Archive for the ‘Canada and Central America’ Category

Canada’s Deadly Diplomacy and the Plight of Political Prisoners in Honduras

 http://upsidedownworld.org/archives/honduras/canadas-deadly-diplomacy-plight-political-prisoners-honduras/

Honduras

At least 35 people have killed in the political crisis since the Nov. 26 election in Honduras, mostly at the hands of the military police and other state forces. Source: Mark Coplan

Ismael Hernandez was the most recent fatal victim of police and military violence in Honduras. The 40-year-old man was killed Feb. 5 in Choloma, about 200 kilometers north of the country’s capital. According to eyewitnesses and national human rights organizations, Honduran security forces launched tear gas and opened fire with live bullets at protesters, who continue to reject President Juan Orlando Hernandez’s highly questioned re-election.

The same day, hundreds more Hondurans were injured as police cracked down on the university students’ movement protesting as classes resumed at the National Autonomous University of Honduras in Tegucigalpa.

The incidents of state violence in Tegucigalpa and Choloma were far from isolated cases. Participating in an International Emergency Faith Delegation to Honduras in the days leading up Hernandez’ Jan. 26 inauguration, I witnessed first-hand police and military impunity and brutality against Hondurans. Not only those denouncing electoral fraud on the streets experienced repression, but other Hondurans have had their homes filled with tear gas as early as 6:00 a.m. while they were still sleeping. A Honduran I was with joked sadly, “In Honduras, you don’t even have to get out of bed to be targeted with violence by the police.”

In less than a week in Honduras accompanying Radio Progreso, a critical alternative media outlet, I witnessed three illegal detentions, police using the political context of fear and intimidation to loot possessions of value, and the use excessive force. In one instance, more than 200 military and police agents launched more than 50 tear gas canisters at a group of less than 40 people to forcibly disperse the unarmed demonstrators. I was with a former member of Congress whose home was ransacked and family members threatened with guns to their head by uniformed police. I heard testimony from a 35 year old mother of five, who recounted that two days earlier, uniformed military and police agents dragged her husband, Geovany Dias, out of bed in the middle of the night and shot him 40 times. The state agents are accused by locals of being part of a death squad wreaking havoc and killing organized famers nearby. The man hadn’t been part of the demonstrations against Hernandez, but the message from the state security forces that left him on the side of the road for everyone to see was clear: anyone could be next.

This is state-led terrorism in Honduras, and the Canadian government is supporting it. Late on Dec. 22, 2017, the Canadian Embassy in Honduras threw its support behind Hernandez, recognizing his highly contested election win in a tweet. The Honduran president, who ran for a second term in office on the Nov. 26, 2017 ballot despite a constitutional ban on re-election, came out as the victor after three weeks of behind-closed-doors ballet counting and widespread allegations of fraud that prompted hundreds of thousands of Hondurans to take to the streets. In its message, the Canadian Embassy called on the Honduran government, which had already declared a 10-day military curfew and continued violently repressing opposition protesters, to respect human rights and ensure those responsible for the violence were held accountable.

Seven weeks later, Hondurans continue to bear the brunt of heavily militarized government repression, tacitly supported by funding from Canadian taxpayers. Honduras is home to Canada’s largest bilateral development program in Central America, and Ottawa offers significant contributions to strengthen security institutions in the country despite a poor human rights record. Since the election, more than 35 people have been killed, mostly at the hands of state security forces, and hundreds more have been detained. Meanwhile, Canadian companies, mostly in garment manufacturing and mining, have reaped major profits in Honduras since the 2009 U.S. and Canada-backed military coup, thanks in part to a free trade agreement ratified in 2014 and behind-the-scenes political support to ensure favorable changes to the Honduran mining law in 2012.

Amid the deepening crisis, on Jan. 19, Honduran police detained Edwin Espinal, sending him to a maximum security military prison on the eve of a week-long nationwide strike. He faces charges related to arson, property damage and use of homemade explosive material. According to a blog dedicated to the release of Espinal, he is also under investigation for terrorism and criminal association related to damages to the Marriott Hotel during a Jan. 12 protest in Tegucigalpa. Espinal is a recognized human rights and resistance activist who has participated in pro-democracy movements since the 2009 military coup.

Since being incarcerated, except for a brief visit by his lawyers, Espinal has been denied contact with family, journalists and international human rights organizations. The conditions of his detention — and that of the dozens of others illegally detained on trumped up charges — are unknown. Espinal’s partner, a Canadian human rights expert and activist who has spent the better part of the last 10 years working in Honduras, and other supporters have urged the Canadian government to speak out regarding the case. Despite touting strong political and diplomatic ties with Honduras, Canada has failed to act in Espinal’s case — and the cases of others in situations like his — by not condemning the systemic and ongoing human rights crisis in Honduras.

The same day Espinal was incarcerated, the Canadian government issued an alert to Canadians to “Exercise a high degree of caution in Honduras due to violent demonstrations.” In a country where the army and police are armed to the teeth — due in part to Canadian government funding — and have shown little restraint when attacking citizens in the name of protecting elite economic and political interests, it’s time for Canada to condemn the real perpetrators of violence. It’s time to demand the freedom of all political prisoners, like Edwin Espinal, being held without cause by the Honduran government. It’s time to stop quietly supporting a fraudulent government through economic aid, military training and private investment that is allowing the Honduran state to train death squads to act against its people.

Demonstrators hold crosses commemorating the victims of state violence in the wake of the election. Source: Mark Coplan

Ottawa’s response to Honduras’ 2017 election was eerily similar to its response to the 2009 coup d’etat in Honduras, when then-Minister of State Peter Kent called for a peaceful resolution to the “political crisis.” Bob Rae, then-Liberal foreign affairs critic, said that Canada should suspend military aid and training of Honduran soldiers. In the wake of the Nov. 26 election, Canada has similarly called for dialogue, but failed to condemn grave violations of human rights at the hands of Honduran state forces, continuing tacit support for a repressive government.

It’s time for Canada to rectify its dangerous diplomacy toward Honduras and this time, not through a tweet, but through real action that will allow true democracy and freedom of expression in Honduras.

Jackie McVicar has worked accompanying human rights and land defenders and survivors of the Guatemalan genocide for the past 14 years. Recently, she traveled to Honduras as part of an international emergency faith delegation. She currently works with United for Mining Justice and is a member of the Atlantic Region Solidarity Network.

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Aura Minerals ALERT in Honduras
  • Illegal cyanide release into river, killing fish and acquatic life
  • Backed by Honduran security forces, Aura Minerals preparing to exhume bodies from 200 year old cemetery to get at more gold
This is what “bringing development” means; million dollar profits flowing to Canada, the company and shareholders.  For this, no political or legal oversight in Canada & little media coverage.


(Azacualpa cementery, worth fighting for.)

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Public statement
July 10, 2017

We, men and women representatives of the communities of Azacualpa, Toreras, Ceibita and Cedros, and of the Environmental Committees of San Miguel and Azacualpa (La Unión, Copán), make this statement in response to more harms to the environment and violations of our rights caused by Aura Minerals (of Canada) and its subsidiary Minerales de Occidente (MINOSA):

Contaminated Rivers
Thousands of dead fish were found on the riverbanks of the Lara River, caused by the discharge of the cyanide leaching pools belonging to Aura Minerals/MINOSA, on June 26 2017.

Representatives of INHGEOMIN (Instituto Hondureño de Geología y Minas), DECA (Dirección de Evaluación y Control Ambiental), Mi Ambiente, National Police, Military Police, the Attorney General’s office and the Municipal Government of La Unión, Copán came to confirm the occurrence.  To date we have not received any information back from government authorities.

This illegal release of cyanide and other contaminants also puts at risk the health of 45,000 people from the city of Santa Rosa de Copan, since their drinking water comes from the Higuito River which receives waters from the Lara River.

Exhuming the cemetery
What we have received information about, in a meeting on June 29th with Mr. Monty Reed, manager of Aura Minerals/MINOSA, is that the company will try, in mid-July, to push ahead with a test run exhumation at our community’s cemetery, in violation of agreements reached with our communities.

As community leaders and environmental committees, we oppose these illegal exhumations and the destruction of our cemetery, which goes against the agreements reached in the addendum, and violates our rights to live in peace.

We hold Aura Minerals/MINOSA responsible for what may happen, and we hold the government of Honduras responsible for knowingly allowing such actions, fully aware that the inhabitants of these communities are not in agreement with the exhumations, and later, mining exploitation at this cemetery.

We request the support of national and international organizations – particularly in Canada -, to ensure that there be justice for our communities and that this death-promoting company leave once and for all, and let us live in peace in our communities.

Community Leadership and Environmental Committees
Area Affected by Mining Exploitation
La Unión, Copán, Honduras

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More info

Canadian Ambassador & Corporate Social Responsability Counsellor misled Honduran villagers in community environmental defense struggle with Toronto-based Aura Minerals
http://mailchi.mp/rightsaction/canadian-ambassador-csr-counsellor-misled-honduran-villagers-in-community-environmental-defense-struggle-with-toronto-based-aura-minerals

Mining in a State of Impunity: Coerced Negotiations and Forced Displacement by Aura Minerals in Honduras, by Karen Spring, published by Mining Watch and Honduras Solidarity Network: http://miningwatch.ca/publications/2016/6/29/mining-state-impunity-coerced-negotiations-and-forced-displacement-aura

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Write to

Ambassador Michael Gort
Embassy of Canada in Costa Rica, Honduras and Nicaragua
PO Box 3552, Tegucigalpa, Honduras
Tel: (504) 2232-4551
Michael.gort@international.gc.ca
tglpa@international.gc.ca

Jeffrey Davidson
Extractive Sector Corporate Social Responsibility Counsellor
Jeffrey.davidson@international.gc.ca
Esma Mneina, Esma.Mneina@international.gc.ca
Global Affairs Canada, Government of Canada
Tel: (343) 203-5181
11 Sussex R2-102 Ottawa, K1A 0G2

Aura Minerals
Rodrigo Barbosa, President and Chief Executive Officer
William Monti Reed, Honduras mine manager
155 University Av, Suite 1240
Toronto, ON, M5H 3B7
T: 416-649-1033info@auraminerals.comwww.auraminerals.com

Member Parliament
http://www2.parl.gc.ca/Parlinfo/Compilations/HouseOfCommons/MemberByPostalCode.aspx?Menu=HOC

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More information
Karen Spring, Honduras Solidarity Network, spring.kj@gmail.com
Jen Moore, Mining Watch, jen@miningwatch.ca
Grahame Russell, Rights Action, grahame@rightsaction.org

Pretty Faces, Grisly Interests: Canada’s foreign policy in Latin America

Has Trudeau changed anything about Canada’s foreign policy in Latin America?

https://briarpatchmagazine.com/images/articles/_resized/Sunny-Ways.jpg

Though Mexico was a punching bag throughout Donald Trump’s successful campaign to become president, his election wasn’t top of mind for many here in Mexico. Following the election, I’d meet friends and we’d talk about the latest news, the weather, and even our pets, before broaching the subject. It surprised me that an election that could impact so many seemed of little importance. A couple of weeks after Trump became president-elect, I participated in a forum at the public university in Puebla, Mexico’s fourth largest city. In a packed classroom, I and other panelists talked about the potential impacts of a Trump presidency.

It was then I realized that many Mexicans are not so surprised by the results of the U.S. elections. The current president of Mexico, Enrique Peña Nieto, shares some key qualities with Trump – namely a lack of scruples and a disregard for literature (a few years ago, Peña Nieto was asked to name his three favourite books and could only come up with “parts of” the Bible). During my presentation, I asked the audience, mostly graduate students, whether they knew about sanctuary cities or about “Dreamers,” people granted legal protections under Barack Obama after arriving to the U.S. undocumented at a young age. Both are under threat by the Trump administration. Few raised their hands.

In the weeks and months that have followed, we’ve gotten an idea of Trump’s style. Many have focused on his lack of decorum and his trigger-happy Twitter finger. But in terms of the lived reality in Mexico and much of Latin America, Trump represents continuity more than he does rupture with the policies of Obama. The war on drugs, a rise in immigration detention, and a highly militarized border are just a few of the ways this continuity is manifesting.

Since Trump’s election, Canada has come up from time to time, especially with respect to a potential renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which has put downward pressure on wages in all three countries and has had particularly devastating consequences in Mexico. According to the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Economic and Policy Research, between 1991 and 2007, nearly five million family farmers have had to leave their lands, while poverty levels have climbed steadily. Trump’s flip-flopping on withdrawing from NAFTA has increased instability in Mexico and has weakened the peso, but pundits and economists alike have cast doubt on the possibility of a full-scale U.S. withdrawal from the agreement.

What is clear is that in terms of optics, the tables have turned: no longer do we have Stephen Harper to contrast with Barack Obama, who cultivated a “yes we can” populism.

Justin Trudeau lifted the visa requirement for Mexican visitors in an apparent reversal of Stephen Harper’s effort to keep Mexicans from claiming refugee status or asylum in Canada. But by March 9 of this year, the Canada Border Services Agency had detained 444 Mexicans, more than were detained in all of 2016. Canada has also refused to remove Mexico from the “safe” country of origin list, legitimizing the country as one that respects human rights, when in fact it is implicated in significant violations. A 2016 report by the International Human Rights Program at the University of Toronto’s faculty of law revealed damning evidence of discrimination and violence against LGBTQI people and people living with HIV in Mexico. The report’s first recommendation was: “If the Canadian government retains a Designated Country of Origin list, it should immediately remove Mexico from the list.” The recommendation has thus far gone unheeded.

What is clear is that in terms of optics, the tables have turned: no longer do we have Harper, a fundamentalist right-wing prime minister to contrast with Obama, who cultivated a “yes we can” populism. Instead, Trudeau’s mild progressivism and insistence on Canadian diversity and friendliness contrasts with Trump’s overt anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant stance. Trudeau’s sleek diplomacy and boyish charm have injected new life into the powerful myth that Canada is a good and benevolent nation. This myth rests on the foundational denial of ongoing Canadian colonialism and racism at home, and on the euphemisms of peacekeeping and the responsibility to protect, which mask imperialist intervention abroad. Recently, Trudeau took the floor of the UN General Assembly to proclaim that the challenges are great, “but we’re Canadian. And we’re here to help.”

As nice as the rhetoric sounds, the facts on the ground make clear that as official celebrations of Confederation’s 150th birthday get underway, Trudeau represents continuity just as much as his counterpart in the U.S.

When Mexico’s Peña Nieto visited Ottawa in June of last year, he and Trudeau jogged together in front of the press, and later stood before the cameras and promised deeper co-operation. Media buzz about the men’s “chemistry” overshadowed the nuts and bolts of their encounter. The two leaders issued a joint statement on economic growth, noting that the privatization of Mexico’s state oil company means new opportunities in the energy sector. Canada is working to influence emerging energy sector regulation in Mexico, and promised to “share best experiences on consultation and engagement to enhance participation of Indigenous communities in the energy sector.” The irony of the statement is not lost on anyone following conflicts between oil and gas companies and Indigenous peoples in Canada, from Elsipogtog in New Brunswick to unceded Wet’suwet’en territory in British Columbia.

Policing and military activities were also central to the bilateral meetings: Trudeau signalled Canada’s ongoing support for the so-called drug war in Mexico, which by a recent estimate has led to the disappearance of 300,000 people and caused the homicide rate to double over the past 10 years. Trudeau and Peña Nieto promised increased collaboration between the RCMP and the Mexican Federal Police, which, along with the army, has been the primary agency driving the militarization of the country under the pretext of the war on drugs. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights noted that, in 2015 alone, the Federal Police massacred 16 civilians in Apatzingán, in the state of Michoacán, and participated in a suspicious confrontation in the same state in which 42 civilians and one officer were killed.

As I documented in my book Drug War Capitalism, the militarization of Mexico serves a purpose that has little to do with narcotics: the protection of Canadian mining projects. Federal police and soldiers have been used to break strikes and protect mining company officials. Canadian mining projects have been sites of violence on multiple occasions, and private security forces and hit men have killed a number of high-profile opponents in areas as diverse as northern Chihuahua near the U.S. border, and southern Chiapas near the border with Guatemala. Evidence has also emerged that Canadian resource extraction companies have co-operated with organized criminal groups. A 2012 report prepared by global accounting firm Deloitte estimated that 75 per cent of foreign mining investment in Mexico came from Canada. In the chilling words of Jennifer Moore from MiningWatch Canada, “Mexico is a graveyard and Canada is quarrying for headstones.”

Canada’s investment in extractive industries and generous supports for companies that provoke conflict have become mainstays of Ottawa’s foreign policy throughout Latin America. The corporatization of Canada’s foreign service is easy to discern. For example, Ottawa’s highest representative to Mexico, Pierre Alarie, has spent his career shuffling between diplomacy and Canada’s transnational business sector, having previously worked with Bombardier, SNC Lavalin, Hydro-Québec, the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec, and Bank of Nova Scotia.

“Canadian governments, over the last couple of decades, both Conservative and Liberal, have put Canadian profits over Latin American people,” asserts Jeffery R. Webber, senior lecturer in the school of politics and international relations at Queen Mary University of London, and co-author, with Todd Gordon, of Blood of Extraction: Canadian Imperialism in Latin America. “This is systematic and structural behaviour on the part of the Canadian state, not a question of a few bad apples in this or that Canadian ministry.”

A younger, more handsome, face at the head of Parliament does nothing to transform this reality. As in Mexico, mining has been at the centre of conflicts involving Canadian companies and local communities throughout the hemisphere. In Guatemala, for example, mining conflicts continue to rage in various regions of the country, often involving Canadian corporations. As high-profile lawsuits regarding the deadly conduct of mine security workers wind their way through the courts in Toronto and Guatemala City, local activists continue to risk their lives in defence of the land.

I asked Guatemalan analyst Luis Solano to describe the essence of relations between Canada and Guatemala today. “Starting from the directory of the Canadian-Guatemalan Chamber of Commerce, one sees that the relations are established fundamentally by Canadian oil and mining investments in Guatemala. Connected to these investments are another group, including companies dedicated to transportation, law firms, banks, and companies that carry out environmental impact studies,” Solano told Briarpatch. “And the Canadian Embassy plays a central role in these relationships and alliances, by promoting and strengthening these connections.”

The kinds of networks and overt support for the extractive industries Solano mentions are present not only in Mexico and Central America, but throughout South America and the Caribbean. Free trade agreements have been signed between Canada, Peru, and Colombia, and have led to increased Canadian investment in the extractive industries of both countries. Calgary-based energy firms, including Gran Tierra Energy, Petrobank (since acquired by Touchstone Exploration), and Parex Resources, dominate Colombia’s oil sector, and oil exploration and production has been militarized at the expense of local communities. In the southern state of Putumayo, where Gran Tierra Energy is active, at least one tenth of the residents have been forcibly displaced from their lands.

It is clear that Canada’s reach goes beyond mining, and includes political support for right-wing regimes and chilled relationships with progressive governments. “Concretely, that has meant Canadian diplomatic support for the repressive post-coup regime in Honduras, ideological backing of the often murderous regime in Colombia, interference in the domestic affairs of countries governed by left-wing parties, such as Ecuador and Venezuela, and the systematic undermining of popular environmental, Indigenous, and peasant resistance to the harmful presence of Canadian companies,” wrote Webber in an email to Briarpatch. Already, Trudeau’s government has joined the U.S. in criticizing Venezuela’s government, while propping up questionable anti-corruption efforts in Honduras.

Canada’s reach goes beyond mining, and includes political support for right-wing regimes and chilled relationships with progressive governments.

But it is mining that remains the single most contentious aspect of Canada’s corporate presence in Latin America. “Canada moved from being a relatively minor player in the region 25 years ago, to being a pivotal economic force today,” according to Webber. “Canadian investments, particularly in mining, have been associated with widespread and systematic abuses of human rights and ecological disaster.”

Peru is a key recipient of Canadian investment, and has long been a site of Indigenous and peasant community resistance to extractive projects. Many of those struggles have been successful, and activists there offer valuable insight for Canadians working to push beyond the Trudeau government’s empty performance of multiculturalism and greenwashing. “In Cajamarca, there are various mining projects that they are trying to get off the ground, and Canada is always held up as the example of how mining can be done well,” said Milton Sánchez, a community activist with the Interinstitutional Platform of Celendín, in the province of Cajamarca.

“We have realized that in Canada these mining projects really do cause damage to communities,” he said. The big lessons, which activists like Sánchez have learned through participating in resistance movements within their communities, have to do with the global nature of their fight. Exposing Canada’s true role may be particularly important as the Canadian government has been attempting to portray itself as a more progressive, positive force than its southern neighbour. “From here in the south, we now know that the model of growth based on

extractivism is a threat that doesn’t distinguish between a rich country or a poor country, or whether they come from governments who are on the left or on the right,” Sánchez told Briarpatch. “These projects put the survival of all of our communities at risk.”

Dawn Paley is a a journalist and researcher based in Puebla, México. Her first book is titled Drug War Capitalism (AK Press, 2014).