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Critical voices needed at development studies conference

By Yves Engler · August 8, 2018

Are they critical thinkers or cheerleaders pretending to be independent of the government that funds them? Given the title conference organizers chose — “Is Canada Back: delivering on good intentions?” — one would guess the latter. But, an independent researcher keeps an open mind.

Publicity for the mid-September conference organized by the Canadian Council for International Co-operation (CCIC) and the Canadian Association for the Study of International Development (CASID) notes: “Inspired by Justin Trudeau’s 2015 proclamation ‘Canada is Back’, we are presenting panels that illustrate or challenge Canada’s role in global leadership. Are we doing all that we could be doing in the world?”

Formulating the question this way seems like a sop to the government that provides their funding. Conference organizers must be aware of the Trudeau government’s arms sales to Saudi Arabia’s monarchy, backing for brutal mining companies, NATO deployments, antagonism towards Palestinian rights, efforts to topple the Venezuelan government, failure to end Canada’s ‘low level war’ on Iran, refusal to support nuclear weapons controls, promotion of military spending, etc.

The reality is that while the two conference sponsors are supported by some labour unions, left groups and internationalist-minded young people, they are heavily dependent/tied to Canada’s official foreign policy apparatus.

To understand government influence over the NGO/development studies swamp requires wading through acronym-filled historical waters. An umbrella group representing dozens of major development NGOs, the CCIC was created fifty years ago with financing from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA, now part of Global Affairs Canada). The aid agency expected it to coordinate relations with the growing NGO network and build domestic political support for the aid program. While it has challenged government policy on occasion, the CCIC is highly dependent on government funds. Shortly after it publicly complained the government created a “chill” in the NGO community by adopting “the politics of punishment … towards those whose public views run at cross purposes to the government,” the CCIC’s $1.7 million CIDA grant was cut in 2012. This forced it to lay off two thirds of its staff.

CASID and international development studies programs more generally have received significant support from CIDA and the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), a Crown Corporation. In 2015 CASID’s president thanked “IDRC for its support of CASID over the past decade and more.” As part of one contract, IDRC gave CASID $450,000 between 2012 and 2015.

In the mid-1990s IDRC sponsored an initiative to enhance university undergraduate international development programs. This led to the creation of the Canadian Consortium for University Programs in International Development Studies (CCUPIDS), which has as its primary objective to “strengthen the position of International Development Studies.” CIDA also funds CCUPIDS conferences.

CCUPIDS is a branch of CASID, which publishes the Canadian Journal of Development Studies. In the introduction to a journal special issue on Canadian universities and development, editors Leonora Angeles and Peter Boothroyd write:

Thanks mostly to grant funding from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and the International Development Research Council (IDRC), Canadian academics have been able to engage intensively in development work for over three decades.

CIDA and IDRC also directly fund international development studies initiatives. In the late 1960s CIDA sponsored a study with the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC) to investigate what schools offered development studies courses. According to IDRC: 40 years of ideas, innovation, and impact, “early on, it began funding Canadian area and development studies associations, their conferences, journals, and research — gathering and communication activities.” The Canadian Association of African Studies, Canadian Association of Latin American and Caribbean Studies, Canadian Asian Studies Association and Canadian Association of Studies in International Development all “received substantial core funding from IDRC, intermittently in the 1970s and 1980s, and continuously since 1990.”

Significant sums of aid money continue to flow to international development studies programs. The website of the McGill Institute for the Study of International Development lists a dozen contracts worth more than $600,000 from CIDA, as well as $400,000 in contracts from IDRC and Foreign Affairs. An NGO and CIDA training ground, these programs often include internships and volunteer opportunities funded by development aid. The Students for Development Internships is “offered through the AUCC and CIDA, and students are funded to work for up to four months with an NGO anywhere in the world.” Queen’s Global Development Studies exchange program, for instance, received $270,000 from CIDA in 2011.

Individuals who participated in aid agency-funded projects, notably the government-backed Canadian University Services Overseas (CUSO), spurred or launched international development studies programs. In Canada’s Global Villagers: CUSO in Development, 1961-86 Ruth Compton Brouwer writes:

CUSO staff and RV’s [returned volunteers] contributed substantially to the establishment of university-level courses and programs related to global issues and the centres for international education and development studies. These are now such ordinary features of Canadian universities that it is difficult to conceive of how novel they were when they began in the 1960s.”

Led by CUSO’s former West Africa coordinator Don Simpson, University of Western Ontario opened an office of international education in 1969, which “operated in collaboration with CIDA.” Similarly, “valued friends of CUSO” instigated development studies programming at the universities of Ottawa and Toronto.

Canadian aid also directly shapes international development studies research. Half of the respondents to a 2002 survey of 64 scholars reported that CIDA’s six development priorities influenced their research focus. A professor or student who aligns their pursuits with those of the aid agency or IDRC is more likely to find funding or a fellowship. And IDRC/Global Affairs Canada’s priorities don’t include challenging Canadian foreign policy.

Given the sponsors’ ties to the foreign policy apparatus it is likely that the September conference will offer little more than cheerleading for the Trudeau Liberals’ foreign policy. Still, one can’t be certain and, having been invited by a Facebook friend to attend, I emailed the conference organizers to ask if they would allow me to present a critical look at Trudeau’s foreign policy. Thus far they have not accepted my offer.

If you agree that answering the question “Are we doing all that we could be doing in the world?” requires some critical voices, please email (ac.cicc@stneve) and ask them to allow Yves Engler to speak on Justin Trudeau’s foreign policy at your upcoming conference.

I love a good debate and maybe both sides will learn something new.

August 8, 2018 Posted by | Deception, Progressive Hypocrite | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Honduran Election Results Contested by International Observers

By Kevin Edmonds | The Other Side of Paradise | November 28, 2013

Honduras’ elections on November 24 had the potential of reversing some of the worst pro-market, anti-people policies put forward by the government of Porfirio Lobo, who was the direct beneficiary of the 2009 coup that ousted the left-of-center Manuel Zelaya. Instead, the elections have been fraught with irregularities and violent intimidation, threatening to throw the embattled nation into further political disarray.

These elections were regarded as pivotal for Honduras, as the administration of the ruling National Party has done little to combat the country’s poverty rate which stands at over 60 percent. Instead the National Party has been focused on opening up the country to multinational corporations. This is best demonstrated by the National Party’s passage of a new mining law that would remove the moratorium on the granting of new mining concessions put in place by former president Zelaya in 2008. The new mining law, which was passed earlier this year, was drafted with the help of the Canadian International Development Agency. The law effectively allows for a return to destructive open-pit mining practices that have been linked to numerous human rights abuses and widespread environmental destruction.

In addition to revising the mining laws, as detailed last year by NACLA’s Keane Bhatt, the Lobo administration was also busy luring developers and investors to build highly problematic “charter cities.” Bhatt described these charter cities as “privately owned municipalities that would be managed autonomously, complete with their own police forces, tax codes, and legal systems. These cities would develop industries for export-oriented growth, like textile manufacturing; they would also sign onto international trade agreements independently, and manage their own immigration policies.”

Standing in opposition to these pro-multinational corporation policies, the LIBRE (Liberty and Refoundation) Party is led by Xiomara Castro de Zelaya, the wife of former president Manuel Zelaya—who, under the constitution, was barred from running for a second term. The LIBRE party emerged from the post-coup resistance movement and seeks to build a Honduras in which self-determination and social justice—not the rule of the oligarchs—prevail. Due to the strength and wealth of those they oppose, the LIBRE party has been systematically attacked by the military police and paramilitary forces associated with the various landowners and business figures.

Rights Action has extensively documented the violent intimidation of LIBRE party members and progressive journalists in the run-up to the November 24 elections. Rights Action recently released a report that revealed since May 2012, at least 18 LIBRE party activists have been killed, with 15 others falling victim to armed attacks.

Despite the presence of hundreds of international observers, the state-sanctioned violence and intimidation did not cease. As reported by members of the Canadian NGO Common Frontiers who were part of the official delegation, the day before the election armed groups entered hotels in Tegucigalpa in order to intimidate election observers. With the passage of time, it is becoming increasingly apparent that examples of armed intimidation were crucial to the victory of the National Party’s candidate Juan Orlando Hernández.

Soon after the contested results were announced, Canadian electoral observers released a statement on November 25, stating that “After careful consideration of our own observations of the electoral process in Honduras we find the presidential elections to be inconsistent with democratic principles and rife with fraudulent practices.”

Their statement concluded with their recommendations: “We urge the Canadian government not to recognize the results of the Honduran elections. There must be an opportunity to do a full, transparent, accurate count, and fully investigate the many reports of irregularities, intimidation and threats by authorities.” (The entire statement from the Canadian delegation can be read here).

Following the statement by the Canadian delegation, on November 26, the National Lawyers Guild published a press release which declared that “The National Lawyers Guild (NLG) delegation of 17 credentialed international observers seriously question the validity of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal’s (TSE) preliminary results of Sunday’s national elections in Honduras. The NLG takes issue with the United States government’s characterization of the electoral process as transparent, given the country’s recent and pervasive human rights violations… The NLG noted a strong will and enthusiasm among Hondurans to participate in the electoral process despite a pervasive climate of fear and intimidation surrounding opposition party members and observers. Over the weekend, two LIBRE party activists were murdered, while two other deaths and three injuries were reported near a voting center in the Moskitia region. In addition, international observers reported multiple incidents of intimidation by state actors in the days leading up to the elections.”

It is predictable that the United States and Canada will support the contested results of the election, as irregularities are only important when their favoured candidate does not win. One only has to look at their support for the electoral process in Haiti in 2010—a situation in which 14 political parties were banned and observers witnessed widespread fraud and irregularities. Both countries have a great deal invested in Honduras, financially and geopolitically. Indeed the entire process was summed up brilliantly by Canales Vásquez, a LIBRE activist, who remarked to Upside Down World’s Sandra Cuffe: “They don’t want an example to be set in Honduras where the people kick the oligarchy out at the ballot box and where the system changes in favor of the people. That’s what we’re struggling for in Honduras, and that’s the reason for this repression against the people and against the LIBRE party.”

November 28, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Deception | , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Honduran Election Results Contested by International Observers

Canadian Aid to Palestinians Serves Israel

By Yves Engler | Palestine Chronicle |July 19, 2013

A recently uncovered government document confirms that Ottawa has delivered millions of dollars in aid to the Palestinian Authority in a bid to advance Israel’s interests. The internal memorandum also sheds light on Canada’s efforts to build a security apparatus to protect the Palestinian Authority from popular disgust over its compliance in the face of ongoing Israeli settlement building.

Last week Postmedia’s Lee Berthiaume reported on a Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) note outlining Israel’s desire for Canada to continue its $300 million five-year “aid” program to the Palestinians, which the Conservatives threatened to sever after the PA pursued UN statehood last fall.

“There have been increasing references in the past months during high-level bilateral meetings with the Israelis about the importance and value they place on Canada’s assistance to the Palestinian Authority, most notably in security/justice reform,” reads the November 2nd 2012 note signed by CIDA president Margaret Biggs. “The Israelis have noted the importance of Canada’s contribution to the relative stability achieved through extensive security co-operation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.”

The heavily censored note suggests the goal of the Canadian “aid” is to protect a corrupt PA from popular backlash. Biggs explains that “the emergence of popular protests on the Palestinian street against the Palestinian Authority is worrying and the Israelis have been imploring the international donor community to continue to support the Palestinian Authority.”

These recent revelations from CIDA confirm the highly politicized nature of Canadian aid to the Palestinians. After Hamas won legislative elections in January 2006 the Conservatives made Canada the first country (after Israel) to cut off funding to the PA.

When Hamas officials were ousted from the Palestinian unity government in June 2007, the Conservatives immediately contributed $8 million “in direct support to the new government.” Then in December 2007 the Conservatives announced a five-year $300 million aid program to the Palestinians, which was largely designed to serve Israel’s interests.

As a Saint John Telegraph-Journal headline explained at the time: “Canada’s aid to Palestine benefits Israel, foreign affairs minister says.”

In January 2008 Maxime Bernier, then Canada’s foreign minister, said: “We are doing that [providing aid to the PA] because we want Israel to be able to live in peace and security with its neighbors.”

Most of the Canadian aid money has gone to building up a Palestinian security force overseen by a US general. The immediate impetus of the Canadian aid was to create a Palestinian security force “to ensure that the PA maintains control of the West Bank against Hamas,” as Canadian Ambassador to Israel Jon Allen was quoted as saying by the Canadian Jewish News.

American General Keith Dayton, in charge of organizing a 10,000-member Palestinian security force, even admitted that he was strengthening Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah against Hamas, telling a US audience in May 2009 his force was “working against illegal Hamas activities.” According to Al Jazeera, between 2007 and early 2011 PA security forces arrested some 10,000 suspected Hamas supporters in the West Bank.

The broader aim of the US-Canada-Britain initiated Palestinian security reform was to build a force to patrol the West Bank and Gaza. In a 2011 profile of Canadian Lieutenant-Colonel Ron Allison, “Dayton’s chief of liaison in the West Bank” for a year, Allison’s hometown newspaper the Times & Transcript reported: “The Dayton team was concerned with enhancing security on the West Bank of Palestine and was all geared towards looking after and ensuring the security of Israel.”

“We don’t provide anything to the Palestinians,” Dayton told the Associated Press in June 2009, “unless it has been thoroughly coordinated with the State of Israel and they agree to it.” For instance, Israel’s notorious internal intelligence agency, the Shin Bet, vets all of the Palestinian recruits, according to US government reports.

The Israelis supported Dayton’s force as a way to keep the West Bank population under control. Like all colonial authorities throughout history, Israel looked to compliant locals to take up the occupation’s security burden.

Writing in the July 2011 London Review of Books, Adam Shatz detailed how “The PA already uses the American-trained National Security Force to undermine efforts by Palestinians to challenge the occupation.”

He continued: “It is an extraordinary arrangement: the security forces of a country under occupation are being subcontracted by third parties outside the region to prevent resistance to the occupying power, even as that power continues to grab more land. “This is, not surprisingly, a source of considerable anger and shame in the West Bank.”

The Palestinian security force is largely trained in Jordan at the U.S.-built International Police Training Center (established to train Iraqi security after the 2003 invasion). In October 2009, The Wall Street Journal reported: “[Palestinian] recruits are trained in Jordan by Jordanian police, under the supervision of American, Canadian and British officers. The number of military trainers in the West Bank varied slightly but in mid-2010, eighteen Canadian troops worked with six British and ten US soldiers under Dayton’s command.”

The Canadian contribution is invaluable,” explained Dayton to The Maple Leaf, the monthly publication of the Canadian army. Canadians are particularly useful because, Dayton said, “US personnel have travel restrictions when operating in the West Bank. But, our British and Canadian members do not.”

Calling them his “eyes and ears” Dayton added: “The Canadians … are organized in teams we call road warriors, and they move around the West Bank daily visiting Palestinian security leaders, gauging local conditions.”

Part of the U.S. Security Coordinator office in Jerusalem, the Canadian military mission in the West Bank (dubbed Operation PROTEUS) includes Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers as well as officials from the foreign ministry, Justice Canada and the Canadian Border Services Agency.

In a September 2010 interview with The Jerusalem Post, Peter Kent, then Canada’s deputy foreign minister, said Operation PROTEUS was Canada’s “second largest deployment after Afghanistan” and it receives “most of the money” from the five-year $300 million Canadian “aid” program to the PA.

During a visit to the Middle East in January 2012, foreign minister John Baird told The Globe and Mail he was “incredibly thrilled” by the West Bank security situation, which he said benefited Israel.

In effect, Canada has helped to build a security apparatus to protect a corrupt PA led by Mahmoud Abbas, whose electoral mandate expired in January 2009, but whom the Israeli government prefers over Hamas.

– Yves Engler’s latest book is The Ugly Canadian: Stephen Harper’s foreign policy. He’s also the author of Canada and Israel: building apartheid.

July 20, 2013 Posted by | Corruption, Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Timeless or most popular | , , , , | Comments Off on Canadian Aid to Palestinians Serves Israel

Canadian “Aid” as Tool for Foreign Policy

By Yves Engler | Dissident Voice | April 18, 2013

The Canadian International Development Agency is no longer. In its recent budget the Conservative government collapsed CIDA into Foreign Affairs, creating the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development.

While there was plenty of commentary on the Tories’ move, no one — from the mainstream right to the development NGO left — pointed out that Canadian aid has primarily been about maintaining and/or extending the grip the world’s richest one percent holds over the entire globe.

Canada began its first significant (non-European) allocation of foreign aid through the Colombo Plan. With Mao’s triumph in China in 1949, the 1950 Colombo Plan’s primary aim was to keep the former British Asian colonies, especially India, within the Western capitalist fold.

To justify an initial $25 million ($250 million in today’s dollars) in Colombo Plan aid External Affairs Minister Lester Pearson told the House of Commons:

Communist expansionism may now spill over into South East Asia as well as into the Middle East … it seemed to all of us at the [Colombo] conference that if the tide of totalitarian expansionism should flow over this general area, … the Free World will have been driven off all but a relatively small bit of the great Eurasian landmass. … We agreed at Colombo that the forces of totalitarian expansionism could not be stopped in South Asia and South East Asia by military force alone.

Two years later Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent was even more explicit about the carrot and stick approach to defeating left wing nationalism (“communism”). In September 1952 St. Laurent explained:

In South East Asia through the establishment of the Colombo plan not only are we trying to provide wider commercial relations but we are also fighting another Asiatic war against Communism in the interests of peace, this time with economic rather than military weapons. We Canadians know that in the struggle against Communism there are two useful weapons, the economic and the military. While we much prefer to use the economic weapons as we are in the Colombo plan, we know that we may have no choice but to use the military weapons as we have been forced to do in Korea [27 000 Canadian troops participated in this war that left 3 million dead].

In other words, if some of India’s post-colonial population had not set their sights on a socialistic solution to their troubles — with the possibility of Soviet or Chinese assistance — Canada probably would not have provided aid. Five years into the Colombo Plan, Pearson admitted “Canada would not have started giving aid if not for the perceived communist threat.”

The broad rationale for extending foreign aid was laid out at a 1968 seminar for the newly established Canadian International Development Agency. This day-long event was devoted to discussing a paper titled “Canada’s Purpose in Extending Foreign Assistance” written by Professor Steven Triantas of the University of Toronto. Foreign aid, Triantas argued, “may be used to induce the underdeveloped countries to accept the international status quo or change it in our favour.” Aid provided an opportunity “to lead them to rational political and economic developments and a better understanding of our interests and problems of mutual concern.” Triantis discussed the appeal of a “‘Sunday School mentality’ which ‘appears’ noble and unselfish and can serve in pushing into the background other motives … [that] might be difficult to discuss publicly.”

A 1969 CIDA background paper, expanding on Triantas views, summarized the rationale for Canadian aid:

To establish within recipient countries those political attitudes or commitments, military alliances or military bases that would assist Canada or Canada’s western allies to maintain a reasonably stable and secure international political system. Through this objective, Canada’s aid programs would serve not only to help increase Canada’s influence within the developing world, but also within the western alliance.

This type of thinking continues to drive aid policy. Largely ignored in recent commentary, there are innumerable documented instances of Canadian aid advancing highly politicized geopolitical objectives over the past 25 years.

As an early advocate of International Monetary Fund/World Bank structural adjustment programs, since the early 1980s Canada has channeled hundreds of millions in “aid” dollars to supporting privatization and economic liberalization efforts in the Global South. At the start of the 2000s Ottawa plowed millions of dollars into supporting the Western-backed “coloured revolutions” in Eastern Europe and opposition to Jean Bertrand Aristide’s elected government in Haiti. More recently, the Conservatives have ramped up aid spending in Latin America to combat independent-minded, socialist-oriented governments. Barely discussed in the media, the Harper government’s shift of aid from Africa to Latin America was largely designed to stunt Latin America’s recent rejection of neoliberalism and U.S. dependence by supporting the region’s right-wing governments and movements.

An entirely unacknowledged, though increasingly obvious, principle of Canadian aid is that where the USA wields its big stick, Canada carries its police baton and offers a carrot. Or to put it more bluntly, where U.S. and Canadian troops kill Ottawa provides aid.

During the 1950-53 Korean War the south of that country became a major recipient of Canadian aid and so was Vietnam during the U.S. war there. The leading recipient of Canadian aid in 1999/2000 was the war-ravaged former Yugoslavia and Iraq and Afghanistan were top two recipients in 2003/2004. Since that time Afghanistan and Haiti (where Canadian and U.S. troops helped overthrow the elected government in February 2004) have been the leading recipients. Tens of millions in Canadian “aid” dollars have been spent to reestablish foreign and elite control over Haiti’s security forces.

There are a number of reasons for the lack of discussion about aid being used as a tool to maintain/extend Western capitalist dominance. NGO critics of aid policy are generally unwilling to point out the geopolitical underpinnings of Canadian aid because their jobs depend on keeping quiet. They stick to criticizing the ways in which foreign assistance is used to benefit specific corporate interests. This stakeholder criticism generally amounts to no more than NGOs saying: “Give the aid money to us not the corporations, because we’ll do a better job of whatever it is you want to accomplish.”

If you tell truth to power by saying Canadian aid is largely designed to maintain Western capitalist dominance of the Global South, you’re not likely to have your grant renewed.

The funny thing is, with the Conservatives in power, if you’re doing anything remotely useful to ordinary people, you’re not likely to anyway.

Yves Engler is the author of Lester Pearson’s Peacekeeping: The Truth May Hurt. His latest book is The Ugly Canadian: Stephen Harper’s foreign policy.

April 18, 2013 Posted by | Deception, Economics | , , , , , | Comments Off on Canadian “Aid” as Tool for Foreign Policy

Small-Scale Miners Face Crackdown as Foreign Companies Set Sights on Colombia

By Leah Gardner | Upside Down World | April 11, 2012

Police arrived at the Santa Isabel mine in Colón-Génova on February 21, 2012. The officers asked these local miners to attend a meeting to see if they could sort out their licensing request; However, when the roughly twenty-five miners arrived, they were read their rights and arrested.

About a week later, a report ran on television stating that police had arrested a group of illegal miners in Colón-Génova who were making over 150 million pesos ($CAD 84,500) per month and using their earnings to fund the FARC and Los Rastrojos, a paramilitary group.

The miners say they were shocked. “It’s ridiculous,” says Ferney Gamboa, one of those arrested. “A person here makes between 320,000 and 480,000 pesos ($CAD 180 -270) per month.” Miners then invest earnings into their farms and families, he adds. “We have no contact with armed groups.”

This assertion has been backed by local officials. Pedro Vincente Obando, the Secretary of the Governor of Nariño, said at a conference on March 27, 2012 that the charges were “false and dangerous.”

A Mining Country

Miners and the Comité de Integración del Macizo Colombiano, (Committee for the Integration of the Colombian Massif – CIMA), a rural social movement allied with the miners, believe that this is part of a federal government strategy to phase out informal mining and pave the way for foreign multinationals.

“We are seeing the criminalization of artisanal mining in this country,” says Luz Mila Ruana, an organizer for CIMA in Nariño. She adds that a subsidiary of the South Africa-based mining company AngloGold Ashanti has begun preliminary exploration activities around the Santa Isabel mine.

Miners say that while being accused of funding illegal armed groups was a shock, the arrival of police wasn’t much of a surprise. They have been waiting for nearly a year to submit their license application, but have been held up by administrative delays.

The Instituto Colombiano de Geología y Minería (Colombian Geology and Mining Institute – Ingeominas), the government body responsible for processing applications, stopped accepting requests for the legalization of traditional mines in 2011 after it reportedly received an overwhelming number of applicants. “Now they are saying we can submit in April,” says Gamboa. He doesn’t seem convinced.

Meanwhile, news of ‘illegal’ miner arrests is common in the Colombian media. Since the adoption of a new mining code in 2001 and new policies meant to crackdown on informal mining, the Colombian government has given unlicensed operations until 2012 to obtain the proper paper work or face arrest.

The national government has made illegal mining a political and military priority, arguing that unlicensed operations cause environmental damage and contribute to the ongoing internal conflict by financing armed groups. In November 2011, officials said they had closed 329 unlicensed gold mines, arresting 1,228 people.

Miners and CIMA organizers are convinced that these policies have little to do with the environment or national security, and much to do with the federal government’s plan to turn the country into a large-scale mining giant by 2019.

The CIMA and Canadian non-governmental organizations focusing on mining are quick to point out that the 2001 mining code was written in consultation with Canadian and Colombian mining companies — a process that was funded in part by a grant from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).

Since its adoption, foreign mining company royalty rates have dropped from 10% to .4%. Simultaneously, the number of mining permit requests and concessions have increased dramatically, with Canadian companies making up a large portion of mining exploration investment.

The vision of Colombia as an untapped haven for large-scale mining stands in stark contrast to the reality, in which millions of small and artisanal miners are already working throughout the country.

The nearly one-hundred men and women working at the Santa Isabel mine have been doing so with the permission of the local land owner for nearly forty years. Miners here work in small teams to extract tiny particles of gold from rocks dug out of shallow holes in the mountainside. To do this, they use water and large wooden sluices which hark back to the days of the California gold rush.

They do not use toxic chemicals, but many small-scale operations — and all large-scale ones — in the country do use toxins.  It is no wonder then that Colombia has some of the highest levels of mercury contamination in the world.

Ferney Gamboa argues that compared to his operation, a massive gold mine in the area would be far more detrimental to the environment. “A large-scale mine will have a much larger impact. These companies use cyanide and huge amounts of water.”

A Country in Conflict

As for the funding of armed groups, CIMA organizers believe that large-scale development projects pose the highest risk to empowering illegal actors. In 2007, Chiquita Brands pled guilty to violating US anti-terrorism laws after admittedly making payments to the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), a right-wing paramilitary group. A civil suit brought by families of the victims of paramilitaries is still ongoing. Drummond Ltd., an American coal mining company is currently facing a trial in the US for the same issue, while British Petroleum (BP) settled out of court with victims of paramilitaries that it allegedly funded in 2009.

Paramilitaries are notorious in Colombia for murdering community leaders and appropriating land through terror tactics. After a deeply flawed demobilization process between 2003 and 2006, these groups are still active today, although under different names. Colombia still contains the second largest internally-displaced population in the world, behind Afghanistan, with 87% of displaced people originating from mining and energy-producing regions.

The Colombian military is also present in extractive zones, with 30%, or 80,000 members, of the country’s public forces dedicated to protecting oil and mining industry infrastructure. This has also created problems for small scale miners and farmers. In 2006, military troops killed Alejandro Uribe and Carlos Mario García, miners who were outspoken critics of foreign extractive companies active in the Bolivar Department, including AngloGold Ashanti. The army claimed that the two men were guerrilla fighters killed in combat, an argument rejected by local communities and dismantled by investigative journalists and rights groups like Amnesty International.

This confusion between civilians and guerrilla fighters is not out of the ordinary in Colombia. The Coordinación Colombia Europa Estados Unidos (Colombia Europe United States Coordination – CCEEU) reports that 535 civilians were victims of unlawful killings by Colombian public forces between January 2007 and July 2008. In 2008, the false positive scandal revealed that military troops had murdered scores of poor urban youth and farmers, and then dressed the bodies up to look like guerrilla fighters in order to inflate the military’s combat success rate.

‘False positives’ pervade the Colombian prison system as well. The Comité de Solidaridad con los Presos Politicos (Political Prisoners Solidarity Committee – CSPP), a national advocacy group for political prisoners, estimates that 60% of the 7,500 prisoners in the country detained for political crimes associated with the armed conflict are actually social movement and union leaders who have been falsely accused.

Foreign multinationals deny contributing to or benefiting from the conflict in Colombia.  In response to small-scale miners fears of displacement in Colón-Génova, a spokesperson for AngloGold Ashanti Colombia states: “In the Department of Nariño, AngloGold Ashanti Colombia has built a good relationship based on support and collaboration with legal mining cooperatives, such as those established in Cumbitara and Los Andes Sotomayor, for example.”
The Colombian government maintains that it promotes partnerships between small-scale miners and multinationals, and that along with passing new regulations it is providing support to small mining operations to improve their standards.

Although some mining cooperatives have taken advantage of these arrangements, there are still many small-scale miners in Nariño who fail to see how new government policies can benefit them. “It’s hard to tell which is better, having the license or not,” says one owner of a licensed mine in the municipality of Sotomayor. “Once you have the license, the next step is keeping it.”

He argues that even with help from the Colombian government to improve their lighting system, new regulations like requiring owners to pay into workers compensation will be close to impossible to meet.

In Colón-Génova, miners are resolved to peacefully defending their livelihoods despite the challenges ahead.  They are currently working together with movements like the CIMA to fight what they believe was an illegal arrest and to legalize their mine once and for all.

Leah Gardner is an independent journalist focusing on human rights and corporate accountability. She currently lives in Colombia.

April 11, 2012 Posted by | Economics | , , , , | 1 Comment