The proliferation of pits and ponds created in recent years by miners dredging for small deposits of alluvial gold in Peru's Amazon has dramatically altered the landscape and increased the risk of mercury exposure for indigenous communities and wildlife, a new study shows. The study, published in Science Advances Nov. 27, found a 670% increase in the extent of ponds across the landscape in heavily mined watersheds since 1985. These formerly forested landscapes are now increasingly dotted by these small lakes, which provide low-oxygen conditions in which submerged mercury—a toxic leftover from the mining process—can be converted by microbial activity into an even more toxic form of the element, called methylmercury, at net rates 5-to-7 times greater than in rivers. The miners use mercury, a potent neurotoxin, to separate ore from soil and sediments, often without adequate safety precautions to protect themselves or the environment. Some of the mercury used by the miners is burned off into the air or spilled into nearby rivers, creating far-reaching environmental and human health risks. Artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM) is now believed to be the largest global source of anthropogenic mercury emissions.
Hundreds of striking farmworkers are blocking the Panamerican highway through southern Peru, demanding revocation of a decree extending an anti-labor agricultural reform law that was supposed to sunset this year. The protests, launched Nov. 30, have prompted the central government to send a dialogue team from Lima to Ica region, but the farmworkers have refused dismantle the roadblocks, insisting on a face-to-face meeting with Agriculture Minister Federico Tenorio. At issue is Law No. 27360, or the Law for Agrarian Promotion—dubbed the Chlimper Law for its author, José Chlimper, who served as agriculture minister under the authoritarian regime of Alberto Fujimori in the 1990s.
Police and demonstrators clashed in Paris Nov. 28 as some 45,000 filled the streets to protest a new security law, with large mobilizations also seen in Bordeaux, Lille, Montpellier and Nantes. The new law would severely restrict publishing of the images of police officers. The issue was given greater urgency by video footage of Paris police savagely beating local Black music producer Michel Zecler days earlier. President Emmanuel Macron said the images "shame us," but critics point out that their release could have been barred if his new security law had already been in force. Four officers have been suspended over the incident, but there have been no arrests. (Al Jazeera, NYT, EuroNews)
Thousands of farmers from across India's north marched on Delhi despite efforts by police to block them with road barricades, tear-gas and baton charges Nov. 27. The cross-country march, which converged from Punjab and Haryana states, entered the capital one day after several Indian states were shut down by a general strike in support of the farmers' demands. This was called by a newly formed Joint Platform of Central Trade Unions bringing together 10 of the country's major organized labor federations. Leaders claimed 25 crore (250 million) workers participated in the strike. The "Chalo Delhi" (Go to Delhi) mobilization was called to protest a package of agricultural reform laws passed in September that lifts requirements for government purchases of grain at guaranteed prices. (IndustriAll, FirstPost, PTI, Al Jazeera, NDTV, AP, NewsClick)
Cuban police agents raided the headquarters of the dissident San Isidro Movement (MSI) in Old Havana on Nov. 26 and arrested the 14 activists who were inside the building, several of whom had been on hunger strike for the past week. Simultaneously, authorities cut off access to Facebook and Instagram across the island, in an apparent attempt to prevent images and reports of the raid from being disseminated. A tweet from MSI stated: "Agents of the dictatorship broke into our headquarters, savagely beat our compañeros, took them away and we do not know their whereabouts. We fear for their physical integrity." Cuban authorities said the raid was carried out over a violation of pandemic restrictions.
Four gunmen shot and killed local anti-mining activist Fikile Ntshangase at her home in South Africa's KwaZulu-Natal province Oct. 22. Ntshangase, 65, was a leading member of the Mfolozi Community Environmental Justice Organisation (MCEJO), which is taking legal action to prevent the expansion of an open-cast coal mine at Somkhele, on the southeastern border of the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi game park. MCEJO also says the mine's existing operations should be halted because they are not compliant with environmental and other laws.
Thousands protested in Guatemala's capital Nov. 21 against a newly approved 2021 national budget that imposes deep cuts in funding for health care, education and programs to combat malnutrition—at a time when the country is hit hard by natural disasters and COVID-19. One breakaway group of protesters hurled improvised incendiary devices at the Congress building, setting it on fire. Police used batons and tear-gas to push protesters back, attacking not only the some 1,000 in front of Congress but also a much larger demonstration in front of the National Palace. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) condemned what it called an "excessive use of force" by the National Civil Police, while the government of President Alejandro Giammattei accused the protesters of "terrorist acts" that will be "punished with the full force of the law." (NYT, Al Jazeera, Prensa Libre, Prensa Libre)
At least 16 people have been killed in protests in Uganada since the arrest of two leading opposition candidates in upcoming presidential elections Nov. 18. One of the detained candidates, popular musician-turned-politician Bobi Wine (real name Robert Kyagulanyi), was accused of breaking COVID-19 restrictions at campaign rallies. Both he and fellow candidate Patrick Amuriat Oboi were detained while on their way to attend rallies. Four candidates, including two former military generals, have suspended their campaigns following the arrests. The military has been deployed to put down the protests in Kampala and other cities. Protesters are tearing down and burning campaign billboards of incumbent President Yoweri Museveni who has been in power since 1986, before the majority of Ugandans were born.