China in Latin America
In a decision made very timely amid new mobilizations against oil and mineral operations on peasant and indigenous lands, Peru's high court last month struck down a provision of the country's penal code that rights advocates said criminalized the right to "social protest." The July 6 ruling by the Constitutional Tribunal voided an amendment to Article 200 of the Penal Code that had been instated under Legislative Decree 1237, issued by then-president Ollanta Humala in September 2015. The decree expanded the definition of "extortion" to apply not only to use of force to gain "economic advantage" but also "advantage of any other nature." This expanded definition has been used to bring criminal charges against protesters who have blocked roads or occupied oil-fields or mining installations. The legal challenge to the decree was brought by an alliance of regional human rights organizations led by the Legal Defense Institute (IDL). (IDL, Servindi, July 7)
Following a trial lasting years, a criminal court in Peru's Cuzco region on Jan. 30 finally absolved 10 campesinos from Chumbivilcas province of charges related to a 2011 protest against the ANABI mineral project, which they say threatens the headwaters of the Rio Yahuarmayo (also known as the Molino). The defendants—nine men and one woman—are followers of the Tupac Amaru Agrarian Federation of Cuzco (FARTAC). They had been charged with "disturbance," "deprivation of liberty," "aggravated property damage," and other offenses typically used against protesters in Peru. If convicted, they could have faced up to 30 years in prison. The ANABI gold and copper mine is in neighboring Apurímac region, but the minerals are transported through Chumbivilcas on unimproved roads, raising dust that contaminates local lands and waters. (Diario Uno, Jan. 30; Wayka, Jan. 20)
Chilean company Sociedad Quimica y Minera (SQM), under pressure from the government amid falling prices and rising protests, committed Nov. 28 to define by year's end the destination for lithium from its lease area at the Salar de Maricunga. SQM, one of the world's top producers, already has a larger lithium mine in production at another area of salt-flats, the Salar de Atacama—but operations there were suspended for several days late last month, as local campesinos blocked roads to the site as part of the general popular uprising in Chile. Leaders of the Consejo de Pueblos Atacameños, representing 18 indigenous communities, pledged to resist any expansion of lithium operations in the area, citing threats to local water sources. SQM has options to collaborate in development of the Maricunga lease with state mineral company Codelco, but announcement of a deal has been delayed amid depressed global lithium prices. This is partly attributed to a cut in government subsidies for purchasers of electric vehicles in China, a main destination for Chilean lithium. (Mundo Maritimo, Nov. 29; Reuters, Nov. 28; FT, Nov. 21; El Ciudadano, Chile, Oct. 27)
Bolivia's government issued a decree cancelling a massive joint lithium project with German multinational ACI Systems Alemania (ACISA)—just days before the ouster of President Evo Morales. The move came in response to protests by local residents in the southern department of Potosí, where the lithium-rich salt-flats are located. Potosí governor Juan Carlos Cejas reacted to the cancellation by blaming the protests on "agitators" seeking to undermine development in the region. (DW, Nov. 4)
The US and Brazil on Sept. 13 announced an agreement to promote private-sector development in the Amazon rainforest. US officials said a $100 million fund will be established to "protect biodiversity" by supporting businesses in hard-to-reach areas of the forest. At the meeting in Washington where the pact was struck, Brazil's foreign minister Ernesto Araujo said: "We want to be together in the endeavour to create development for the Amazon region which we are convinced is the only way to protect the forest. So we need new initiatives, new productive initiatives, that create jobs, that create revenue for people in the Amazon and that's where our partnership with the United States will be very important for us." (BBC News, Sept. 14; AFP, Sept. 13)
The Venezuelan government has announced an expansion of Chinese investment in the country's oil industry, with the aim of increasing production by 120,000 barrels per day. The investment, placed at $3 billion, will underwrite the construction of a new oil blending plant inaugurated this month as the first part of the two-stage plan. The "Jose" plant, in Barcelona, Anzoátegui state, is to be run by Sinovensa, a joint venture 49% owned by the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) and 51% by Venezuela's PDVSA state oil company. The facility will blend extra-heavy grades from Venezuela's Orinoco Oil Belt into the exportable Merey crude, primarily for Asian markets. Sinovensa currently produces 110,000 barrels per day, a figure officials say will increase to 165,000 bpd with the addition of the new blending plant. A second stage of the project is projected to increase this figure to 230,000 bpd, but details have been disclosed. (VenezuelAnalysis, Aug. 12)
Peru is to sign a memorandum of understanding to join China's Belt & Road international infrastructure initiative, Beijing's ambassador to Lima said April 24. Ambassador Jia Guide made the announcement at a private party in Lima alongside Peru's vice president, Mercedes Araoz. The soirée came as China kicked off a three-day summit in Beijing to promote the international project, which is also known as the New Silk Road. Peru's trade minister Roger Valencia attended the Beijing summit, where he announced that a revision of Lima's Free Trade Agreement with China will be implemented next year.
The Solomon Islands' caretaker Prime Minister Rick Hou is threatening to "blacklist" the companies involved in a 100-ton oil-spill near a UNESCO World Heritage Site. "My government is prepared to go as far as putting the companies on a black list internationally if they do not take on their responsibilities," he told a press conference March 7, without elaborating on how this would actually sanction the companies involved. He did say the lease for the Bauxite mine could be suspended. Hou, who faces an election next month, has called in Australia's assistance to clean up the spill, which he described as causing "irreversible damage," acknowledging his country's resources were inadequate for the task. "The impact on the marine life and the coral is already massive with much of it irreversible," he said.