. People were fed up with the corruption, impunity, and violence — decades of loss of rights, pillaging and destruction of the nation’s wealth and public enterprises. At his inauguration, AMLO decried 36 years of neoliberalism and public and private corruption, promised a “peaceful and radical” transition with “indigenous people as its priority,” in a government “for the good of all, first the poor.” His fight against neoliberalism is challenged by NAFTA II (or the USMCA), as AMLO is careful not to confront Trump on this. On border policy, AMLO offered migrants home in Mexico and urged investment in Central America.

The Zapatistas have conflicted with AMLO over the exploitation of resources and the use of the military in policing, demanding its autonomy based on indigenous principles but he has sought diplomacy with them. AMLO has also faced massive strikes of tens of thousands of autoworkers, workers at US companies in Mexico and wildcat strikes at the border. AMLO has been a counterweight to US aggression in Latin America standing with Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba.

Peru is in the midst of a crisis. President Martin Vizcarra who came into office after a corruption scandal removed his predecessor, dissolved the Congress, a move supported by the left, because it is controlled by far-right politician Keiko Fujimori and was preventing Vizcarra’s anti-corruption campaign. Congress ignored the president’s order and voted to remove him from office instead. The vice president resigned rather than take over and Vizcarra remains in office with the support of the military. He has now called for new congressional elections to be held on January 26. Vizcarra is a conservative battling the oligarchic right. The left, which has been divided, is coalescing around the Popular National Assembly and allying with social movements. The movements want an end to neoliberal policies, a Constituent Assembly to draft a new Constitution and to break with Washington’s domination.

In Central America, Honduras has been in revolt against the coup government of Juan Orlando Hernandez (JOH), which for ten years has put in place neoliberalism, repression, and violence. Protests have been ongoing since his coup and fraudulent re-election. This summer, protests intensified with a national strike over austerity and privatization measures required by an IMF loan, leading to a 66-day uprising.  The US has trained Honduran police to use repressive measures in an attempt to stop the protests, but their actions feed more protests.

Many have fled Honduras in caravans to escape the corruption and violence. Now, a coalition of civil groups is urging the president’s departure over a scandal ignited by accusations of large-scale drug trafficking to the United States being litigated against the president’s brother Juan Antonio “Tony” Hernandez. In the trial, several witnesses have declared JOH’s campaign was financed with drug money, and that he took millions in bribes from various Mexican drug lords, including the infamous Joaquin “El-Chapo” Guzman. The Liberal Party joined in calling for his resignation and protests have intensified. The trial may be the end of this cocaine-fueled presidency.

Brazil’s election of Bolsonaro has been marred by scandal now that the corruption of Operation Car Wash has been exposed. Private conversations between the prosecutors and then-judge Sergio Moro, now Super Minister of Justice, show that former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was the “victim of a conspiracy” to prevent him from running against Bolsonaro.  In the secret exchanges, Moro admitted that the corruption case was designed to frame him. Lula has said the US is behind the conspiracy.

Calls to free Lula are increasing and the Supreme Court will be reviewing the case. Lula is demanding his record be cleared and refused a panicked offer from prosecutors that he be freed from jail and put under house arrest. Bolsonaro is also under attack for the Amazon fires, for an increase in police killings, for genocide against the Indigenous and for attacks on public education. Former President Michel Temer acknowledged that the impeachment of former president Dilma Rousseff, the Worker’s Party leader, was a coup d’etat.

Nicaragua survived a 2018 US coup attempt and the revolution continues to thrive after 40 years of independence from US domination after US-backed dictator Anastasio Somoza fled. People were very confused about what happened in the 2018 coup attempt as media misinformation was prevalent. A group of us joined and produced a reader to help people understand the reality of Nicaragua. Peace is coming back to Nicaragua, even though continued pressure from the US is expected in the form of new illegal sanctions.

Venezuela, which we have reported on intensively for years, has also survived ongoing coup attempts that continue to escalate in the post-John Bolton era of the Trump administration most recently with a threat of war through the Organization of American States (OAS). They are prepared for a military attack and have created new alliances to overcome the US economic war. This week, Russia announced it was investing $16.5 billion in Venezuela by the end of 2019.

Russia has provided anti-missile defense systems, is keeping Navy ships in Venezuela to deter a US blockade and has helped gather intelligence on US actions. With their help, Venezuela has uncovered terrorist plots coming from Colombia and involving US-puppet Juan Guiado’s team. Guaido has faltered and failed time and again, and now is being investigated for ties to Colombian drug traffickers and corruption.

The non-aligned movement of 120 nations met in Caracas this summer and expressed support for Venezuelan sovereignty.  Venezuela has been a lynchpin for left movements in Latin America. When oil prices were high, it shared its wealth not only with poorest Venezuelans but with other countries seeking to challenge US and oligarch domination. Even in the midst of an escalating economic war with the United States, they continue to provide housing, food, and essentials to their people.

Protesters in Haiti (Twitter)

Caribbean Resistance

In the Caribbean, Cuba is challenged by the US economic war but continues its revolution. Mass protests in Haiti threaten the survival of the government and Puerto Rico’s revolt removed a governor.

Cuba, despite the increasing US economic war, continues to be a bulwark against US imperialism, standing with governments like Venezuela and Nicaragua when they are under attack. Cuba completed a successful transition to a new president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, and voted on a new constitution developed using a participatory process involving 9 million people through 133,000 citizen meetings. The constitution includes “universal and free health, education, sports and recreation, culture and respect for human dignity.” Cuba is currently facing major economic challenges as the US is blocking their access to oil. Russia and Venezuela are helping Cuba overcome this oil blockade.

Haiti has been in protest since April calling for an end to neoliberal US domination and the resignation of Jovenel Moise. The president has not spoken in public since the beginning of this latest round of protests and this week he named a commission of seven politicians to lead discussions for a solution to end the crisis.

In Puerto Rico, a colony of the United States, massive protests led to Governor Ricardo A. Rosselló resigning on July 22, 2019. People also want the corrupt legislature cleaned out, the Fiscal Control Board, created by Obama, ended and the debt to be audited. Former political prisoner, Luis Rosa, said three things are needed: “decolonization, an end to our colonial status through a constitutional assembly; health care, free for all Puerto Rican citizens; and free public education up through the university level.”

Stephen Sefton wrote a country-by-country review of Latin America and the Caribbean in June describing the decline of the United States in the region and how changes were coming to many nations. He predicted that we are seeing “the last throw of the dice for the US to retain its accustomed power and influence against the relentless fundamental drive for emancipation by the region’s impoverished majority.”

Rafael Correa said: “Neoliberalism is what failed, not socialism of the 21st century, on the contrary, socialism of the 21st century is what has us firmly on our feet, withstanding all of these difficulties.” This hemisphere is a key battleground in the conflict between neoliberalism v Socialism and US dominance v. independence. People are demanding democracy from the bottom up and a fair economy that meets their needs.

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.

Security, Safety, Security! Dictatorship by Democracy

The other day, checking in at a European airport for an international flight, within about an hour it took to deposit my luggage, going through airport security, the metal detectors, body screening machines, the automatic passport reading procedure, waiting at the gate and finally boarding, I have heard or read the words security and safety, honestly speaking, more than a hundred times. There are now countless primitive videos – in fact, insultingly primitive videos – that show you the precise procedures to follow to keep you safe and secure. All you have to do is follow them to keep your life safe and in secure hands. It is a constant indoctrination that we are in danger and that the democracy around us keeps us safe.

Some paper in my shirt pocket and a handkerchief I didn’t remove from my pocket had to go through a special ‘dust reader’; my hands were also ‘dusted off’ and the special tissue used for it also went through the ‘reader’ only then, when indeed the result was negative, was I free to collect my things and get redressed. I wondered aloud how many valuable items, like cell phones, laptops, cameras and so on – ‘disappear’ – or get ‘lost’ in the hassle, and I could not shut up making my comments about the nonsense – the George Bush invented 9/11 endless war on terror, that itself was based on a false flag; i.e., the  self-imposed 9/11 – and that prompted this forced submission to an ever-more degrading and harassing security procedure. About three security agents descended on me – this time politely, I must say, assuring me that all this was for my own safety. Naturally. How could it be different. We want you to be safe and secure, Sir. Bingo. It’s difficult to protest against so much protective kindness.

Does anybody have an idea on what this security and safety industry – the machines and apparatuses, and ever newly invented security gadgets – cost?  And the profit they bring to the war and security industry and their shareholders, many of whom are former high-ranking US and other western government officials?  The airport security business alone is estimated at between US$ 25 and 30 billion per year. What can I say? These airport security employees have jobs; they have been trained to use these billions-worth devices to intimidate and harass people into fear, into obeying, into blindly, no questions asked, following the dictate of democracy. Most of these security agents don’t know much about what they are doing. They have a noble job: protecting the world from terrorists, a job that keeps them proudly off an ever-growing mass of unemployed, or underemployed, lowly-paid workers. Free thinking is not allowed, lest you are pushed out into the cold, to join the ranks of beggars, of the socially unfit, who depend on government handouts.

Once on the plane, I couldn’t believe my eyes. There was a flight attendant by the name of “security and safety”. Well, that was her title, instead of a real name. Lovely, I thought. It doesn’t stop. Security and safety brainwashing permeate every fiber 24/7 of our lives.

Security and safety über alles! – Heil to the neocons, heil to the neonazis that have taken over the reins of our every-day life. And I’m not talking about the political parties of the extreme ‘right’ in France or Germany, they are just puppets for the invisible elite, for those ‘deepstaters’ that pull the strings behind the Trumps, Macrons, Merkels and Mays of this world. – Of course, it’s all for your security, my security, at best, for national security – not theirs, the ones who impose these nonsensical rules, rules that serve strictly for no other purpose than to oppress the common citizen, to brainwash the populace into believing that they are under a constant threat of attack.

Back to the airport. At the hand baggage x-ray control, where everybody has to put their cosmetics in a transparent plastic bag, pull out their laptops, tablets and cameras, and are being told what items are not allowed on board, ridiculous stuff, absolutely hilariously ridiculous – if it wasn’t that serious – and all for your own safety, naturally – I was being pushed aside for a service man who delivered a case of bananas to the restaurant in the waiting hall. His bananas had to be cleared by the x-ray machine. Imagine!  They could be objects of terror, maybe even weapons of mass destruction – WMDs.

The real WMDs that kill millions on an every-day basis, in Yemen, in Syria, in Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Afghanistan – and the list goes on – nobody talks about. They have become common staple of our “secure” and “safe” world. The UN, during the ongoing Annual Meeting in New York, declared Yemen a country governed by terror – yes, the Yemenis, who are starved to death like no other nation in recent history, with – also according to the same UN – 5 million children at high risk of death by famine. Not the Saudis, or the United States of America, or the UK, the French, the Spaniards, who feed the Saudis with war planes and bombs, with real weapons of mass destructions are the terror nations. No, it’s Yemen. What world have we ended up with?

We are governed by a bunch of criminals and crooks, who benefit from our ignorance and mentally challenged brains. In the submissive west, the utterly brainwashed and by now almost brainless populace is reminded that we are screened for security purposes, for our own security. Every time the screws of security are tightened a little more, the arms are twisted a bit further, just a tiny bit – never forget, it’s only for our security and safety. By the time, my dear fellow citizens, we realize that our arms are broken and our skulls and brains smashed beyond repair, it’s too late.

As we are reminded by our masters that keep us secure and safe, we are also reminded that we are living in the only democracy that exists on the planet, namely western style democracy. Never mind, this democracy is often, most often, in fact, imposed to the rest of the world by sledgehammer, or even by WMDs. We, of course, don’t know that; we are made believe that all those countries that are being ‘regime-changed’, or destroyed for the sake of democracy are being destroyed for the betterment of their citizens living conditions. That’s what we are made believe. There is no other set of nations – with a thousand years of horrific history of exploitation, killing, raping, looting, lying – than the west. And the west, to this day, continues lying and manipulating peoples’ minds in a more sophisticated way than even Goebbels could have dreamed of.

Can you imagine – the “Peru Six”, the neocons – very close to neonazis – of the Americas – (Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Paraguay, Perú and Canada), of course, all in the pockets of Washington, have had the unbelievable audacity to file a lawsuit at the International Court of Justice of The Hague against Venezuela for torturing and oppressing her people to the point that 2 million had to leave the country. This is such a flagrant multiple lie – it is actually a crime against humanity, against the only – yes, the very only real democracy left in the west, Venezuela – to make one’s stomach churn.

The maximum 500,000 to 700,000 Venezuelans, who, according to UNHCR and the International Organization of Migration, have migrated to neighboring countries, because of the foreign imposed – yes, totally foreign imposed, sanctions of the US and the EU – plus shamefully neutral Switzerland – horrendous economic conditions of the country. The Maduro Government is struggling to reverse that situation by de-linking Venezuela’s economy from the dollar economy, by creating new alliances with the east, in particular China and Russia. And as there are signs that the wheel may be turning favorably for Venezuela, some of the migrants are already returning.

But can you imagine what these six Latin American Washington bootlickers do to the reputation of Venezuela? And they may actually be welcome in The Hague, especially after John Bolton, Trump’s neocon “Security Adviser” – again Heil-Heil Security! – has warned the judges of this once-upon-a-time noble-intentioned international court, to beware and behave, and never pursue (war) crimes committed by the United States and Israel, meaning in clear text – obey and do what is in the interest of the exceptional nation(s), or else. So, the ICJ may actually be compelled to consider the malicious and totally fake and deceitful complaint of the Peru Six seriously.

And all that under the name of democracy.

Wake up, dear co-citizens! Its high time. We are living in an abject Security Dictatorship, called Democracy. It imposes an ever-increasing militarization, becomes an ever more brutal police state, or better, an association of brutal police states, to be sure, that if and when you wake up, your awakening will be smashed with visceral power of a legalized, totally legitimate Security Dictatorship. If we don’t act now – and acting starts at these dreadful, humiliating and harassing security stupidities we accept every day at airports around the world – we will be fried for good. Stand up, folks! Stand up for your rights and against the day-in-day-out brainwashing of keeping you secure. Let’s take back our security sovereignty. We, and only we, as citizens, colleagues and comrades, are responsible for our own security. Let not security and safety be imposed by criminal, warmongering, children-killing Security Democracies, namely our western governments.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The conversation covered three key topics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kuczynski, the “Lima Group”, Venezuela and the Eighth Summit of the Americas , by Julio Yao Villalaz

“The Venezuelan President will not set foot on our soil or enter the air space of Peru”. This is what the President of Peru, correction, former President of Peru, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, declared just a little while ago. Trapped in a scheme of international corruption which binds him to the now famous “Odebrecht Case”, Kuczynski will not attend the Summit of the Americas scheduled to take place in Peru mid-April. For Julio Yao, the Panaman and Diplomatic Analyst, the resignation of the Peruvian President, which occurred only a few hours ago, is endangering the manoeuvre plotted around the so-called Lima Group against the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, whose President, Nicolas Maduro, playfully asked this Thursday, in a televised appearance: “Who then is going to receive me in (...)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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