control of water

Indigenous leader slain in Honduras

Berta Cáceres, a prominent indigenous rights activist in Honduras, was slain by unknown gunmen who invaded her home at La Esperanza, Intibucá department, on March 3—the day before what would have been her 46th birthday. One of her brothers was also injured in the attack. Cáceres, director of the National Council of Indigenous and Popular Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize last year for her campaign to stop the Agua Zarca hydro-electric project in the Río Gualcarque watershed. Authorities said she was killed during an attempted robbery, but her family said that Cáceres was assassinated "because of her struggle." (NPR, ICTMN, La Prensa, Honduras, March 3) The killing sparked angry student protests at National Autonomous University of Honduras in Tegucigalpa, with police using tear-gas. (The Guardian, La Prensa, March 4)

Colombia: 'consulta' on mineral project approved

The city council of Ibagué, capital of Colombia's Tolima department, voted Feb. 29 to a approve a popular "consulta" on a proposed mineral project for the municipality—two months after Mayor Guillermo Alfonso Jaramillo proposed the ground-breaking move. AngloGold Ashanti hopes to develop an open-pit gold mine at La Colosa in neighboring Cajamarca municipality, which could impact the Río Coello that flows into Ibagué and provides much of its water supply. Another downstream municipality that depends on the river, Piedras, declared against the project following a similar popular consultation in 2013. But the upcoming Ibagué vote marks the first time a departmental capital will hold such a process on a development project. Jaramillo cites Law 136 of 1994, which gives municipalities the right to determine the development of subsoil resources within their territories. (El Espectador, El EspectadorEl Tiempo, Feb. 29; El Tiempo, Feb. 25)

Drought brings hunger to Colombia's Guajira

Struck hard by a drought related to this year's severe El Niño phenomenon, Colombia's northern region of La Guajira is suffering from a crisis of malnutrition. Tania Galván, a leader of the region's Wayúu indigenous group, told local media that her people's children are dying each week from malnutrition. According to the National Health Institute, 897 children currently suffer severe malnutrition in La Guajira. Indigenous leaders charge the government is ignoring an order from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to take urgent action against extreme poverty in the region, where more than 4,000 indigenous children have died of malnutrition in the past eight years. The December ruling came in a case brought by Javier Rojas Uriana, leader of the Shipia Wayúu Association. Indigenous leaders say drought conditions are compounded by local corruption, economic slowdown, and massive use of water by the Cerrejon coal mine in Albania municipality. (Colombia Informa, Feb. 20; El Espectador, Feb. 16; Colombia Reports, Feb. 12; Al Jazeera, Feb. 3)

Colombia: court protects highlands from mining

Colombia's Constitutional Court on Feb. 7 revoked all licenses granted to companies that sought to carry out mining activities on páramos, the high alpine meadows that protect watersheds. The ruling overturns Article 173 of the government's new National Development Plan (PND), which allowed 347 existing licenses in the alpine zones to move ahead, although barring the issuing of new ones. The ruling also struck down provisions of the PND that barred victims of the country's armed conflict from reclaiming usurped lands that had been converted into so-called "Projects of Strategic National Interest" (PINE). Additionally, the court overturned a third article that allowed the government to forcibly expropriate privately-owned land for mega-projects. The decision is seen as a blow to the ambitions of Vice President Germán Vargas Lleras, mastermind of the PND. The case was brought by the left-opposition Polo Democrática. (Colombia Reports, El Tiempo, Equilibrio Informativo, El Heraldo, Barranquilla, Feb. 9; El Espectador, RCN Radio, Feb. 8; Silla Vacía, Feb. 7)

Colombia: peasants sue over mining contamination

Indigenous and Black communities in Colombia's Chocó department filed a lawsuit this week, claiming 37 of their children died after drinking water contaminated with mercury by nearby mining operations over the past three years. The suit was brought before Colombia's Constitutional Court, which has ordered a thorough test of the water quality in the Riosucio and Andagueda rivers, which merge to form the Río Atrato. The affected Embera Katío and Afro-Colombian communities depend on these rivers for fishing and agriculture as well as direct consumption of water. The plaintiffs, represented by the Greater Community Council of the Popular Campesino Organization of the Upper Atrato (COCOMOPOCA), charge that unchecked gold mining in the zone has caused an "environmental crisis, which has had a devastating effect and cost the lives of the indigenous and Afro-descendant children." The Constitutional Court, in addition to asking the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) for assistance in the water quality tests, also called on the University of Cartagena to prepare a report on the health impacts of mercury and cyanide contamination. (Colombia Reports, Feb. 4; El Tiempo, El Espectador, El Colombiano, Feb. 3)

Signs mount of grave Andean climate crisis

Colombia is suffering especially grave effects from this year's off-the-scale El Niño phenomenon. The national disaster response agency UNGRD is struggling to respond to a devastating drought, dispatching tanker-trucks of water to communities across the country where taps have gone dry. Juan Manuel Santos said this month that this is the second worst El Niño in the history of the country, and the worst impacts "are still to come." A few days of rain at the start of the year gave some residents hope, but Santos warned it would have "minimal effect, practically none," given the gravity of the situation. (El Espectador, Jan. 10; El Tiempo, Jan. 6; El Espectador, Jan. 4) The country's principal river, the Magdalena, is now so low that it is no longer navigable at several points, virtually shutting down Puertos Wilches and other cities that rely on the riverine trade. (El Espectador, Jan. 3) Most hard-hit is the north of the country, entire harvests could be lost. But the south is affected too, with huge forest fires threatening the city of Cali. Wildfires have engulfed more than 100,000 hectares of land nationwide. This is usually the rainy season in Colombia, but rains are 65% lower than usual, and temperatures 2.3 degrees Centrigrade higher. (El Tiempo, Jan. 21; El Tiempo, El Tiempo, Jan. 17; Xinhua, Dec. 30)

Peru: hydro opponent slain in Cajamarca

An opponent of the planned Chadín II hydro-electric complex on the Río Marañon in northern Peru was assassinated Dec. 28, gunned down in a hail of five bullets at his home in a rural district of Cajamarca region. Hitler Ananías Rojas Gonzales, 34, was president of the local Ronda Campesina (peasant self-defense patrol), and had recently been elected mayor of the pueblo of Yagen in Cortegana district of Celendín province. Also the vice-president of the Yagen Defense Front, formed to protect the area's natural resources from development interests, he had received numerous death threats for his opposition to the hydro project, as well as legal charges of "kidnapping" (often employed against activists who block traffic during protests). He leaves behind five children. (Servindi, Dec. 28)

Setbacks for Nicaragua canal project

The International Court of Justice on on Dec. 16 recognized Costa Rica's sovereignty over a 2.5-square-kilometer disputed territory on the border with Nicaragua, one of the main claims fought over by the two countries at The Hague-based court. "The sovereignty over the disputed territory belongs to Costa Rica," Justice Ronny Abraham stated. The ruling found that an artificial canal opened by Nicaragua in 2010 through Isla Calero, also called Isla Portillos or Harbour Head Island, was within Costa Rican territory and not part of the common border between the two countries. Justices also unanimously found that Nicaragua violated Costa Rican territory by invading Isla Calero with military personnel, by dredging canals in Costa Rican territory, and by violating Costa Rica’s navigation rights on the Río San Juan. Nicaragua was ordered to compensate Costa Rica for damage caused to its territory.

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