Thursday, March 30, 2017

El Salvador bans mining (March 30, 2017)

El Salvador became the first country in the world to ban all metal mining yesterday. The law blocks all exploration, extraction and processing of metals, whether in open pits or underground, as well as use of toxic chemicals like cyanide and mercury, reports Reuters.

Legislators from across the political spectrum approved a bill that turned a decade-old moratorium on mining into law -- an initiative with broad public support, including the influential Roman Catholic Church, reports the New York Times. The ban aims to protect the country's water supply, and thwarts international companies' efforts to tap into a gold belt running across the country's northern provinces.

The initiative follows a long-standing dispute with a Canadian-Australian company over an environmentally questioned gold project, explains the Financial Times. Last year, the World Bank’s arbitration tribunal threw out a seven-year suit filed by a unit of Canadian-Australian company OceanaGold, over its failure to be granted permits for the El Dorado project in the north of the country. 

Activists say the project risked damaging already scarce and contaminated water supplies, in the second most environmentally degraded country in the region. Retaining rainwater in El Salvador is difficult due to unsustainable farming practices and inadequate industrial controls. More than 90 percent of the country's surface waters are estimated to be polluted by toxic chemicals, heavy metals and waste matter, according to the Guardian.

The vote built on increasing popular opposition to mining projects in the region and activists hope it can serve as a model for other countries, according to the Guardian. Campaigners in favor cast the issue as "No to mining, yes to life."

Activists around the region -- where protesters against mining interests routinely turn deadly -- are watching the case closely, according to FT, though partial bans are in place in other countries, for example prohibiting the use of cyanide or open-pit mining.

News Briefs
  • On the issue of mining bans: Colombia's government is questioning the validity of a local referendum in which residents overwhelmingly voted to prohibit mining in Cajamarca. (See yesterday's briefs.) The vote could affect the development of La Colosa, which has the potential to become South America's largest gold mine, reports the BBC. But yesterday Colombia's Mining Minister German Arce said the exploration license granted to South African mining giant AngloGold Ashanti would retain validity, and that the ban could not be applied retroactively. AngloGold Ashanti has invested $370 million in La Colosa, $19 million of which has gone to programs for the community -- including investments in the local hospital and stadium -- reports la Silla Vacía, analyzing why the company's strategy failed nonetheless.
  • A 117 fighters claiming to be FARC members have turned themselves into the military in Tumaco. But the guerrilla force has not recognized them. They are an example of the guerrilla's dark side factions, dedicated to drug trafficking and extortion and kidnapping, reports la Silla Vacía. The FARC is unwilling to recognize the group, and the issue shows some of the difficulties moving forward in the peace process, according to the piece.
  • #delacallealpalacio: Humberto de la Calle, who led the Colombian government's team in negotiations with the FARC, is being urged by peace activists in the country to run for president, reports La Silla Vacía
  • El Salvador's FLMN government is putting together a law that would establish a transitional justice system for war crimes committed during the country's civil war. The goal is to keep former guerrillas and members of the armed forces from facing jail time after the country's Supreme Court overthrew a long standing amnesty law last year, according to El Faro.
  • Venezuela's Supreme Court granted itself legislative powers this morning, after ruling the opposition-majority National Assembly was in contempt of court, reports AFP.
  • The OAS Permanent Council meeting earlier this week failed to reach agreement over suspending Venezuela. (See yesterday's post.) But the "session provided encouraging evidence that the country’s political and economic crisis is prompting an increasingly energetic and coordinated response from Venezuela’s Latin American neighbors," writes Geoff Ramsey at Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights. "The government of Venezuela, rather than being pushed into counterproductive isolation by being removed from the OAS, will face diplomatic pressure to restore democratic order on new, promising fronts." He points to takeaways for diplomacy from the meeting such as Mexico's leading role, the U.S. taking a step back, and a shift to towards discussing how to address the Venezuelan crisis instead of whether there is one.
  • Argentina passed a medical marijuana bill that guarantees certain patients access to cannabis oil, which will be imported until national production comes online, reports EFE. The bill was pushed by a local group, Mama Cultiva, of mothers of children with epilepsy -- but activists failed to obtain permission to home-grow cannabis for medical purposes.
  • A Mexican judicial council suspended a judge who acquitted a young man accused in a high-profile sexual assault case. Judge Anuar Gonzalez Hemadi issued a verdict earlier this week that exonerated a youth from an affluent family who abducted and assaulted a classmate because he did not enjoy himself and did so without “lascivious intent." The ruling was criticized as an example of perceived impunity of Mexico's upper classes and failure to take sexual assault seriously. (See yesterday's briefs.) Mexico’s Plenary Council of the Federal Judiciary said it will investigate Hemadi's handling of the case, and his verdict is now on hold, reports the Los Angeles Times.
  • Nearly 20 million Mexicans have fallen into poverty since NAFTA was enacted 23 years ago, according to a new CEPR report. Real wages have fallen and 5 million family farmers were displaced, reports TeleSUR.
  • Two inmates died and 13 were wounded in a Mexican prison riot near Monterrey, reports the BBC. Prisoners were protesting lack of food and water after a riot the previous day.
  • U.S. federal agents arrested the attorney general for the Mexican state of Nayarit on charges that he conspired to smuggle heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine into the U.S, reports the Los Angeles Times.
  • Former Chihuahua governor Cesar Duarte has fled to Texas to avoid accusations of corruption, said his successor yesterday. He said officials will seek a detention and extradition order, reports the Associated Press.
  • A move by Paraguayan President Horacio Cartes to allow reelection is causing tension in a country critics say could be sliding back to dictatorship. On Tuesday legislators debating a motion that would permit the bill to amend the constitution traded punches and criticisms. And riot police sealed off the congress, reports the Guardian. The vote is scheduled for today.  Polls suggest that nearly 80% of Paraguayans oppose re-election via constitutional amendment, and opposition parties have promised to resist the move.
  • About a 1,000 protesters marched in Asunción yesterday demanding for agrarian reform, reports EFE.
  • Funding for Trump's wall could be left out of a spending bill that the U.S. Congress must pass next month, as Republican's seek to avoid complicating negotiations, reports the BBC.
  • Brazilian President Michel Temer is angling for a visit to the White House, reports Reuters.
  • Nicaragua and Israel reestablished diplomatic relations, which were suspended in 2010 in protest over a deadly Israeli raid on a flotilla trying to break a blockade of Gaza, reports Reuters.
  • This 1980's shot of a mercenary in El Salvador was taken by Derek Hudson, who portrays the scene in an interview with the Guardian. "I bought him a beer and, as he raised the bottle, managed to get three shots in before he went ballistic. He was swearing and called his friends with rifles over and pushed me about. I don’t know what would have happened if they’d realised I’d shot off some frames already. I realised I’d taken a big risk, but I didn’t think about it at the time. I quickly ordered more beers, hoping to calm them down, and then just left."

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