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Oaxaca: Plans for New, Enlarged Military Base on Communal Lands

In the beginning of 2017 after an order from the federal government, Alejandro Murat, the governor of Oaxaca, announced that the 28th Military Zone’s campus, today located in the municipality of Santa Lucia del Camino, would be enlarged in terms of infrastructure as well as number of soldiers and relocated to Tlacolula de Matamoros, just 30 kilometers [19 miles] from the city of Oaxaca. This announcement provoked an immediate response from the region’s inhabitants, who made it known that they would not allow the installation of the base.

The donation of 300 hectares [741 acres] of communal lands was initially proposed to the state government for the relocation of this new military complex, although these lands are legally under the responsibility and protection of the community members of this region, where the highest authorities are the community assemblies. The SEDENA (Ministry of National Defense) and the state government first attempted to approach San Mateo Macuilxóchitl, where they were rejected in a general assembly. Afterwards they approached the neighboring community of Teotitlán del Valle, and finally, Tlacolula de Matamoros and Villa de Mitla, where they received the same response from the assemblies.

It seemed that the government and the Ministry of National Defense (SEDENA) had changed their attempt at relocation after the population’s decision by assembly not to accept the base or cede their lands, but what happened was actually a change of strategy.

They hired a real estate company that has been using people from the same community to facilitate individual land purchases. “This time, a company that has refused to provide its name to the owners of these plots has approached them through intermediaries not just to make their offer clear, but to agree on a specific price per square meter—which will be settled between the 20th and 30th of this month, November 2017—without mentioning that these lands will be used to put in the military base”, declared the residents of Tlacolula de Matamoros in a statement published November 13, 2017.

“First they approached asking for copies of the property titles and offering between 150 and 170 pesos [$8 to $9 USD] per square meter. Now a new problem has come up—speculation on land prices. Because they’re offering people a laughable sum, dispossessing them and then increasing the price by five or seven times”,

JAVIER RUIZ, A MEMBER OF THE AUTONOMOUS INVESTIGATION AND ACTION GROUP WHO HAS ACCOMPANIED COMMUNITIES IN THE REGION, TOLD AVISPA MIDIA.

The town’s inhabitants have several concerns over the impacts that the military camp will bring. “Environmental, social, and cultural impacts generated by new housing developments and shopping centers”, they point out in their statement.

In March of this year, Division General Alfonso Duarte Mújica, who holds a Military Staff diploma, confirmed that the SEDENA base, with more than 5,000 soldiers, could trigger economic growth in the neighboring communities. Between the salaries of troops, officers, generals, etc., approximately 25 million pesos [$1.3 million USD] flow through this base monthly: “These resources”, he said, “could be taken advantage of by stores, hotels, restaurants, and transport companies in the area where the new army base is built”.

It seems the government and the SEDENA have been quick to mention the beneficial impacts for these communities, but they haven’t talked about any of the negative effects, which any project is obligated to, no matter the field. “The effects of the population increase in the region will be a shortage of potable water, insufficient garbage collection. And then there are the experiences from other contexts in other Mexican states where the military has established itself and we see a proliferation of the sale of drugs and alcohol, abuse of authority, venereal diseases, bars and brothels”, added a member of the Autonomous Investigation and Action Group.

See also ⇒ The US Southern Commands Silent Occupation of the Amazon

“Faced with all of this, the concerns come with questions about the size of the base, which is comparable to the size of the city of Tlacolula. Why do they need a territory that’s larger than the Salina Cruz refinery, the Tuxtepec brewery, the cement plant in Lagunas or the factories of the Papaloapan Basin [all large industrial projects]?” ask the residents of Tlacolula, who have put out an urgent call to the region’s communities to remain alert to this project’s developments.

Strategic relocation

The concerns of the inhabitants of the Central Valleys of Oaxaca with the base’s installation are in part due to the fact that this base is directly linked with more than 50 mining projects and wind farms that are on the docket for their communities.

“At first we didn’t know why they were insisting on the relocation of the military base, but it’s because of the importance of Highway 190 and the international highway in terms of commodity flows [translator’s note: the state is seeking to build a new international superhighway through the region as part of the Puebla-Panama Plan]. The second matter is what we call the mining corridor, where we have identified 50 mining projects, which run from the community of Totolapan all the way to the village of Lachigoló”, states Ruiz.

Map and infographic of mining concessions and active mines in Tlacolula, Oaxaca.

Oaxaca is one of the states in the Mexican republic where struggle and resistance in defense of communal lands, and the territory as a whole, are on the increase, and this has led to situations where the state has employed extreme violence. “As such, having a military base in the middle of a context of territorial defense makes these communities vulnerable”, maintains Ruiz.

The experience of other communities that have had to deal with the presence of a military base in their territory has made it necessary to self-organize in this region. “At the moment it began, this organization was spontaneous, due to the army’s actions in other parts of the country. There’s a general consensus of distaste and fear towards members of the army. The people are also clear on the fact that the army won’t bring any benefits to the communities; on the contrary, it’s widely known that it will always stand guard so that the investors can freely carry out their extractive endeavors”, says Ruiz.

The Autonomous Investigation and Action Group has taken on an arduous task, in partnership with the communities of the Central Valleys: doing the job that the companies and state and federal governments are responsible for, in terms of the negative effects that the many projects designated for the region will generate. “It’s not just the projects in the Tlacolula Valley; it’s an intrinsic relationship with the wind farms in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec and their transmission lines, as well as the Special Economic Zone that they’re trying to establish in Salina Cruz. These projects are connected and we believe that the presence of the army in our communities is responding to a need to control the population”, charges Ruiz, who is also a resident of the Tlacolula Valley.

Meanwhile, the communities of this region are planning an urgent assembly that will take place in the course of the week. They have made it clear in their statement that, faced with this scenario of possible dispossession and the imposition of an unknown project, they demand “the clarification of this matter from the municipal and state authorities, as well as the rejection of any complex that might affect our territory”.

Click ⇒ here for the complete statement by residents of the valley (in Spanish).

Militarization and “Shock Doctrine” Policies Abound After Earthquake in Mexico

The colored tarps hung over streets and patios of homes awaiting repair have become part of the everyday landscape of the Isthmus communities in Tehuantepec, Oaxaca, in southern Mexico, after the 8.2 magnitude earthquake that hit the country on September 7 causing around 100 deaths. It was the most intense earthquake to strike Mexico in a century. People are still afraid and panicked due to the destruction that the earthquake and its aftershocks have caused. The earth still hasn't settled. Since the initial quake, the Mexican National Seismological Service has estimated more than 6,000 aftershocks, in addition to the subsequent earthquake on September 19 that measured a magnitude of 7.2 and devastated Mexico City and other areas of central Mexico. Three hundred and sixty-nine deaths related to the September 19 earthquake have been accounted for as of October 4.

The Isthmus of Tehuantepec, measuring 20,000 square kilometers, is the region that has been most affected by the September 7 earthquake. Official data presented by the government of Oaxaca show that the earthquake affected 120,000 people in 41 different municipalities, and around 60,600 homes. Of those residences, 20,664 were lost completely, while 39,956 sustained partial damage. Their infrastructure, drinking water and sewage systems are damaged. The local economy has taken a hit. The streets are piled with garbage. Many are concerned that a possible health crisis is at hand.

Public officials have resorted to opportunism, making humanitarian relief conditional -- delivering aid upon certain conditions and to supporters of certain political parties.

It's been more than a month since the earthquake and the communal kitchens and tents set up by neighborhoods in public spaces, through their own resources or through donations from people, have become the only option for these communities. Shelters provided for by the state are almost nonexistent. In the municipality of San Mateo del Mar, for example, where 80 percent of homes were affected, the state response was to send the Navy to set up a shelter, but this meager gesture has been surpassed by the organizing of community members, who have found ways to address their most immediate needs.

Seven civilian organizations carried out a humanitarian aid observation mission among the communities in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec region. In their main conclusions, the organizations noted that "the basic, urgent needs of the people affected by the earthquake [have] not been met; and ... a lack of government coordination can be observed in the distribution of humanitarian aid". They also stated that "pre-candidates and public officials have resorted to opportunism by making humanitarian relief conditional, delivering humanitarian aid upon certain conditions to those who are in some way close to the government or to supporters of certain political parties."

The state's immediate policy in reaction to the earthquake was to demolish local homes that had been affected. In the municipality of Ixtaltepec, for example, residents reported that demolitions began hours after the earthquake. "The earthquake happened around midnight and by dawn the machines were already prepared to begin demolition, without any kind of qualified assessment or evaluation", stated a resident of the municipality who prefers to remain anonymous due to safety concerns.

Indeed, the official response to the disaster was top down and ignored the needs and capabilities of local communities, according to residents and organizers.

"This policy of destruction comes from the federal government, without any serious assessment", said engineer Gerardo de Gyves Ramirez, member of the Regional Council for the Reconstruction of Our Towns, made up of organizations and residents of the Isthmus. "Peña Nieto said it: 'I invited my friends who work in construction to come and rebuild.' Who are Peña Nieto's friends? They aren't the local construction workers or engineers. They are individuals that are connected up top. So, what these companies need is for the territory to be cleared so they can act. It means business for the major construction companies. People are scared, they're in shock, and the government is taking advantage of people's fear".

One of the demands of the Council is that there be a serious study of the residences that were affected and that their condition for reconstruction be realistically evaluated.

The Isthmus of Tehuantepec region is rich in culture and traditions, resulting from the diverse ethnic groups that live in the area -- Zapotecs, Chontales, Huaves, Zoques, Mixes, Mixtecs, Tzotziles and Chinantecs. "The home is a fundamental part of the culture of a community. We have a particular architecture that the people of the Isthmus have developed for centuries", Ramirez said.

The government's response to the housing situation has been paltry at best. For example, President Enrique Peña Nieto announced on October 2 that the government would distribute bank cards for monetary compensation. Those whose homes have suffered irreparable damage will receive $6,478; those whose homes sustained partial damage will receive $1,619. Immediately after this announcement, a line of trailers filled with construction materials made an appearance in the municipality of Juchitán, along with a sign that read, "In this establishment the compensatory card is accepted for the purchase of materials".

There is a pervasive feeling among residents of the community that the government does not value their homes or their lives.

Besides the miserly amount offered for the reconstruction of homes, compared to the homes' value, the way in which the compensation is provided presents difficulties for the diverse communities. In the communities along the coast, for example, where houses are built from palm leaves and wood, they will not be able to replace these materials by purchasing them from the construction supply stores that will accept these compensation cards.

Economic and Military Control

"Seven days after the earthquake, they came to my house and condemned it as being irreparably damaged", said Reina Gutiérrez Ruiz, a resident of the San Mateo del Mar municipality. "They simply said, 'Ma'am find somewhere else where you can stay because you can't live here anymore.' And they demolished the house. A government worker arrived and told us that it wasn't an adequate place to build a home and that the government was going to find another place to relocate our house. So, I [asked] him, how are you going to relocate us if our ancestors always lived here?"

This is a common theme among residents of the community: a pervasive feeling that the government does not value their homes or their lives.

"We can't expect blessings from the government; we're a nuisance to them", said Beatriz Gutierrez Luis, teacher of Indigenous education, member of the Coalition of Oaxacan Teachers for Indigenous Recognition and resident of San Mateo del Mar. "For them, it would have been better if the earthquake had completely done away with our villages".

The teacher's statement is supported by the fact that her village has sustained a fierce fight against mega projects that have been present in the region for at least 15 years. "The government has an interest in the community leaving their land", she said. "Our lands are sought after. Even though we rejected the mega project through a town hall meeting, the government wants to install a wind turbine park on our lands. In the Isthmus there are 1,916 wind turbines already installed, and the government plans a second installment phase. We also know there are mining deals but we won't permit that".

Just as in San Mateo del Mar, historically, the entire Isthmus of Tehuantepec is sought after due to its natural resources. "The ransacking of wood, oil, water, minerals and energy has gone uninterrupted", Luis said.

Additionally, the southern border of Mexico is a high traffic corridor between Central and North America, both for goods and for migrants. For this reason, the region is being considered for neoliberal development plans like the Mesoamerican Integration and Development Project. This is an economic integration project which began in 1999 with policy advice and funding from the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). It includes all seven Central American countries in the construction of wind turbine parks, highways, oil and gas pipelines, and power lines.

More recently, the Mexican government has established Special Economic Zones (SEZ) in the region. SEZs have specific conditions attached that make them highly attractive to potential investors.

The economic control of the region works in conjunction with the Mexican government's plans for population control, such as the Programa Frontera Sur. With the support of the United States, this plan was designed to regulate the travel of migrants en route toward the United States. With the pretense of fighting drug trafficking, it maintains the presence of several different security forces that facilitate large-scale military control of this strategic zone.

Since the earthquake, these communities are being militarized even further. "There is a clear intent to militarize as much as possible to have control over territory, as well as physical and psychological spaces -- all of it being disguised as humanitarian aid. It's brutal", Luis points out.

According to Jehú Pinacho of the Autonomous Investigation Group, the military -- in addition to providing a means of state control over the territory -- is also complicit with the wind turbine companies.

"An example would be the case of Unión Hidalgo, where members of the community informed [us] that Marine Corps members were hoarding the shipments of donated goods sent by civil society to later allow the wind turbine company EDF to label the goods as their own. Afterwards, EDF was accompanied by the Marine Corps to distribute the goods in the streets of the community",

COMMENTED PINACHO.

The Special Economic Zones

Mexico's government has been expressing interest in the construction of a special economic zone precisely in the Isthmus, and the zone in question encompasses the area affected by the earthquake. Two days after the earthquake, the head of the Federal Authority for the Development of Special Economic Zones, Gerardo Candiani accelerated the process of construction of the SEZ in the region, supposedly to reactivate the economic activity of areas affected by the devastation left by the earthquake.

The truth of the matter is that this construction establishes a zone in which enormous privileges are bestowed upon investors, who, in addition to tax exemptions, will have control of movement and security in the region. The design and plan of the SEZ is led by private consultants with the counsel of the IDB. According to the nonprofit Project on Organization, Development, Education and Research (PODER), this new federal government policy represents solidification of the extractivist model and a step toward the privatization of Mexican territory.

The government's response calls to mind Naomi Klein's concept of the "shock doctrine". In The Shock Doctrine, Klein held that while the economic policies of Nobel laureate Milton Friedman and the Chicago School of Economics have had important impacts on countries with free-market models, it is not because they were popular, but rather because the influence of disasters on social psychology creates commotion and confusion which permits the adoption of unpopular reforms.

"It's a very difficult context for us because the government is using the shock doctrine in our region and taking advantage of the devastation", said Carlos Manso, resident of Unión Hidalgo and author of the book Communality, Indigenous Resistance and Neocolonialism. "People are afraid and more worried about meeting their most immediate needs. While in the midst of surviving this catastrophe and forming bonds amongst ourselves, we also have to find a way to mobilize against the government's larger strategy -- to displace us".

Disaster Opportunism

The context of the disaster has been an opportunity for politicians and business people. On September 29, days after Candiani's declaration, the federal government, without first establishing a protocol that would meet the basic needs of the affected communities in Oaxaca and Chiapas, officially announced the declaration of three Special Economic Zones: the Port of Chiapas, Chiapas; Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz; and Lázaro Cárdenas-La Unión, in the states of Michoacán and Guerrero.

Even though the Isthmus of Tehuantepec has not been declared a SEZ during this first stage, Candiani stated that the project has achieved 90 percent of the prerequisites, like territory acquisitions, for it to be declared an SEZ and that this declaration will be made in the coming months.

Oaxaca is a rural and Indigenous state in which communal land comprises 76 percent of the territory, surpassing the total of private property. This is the principal challenge to implementing the SEZs -- the difficulty of privatizing lands, since they are already in the hands of Indigenous people and rural farmers.

In April, 2017, the municipal council of Salina Cruz, a city that will fall within the SEZ, signed an agreement with the Urban Land Tenure Regulation Commission for the State of Oaxaca, with the aim to "regulate" land tenure in areas designated by the government as "irregular human settlements", transforming these lands into private property, state or municipal assets under the argument that it is "the best response to society's demands".

In May, 2017, one month after signing this agreement and several months before the earthquake, Candiani announced that there were 1,230 hectares of land available as concessions to investors.

US and China Will Benefit

The US and China have powerful interests in the Special Economic Zones. In 2009, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) presented a report titled, "Wind Energy Export Potential from Mexico to the US". This document states that Mexico figures as a potential exporter of wind energy to the states of California and Texas. The two most important wind-generating regions in Mexico are the Isthmus of Tehuantepec and Baja California.

China has also shown investment interest in the SEZs, specifically in the areas of administration, construction, development, management and maintenance. China's interests in the steel, metal, agriculture and information technology industries also make the SEZs particularly attractive for investment.

However, amid the accelerating push for development, resistance persists. Indigenous communities are standing their ground against the SEZs. On August 22, just days before the earthquake, representatives of social organizations from 23 municipalities of the Isthmus region gathered for the national forum, "Extractivism or Life" and agreed to reject the SEZs. In their final agreements, they upheld their opposition to extractivism and to SEZs as industrial models that destroy nature and communal property, while directly affecting the local work force, heirloom seeds like corn, and life sources, such as water and energy.

The US Southern Command’s Silent Occupation of the Amazon

Brazil, Colombia and Peru share a triple borderland separating north from south on the South American continent. Located deep in the Amazon forest, this is the theater of operations in which more than 30 military companies test their services and merchandise. The multinational military exercise known as AmazonLog2017, is organized by the Armed Forces of Brazil. More than 1,500 members of the Brazilian military and military members from invited countries participated with high-caliber weapons and munitions, boats, aircraft, helicopters, information technologies, nautical and energy intelligent equipment, radars and sensors. The Southern Command of the United States -- the Unified Combatant Command of the United States Department of Defense with influence in the Caribbean, Central and South America -- is also an AmazonLog2017 participant.

Activists and researchers are alarmed about this military exercise. According to Mexican economist and geopolitical specialist Ana Esther Ceceña, AmazonLog2017 allows "the placement of troops that facilitate specific territorial incursions and rapid response operations, both of which imply the use of special forces, whether those be US forces, local or private on the triple borderland".

While the exercise involves temporary military drills, many fear that it welcomes larger future operations. According to Ceceña, AmazonLog2017 creates the conditions to allow future military operations of US troops, specifically in two strategic areas: the lower part of Venezuela and along the Atlantic coast, where Brazil will allow the US access to the Alcȃntara military base.

The AmazonLog2017 military actions were planned in three phases. The first, the industry's commercial phase, occurred between August 28 and September 1, 2017, in Manaus, the capital of the state of Amazonas. Two thousand personnel participated in this event, which was comprised of military, government agencies and arms industry corporations.

Between September 26-28, the second phase took place, focusing on ground operations organization. This phase consisted of the Humanitarian Logistics Symposium in conjunction with the Military Employee Materials Exposition and preparatory activities for the triple borderland military drills.

In the third, most important phase, the businesses will exhibit and test their products in jungle-based tactical humanitarian and war drills along the triple borderland with the Multinational Logistics Drill. This phase is scheduled for November 6-13, 2017. More than 1,500 people are expected to participate, including military personnel and arms industry agencies from Brazil, the US and other countries.

"This exercise will bring a series of improvements in the logistics of the western Amazon [...] we are developing a humanitarian aid doctrine of exchange between neighboring countries of interoperability between armed forces and civil agencies",

SAID THEOPHILO GASPAR DE OLIVEIRA, GENERAL OF THE BRAZILIAN ARMY. HE IS RESPONSIBLE FOR THE LOGISTICAL COMMAND OF AMAZONLOG2017 AND RECENTLY HEADED THE NEGOTIATIONS BETWEEN BRAZIL AND THE UNITED STATES FOR THE ACQUISITION OF FOUR C-23 SHERPA AIRCRAFT IN JULY 2017.

In order to concentrate the logistical teams, the Brazilian government created conditions for mounting a provisional logistical base in the Tabatinga Municipality in the Amazon State. There, armed forces were concentrated from 16 countries, including Germany, Canada, Chile, the United Kingdom, Japan and Israel, as well as observers from the Inter-American Defense Board, the Conference of American Armies and the Council of South American Defense.

Authorities Tout Aid While Laying Groundwork for Exploitation

Despite its military nature and origins, much of the publicity around the AmazonLog2017 exercises has centered on hypothetical benefits for civilians. In a press conference, General Racine Lima, the coordinator of AmazonLog2017, argued that the army would be focused principally on training to support peace operations and humanitarian aid. Lima mentioned that the upcoming exercises would also support the creation of the Tabatinga Integrated Multinational Logistics Base, which will serve as the provisional base during the military exercises.

AmazonLog2017 organizers took advantage of the military exercise to make infrastructure improvements that permit massive troop movements in remote Amazon locations. Smart energy grids, communication, water purification systems have been installed as well. For example, as part of these drill preparations, $15.8 million was invested in the micro-region of Río Alto Solimões, in the Brazilian state of Amazonas, to create docking terminals.

Behind the humanitarian discourse, it appears that the organizers of AmazonLog2017 chose the theater of operations for this multinational military exercise very strategically, to pursue natural resource extraction that threatens the territories of more than 300 Indigenous communities.

"As Pueblos of the Colombian Amazon, we do not have information about this exercise," said Álvaro Piranga Cruz, a communication adviser for the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia. "But we do know that there are vested interests in all of the Amazon. Interests of petroleum, mining and carbon-trading-based megaprojects. They come to deceive our Pueblos with environmental conservation projects, and we do not know [what] this implies. For example, there are mining agencies that are conducting seismic studies in our territories without anyone's consent."

According to a 2012 report from the Amazonian Network of Georeferenced Socio-Environmental Information, within the larger Amazon region, there are more than 327 plots of land designated for petroleum extraction, comprising 14 percent of the land in the Amazon.

The report notes that the Amazon countries most affected by petroleum extraction are Peru, Colombia, Brazil and Ecuador and further notes that "The mining zones occupy, today, 15% of Natural Protected Areas and 19% of indigenous territories in the Amazon".

"To the Colombian national government, the reality that the Indigenous Pueblos of Colombia live ... is completely unknown", said Piranga Cruz. "There is a law about the Indigenous Pueblos, but in practice, it does not work. For example, Indigenous Pueblos in the Northern Amazon are demanding that these territories be titled as Indigenous territory and the government is not responding to these needs, but it is responding to the needs of megaprojects and smashing our rights".

In February 2017 the Peruvian government announced the Peru-Petro reform based on the three pillars of new contracting models, incentive structures and a national hydrocarbon plan. "This triple strategy seeks to attract investment in both the exploration and exploitation phases of petroleum developments", said Alvaro Ríos, the managing partner of the consulting firm Gas Energy Latin America. "The principal corporate investors are Shell, Chevron, Total and the China National Petroleum Corporation", noted Ríos.

But not everyone in Peru is seeing the benefits promised by the industry. "Petroleum activity has not brought us development; on the contrary, our lands and territory are contaminated and our subsistence resources are as well", argue the Peruvian Quechua, Achuar and Kichwa Pueblos in an October 2017 press release made by Pueblo traditional leaders. These groups have indicated their intent to maintain resistance against oil-based extractivism in the region.

Indigenous Territories in Danger

The Amazon region is composed of 7.4 million square kilometers and inhabited by 33 million people, including 385 Indigenous Pueblos of diverse ethnic backgrounds. Some of these groups have been living in isolation, meaning that for generations, they have maintained themselves deep within the Amazon forest without any outside contact. These areas have been considered inaccessible until now and are of great interest to the Brazilian military.

The Indigenous Missionary Council (CIMI, from its Portuguese acronym) documented the murder of at least 118 Indigenous persons in 2016 and 137 in 2015.

According to data from a 2016 CIMI report, the greatest number of victims lived in the Brazilian Amazon state of Roraima, where there were more than 100 murders of primarily Yanomami Indigenous persons between 2015 through the beginning of 2017.

The governmental organization representing the rights of Indigenous peoples in Brazil, the National Indian Foundation (FUNAI, from its Portuguese acronym), has been a participant in the events of AmazonLog2017. This may seem odd; however, it is less odd when one considers that Franklimberg Ribeiro de Freitas, the current head of FUNAI, previously served as the adviser on institutional relations in the Amazon Military Command.

See also ⇒ Southern Command in Costa Rica: US Occupation Disguised as Humanitarian Aid

Truthout reached out to FUNAI to clarify its role within AmazonLog2017 and the vulnerability of Indigenous peoples in the region, but FUNAI did not respond to comment at the time of publication.

The Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources and the Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation participated in the events of AmazonLog2017, serving as mediators between the government and corporations in order to foster the development and incursion of megaprojects in Indigenous territories.

Military Agreement With the United States

As Brazilian society is experiencing economic and political crises, the international military industry is taking advantage of the context of upheaval to test its equipment. Amazonlog2017 is a product of the arms industry and of powerful governments beyond Brazil, particularly the United States.

In 2016, the Brazilian Army signed an exchange agreement with the United States military. This agreement involves cooperation between US ground troops in joint maneuvers in 2017 and 2020. The two armies will end their activities in the United States at the Joint Readiness Training Center in Fort Polk, Louisiana.

Lieutenant Colonel Alexandre Amorim de Andrade, head of the training division at the Jungle Warfare Training Center, affirmed that the US military had begun to train in the Amazon. "Beginning in 2016, there was a specific training focused exclusively on foreigners: The International Practice in Jungle Operations. Now this practice is called the International Seminar of Jungle Operations, and the United States and Peru have confirmed the participation of their military", said Amorim de Andrade.

Although Brazil has not declared war with another country for the last 100 years, its military has participated in UN peacekeeping operations. The current modernization program of the Brazilian Army is geared toward "non-conventional" warfare, including operations against "terrorism".

"Humanitarian Aid" in the South

In 2010, after 30 years without an established military agreement, the US and Brazilian governments signed a military cooperation agreement, but the agreement did not authorize the use of bases or cession of rights of passage for US personnel. However, since President Michel Temer took office in 2016, the US has been given a wider berth in Brazil. The US Southern Command received the green light for more activities in Brazilian territory with the AmazonLog2017 exchange agreements and military exercises.

Before Temer took office, the groundwork was being laid for the Southern Command's presence in the region. In 2013, representatives from the US Embassy and the regional government of Tacna, Peru, inaugurated the Regional Emergency Operations Center. The US government provided $600,000 "to support the Center as part of the Department of Defense Southern Command Humanitarian Assistance Program", according to a press release from the US Embassy in Peru.

The US embassy noted that the Center was just one of the 15 Regional Emergency Operations Centers projected for Peru. The seven already-finished centers are located in Arequipa, Lambayeque, Pucallpa, Junín, Tacna, Tumbes and San Martín. Construction is also planned in Puno, Cuzco, de Huancavelica, La Libertad, Apurímac, Loreto, Ancash and Moquegua. In all, the US will provide more than $20 million for these projects, all part of the Southern Command Humanitarian Assistance Program.

"These Centers respond during times of natural disasters," according to the embassy's press release, and "they allow the integration of a complete range of public services required during an emergency, services like medical and public health services, police, firefighters, and military personnel." However, member organizations of the Campaña Continental América Latina y el Caribe, which promotes regional peace, declared in a press release that "behind these compounds financed by the Southern Command exists a process of regional occupation".

On February 20, 2013, the Southern Command announced it would be opening another Emergency Operations Center, this one in Santa Rosa del Aguaray, in the state of San Pedro, Paraguay. The announcement was made by the director of planning for the Southern Command, George Ballance, after a meeting with Bernardino Soto Estigarribia, Paraguay's defense minister,. These zones created by the Southern Command are in addition to the eight military bases already installed in Colombia.

For Marcelo Cero, a Brazilian sociologist and specialist in international relations, the objective of AmazonLog2017 is not simply to train troops to lead during humanitarian crises; it is to insert the Brazilian Armed Forces in the strategic orbit of the US, which has already taken steps to cooperate with Peru and Colombia. Furthermore, according to Cero, "The participating armies, without a doubt, will put pressure on Venezuela, a regime that opposes US interests in South America".

Meanwhile, in Ana Esther Ceceña's opinion, this military exercise enforces the US military's dominant presence in South America.

"It is Chevron's war, a war of coltan, of uranium, of thorium, of gas, and of gold", Ceceña said. "It is a US war to bolster their material conditions and hegemonic position".

International Labor Organization’s Convention 169 Helps Legalize Land Grabs on Indigenous Territories

Indigenous peoples' territories are some of the few places where natural resources are preserved throughout the world. In fact, they protect about 80 percent of the planet's biodiversity but are legal owners of less than 11 percent of these lands, according to the World Bank. Because of this -- and the fact that so many companies hope to get a piece of these resources -- Indigenous peoples are often in a vulnerable position, and in a permanent kind of war with businesses and governments.

The International Labor Organization's (ILO) Convention 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples' Rights, together with the United Nations 2007 Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, have been the main international legal tools to defend territorial rights. In theory, Convention 169 guarantees Indigenous people residing in the signatory countries the right to their land. To this end, it establishes that for any project that a company or government plans in their territories, they must be guaranteed a free, prior and informed consultation.

Because Convention 169 commits the signatory states to guarantee the integrity of Indigenous peoples, it's been frequently invoked by Indigenous communities and peoples, especially in Latin America, when defending their territories in court. But the Convention has clear limitations that actually jeopardize its intent.

Indeed, the Convention is unprecedented in that it establishes that "all peoples have the right to self-determination." But in several official yet not-so-public statements, the ILO makes clear how far it sees Indigenous rights as going: "One of the concerns expressed in both political and business circles has to do with a misinterpretation of the Convention where the outcome of the consultations could be the vetoing of projects. Said consultations don't imply the right of veto and it's imperative that an agreement or consent be obtained," as stated in the document entitled "ILO Convention 169: Indigenous Peoples and Social Inclusion".

While in many parts of Latin America, Indigenous peoples are defending their struggle for self-determination through consultations, for high-level ILO officials, the mechanism's use is clear. "It's not a 'plebiscite' to obtain a 'yes or no' vote, nor to obtain a 'veto' around decisions with general benefit. It's a dialogue in good faith to enhance the benefits for Indigenous people regardless of the decision (the state) makes," said Carmen Moreno, director of ILO's Latin America regional office during the forum "Situation of the Right to Consultation in Convention 169," which was held in conjunction with the World Bank in Guatemala in April.

In fact, according to the international organization, it's governments that have the last word on Indigenous territories. "The power of the Convention is that it's an instrument through which the peoples concerned can participate freely in a dialogue with the State. But the State, ultimately, is the one who must make a decision", the ILO Convention 169: Indigenous Peoples and Social Inclusion reads. Regarding the most serious cases where peoples must be relocated from their territories, "even in these situations the people have no decision-making power", said Moreno.

In addition, Convention 169 establishes that the rights of Indigenous peoples in relation to natural resources must be protected, but it does not grant them exclusive rights over those resources.

Latin America: Principal Signatory

The Convention was signed in 1989 and went into effect in 1991. To date, 15 of the 22 countries that have ratified it are in Latin America: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Peru and Venezuela. (In addition to Denmark, Spain, Fiji, Nepal, Norway, the Netherlands and the Central African Republic.)

The significant number of Latin American adherents to the Convention is not a coincidence. It's an attempt to appease the high-intensity conflicts generated by the massive growth of development projects throughout the region. The Latin American Mining Conflict Observatory (OCMAL) points out that over the last decade, Latin America has become one of the epicenters of mining expansion.

"Guaranteeing indigenous people's rights in Latin America: Progress in the past decade and remaining challenges", a report put out by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), registered more than 200 conflicts in Latin American Indigenous territories linked to extraction of hydrocarbons and mining from 2010 and 2013.

Térraba: Marked Cards

Carmen Moreno claims that development is the main objective. "The consultations established in Convention 169 are an instrument of good governance to contribute to the development and growth of countries," she said.

However, not everyone the Convention supposedly protects feels included. "They just forgot to ask if our definition of development is the same as their plan for our territories", says Broran tribe member Pablo Sivar, from the Térraba-Boruca Indigenous territory in Costa Rica, who is a part of the Council of Elders. "I definitely don't believe in their type of development".

Sivar and his community are aware of impending threats to their lands and water. "In Térraba, there used to be a lot of water, but not anymore. And they wanna finish off the main river we have, the Térraba River, also known as river Diquís, which in the Boruca language means 'big water'."

He went on to explain that the El Diquís Hydroelectric Project would be the largest hydroelectric plant in Central America, despite official statistics that show that about 99 percent of the country already has electricity. "Who will the Diquís Project favor? Who it will develop? Is it the Térraba Indigenous people? Is it the Indigenous people of the south? Or is it just a few people?"

Work on the Diquís Project began in 2006. After much resistance by the local community, the project was halted in 2011. Without any additional information, the company simply announced -- on the same day the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples James Anaya visited -- that it would withdraw its machinery and infrastructure from Térraba territory.

Approximately three years later, the government arrived to begin developing a consultation protocol for Indigenous peoples, with the financial cooperation of international organizations, such as the ILO and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). This was announced at one of the government meetings in Térraba, where Truthout was. "We know why they're here. We know what they want", Pablo Sivar stated.

In the same meeting, the locals wanted to know if the process was linked to the Diquís Project. Immediately, government officials denied any link and tried to change the subject. "This process has nothing to do with the project. We're here to develop a consultation protocol for Indigenous peoples", said Ana Gabriel, Costa Rica's vice minister for political affairs and citizen dialogue.

Government officials aren't transparent about the link between projects and the protocol in these public forums, and make contradictory statements to the media. The plan to build the dam in Broran territory continues. The Indigenous consultation would be the last stage before handing in all necessary documentation to obtain environmental viability and move forward with the project. Feasibility studies and designs are already in place. The construction is scheduled to start in 2018, and operation in 2025.

The attempt to obscure the relationship between the protocol and the project is not in vain. The Indigenous resistance of the hydroelectric dam is longstanding. "We know that everything is ready for them to resume the work," Cindy Broran of the Broran Indigenous Movement, founded by Térraba tribe members to resist the hydroelectric Project, told Truthout. "Consultation is the way to legitimize the company's presence in the territory and with it they'll be able to secure financing from international bodies, such as the World Bank. We know that everything's in place".

Project Halted Due to Lack of Consultation

According to Ana Gabriel, who's responsible for developing the consultation protocol in Costa Rica, the country owes a historic debt to its Indigenous peoples and the current government plans on making up for it. "It's no small matter that the president himself has issued a directive and given a mandate to develop this consultation protocol", she told Truthout.

Despite the politically correct rhetoric of healing and historical debts to Indigenous peoples, the truth is that development projects, funded by international institutions, are unviable because of the lack of consultation. The vice minister of Costa Rica himself admitted it: "There have been projects that have had to be stopped in Indigenous territories due to lack of consultation".

Diquís Project: A Bitter Experience

In 2006, the Diquís Project began in Broran territory with a permit issued by the Development Association, a government entity responsible for land management. "Before we knew it, trucks, cars and people were entering the community," said Broran. "We went to request information and they told us that they had moved forward with it because they had 76 signatures of people affiliated with the Development Association. The association gave the go-ahead for the company to come in and build the dam."

"When the company moved in, it became chaotic," Broran said. "They messed up the whole river, killing many species. Many shops sprang up to sell food, but mostly canteens and bars for workers from outside. The association gave permission for these businesses, without considering that Indigenous law prohibits the sale of alcohol within its territory. The illegal sale of land increased. Health centers and schools ran out of supplies."

Additionally, ancestral patrimony of the Broran people was looted. Between 2006 and 2010, archaeologists contracted by the company did intense work, recounts Broran. They dug three tunnels that still exist. "We learned from folks who worked there that they found many archeological sites, including our ancestors' cemeteries. They took everything they found. They took everything and we don't know where it is".

With Sights on Energy

Since the 1970s, the Costa Rican government has conducted studies to implement a hydroelectric project in the region. "Before, it was called Boruca Hydroelectric Project, which was about 15 km downstream from where the Diquís Project is today, but because of the resistance by the Boruca people, the project was cancelled. So, they moved it higher, in our lands, but it's the same project. It will affect the same river only now on Broran ancestral lands", Cindy Broran said.

According to a study by the World Rainforest Movement, geologists from the company Alcoa (where former US Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill was the CEO between 1987 and 1999) found deposits of bauxite in the General River Valley's subsoil. Bauxite is the prime material used to make aluminum. In 1970, Costa Rica's Legislative Assembly passed a law (No. 4562) saying Alcoa -- one of the three largest aluminum companies in the world and considered a defense company since one of its main clients is the United States armed forces -- could exploit up to 120 million tons of bauxite over 25 years and with a possible 15 years of extension, in exchange for building an aluminum refining plant in the same area.

Aluminum foundries require a great quantity of low-cost electric energy. The project is feasible provided a hydroelectric dam were to be built on the Rio Grande de Térraba, the study said.

The dam project triggered major resistance because many people considered it a violation and dangerous. Large demonstrations and protests took place, forcing Alcoa to give up its project.

Energy for the US

The Costa Rican Electricity Institute (ICE) in charge of the Diquís Project has shifted its objectives. According to the document "National and Transnational Pressures on Energy in Costa Rica", produced by the Association of Popular Initiatives Ditsö, the main reason for resuming construction of the hydroelectric project is the possibility of selling energy abroad, mainly to Mexico and the United States.

The dam is part of the Mesoamerica Project, initially called Puebla-Panama Plan (PPP) and funded by the United States government. It's an initiative which, among other things, includes an extensive network of infrastructure projects from Mexico to Panama "necessary to export -- or better yet, to plunder -- many of our natural resources, whose common destination is the U.S. and Mexico", the document states.

Diquís: Clean Energy?

To date, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) has financed feasibility, environmental and social impact studies around the Diquís project. They explained their investment as "contributing to increased energy supply in Costa Rica and Central America, promoting sustainability, efficiency and competitiveness of the region's energy sector, in order to address the impact of CAFTA (a "free trade" agreement between the United States, Central America and the Dominican Republic) in the region, through the implementation of a large-scale clean and renewable energy project".

The Process Is Finalized

The process of developing a consultation protocol was designed by the government to occur in four phases and began in March 2016. Of the 24 Indigenous territories of Costa Rica, 20 agreed to everything up until the last phase, including the people of Térraba. Now, the president must issue an order legitimizing the consultation protocol for Costa Rica.

"We debated a long time over whether or not to participate in this process. We're aware that the government always has political gains in mind", said Broran. "We also know that they manipulate the term 'consultation,' that they're trying to show good faith for public relations. But we want to be there, and say what we think, in front of all Costa Rica."

The Bribri people of Talamanca, a territory in southern Costa Rica, refused to participate in the development of the consultation protocol. "This whole process is a performance," Bribri tribe member Baudillo Salles Sánchez told Truthout. "Protocols and consultations are tools to justify entering and exploiting the territory. They do the consultation as they wish, and then they can say that they're exploiting our resources with our consent."

Panamá: Ngäbe-Buglé indigenous region at risk of disappearing

Clementina Pérez, sacerdotisa del Movimiento 22 de Septiembre, de la iglesia Mama-Tatda

Photo: Santiago Navarro F.

Translated by Alfie Lake

A few logs and interlaced planks give shape to two walls holding up a few pieces of metal sheeting; this is a makeshift hut. In the background two rickety wooden beds can be seen, along with two indigenous girls. The eldest, a girl of barely 15, pulled a memory out from the nostalgia. “I feel sad, because I can’t live how I used to live before. The company came, dammed the river and our house was flooded”, Elia Eiu recalled, while pointing out the place where her home used to be. In the now-lifeless waters of the river, murky and stagnant, all that can be seen is the top of the occasional palm tree or tree dying below the surface.

The Ngäbe-Buglé are indigenous peoples that reside in Western Panama, primarily in the Veraguas, Chiriquí and Bocas del Toro provinces. Today, the Ngäbe-Buglé indigenous territory is in mourning. A rotten stench rises from the depths of what was the ancestral Tabasará River, caused by the methane gas created by the plants and trees that were left underwater after the river was dammed in order to create clean energy through the Barro Blanco hydroelectric project. Barro Blanco has affected more than 170,000 Ngäbe-Buglé indigenous people who could lose their land and their way of life

Also submerged below the water are the petroglyphs from which the sacred writings of this people come. “When the water began to rise, the first level was up to where a petroglyph is located, at height 87; they flooded our sacred writings. The water level continued to go up, and now seven communities have been affected by the project and most of the petroglyphs are underwater” shared Hacket Bagamá, a youth of no more than 15 years who lives in Kiad, one of the communities worst-affected by the hydroelectric complex.

On the 22nd of May 2016, Panama’s National Public Services Authority (ASEP) approved the flooding of the reservoir. The Panamanian company responsible for the complex, Generadora del Istmo S.A. (GENISA), immediately proceeded with the flooding activities without informing local communities. This took place in a wider context where talks were being held between indigenous authorities and the government of Juan Carlos Varela, the current president of Panama. In the face of this situation the indigenous peoples have turned down a potential relocation and moved only a few metres away, where they still face impending danger given that only 30% of the reservoir has so far been filled.

“Before they dammed the river we had no communication difficulties, but now the rivers and the road have been flooded. We are having problems keeping in touch with each other, our canoes aren’t safe because the water is over 30 metres deep. A brother has already drowned because his canoe filled up with water. We can’t wash, a lot of the fish died and the trees were left underwater. This is where we collected water, it’s all very sad”,

SAID HACKET BAGAMÁ.

In the Environmental Impact Study, they claimed there were no people here, that no-one lived here and that’s why they didn’t inform us we were going to be evicted. They’ve already evicted some of our brothers and we don’t know when they’ll try to do the same to us”, said Bellini Jiménez, an indigenous teacher and member of the community of Kiad, in Ngäbe-Buglé territory.

Despite the resistance of the Ngäbe-Buglé peoples, the construction of the complex has been finished and the water level of the reservoir began to rise in August 2016. In total an area of 258.67 hectares has been flooded for the damming-up operation on the Tabasará River. Another 5 hectares will be taken up by the dam, the machine house and other associated works. Every day 28.84 megawatts of energy are generated here which will help, according to Varela, “to increase hydroelectric production and reduce dependence on fossil fuels which are imported to generate electricity, and to meet targeted reductions in CO2 emissions”.

“Almost overnight the government arrived with talk of climate change and sustainable development, and decided to dam our river in order to construct this project. We are peoples that will not back down; we’re not interested in their clean energy, we want our territory to remain just as it is”, said Goejet Miranda, an indigenous member of the community of Kiad and president of the 10 de Abril movement, an organization that came into being in 2007 to fight against the project.

The processes of resistance of the Ngäbe-Buglé peoples predate the fight against the hydroelectric project; since 1945 they have been demanding that their culture and territory be acknowledged. At first an attempt was made to designate them as an indigenous reservation, a model copied from the U.S. that would allow them to maintain their customs, religion and way of life, but they refused to be recognized under this legal status. By means of a variety of actions carried out by these peoples, on March 7th, 1997 Law 10 of Panama’s Constitution recognized the Ngäbe-Buglé territory. The territory is a physically-demarcated area with the nation state, under a regime of self-governance which recognizes the collectivity of land, their indigenous assemblies as a traditional body, the traditional authorities and their customs and traditions.

Since the construction of the Barro Blanco project, not only have the human rights of the indigenous peoples affected in the territory been violated, but the government is breaking its own laws, said Goejet Miranda. “For us, this has been an attack on our lives, our culture and our integrity. Here the rights determined by law were worthless, the law that dictates that we can enjoy our own territory. The government is violating Law 10- why do we have to leave our land?”

The Panamanian government offered work to the indigenous people whose homes were flooded, work that consisted of building their own home in a different place outside their territory. “They want to get us out of here. For us, going somewhere else is like being taken prisoner. It’s the notion of private property that goes against our collective customs. That’s why we’ve never accepted the government’s compensation and we’ll never accept anything that they’re offering, because our land isn’t for sale. We’re going to fight to the end to stop this project”, added the president of the 10 de Abril movement.

The Barro Blanco project was constructed with financing from the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI), the German Development Bank (DEG) and the Dutch Development Bank (FMO). It will also be connected to the Central American Electrical Interconnection System (SIEPAC) with the support of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). “(…) it’s a good time to highlight that the region now has a robust electrical infrastructure from Guatemala to Panama, supplemented by a connection to Mexico and a planned connection to Colombia. The above will be achieved through a variety of sources. SIEPAC and Central America’s Regional Electric Market (MER) enable the development of larger and more efficient regional generation projects, while facilitating the introduction of a greater number of renewable energy projects (both traditional and non-traditional), thus diversifying the energy matrix”, states the IDB website, the body that has financed 90% of SIEPAC projects.

Panama is a democratic republic with close links to the United States. Its main source of income is the Panama Canal and the railway that both form part of the same complex. In August 2014 the Panamanian government was celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Canal and preparing for the United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as COP21, which was to take place that year in Paris. It also announced a new energy plan that was beginning to take form in Panama.

“In terms of the reduction of emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in particular, we are implementing specific programs with the support of the Norwegian and German governments. Likewise, we are putting together a National Energy Plan, which with a state vision will lay down our policies for the decades to come, and define the contribution of the national energy sector to climate change mitigation”.

THOSE WERE THE WORDS OF PANAMA’S PRESIDENT, JUAN CARLOS VARELA RODRIGUEZ, DURING THE UNITED NATIONS CLIMATE SUMMIT HELD IN 2014 AT THE UN’S HEADQUARTERS IN NEW YORK.

2015 would see the launch of the 2015-2050 National Energy Plan: “Panama, the future we want”, a plan which sought above all to secure international financial capital, arguing that investment levels do not correspond to a period of governance, but rather are capital that needs at least 50 years to remain alive. “Investment for energy production is sizeable and is generally exposed to high levels of risk. The construction of power plants, transmission lines, oil refineries and other sector activities that are necessary to cope with the demand for energy, involve large amounts of capital, often foreign in origin (…) energy policy is an activity that goes beyond the duration of a government’s constitutional term and, for that reason, it must become a State policy”, states the Plan document.

In a similar way, the Energy Plan argues that the construction of infrastructure is necessary to make the switch towards clean energies but, regarding the conflicts that have stemmed from it, “the different members of civil society have to find a point of agreement, given that the energy system will need to be expanded constantly”.

“There is no agreement between the government and the company; it’s an outrage and an imposition. Since 2007, when the government announced the construction of the Barro Blanco project, we’ve been saying that we don’t agree with it. We’ve been fighting it since then. We went to court, we’ve protested, but the government hasn’t listened to us, and it hasn’t consulted us either”, said Bellini. 

According to National Energy Secretariat figures, Panama generates around 70% of its electricity from renewable sources, with a majority of that proportion coming from hydroelectric plants and, more recently, wind energy. Moreover, that figure is expected to reach 80% between 2018 and 2020, with two significant projects: the first will be completed by the U.S. electricity company AES with investment of over $1.3bn; the second involves the Chinese company Maratano Inc., with an investment of $0.6bn.

90% of targeted energy production from renewable sources will come from hydroelectric plants. According to ASEP, since 2015 at least 37 hydroelectric projects have been recorded that are either at the design or construction stage, on Panama’s most heavily-flowing rivers, home to indigenous populations. Another 34 projects are awaiting the approval of permits. The concession contracts last for around 30 or 50 years from the moment the contract is signed.
“This is a war against us indigenous peoples, who have lived for time immemorial on the banks of the rivers. This is a war of banks and capitalists in order to keep on evicting and disappearing indigenous peoples. The rivers have been preserved because we’ve never considered them as a commodity. With their modern lifestyle they’ve destroyed everything, and now they want to take what little we have left away from us to produce clean energy. It’s not clean because it destroys rivers and entire peoples”, commented Bellini.

The Energy Plan is unequivocal by defining that energy consumption in Panama is determined by the service-orientated economic model. In that sense, the Panama Canal is vitally important as it is considered to be an important cog in world trade. However, it is argued that the way of life, copied from the United States, determines energy consumption. “The fact that the United States stayed in Panama for more than 80 years has led the population to imitate the typical North American cultural image and consumer society. This has had an enormous impact on the development approach to be taken, and on the makeup of the Panamanian energy system”, according to the 2015-2050 National Energy Plan.

Dusk is beginning to fall in the community of Kiad and the sky is lit up by stars. There is no electric light here, and never has been. Only one member of the community has a small solar cell, which they use to charge their mobile phones and a few other necessities. Hacket Bagamá says: “We don’t need their energy because it’s generated with the death of our peoples. Their way of thinking is different to ours, they put a price on everything and want more energy to keep destroying Mother Earth”.

Permission to Pollute

At first, the Barro Blanco project was certified as a Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) by the U.N., one of three mechanisms established in the Kyoto Protocol at COP3, held in Japan in 1997. Said protocol was aimed at industrialized countries, which had a target of reducing national emissions for the 2008-2012 period by an average of 5% compared with 1990 levels. To help reduce the costs of complying with the reduction three “flexibility mechanisms” were designated, namely: Emissions Trading (ET), Joint Implementation (JI) for projects in Eastern Europe and the former USSR, and the CDM for developing countries.

With the CDM, investors do not only meet their CO2 emission reduction targets by investing in clean energy in other countries. They also earn profits by selling the energy, while obtaining Certified Emission Reductions (CER), equal to the tons of CO2 that was not emitted. These documents can be sold as carbon credits (better known as pollution permits) to other industrialized countries or companies that have exceed their pollution limits, which can compensate in this way.

CERs are also issued for reforestation projects and conservation areas. According to Panama’s Environment Ministry, in 2014 alone $11.92 million dollars were raised from the sale of CERs “stemming from the generation of wind and water energy, and from reforestation programs and protected areas”. Panama primarily commercializes this type of credit with the same countries that are investing in “clean” technologies: Holland, Spain, Austria and Germany.

Although the Barro Blanco project was stripped of CDM status due to the violation of human rights and the efforts of the indigenous peoples, they will not be prevented from continuing energy production which, above all, will still be considered as clean. “They’ve told us that with the project we’ll get a lot of money for our lands, that we won’t go hungry, that we’ll have medical assistance, but none of that is true. They tried to bribe us with fortified biscuits, and they filled their reports with the two or three people that accepted it, to say that there was support for the children. We aren’t starving to death here and we have our traditional medicine. We need nothing from them. There’s nothing clean about this project, because they came here with lies. That’s why they were stripped of CDM status. This is the government’s and European banks’ war, against us indigenous peoples. As well as all that, they’re trying to con us with the conservation areas”, said Goejet Miranda.

“There are more than 37,000 people living in the watershed, we’re all indigenous and more than 12,000 of us are being directly affected by Barro Blanco. But it’s not only this that will affect us, there are also the protected areas and other projects we don’t understand well, which will affect all the peoples, because they’re attacking us on all fronts”, said Clementina Pérez, a priestess from the Mama-Tatda church, which runs a camp together with members of its community at the main entrance of the Barro Blanco complex, and has been brutally repressed by the police on more than one occasion.

During the Barro Blanco construction process, the Panamanian government and international organizations made progress with the implementation of Protected Areas (PA) management programs in the indigenous communities within the Panama – Atlantic Mesoamerican Biological Corridor (PAMBC). According to the consultancy report for the facilitation of workshops for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD), 14 priority protected areas are being planned in the corridor. The Ngäbe-Buglé territory is part of one of the three high-biodiversity macroregions.

Since 2007 the National Environmental Authority (ANAM) has encouraged the Ngäbe-Buglé territory to sign letters of understanding, which ensure their participation and the carrying out of activities within the PAMBC. As part of activities related to the reduction of emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, agroforestry projects were also put in place in indigenous communities. According to the program, the aim was “to create and strengthen community social capital for sustainable development”.

“They’re considering the Protected Areas around the reservoir so that it doesn’t dry up. As well as Barro Blanco now we have to face up to another conflict: the Protected Areas. This will be another dispute with the government because we’ve got nowhere else to go. The government wants to give us a thousand dollars to maintain ourselves, they want us to move somewhere else with that money. They should tell us where we can buy land with those thousand dollars. And even if it was ten thousand or a million, we don’t want any of it”, said Goejet Miranda, who has participated in a variety of workshops given without knowing the REDD program in-depth.

According to the UN, “the REDD initiative is an effort to create a financial value for the carbon stored in forests”. This program has lost credibility in the eyes of numerous indigenous peoples across Latin America, as it gives no specific information regarding what carbon markets mean, or the limits that indigenous peoples are subject to by reducing use of and access to their territory, or by turning it into a commodity with ecotourism and conservation projects.

In September 2016, as the second phase of this program, regional forums were held where protocols were applied that have been considered as the “consultation and validation” of indigenous peoples to proceed with the National Strategy for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (NS-REDD+), led by Panama’s Environment Ministry. This program is carried out jointly with the UN and the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF), the main financers of conservation projects in the rest of Latin America.

“In reality, we don’t know what lies behind these conservation projects. We’ve been told that there will be money for whichever communities they decide to preserve. But I think that it’s another way of appropriating our territory. As soon as we start accepting that money we’re already selling part of our territory. We don’t need that, because we’ve always looked after our Mother Earth. We know that the climate change problem affects us all, but the problem is in their cities, in their cars, in their way of life, in the capitalist mindset”, said the Mama-Tatda church priestess, who assured that the energy generated by Barro Blanco and conservation won’t provide any benefits.

“The water, the jungle and the animals don’t have a price. Water is a living being”. This energy, said Clementina, “doesn’t benefit us in any way. We’re almost certain that it’ll be used for mining, for the (Panama) Canal, and for the new places where the rich live, for their cars, for the goods of the capitalists. There aren’t any benefits for indigenous peoples. We have to learn to protect ourselves from their words, those words of death, like sustainable development”.

The Ngäbe-Buglé territory is not only threatened by hydroelectric dams and conservation; the region is home to one of the biggest copper deposits in the world, which will need large quantities of water and, of course, energy.

Clementina prays and sings every day with the children, adolescents and elders that have been camped at one side of the entrance to the Barro Blanco hydroelectric dam since February 14th, 2014. On-site they have set up small makeshift roofs where they can rest. The cocoa drink shared among everyone makes resistance a daily ritual. Everyone here has felt the burden of threats of eviction, of repression, but they are still standing; it’s their way of resisting. “We’ve suffered repression at the hands of the government, at the hands of the company, but we’re not leaving until they free the Tabasará (River). We’ve suffered repression because we don’t want this dam, we don’t want mining, we don’t want any projects of death, and that’s why all peoples have been hit hard in Panama. But we’re always alert”, said the priestess.

One of the largest copper deposits in the world is located in Ngäbe-Buglé territory in Panama. The place known as Cerro Colorado, in the east of the country, is home to more than 1,400 metric tons, of which 78% are copper. Another deposit is found in Cerro Petaquilla, a concession owned by Canada’s Inmet Mining Corporation with its subsidiary Minera Panamá. Located in the central northern area of the country, it contains resources of more than two billion tons, of which 5% are copper and 15% molybdenum, with 9 grams of gold per ton. Another is Cerro Chorcha, in Ngäbe-Buglé territory in the village of Guariviara in the Kankintú district. Cerro Chorcha contains 47,000 metric tons, of which 71% is copper, with 8 grams of gold per ton. All these deposits are found in the high jungle, in covered parts of the Central Range.

In northern Panama there is another mining project in the district of Donoso in Colón province, called Molejón. The concession is owned by the Canadian company Petaquilla Minerals Ltd., which has outlined a deposit containing 893,000 ounces of gold. The company has a number of exploratory projects in Panama; its primary asset is the production of the Molejón Gold Project and the company has a presence in Canada, Germany and the United States.

“They say that these mines will bring development, but we’ve been hit by capitalists and their development for more than 400 years, it’s called human rights violation. It’s development that evicts, kills, that discriminates against peoples, and that’s why we don’t accept it. Because it’s another of the ways that they use to try to make us disappear. They’re violating the rights that we’ve earned through our struggles. The laws are made by capitalists and they don’t respect it, our law is to keep areas free, green and preserved. Each and every stone in our territory is sacred, we won’t allow our sacred territory to be destroyed”,

SAID CLEMENTINA.

In February 2011 the then-president, Ricardo Martinelli, amended the Mineral Resources Code which determined that the following people or organizations could not obtain or operate mining concessions: foreign governments or states, or foreign official or semi-official institutions, except legal entities which involve the economic or financial participation of one or more foreign governments or states, or foreign official or semi-official institutions. That is, provided that said entities are constituted as legal persons governed by private law under Panamanian regulation, that they waive the right to diplomatic claims in the concession contract (except in cases of denial of justice), and that they conform to the laws of Panama.

Despite the fact that this reform brought about an increase of between 15% and 20% in profits among the villages bordering the project, which were meant to be collected directly by the municipalities and districts, the initiative caused widespread rejection among the Ngäbe-Buglé indigenous peoples. They immediately carried out a series of actions, considering the reform a threat to their rights earned through Law 10 in 1997 which stipulates, among other points, that the state and the concessionary must implement “a communication plan in order to inform the indigenous communities and authorities, so that they can voluntarily express their point of view regarding the mining activity”.

As a result of the protests the state abolished 2011’s Law 8, replacing it with Law 12 dating from March 18th of the same year. Nevertheless, because the law did not take into account the hydroelectric projects in the territory and the surrounding areas, the protests started up again in 2012 leaving one person dead and dozens wounded. A new law was then enacted, Law 11 of March 26th, 2012, establishing a “special regime for the protection of mineral, water and environmental resources in Ngäbe-Buglé territory”, and adding Article 3 which “prohibits the granting of concessions for the exploration, exploitation and extraction of metal and non-metal mining and their derivatives in Ngäbe-Buglé territory, its surrounding areas and the Ngäbe-Buglé communities adjacent to them, by any natural or legal persons, be they public or private, or national or foreign”.

According to the Deputy Minister for Trade and Industry, Manuel Grimaldo, in Panama there are currently 152 active concessions for the extraction of non-metal materials, and 15 for the extraction of metals. New laws regulating the mining law have been studied since 2016. Meanwhile, Todd Clewett, the CEO of Minera Panamá (a subsidiary of First Quantum Minerals Ltd., listed on Toronto’s stock exchange in Canada and the London Stock Exchange in England) announced that the Cobre Panamá mine would begin exporting the mineral to the U.S., Brazil, China and India at the end of 2017 with an investment of $6.4bn.

“They always play with the law, just like with prior consultation. We don’t want any consultation because there’s simply nothing to consult, our decision is that we don’t want any projects. But, we have to beef up our fight because they’ll keep advancing, with or without our approval. It’s all-out war on we indigenous peoples”, pointed out the priestess.

Effectively, while the people fight against the hydroelectric project, mining is advancing at an accelerated pace. “The work has progressed well, we calculate that copper extraction will begin towards to the end of 2017 or the start of 2018”, explains the CEO of Minera Panamá. Moreover, the construction of a coal power station is almost complete, which will generate 300 megawatts of energy to be used in the operation of the Cobre Panamá mine.

Strength

As with other Latin American peoples, the strength of the Ngäbe-Buglé lies in their spirituality, through their church, called Mama Tatda and created by the native “prophet” Adelia Atencio Bejerano, also known as “Mamá Chí” and “Niña Delia”. It dates back to September 22nd, 1962, when Mamá Chí had a vision that showed her the need to guide her people away from the bad influences of alcohol and other vices that held them in slavery. Since then, they have followed the “Mamá Tatda commandment”.

The religion was formed within the territory by the indigenous people themselves, and boasts a book written in hieroglyphics made up of 145 chapters that deal with issues of everyday life, social subjects, ethics, values, family issues, domestic economy and how to administer justice, among other points.

The young people do not attend government schools given that they also have a manual of script in hieroglyphs, from which they have developed their own writing and school. “We don’t go to the school outside the community, because those that go there change their way of thinking and come back with bad ideas. They think about power, money and selling our Mother Earth. Here our education is with our own parents and relatives”, added Hacket Bagamá.

In the territory’s three regions there are at least 12 schools that operate without any economic resources or material support. The government has tried to provide support for education but they have turned it down. “The government wants us to accept this support, but that would mean us having to let the projects in. Our schools aren’t a religion, they’re an educational system, where we preserve and learn about our language in-depth, that’s how teachers are trained. Our way of life and culture is being lost because of these threats, and because of the brothers that are tempted by the Western vision. Therefore, strengthening our language is important in order to keep existing and for the struggle itself”, said the teacher Bellini Jiménez.

The state has also attempted to implement the Ngäbe language in public schools, something the indigenous peoples have also rejected. “They want to include it as a subject, but in Spanish. How can my language be written in Spanish script? It’ll never be the same. They call it bilingual-intercultural. Our language has another meaning, and in it we store our memory and the knowledge of our ancestors, our main strength”, added Bellini.

The Panamanian government might not stop granting concessions for more hydroelectric dams, wind farms, solar arrays, geothermal plants and, above all, more mining in indigenous territories, because that is how the green economy determines it. And perhaps the only weapon the children, youths, women and elderly people fighting Barro Blanco every day have left is their body, and not feeling fear. Although they don’t appear in the media, they are always waiting for their word to reach other indigenous peoples across the world who are also fighting to defend their land.

“The Tabasará River has been declared the blood of the world’s heart; if the heart stops working, the body stops existing. That’s what’s happening in other countries and that’s why we’re calling on other indigenous brothers to join us in the fight against these projects. Disasters are on the horizon in the rest of the world because the earth is sick, because the Mother is wounded. The caracoles in the seven points of our Mother Earth have to ring out so that we indigenous peoples rise up and stop this disaster. Now is the time to walk hand in hand to stop this monster called capitalism. We don’t expect anything from them, we expect everything from all the indigenous peoples of the world, that’s our strength”, revealed Priestess Clementina.

Letter from Kurdish Women’s Movement to Spokeswoman of Indigenous Governing Council

Translated by El Enemigo Común of congresonacionalindigena.org

For María de Jesús Patricio Martínez, representative of the indigenous people of Mexico and the National Indigenous Congress CNI.

First of all, we want to send our deepest respect and revolutionary greetings to our Mexican sister, from the mountains of Kurdistan to the Sierra Madre mountain range beyond the oceans. Despite the rivers, mountains, deserts, valleys, canyons and seas that separate us, we are indigenous sisters and brothers, no matter what part of the world we are in.

With you, we share our struggle, our resistance against occupation and colonialism, and our dream of a free life, and in this sense, we who belong to the Kurdish Liberation Movement declare that we consider the struggle for self-determination, self-administration and self-defense of the indigenous peoples of Mexico organized in the National Indigenous Congress (CNI) as our own struggle, and we support you on the basis of principles of revolutionary solidarity.

Indigenous peoples are the veins through which the most important social and cultural values of humanity have been transmitted, from the first moments of socialization until our times. Without a doubt, no people is superior to another, but at a time when capitalist modernity is trying to destroy every communal value, indigenous peoples are the safeguard of the social fabric of all humanity. Thousands of years of collective memory resurge in our songs, our rituals, our prayers, our tattoos, our dances and our traditions. And so the struggle for our own identity against the efforts of capitalist modernity to erase the roots and the memory of our peoples becomes the most meaningful of all forms of resistance.

"In Latin America, as in Kurdistan, women are leading this resistance. In our countries, which were the cradles for thousands of years of the culture of the mother goddess, we see that women and life, women and freedom, women and land, and women and nature are inextricably related. In Kurdistan, we express this reality in our slogan “Jin Jiyan Azadî”, which means “Women Life Freedom”.

The bodies and souls of women are the reflection of the universe on the land. Thousands of years ago, during the Neolithic Revolution, it was the women, through their social organization, who led in making changes that enabled the cultivation of the land and the beginning of a sedentary life in harmony with nature. That’s why women were the first to be enslaved by the patriarchal state civilization, which arose as a counterrevolution based on domination, exploitation and occupation.

Parallel to the domination of women was the ever more rapid domination of nature. It was through the oppression of the first form of nature that the second came about, transforming both into the pincers that capitalist modernity used to forcefully exert pressure against historical society, with a greater ability to destroy it. Consequently, legitimate resistance arising in pursuit of self-government, self-determination and self-defense represents the greatest possible struggle for freedom.

We in Kurdistan, enlightened by the struggles of the indigenous peoples of Latin America, have developed our own defense against modernist capitalist forces and attacks from the colonialist states that occupy our soil. We want you to know that we continually receive special inspiration from your experiences of self-government, good government and communalism. We hope that our experiences and breakthroughs in the struggle will likewise serve as sources of inspiration for you.

One of the greatest achievements in our movement is the equal participation and representation of women. This was the result of great sacrifices made and intense struggles waged by women, and we finally won equal participation in making all decisions. Not as individuals, but as representatives of the organized, collective will of the Kurdish Women’s Liberation Movement. This is the way we are taking our place in each and every aspect of struggle. With our system of co-presidencies, established from the ground up, we represent the will of women in each and every decision and develop a democratic kind of politics that goes against all patriarchal, traditional forms of politics. But to be able to do this, it was necessary for us to become an organized force once and for all. Being organized is the most important requirement for winning victories. To the extent that we’re organized, we’re capable of resisting the dominant colonialist system and building our own governmental alternative.

For that matter, organization is our most important arm for self-defense. In the past, many peoples and movements have not been able to attain the hoped-for results because they weren’t well enough organized. It wasn’t possible to transform some historical moments into great victories precisely due to the lack of organization. We may not have reached an in-depth understanding of the meaning and importance of this fact, but we’re now in another stage of struggle. We’re obliged to multiply our efforts to heighten our levels of organization in order to take advantage of this new opportunity to triumph – at a time when the modernist capitalist system is going through yet another deep crisis in its most decisive aspects. History demands it of us. You of the National Indigenous Congress have shown that you recognize this reality by declaring the presidential elections in Mexico a key stage in a process that will result in a rise in your levels of organization.

We, of the Kurdish Women’s Liberation Movement wish to express our support for your decision, based on the conviction that this goal will be reached and taken to a much higher level, starting with these elections and the strategies developed around them. Our leader Abdullah Öcalan, who has been imprisoned under the harshest of conditions of isolation by the Turkish colonialist state since 1999, made a highly important analysis of this at the end of the twentieth century. Our leader Apo, foresaw that the twenty-first century would be the century of women’s liberation if we are able to grow and decide on our manners and mechanisms of organization. The reason for this conclusion was the evident structural crisis of the patriarchal system, which has been based on our enslavement.

The patriarchal system seeks to overcome this crisis by raising the level of attacks against women to the level of a systematic war. By concentrating its attacks against women the world over through different means and methods, the system aims to cut off the road to liberation that we’ve taken. The murders of women that have reached the level of genocide in your country, and the murders of women leaders in Latin America are the most concrete indicators of this reality. We want you to know that we consider all the women and leaders of indigenous peoples who have been killed by the operative arms of the dominant system as our own martyrs. We are also struggling to make our hopes and dreams reality. Our martyrs never die. We draw force from them, and they are reborn in every struggle we undertake.

In this context, your decision as Mexican indigenous people to name a woman comrade as representative of your will and make her your candidate in the upcoming presidential elections is very significant. As a matter of fact, comrade Marichuy is not only the voice of the indigenous peoples of Mexico, but at the same time, the voice of the women of the world. We want to say that we affirm the importance and value of her candidacy as the representative of peoples denied, women enslaved and thousands of years of ancestral wisdom threatened with disappearance by capitalist modernity.

As the Kurdish Women’s Liberation Movement, we declare our support and solidarity with the compañera and the National Indigenous Congress, not only at the moment of this electoral juncture, but in the entire struggle that your movement is pursuing. We know that the results of the elections themselves do not matter, that they are only one of the roads that the indigenous peoples of Mexico have taken in this process at this particular moment of struggle. In this light, the victory is already a fact because the modernist capitalist system feeds off of the division of forces and the disorganization of peoples and societies that it aims to dominate, but you have constructed the terrain for success by forging organized unity.

From this point on, it is important not to lose sight of this goal, which is none other than stronger organization. Your triumph will be our triumph. Our struggle is your struggle. We are the brother and sister people of the mountains that have risen from the same deep waters. Even in our different tongues, we share the same dreams, we fall in love with the same utopia, and we resist for the sake of the same love. From here, we send you all the force necessary in this new stage, we greet you with our most genuine revolutionary feelings, and we embrace you with all our solidarity and comradeship.

Coordinating group of the Kurdish Women’s Movement, Komalên Jinên Kurdistan (KJK)
June 7, 2017