Archive for the ‘Canada and Central America’ Category

Ashamed to be Canadian: Corruption, Fear, Humiliation and Militarization in Honduras

by Janet Spring, mother-in-law of Honduran political prisoner Edwin Espinal

[View in browser: https://mailchi.mp/rightsaction/ashamed-to-be-canadian-corruption-fear-humiliation-and-militarization-in-honduras]

 

Day #491 – Edwin Espinal, political prisoner illegally jailed in max-security Honduran military prison. Edwin is married to Karen Spring, Canadian human rights defender and director of Honduras Solidarity Network. Since January 19, 2018, Edwin has been illegally held in a max-security military jail, facing trumped up charges filed by the corrupt, repressive U.S. and Canadian-backed Honduran regime.

 

IMG_5764 (2)19-04-20

 

*******

Ashamed to be Canadian: Corruption, Fear, Humiliation, and Militarization in Honduras

By Janet Spring (mother-in-law of Edwin Espinal, political prisoner in Honduras), May 26, 2019

 

I am writing this article as I sit by the Caribbean Sea in the evening of May 26 in Trujillo Bay, Honduras. Trujillo is a Garifuna community that is in a land struggle against the Honduran government and Canadian tourism businesses that are trying to or have already stolen Garifuna land for economic gain.

 

As I visit this community, I am embarrassed and ashamed to be Canadian as corrupt Canadian investors have given Canada a bad name.

 

I am traveling with 16 people – 4 Canadians from the broader Simcoe County area (Ontario), and 12 US citizens – on a delegation sponsored by the Honduras Solidarity Network and Cross Border Network, based in Kansas City, Missouri. The delegation is focusing on the ‘Roots of Migration,’ which is taking us along the north coast of Honduras to La Ceiba and Trujillo.

 

“Little Canada” tourism corruption and violence

The cruise ship docks are located here; tourists disembark and enter these communities, and most do not know that they are on disputed indigenous Garifuna territory and that tensions are high. Little do they know that corruption abounds here and that it is perpetuated by Canadian business interests supported by the corrupt narco-trafficking illegal government of Juan Orlando Hernandez.

 

The delegation began on May 25th with our first stop in El Progeso. Here we participated in a march in support of political prisoners and walked through the streets with the leaders of the movement that demand Hernandez resign. We also met with a member of the El Progreso community who provides support to families who choose to join migrant caravans to the US.

 

The presenter explained how the deep-seated corruption, extortion, drug cartels, lack of employment, fear, and marginalization forces the Honduran people to leave their country. He remarked that 48% of 5th and 6th grade students wish to leave the country due to the lack of hope perpetuated by the corrupt oligarchy families and drug-trafficking government that control the population.

 

Our group left with a greater understanding of why people leave the country that they love and the desperation migrant families feel for their children’s future.

 

This coming week, our group leaves the north coast and travels back to El Progreso, the site of the 1952 banana plantation struggles, to La Esperanza, home of Berta Caceres (assassinated March 2, 2016), and finally to the capital of Tegucigalpa. We will meet with the US Embassy staff and have also requested a meeting with the Canadian Embassy. The group will participate in a dialogue with a very well respected former presidential candidate – Carlos Reyes – who will provide a perspective of the current political situation, listen to the struggles that Hondurans face through corruption at all levels of the Hernandez government, and about gang violence and drug trafficking.

 

Later in the week, our group will travel to La Tolva prison, hoping to get in to see my son-in-law Edwin Espinal and another political prisoner Raul Alvarez. We have sent in all documentation required for this visit but as the government does not follow their own laws, we may be denied entry.

 

My visit to La Tolva military prison

This past week before the delegation began, I went to La Tolva prison to visit Edwin. When I traveled to La Tolva for my first scheduled visit on a ‘visitor pass,’ the visit was horrendous on many levels. Firstly, it took two trips to La Tolva to present my documentation that I received from the National Penitentiary Institute (NPI). Each time I travel to Honduras, I must go through this process. We handed the documentation to the prison both on Friday the 17th and then when the guards at the gate asked for further documentation – my flight information, something that was never requested by the prison – Karen drove the extra documents to La Tolva on Saturday the 18th.

 

When we arrived (Karen was the driver), the officers at the gate said that no papers had been submitted. The director of the prison finally came out and the papers were eventually found. But this took over an hour and a half, minimizing my visitation time. I was expected to get 4 hours. (We got there at 1 p.m. because if you go any earlier, they will not process anyone after 11 am due to upcoming lunch break, and any earlier they just make visitors wait anyway until 1 p.m.)

 

This kind of delay tactic is a prime example of how the prison officials humiliate visitors in an attempt to discourage them from returning.

 

In a discussion that Karen had with the officials at the NPI the next day, they advised her that the guards and the director of La Tolva do not have the authority to question any documentation after the permission is granted by the NPI. The permission is signed by the director of the NPI so it must be accepted. They are not supposed to request any further documentation after it has been processed yet more and more this documentation is questioned. Yet the guards do not follow the rules and make their own rules up as they please.

 

The visit got worse after I finally cleared the front gate. Because I could not speak Spanish, the guards laughed and made fun of me and were very disrespectful to me. The guards at the third checkpoint where the body scanner area is located, refused to accept my doctor’s note because it did not have a doctor’s stamp on it. After repeatedly telling them that our Canadian doctors do not use ‘stamps’, the guard in charge said that I could not enter without the scan.

 

When I got upset, they mocked me further. This was a very humiliating experience. I therefore had no choice … they had already picked and poked through the food that I had made for Edwin, cut the fruit open with a dirty prison knife, pawed the bread, and even disallowed one of the items that is on the list of ‘approved foodstuffs’ to bring in. I went through the scanner against the recommendation of my family doctor.

 

After I went through the body scanner, which my doctor deems is very detrimental to my health condition, I had to wait another hour before I could see Edwin. Edwin finally came out at 3:30 so my visit only lasted for 30 minutes. The ridiculing and laughing behind my back continued throughout the whole visit, even when I was leaving the front gate.

 

Not only were my rights violated according to Honduran ‘law,’ Edwin was very depressed; he has lost more weight, has a constant buzzing in his ear where hearing loss has occurred due to lack of medical treatment, and the water had been shut off for two days. Edwin explained that there was NO drinking water, no water to flush the cell toilets, and no water to properly prepare food. He said that this situation was desperate.

 

Due to this inhumane, horrific, and degrading treatment I endured as a Canadian citizen by the FNCCP (a new special prison task force recently implemented by the Hernandez government), the military police and the military (three forces in La Tolva which participated in that day’s humiliation), which is excessive only to terrorize and harass, I sent this information to the Canadian Embassy in Tegucigalpa, and requested that someone from the Embassy accompany me on my next prison visit. I did not feel safe and felt very vulnerable, and frightened that during the next visit, the taunting and humiliation would escalate.

 

Canadian government support for illegal, illegitimate government of Honduras

The Canadian government supports this illegal and illegitimate government of Honduras and its agencies, as well as funds programs related to the prison situations throughout the country through CONAPREV, so I requested this accompaniment. Yet my request was denied. In a second letter, I apprised the Canadian Embassy of the dire water situation in La Tolva prison. I have not yet received a reply.

 

Edwin and Raul’s appeal cases are in limbo, shuffled from court to court only for the sole purpose of delaying them. Yet if their cases do come to trial and the appeals are heard and accepted, we must be prepared to pay for their bail, which may cost up to $20,000 USD.

 

Fund-raising campaign

A Go Fund Me campaign has been launched to raise these needed funds. So far to date, one quarter of the money has been raised in less than four days. If you wish to donate to Edwin and Raul’s campaign or find further information on the cause, please refer to the following: www.gofundme.com/politicalprisonershn

 

The Simcoe County Honduras Rights Monitor and the Spring family thank all of those who support our cause and send their best wishes. We hope for success in Edwin and Raul’s case soon.

 

From Honduras,
Janet Spring and the Simcoe County Honduras Rights Monitor

jspring2@lakeheadu.ca

Canada backs profits, not human rights, in Honduras

On Friday Aug. 12, Stephen Harper became the first foreign leader to visit Honduras and meet with President Porfirio Pepe Lobo since the country was readmitted to the Organization of American States (OAS) June 1. This shouldn’t be a point of pride for Canada, however; it reflects a very dangerous and problematic feature of the Conservative government’s foreign policy in Latin America.

Honduras was kicked out of the OAS after the June 28, 2009, military coup that removed from power the democratically elected but moderately left-of-centre president, Manuel Zelaya. The coup was followed immediately by an intense campaign of repression against anti-coup activists waged by the military, police and death squads, echoing the dark days of the Central American dirty wars in the 1980s.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper shakes hands with Honduran President Porfirio Lobo after signing a bilateral free trade agreement. (Aug. 12, 2011)
Prime Minister Stephen Harper shakes hands with Honduran President Porfirio Lobo after signing a bilateral free trade agreement. (Aug. 12, 2011)  (ORLANDO SIERRA / AFP)

Harper’s visit, during which he announced the completion of the Canada-Honduras Free Trade Agreement, is the culmination of the Canadian government’s strenuous efforts to deepen political and economic ties with the post-coup Lobo government following its election on Nov. 28, 2009. The Harper government has been building its relationship with Lobo in spite of international criticism of the ongoing human rights abuses in the impoverished country.

Harper, former minister of state for the Americas Peter Kent and former and current Canadian ambassadors to Honduras have all sung the praises of the Lobo government. They portray it sanguinely as one of national reconciliation and a return to democratic normalcy. But this is nowhere near the truth of what is happening in Honduras. Indeed, as a leading Honduran human rights organization, the Comité de Familiares de Detenidos Desaparecidos en Honduras (Committee of the Family Members of the Detained and Disappeared in Honduras, COFADEH) has argued, the human rights situation was actually worse during the first year of the Lobo government than it was immediately following the coup during the dictatorship of Roberto Micheletti.

During Lobo’s first year in power (January 2010-January 2011) there were at least 34 targeted assassinations of activists within the Resistance Front (COFADEH also notes over 300 suspicious deaths of people associated with the resistance), 34 killings of peasant activists involved in land struggles, 10 politically motivated murders of journalists (leading Reporters Without Borders to declare Honduras to be one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists in 2010), and 31 slayings of members of the LGBT community, many of whom were associated with the resistance.

Not surprisingly, anti-coup activists scoff at the idea that the Lobo regime represents the return of democracy. They suggest instead that it represents the consolidation of the coup — with key coup actors, such as military leader Gen. Romeo Vásquez, rewarded with important economic and political positions — under the shallow veneer of democracy. There have been no charges made in any cases of political assassination.

But the veneer is good enough for the Harper government — cover for Canada’s pursuit of its political and economic interests. Despite the repression surrounding Lobo’s election, the refusal of internationally recognized electoral observers to participate in the election, and the failure of the Honduran Congress to ratify the San Jose-Tegucigalpa Accord (a condition for Canadian support for the election, the accord, backed by Canada, would have allowed for the exiled Zelaya to return to the presidency but with his powers dramatically reduced), Canada was one of the first countries to recognize the new government.

Soon after Lobo took power, Kent started lobbying for Honduras’s return to the OAS, while Canadian officials pushed for and received meetings for Canadian investors with Lobo and some of his key cabinet ministers. Behind the scenes, Canadian officials and a mining executive discussed how to promote a new foreign investor-friendly mining law.

Apart from one press release raising concerns about the killings of journalists and Harper’s very terse acknowledgement of human rights problems during his trip (in which he absolved the Lobo government of any responsibility), Canada has said and done little about targeted repression of political activists. Two days before Kent’s February 2010 visit to Honduras, for example, a union activist and resistance member, Julio Fúnez Benítez, was assassinated. Nevertheless, Kent was fulsome in his praise for Lobo, declaring that he “is beginning the process of national reconciliation.”

And toward that end, Lobo established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Unlike other such commissions, however, like that in post-apartheid South Africa or post-civil war Guatemala, Honduras’s commission took place as repression was occurring. Sensing a charade for the benefit of the international community, members of the Resistance Front refused to participate. Unfazed, Canada financed the commission and provided a member, former diplomat Michael Kergin, who happened to be employed by one of Canada’s biggest corporate law firms, Bennett Jones, which just happens to specialize in, among other things, investment law and mining. Predictably, while acknowledging a coup d’état had occurred, the commission blamed Zelaya for breaking the law by disregarding a Supreme Court ruling to cancel a straw poll referendum that asked Hondurans if they wanted to hold another referendum during the November 2009 election. The second referendum would have enabled Hondurans to decide whether or not to replace a constitution written during the days of military dictatorship. Rewriting the constitution remains a very popular idea with many Hondurans.

As intended, Canada’s engagement with post-coup Honduras is reaping benefits for Canadian investors. Lobo has been adopting an aggressive free market plan: rivers have been concessioned for dam-building projects; the state electricity and telecommunications companies will likely be put up for auction; a new mining law is coming; large tracts of Garífuna (Afro-Indigenous) land on the north coast are being illegally sold for tourist development; and the constitution has been amended to allow for the creation of corporate-run city states (the so-called model cities).

Canada is one of the largest foreign investor nations in the country, with over $600 million in investment, according to Ambassador Cameron Mackay. Canadian companies play leading roles in mining, maquilas and tourism, and are central actors in the recent announcement of plans for a tourism-focused model city, the first such city announced.

When I was in Honduras in June, I spoke with activists organizing against Canadian companies in all these industries. They spoke of being displaced from their land, environmental destruction and exploitative working conditions. Some alleged they had received death threats for their opposition to Canadian company practices. Canada, I was told, is acting like a colonial power: supporting a repressive government to facilitate the exploitation of the country’s natural resources and cheap labour. It is unlikely that Harper’s visit and the new trade agreement will change this perception.

The Harper government has already successfully consolidated its political and economic ties with Colombia — a country which annually accounts for approximately two-thirds of trade unionists assassinated worldwide and witnesses severe human rights violations in mining zones. Honduras is the latest target of an increasingly aggressive Canadian foreign policy for the Americas, guided by a very simple but frightening philosophy that places corporate profits and geostrategic interests well above human rights.

Todd Gordon teaches political science at York University and is the author of Imperialist Canada (Arbeiter Ring, 2010). He visited Honduras in June.

Canada’s Mining Monopoly in Honduras and the Refugee Mining Caravan
by Billie Pierre
Sunday Nov 25th, 2018 12:51 PM
This Refugee Migrant Caravan that began in Honduras in mid-October and has grown to over 7000 people. They’re currently in Mexico, with some having reached the border. Canada has significant investment, and owns a staggering 90% of the mines in Hondura, but lacks any involvement in providing any support for this humanitarian crisis.

Today, we’ll be hearing from activists linked to Canada and Central America, who will provide us with a closer perspective on the impacts Canada has on Honduras.

José Luis Granados Ceja, an independent writer and photojournalist based in Mexico City who will give us updates on the Caravan. We’ll hear from Stacey Gomez a migrants justice organizer. We’ll also hear from Jackie Mcvickar, who has accompanied human rights social movements and land protectors in Central America for over 10 years. She will also be giving a report about the trial that is being heard right now, for the murder of Indigenous leader Berta Caceres.

<audio preload=”none” src=”https://www.indybay.org/uploads/2018/11/25/media_coop_audio_project.mp3&#8243; controls=”controls”></audio>

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.

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.)

*******
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

*******
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

*******
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

*******
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).