control of water
In the early morning of March 21 some 150 indigenous people and other local residents occupied one of the four construction sites at the giant Belo Monte dam now being built on the Xingu River in the northern Brazilian state of Pará. The action, which brought construction at the Pimental site to a halt, was carried out by members of the Juruna, Xypaia, Kuruaia and Canela indigenous groups and by non-indigenous riverside dwellers, who mostly support themselves by fishing. The protesters were demanding clarification of the boundaries of their territories and also compensation they said had been promised them by Norte Energía, the consortium of private and state-owned companies in charge of the hydroelectric project.
Three campesino leaders from Tarqui village in Ecuador's southern highland province of Azuay began an eight-day jail term in the provincial capital Cuenca on March 21, convicted of having disrupted the local water supply during a May 2010 protest against the Quimsacocha mining project, run by Canadian multinational Iamgold. Residents say the Quimsacocha project (also rendered Kimsacocha) will degrade and deplete local water sources. Ironically, the jail term for the three leaders—Carlos Pérez Guartambel, Efraín Arpi and Federico Guzmán—began on the eve of World Water Day, March 22, when a march on Cuenca had already been planned to demand local water rights and oppose large-scale mining projects. The march, which brought out several hundred, began with a ceremony in support of the jailed leaders at Cuenca's judicial building. "This is called the criminalization of struggle," said Delfín Tenesaca, president of the highland indigenous alliance ECUARUNARI. (El Tiempo, Cuenca, Kaos en La Red, March 22; La Tarde, Cuenca, Ecuavisa, March 21)
Some 80 indigenous Ngöbe-Buglé activists blocked access to the Barro Blanco hydroelectric dam construction site in Panama's western province of Chiriquí for about three hours on March 8. Riot police dispersed the protesters with tear gas, and the next day police agents arrested four Ngöbe-Buglé. Ricardo Miranda, a spokesperson for the April 10 Movement, which opposes construction of the dam, told a March 11 press conference that the police threatened the detainees and beat them with nightsticks. Miranda, who offered photographs of injured detainees as evidence of the beatings, also charged that the police violated the autonomy of the Ngöbe-Buglé territory by making the arrests. Chiriquí police commissioner Luis Navarro denied that the detainees were mistreated.
In the early hours of March 15, a clash broke out as troops from the elite Special Operations Directorate (DINOES) of Peru's National Police force evicted a group of informal miners from their encampment at La Bonita, in northern La Libertad region, leaving two miners dead. As the encampmen of some 500, in Retamas district, Pataz province, was set upon by a force of some 200 police agents, hundreds of other miners from the area converged on the scene to defend their comrades. In addition to the two dead, several were hurt on both sides, and two miners detained. The eviction of the camp had apparently been ordered by a local judge.
As of March 2 the Spanish-Italian electric energy consortium Endesa-Enel was calling for dialogue with indigenous Mapuche communities in Valdivia province in Chile's southern Los Ríos region in an effort to get clearance for the consortium's stalled $781 million hydroelectric project at Lake Neltume. The dialogue offer came in response to reservations that Los Ríos public service agencies expressed about the power company's latest proposal for the plant. Jorge Weke (also spelled "Hueque")—the werkén (spokesperson) for the Koz Koz Parliament in Panguipulli, a municipality that would be affected by the dam—rejected the dialogue offer, saying the company didn't understand the project's significance for the Mapuche.
Peru's Yanacocha mining company, majority-owned by the world's number two gold producer, Newmont Mining of Colorado, on March 7 denied press reports that it is planning to leave the gold-rich northern region of Cajamarca no later than 2016. In a statement, Yanacocha CEO Javier Velarde said the company will continue to exploit its massive mine in Cajamarca at least through 2015, while evaluating new projects elsewhere in Peru. The Yanacocha mine's plans for expansion have been the focus of protest campaigns in Cajamarca for more than a year now. "We have openly acknowledged the challenges ahead, but we never said the company was leaving Cajamarca by 2016," said Velarde in the statement. (Mining.com, March 8; Gato Encerrado, March 7)
Lenca indigenous communities of San Francisco de Opalaca municipality, in Intibucá department, Honduras, have declared a state of "maximum alert," pledging to resist development projects planned for their territory. Especially named is a new hydro-electric complex to be built on the Río Gualcarque by the private company Ríos Power SA (RIPOSA). Last month, when newly elected municipal president Socorro Sánchez took office, hundreds of Lenca campesinos, organized by the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), gathered at the cabildo (town hall) to demand that he adhere to the mandate of the indigenous communities and take a stance against the hydro project, which they say represents a privatization of local water resources.