China in Latin America

Peru: pueblos divided on Bambas mega-mine

Chinese-owned MMG Ltd on March 24 announced that it has secured approval from Peru's Ministry of Energy & Mines (MINEM) to expand its copper mine at Las Bambas,  despite ongoing outrage from local campesino communities. The country's fourth-largest copper mine and the world's ninth-largest, Las Bambas has been repeatedly shut down by peasant protests since it opened in 2016. The most recent blockades were launched in February by residents of Chumbivilcas, Paruro and Espinar provinces, Cuzco region, to oppose excavation of a second open pit at the facility, at a locale called Chalcobamba. Ahead of approval of the expansion, MINEM secured a pledge by some 20 communities to lift their blockades and refrain from further protest actions in exchange for agricultural aid, including two new tractors for pueblos in Coporaque district, Espinar province. However, the pueblo closest to the Chalcobamba pit rejected the deal. Huancuire pueblo, in the district of Cuyllurqui, Cotabambas province, Apurímac region, said the community had agreed to take all necessary "legal and social" measures to prevent excavation of the Chalcobamba pit. (Reuters, EFE, Gestión, El Comercio, Mining.com)

Honduras transition in the New Cold War

Hondurans last month elected Xiomara Castro of the left-populist LIBRE Party to be the country's first woman president, defeating Nasry Asfura of the conservative National Party. Taking office next month, Castro is to replace the National Party's President Juan Orlando Hernández, whose term has been plagued by scandal and accusations of ties to narco-trafficking. The wife of Manuel Zelaya, the populist president who was removed in a coup in 2009, Castro seems poised to revive his program—and take it much further.  "Never again will the power be abused in this country," she declared upon her victory. She has proclaimed herself a "democratic socialist," and pledges to govern through a new model of "participatory democracy," placing a series of reforms before the voters through referenda or "consultas."

Peru: indigenous opposition to Chinese gas project

A new coalition of Amazonian indigenous groups and environmentalists has come together in Peru to demand oversight and accountability in the development of a huge new hydrocarbon exploitation bloc in the rainforest. The China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPCwon exploitation rights in 2017 at Bloc 58, in the Upper Urubamba zone of Cuzco region, after explorations revealed some 3.9 trillion cubic feet of natural gas reserves, enough to increase Peru's total gas reserves by nearly 28%. But Bloc 58 overlaps with the traditional territories of the Asháninka and Matsigenka (Machiguenga) indigenous peoples, and is near the indigenous communities of Tangoshiari, Kirigueti, and Kochiri. It additionally overlaps with the "buffer zones" (zonas de amortiguamiento) of the Asháninka Communal Reserve, the Machiguenga Communal Reserve, Megantoni National Sanctuary and Otishi National Park.

Mexico: apology for 1911 massacre of Chinese

Mexico's President Andrés Manuel López Obrador on May 24 officiated over a ceremony in Torreón, Coahuila, where he issued a formal apology for the 1911 massacre of more than 300 members of the northern city's Chinese community at the hands of revolutionary troops. The president said the objective of the apology was to ensure "that this never, ever happens again." Also on hand was Coahuila Gov. Miguel Ángel Riquelme, who said racist ideas fueled "genocidal killings" during a "convulsive" period of Mexico's history. Also attending the ceremony was Chinese Ambassador Zhu Qingqiao. (Mexico News Daily)

Indigenous candidate upsets Ecuador elections

Ecuador is heading to a run-off presidential race in April after leftist candidate Andrés Arauz of the Union of Hope (UNES) coalition won a first-round victory Feb. 7, following years of economic austerity made more painful by the pandemic. However, in a surprise development, his rival leftist Yaku Pérez Guartambel of the indigenous-based Pachakutik party emerged neck-to-neck with conservative banker Guillermo Lasso of the right-wing Creating Opportunities (CREO) party. The vote is still too close to call which challenger Arauz will face in the April run-off. (The Guardian, Al Jazeera, CNN, El Comercio, LexLatin)

Peru: high court rules 'social protest' protected

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)

Peru: campesino ecological defenders acquitted

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)

Chile: lithium interests under pressure by uprising

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)

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