China in Latin America
The current expansion of the Panama Canal will allow close to 90% of the world's 370-vessel liquified natural gas (LNG) fleet to pass through by 2015, the Panama Canal Authority announced Oct. 30. Currently the canal can accommodate only 8.6% of the global LNG fleet. Voyages to Asia from the US will cost 24% less than longer routes, according to the authority. The US, now the world's top natural gas producer due to extraction from shale rock, is projected to become the third-largest LNG exporter by 2020. Excavation to double the Panama Canal's capacity, which began in 2007, is said to be 64% complete. (Bloomberg, Nov. 4; Platts, Oct. 30; IBT, Sept. 20)
Bolivia's President Evo Morales said Oct. 28 that his country has achieved the conditions to obtain nuclear power for "pacific ends," and that Argentina and France would help "with their knowledge." He made his comments at the opening of a "Hydrocarbon Sovereignty" conference in Tarija. In May, Bolivia and Argentina signed an accord on nuclear cooperation. In an obvious reference to the United States, Morales anticipated political obstacles, saying that "some countries have [nuclear energy] but don't want to let others."
Hundreds of Brazilian unionists, teachers, students and leftists held a militant demonstration outside the Windsor Hotel in Rio Janeiro's Barra da Tijuca neighborhood on Oct. 21 to protest an auction being held there for rights to develop the Libra oilfield in the Bay of Santos. Denouncing the auction as a partial privatization of the country's largest source of petroleum, the demonstrators attempted to invade the hotel, confronting some 1,100 soldiers backed by agents of the National Security Force, and the federal, civil and militarized police. Protesters, some of them masked Black Bloc activists, fought with the agents, who responded with tear gas and rubber bullets. At least six people were injured, and a vehicle belonging to the Rede Record television network was set on fire.
The wife and infant son of a local mining leader were assassinated last week in the community of Pamputa, Coyllurqui district, Cotabambas province, Apurímac region, Peru. The bodies were found Sept. 18 by Carmelo Hanco, president of the local Artisenal Miners Association of Los Apus de Chunta, when he returned home from a trip to Abancay, the regional capital, where he had been petitioning authorities for the "formalization" of mining claims. Authorities said the killings took place during a robbery, but Hanco said he suspected the involvement of the Xstrata mining company—which he charged has been pressing for the arrest of independent artisenal miners in the region with an eye towards establishing its own operations. The company has for 10 years operated a giant gold, silver and copper mine at nearby Las Bambas (Chahuahuacho district), above the opposition of both local artisenal miners and campesinos. (Con Nuestro Peru, Sept. 21)
Nicaraguan civil society groups have challenged plans by a Hong Kong company to build an interoceanic canal through the Central American country. Last month, representatives of indigenous and Creole community groups from Nicaragua's South Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAS, see map) called on the country's Supreme Court to repeal the law allowing the construction of the canal. "The passing means that the state accepts and approves in advance [a project] that will affect peoples of indigenous and of African descent, who had been excluded from the decision-making process," the Nicaragua Center for Human Rights (CINDH) said in a statement. "There has to be a consultation with the indigenous population, because this project will affect the entire population with its own traditions and way of life," said Allen Clair Duncan, head of the communal government of Monkey Point, where a deep-water port is set to be built as part of the canal project.
Tomás García Domínguez, an indigenous leader, was shot dead on July 15 in Intibucá department in western Honduras during a demonstration at the headquarters for the Agua Zarca hydroelectric project. Four other protesters were wounded, including García's son, 17-year-old Allan García Domínguez, who was hospitalized in serious condition with a bullet in his lung. According to Civic Council of Grassroots and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) leader Berta Cáceres, the demonstration was peaceful, but "without saying one word the army opened fire against our companions, sending bullets into the bodies of Tomás García and his son, in the presence of police that remained paralyzed and did nothing to prevent it." A press release from the two companies constructing the dam—the Honduran company Desarrollos Energéticos S.A. (DESA) and the Chinese state enterprise SINOHYDRO—blamed the protesters and claimed the demonstration "included the destruction of installations, vehicles and personal property and direct aggression against the physical integrity of personnel."
Nicaragua's President Daniel Ortega and Chinese business magnate Wang Jing on June 14 formally sealed a pact granting Wang exclusive rights to build a multi-billion-dollar inter-oceanic canal through the Central American nation—the night after the country's National Assembly, dominated by Ortega's Sandinista Front, voted up Law 840, a bill approving the project, by 61-25. Wang's HK Nicaragua Canal Development Investment Co. will start with a study to determine whether the project is viable. Under the plan, the company would have a 50-year contract to develop and run the canal, with Nicaragua receiving a minority share of any profits. Ortega pledges the project will eradicate poverty in the country, one of the hemisphere's poorest. "This is a historic day for Nicaragua... a day of fulfilling prophecies and realizing dreams," said first lady Rosario Murillo, during the nationally televised ceremony. Murillo called it a "day of miracles" and said the canal project represents a "prophecy of prosperity for Nicaraguan families."
Ecuador's second-largest oil pipeline burst on April 8, but exports will not be affected, the Energy Ministry emphasized. The 475-kilometer Heavy Crude Oil Pipeline has a capacity of up to 450,000 barrels per day, linking oil fields in the eastern Sucumbios province to the Pacific coast. The Energy Ministry said that around 5,500 barrels of crude were spilled when the OCP broke, and that the pipeline suspended operations following the incident. The rupture occurred in Esmeraldas province, near where the pipeline meets the Pacific. Several local campesino plots were fouled. The OCP is controlled by a consortium including Spain's Repsol-YPF, the French Perenco and Brazil's Petrobras. The country's largest pipeline, the SOTE, transports crude for paratstatal Petroamazonas, which aims to produce an average 325,000 bpd this year. (Reuters, El Comercio, Quito, April 8) Ecuador has just announced plans for a major new thrust of oil development in the Amazon, with Chinese companies in the lead.