Canadian mining projects in Latin America pit people against profit — but there is hope
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Canadian mining projects in Latin America pit people against profit — but there is hope

Despite its connections to human rights violations and environmental devastation, mineral extraction — both legal and illegal — is big business in Latin America.

In countries like Costa Rica, Peru, Brazil, Colombia, Argentina, Mexico, Guatemala, Chile and El Salvador, international mining companies have been directly and indirectly linked to deforestation as well as threats and violence against indigenous communities.

Communities versus companies

While gold, copper and coal mining is profitable for international firms, many of them Canadian, it can be devastating in terms of the environmental health of the areas surrounding mines and for civilians living near to extractive activities.

Lima, Peru, which will play host to a mining summit in November, was also the site of protests and alternative meetings at a recent summit of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. One of the issues that concerned the protesters — among them members of worker’s unions, feminist organizations and indigenous groups — was the problems associated with the mining industry.

From Upside Down World:

As the global price of mineral commodities boomed up to its peak in 2013, Peru’s government promptly expanded the scope of extractive activities in its territory. At the same time, however, the number and intensity of social conflicts over these projects also escalated. The ombudsperson’s office documented 223 active socio-environmental conflicts in mid-2013. The same report noted that 196 people were killed and 2,369 were injured in conflicts over natural resources between 2006 and 2011. Most of these tragedies surrounded mining projects.

A Canadian election could signal a positive change for Latin American anti-mining activists

Some Latin American governments are content choosing windfalls from mineral extraction over environmental and human welfare. Multinational extraction companies that operate in the region take advantage of these governments’ often-brutal methods of dealing with anything or anyone standing in the way of profitable mining projects, regardless of the risks they pose to local inhabitants or the ecology.

Canada, which has multiple mining projects in several Latin American countries, has so far resisted legislation that could prevent and punish human rights violations and environment crimes connected to these projects.

However, the coming regime change in Canada from a Conservative to Liberal government may mean that Canadian mining firms operating abroad will be held accountable for involvement or turning a blind eye to the targeting of anti-mining activists, at times including unjust imprisonment and death.

Far from ensuring that mining-affected communities enjoy the full range of protection under the law, governments – including the Canadian government – have twisted the law to protect and promote mining interests by targeting community activists and defenders.

— Jen Moore, Latin America Program Coordinator, MiningWatch Canada (via teleSUR)

While we cannot expect that the new Liberal government of Justin Trudeau will be a silver bullet solution for the environment and indigenous populations of Latin America, it is at least a sign of hope that there might be some progress. The Liberal Party has voiced support for regulating the practices of Canadian mineral and fossil fuel companies operating abroad in order to assure that these companies follow international human rights standards.

If Canadian firms operating abroad improve their environmental and human rights standards, it may go a long way to bettering Canada’s international image, suffering in recent years under the Conservative government led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

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