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As European Governments Restrict Nuclear Power, Investors Focus on Brazil

The Brazilian government is working toward restarting its nuclear program, which includes the construction of 12 nuclear power plants that will be producing electricity by 2050. The country already has two nuclear power stations, Angra 1 and Angra 2, as well as a third, Angra 3, which is nearing completion; all three are in the state of Rio de Janeiro. At present, nuclear energy's share in the Brazilian energy mix stands at less than 2 percent, and the aim is to increase that figure to 5 percent, according to the National Energy Plan. Eduardo Braga, the mining and energy minister, told a public hearing in the House of Representatives that "Brazil cannot give up on nuclear power, given the energy security that it represents and the fact that it is a cheap energy source."

The decision to restart Brazil's nuclear program was made undemocratically, according to Heitor Scalambrini Costa, a physician and Pernambuco Federal University professor, who is also a member of the Brazilian Environmental Justice Network. "The decision was made by a group of 10 people who make up the National Energy Policy Council. Most of the council members are government ministers, who are obliged to obey the president," Scalambrini told Truthout. "The only one to disagree was the then-environment minister, Marina Silva, who later resigned from her post. There was no wider debate involving the academic and scientific sectors, or civil society."

According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Brazil holds the seventh-largest reserves of uranium in the world.

Along with the decision to restart the nuclear program, both the government and company representatives have been advocating changes to the way new nuclear power plants are built, in order to allow the private sector to participate in a sphere to which only the state has access, at present. According to the website of Eletronuclear, the public sector company responsible for operating and constructing nuclear power plants in Brazil, "it will doubtlessly be possible for the deals to involve both international and national private investment."

The first nuclear power plant in Brazil was built using US technology, and the other two with German technology. Eletronuclear is now broadening the range of suppliers. According to the Eletronuclear website, the leading international suppliers are expected to participate in post-Angra 3 power plants: Areva/Mitsubishi (France), Westinghouse/Toshiba (USA), Rosenergoatom (Russia) and SNPTC and CNNC (China).

These new business opportunities have led companies to put pressure on the government to speed up the investment process. In the last four months alone, two large-scale international events to promote nuclear power as a "clean energy" source have taken place in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, with the participation of international investors.

During the Atlantic International Nuclear Conference (INAC) held in São Paulo in 2015, the French company Engie declared its interest in investing in nuclear energy in Brazil. Mauricio Bahr, an Engie representative, stated, "Engie is a big player in nuclear energy programs across the world and we are very interested in the Brazilian market. We are waiting for the government to give the green light so that the market can be opened for private enterprise, and once again we are here to cooperate with the authorities, proving our experience at INAC."

The federal government is showing signs of turning nuclear power into a business, by reducing state participation in the production of nuclear energy and creating space for the private sector. During the International Nuclear Energy Seminar (held at the Rio de Janeiro Stock Exchange in June 2015), Leonam dos Santos Guimaraes, Eletronuclear's planning, management and environmental director, told international investors that business models that regulate production of nuclear energy in the country needed to be more flexible in order to facilitate greater interest from private companies. At the conference, foreign companies reaffirmed their interest in the Brazilian nuclear sector and discussed possible models for public-private partnerships that could be adopted by the country.

According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Brazil holds the seventh-largest reserves of uranium in the world. The country also controls the technology necessary to conduct the entire fuel fabrication process, including the first phase - uranium enrichment - which is currently performed commercially by the United States, Russia, China, Japan and two consortia from European countries. "There is no doubt that the existence of uranium and the technology is vital, so that the country can decide to continue its nuclear program," Scalambrini said.

An Energy Crisis?

According to Eletronuclear, in Brazil, the generation of electricity using thermal power plants is not motivated by the exhaustion of hydroelectric power (which generates most of the country's energy), but rather by a desire to combat any risks that the power source might face by acting primarily as a backup in the event of the hydroelectric power grid going down. Eletronuclear's press department explained to Truthout that "hydroelectric power will continue to dominate the system." According to the government, however, "nuclear power plants are components that ensure the continued operation of [the] electrical grid."

Scalambrini considers the decision to be a mistake. "The country has an abundance of renewable resources, and several that can effectively meet demand, using decentralized generation without waste as well as offering complementarity among the various renewable energy sources," he said, referring to the benefits of having a diverse energy mix. "For that reason, there is no reason to invest in nuclear power plants in the country."

Russian Pressure

Scalambrini added that since 2005, the nuclear industry has stepped up its aggressive lobbying in a number of Latin American countries, with significant influence over legislation and energy policy.

He also maintains that compared with the situation in several European countries, "the situation in Brazil is going in the opposite direction, owing to pressure from powerful interest groups that answer to investment firms.... On top of that, of course, the military sectors are fascinated by the power that nuclear energy provides. Not to mention the media, whose interests are clearly in favor of this energy source."

"Wherever the nuclear power plant is built, the entire population along the river will be affected."

One powerful lobby is the state nuclear sector of the Russian corporation Rosatom, which holds a keen interest in the Brazilian nuclear business. "Rosatom comprises more than 250 companies and scientific institutions, including all of Russia's civil nuclear companies, the facilities of the nuclear weapons complex, research organizations and the world's only nuclear propulsion fleet," Scalambrini said. "It also holds one of the leading positions in the world market for nuclear technologies."

The company has proven that the Brazilian government is willing to build, operate and finance investments in nuclear power plants in the country. "Through these agreements, the Russian company will receive shares in such power plants and build and operate them, in addition to providing technical know-how and financing. They undoubtedly represent multimillion-dollar deals, and essentially it is money that is stirring the interests into action. Every 1,000 megawatts will cost $5 billion," Scalambrini said.

In order for other nations to carry out these deals on Brazilian soil, a series of changes to the country's 1988 federal constitution would be required. Article 21, Section XXIII and Article 177 guarantee the state a monopoly over the entire uranium chain, involving mining and electricity generation.

Countries Against Nuclear Energy

The decision of the Brazilian government runs contrary to the stance adopted by some European governments such as those in France and Germany. Following the accident at the Fukushima nuclear plant in 2011 - which even today is still not under control - they have opened a debate and, under pressure from civil society, decided against further investment in new nuclear plants.

The French Parliament has adopted a transition law to reduce the proportion of nuclear energy used for electricity generation; by 2025, the nuclear share of the energy mix must be reduced from 75 percent to 50 percent. With 19 power plants, France's nuclear sector ranks second in the world, and its economy depends on the energy source for its electricity supply like no other; nearly 75 percent of demand is met by nuclear power.

Even before the reduction was announced, the French nuclear industry was already facing difficulties. Its foremost industrial group, Areva, which is now focusing on Brazil, posted losses of nearly 5 million euros in 2014, which forced it to cut between 5,000 and 6,000 jobs.

In 2011, Germany declared that it would end commercial energy production at all of its nuclear power plants by 2022. Echoing the Brazilian Anti-Nuclear Organization, the German government has justified the decision by citing security reasons, namely the lack of safety measures to protect citizens in the event of an accident at a nuclear plant.

The two countries are joined by Austria, Belgium and Switzerland, which reviewed their plans to install new power plants and decided to take a step back from nuclear energy. Specifically in Italy, by unanimous decision, more than 90 percent of the population voted against the installation of new nuclear reactors in the country.

Germany Breaks Its Nuclear Agreement With Brazil

At the height of the Brazilian military dictatorship, on June 27, 1975, the "Agreement of Cooperation in the Peaceful Use of Nuclear Energy" was signed between Brazil and West Germany. It remained in force for 15 years. In addition to scientific cooperation, the agreement established that German technology would be used to build up to eight nuclear power plants, one atomic fuel-processing plant and one uranium-enrichment plant.

The agreement is renewed automatically every five years if neither country officially denounces it up to a year before the date set for its renewal. The agreement was renewed automatically without interruption until 2014, when international cooperation between Brazilian and German anti-nuclear organizations led to a campaign to end it, and in November 2014 the German government denounced the agreement, which will come to an end on November 18, 2015. Germany proposed that the Brazilian government shift away from nuclear energy and focus on the development of renewable energy resources.

The German government refused to guarantee loans for the construction of Angra 3, saying the power station does not adhere to the required safety conditions.

A Culture of Secrecy

Despite the fight for the Brazilian nuclear market having already begun, the public has been given extremely scant information regarding the government's plans. "The reports published by the press are often conflicting," Scalambrini said. "There is little information from the government about the issue of safety, the implementation processes, management model or the areas chosen for the construction of these nuclear power plants. The culture of secrecy and lack of transparency prevail over questions relating to the issue of the power plants."

When questioned by Truthout, the press department of Brazil's Mining and Energy Ministry would only respond by detailing the number of plants to be built and their potential output, stating that "other questions are still under review and there is no data to publish."

The government's position is backed up by the Brazilian Constitution, according to Alzeni Tomáz of the Articulação São Francisco Vivo, a collective of social organizations and movements that are fighting to preserve the São Francisco River, which has been affected by large-scale projects such as dams and hydroelectric plants. Law 4.118/62 of Article 27 establishes the secretive nature of nuclear activity. "This is the grounds on which the government maintains a 'secretive' stance on nuclear activities," she said.

Building Plans

The city of Itacuruba is a leading candidate to receive one of the first four nuclear plants under the 2030 National Energy Plan. It lies in Pernambuco State in the Sertão, on the banks of one of Brazil's main rivers - the São Francisco.

The region surrounding Itacuruba is host to the driest climate in Brazil; the last drought went on for three years. Most of the communities here depend on tankers to bring in their water supply for washing, cooking and general use. The Sertão is the most populous semi-arid region in the world, with close to 17 million inhabitants. The most common vegetation here is small trees with small trunks known as caatinga; at first sight, they appear to have been killed by the drought, but with a little rain the foliage revives, awakening life in the region.

On its website, Eletronuclear states that "the results of the studies carried out to select the location of the region's nuclear plant showed the São Francisco river to be the best option, according to the criteria used in the selection process."

Scalambrini explains: "The exact location has not officially been announced. The selected area on the banks of the San Francisco River was mentioned in an official document from Eletronuclear's regional office in Recife, Pernambuco's state capital. The indicated area points toward Itacuruba being the first choice for the installation of the nuclear plants."

The plants have been cause for alarm and resistance for social movements, particularly for those that strive to conserve the life of the São Francisco, which has already been affected by several megaprojects. "Wherever the nuclear power plant is built, the entire population along the river will be affected: the indigenous lands, the Afro-Brazilian communities known as Quilombolas, and the fishing communities that live from this river," Tomáz said.

Sacred Land

The area in Itacuruba that has been identified as a likely building site is part of the sacred land of the Pankará people. "The government [carries] out large-scale projects without consulting us, the ones that live from the land," Lucéria Pankará, the chief of the Pankará, told Truthout. "They do not ask what we think or what we want. They do not respect us."

Pankará land in Itacuruba is in the process of being officially recognized and demarcated by the government, but Pankará notes, "With these projects, that process has come to a halt." As a way of putting pressure on the government, the Pankará people occupied part of their land before official demarcation.

To enable the construction of a hydroelectric center, one part of the São Francisco River that irrigates Pankará land in the city was dammed in the late 1980s, flooding the old city of Itacuruba along with three others. A huge number of people moved to the banks of what is now an enormous lake, to set up their homes and rebuild the city.

Gerardo Leal, an indigenous Pankará man, was one of nearly 20,000 people who were evicted from their land and homes in Itacuruba. "Essentially, the city was rural and provided food for the whole region," Leal told Truthout. "I used to live on one of the innumerable islands of the river. The soil was very fertile; everything that we planted would grow: fruit, rice, beans, potatoes, onions and other vegetables. We had plenty of fish, and whatever was left over we could sell. Everything was flooded because of the dam and we have been left in this situation, without lands. We were pushed out toward the city."

Leal went to the city but could not manage to live away from his land. "I'm a farmer, born and raised," he said. Having returned to his ancestral land, he and his people are now awaiting the demarcation of their territory, threatened by the potential construction of the nuclear plant.

"Our lands are our history, our life - they are the record of all our ancestors," Leal said. "How can the elders teach our children if we're in the city? There is no way of preserving our culture."

Published in Truthout.org

The Coveted Mineral That Threatens Life in Chiapas

Translated by School for Chiapas

At least 200 types of metals are required to produce a cell phone. Titanium is one of them. It is a metal that is as important for telecommunications as it is for warfare, strategic in the arms, aeronautics, naval, nuclear engineering and high-tech equipment industries. The largest consumers of titanium are the United States, the European Union, Japan and China.

Mexico is one of the five Latin American countries where titanium has been proven to be found, as well as Brazil, Paraguay, Chile and Peru. The Mexican Secretary of the Economy (SE) maintains that Mexico will be able to meet a large part of the world demand for titanium, confirming its existence in the sub-soil of Chiapas, in southern Mexico, the same state that has seven of the nine most representative ecosystems in Mexico, located on lands that hold reserves of 13 metals coveted worldwide, among them gold, silver, copper, zinc, iron, lead and titanium.

According to the Mexican government’s Integral Mining Administration System (SIAM) and Infomex, there are 99 current concessions granted by the federal government in the state of Chiapas in 2015, with exploitation permits until the years 2050 and 2060. Around 1,57,81 million hectares of peasant and indigenous lands – equivalent to 14.20% of the state – are under concession.


The “El Bambú” Mine in the community of Nueva Francia. Photo: Santiago Navarro F.

“There are, however, many more hectares that are waiting to be concessioned, since there are many minerals throughout the state. There are also suspended concessions, at rest and others that are in force that do not mean that they are being exploited at the moment. And we also know that there is a lot of illegal exploitation, not accounted for by the state”, affirms Gustavo Castro Soto, researcher of the civil association Otros Mundos.

The concessions are granted mainly to 4 foreign companies, according to Otros Mundos data. Three of them are Canadian: Linear Gold, now called Brigus Gold, BlackFire, Riversides Resoures Inc. and a Chinese company called Honour Up Trading.

Titanium: geostrategic importance

Alton D. Slay, a U.S. general in charge of the Air Force Systems Command in 1980, warned his country’s congress, of a national security issue, the dependence on at least 40 strategic minerals. Titanium is one of them, present in areas of current conflict such as Ukraine and Syria, and is one of the metals on which the U.S. today depends for 70% of its imports. Russia is the second country in the world with the second largest titanium reserves, after China. The Russian corporation VSMPO-AVISMA is the world’s largest producer of titanium, titanium ingots and all kinds of intermediate products made of titanium alloys, as well as large aluminum articles, semi-finished parts made of galvanized steel and nickel superalloys.

The products developed by this corporation enable it to become a supplier to 300 companies in 48 countries, including such world leaders in aircraft engineering as Boeing, Airbus, SNECMA, Rolls Royce and Pratt & Whitney. Russian titanium alone meets the demand of aerospace companies by 40% for Boeing, 60% for Airbus, and 100% for Embraer.

Titanium in the Chiapas Reserves

Most of the concessions in the state of Chiapas are located in the Sierra Madre de Chiapas and its Pacific coast. Of the 99 concessions issued this year 2015, 44 are in the region known as Soconusco, of which at least 22 have titanium extraction as their main objective.

“The 99 concessions are mainly located in the coastal region of Chiapas, in the Soconusco region, from Arriaga to Tapachula. This is the focus of attention of the mining companies, since there is talk of large deposits of this metal along this entire strip. But it is also an area of great biodiversity,” says Salvador Hernández Gutiérrez, of the Frente Popular en la Defensa del Soconusco 20 de Junio and member of the Red Mexicana de Afectados por la Minería (REMA) (Mexican Network of People Affected by Mining).

At first glance, one can appreciate the immense landscapes and biodiversity that make up the Soconusco region. Any farmer who has contact with these lands would immediately know that they are very fertile lands. Fresh water, so scarce in many Mexican states, flows everywhere. According to the Regional Development Program for the Soconusco region, there are six continuous ecological reserves in this area, three state reserves: El Cabildo-Amatal, El Gancho-Murillo and Cordón Pico El Loro-Paxtal, and three federal reserves: La Encrucijada-Volcán, Tacaná and El Triunfo.

In the Encrucijada Biosphere Reserve, for example, there are mangroves up to 35 meters high, considered the tallest in North and Central America. Studies conducted by the Colegio de la Frontera Sur (ECOSUR) and the Institute of Natural History and Ecology of the State of Chiapas confirmed that there are 69 species of mammals in the reserve, 15% of the national total (477) and 33.8% of the mammals in the state of Chiapas (204). There are also a large number of wildlife species: 306 birds, 45 reptiles, and 13 amphibians.

The Soconusco region is one of the most biodiverse in Mexico. Photo: Renata Bessi

El Cordón Pico El Loro-Paxtal protected area is located between two mountain massifs of the Sierra Madre de Chiapas, within the Mesoamerican-Chiapas Corridor, linked to the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor that links Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama, through which species such as the jaguar or panther, a species in danger of extinction, travel.

The region is very significant for being one of the rainiest areas of the country, which gives rise to a complex hydrological network, with numerous permanent rivers, bodies of fresh water and lagoon systems that present very particular ecological characteristics, since the presence of ravines, depressions and valleys, favor the existence of a great heterogeneity of microclimates, which favors the diversity of the fauna and a high number of endemic species.

Official conservation and mining dispossession. Photo: Renata Bessi and Santiago Navarro F

El Triunfo reserve is home to 10 different types of ecosystems, including one of the most threatened in the world: the cloud forest. This ecosystem is of vital importance because it retains water and supplies the Sierra Madre, benefiting mainly farmers and neighboring communities.

The Deception

The community of Los Cacaos, located in the mountainous area, is located in one of the highest places in the municipality of Acacoyagua, part of Soconusco. Water springs flow everywhere and supply other communities in the foothills of the mountain. The land contains a large amount of organic matter. There is no seed that does not come to life in these lands. Coffee, cocoa, rambutan, orange, papaya, pineapple, mamey, all kinds of vegetables, and without any extra fertilizer, much less toxic agro-chemicals.

The federal government approved a titanium mining concession on these lands. Of the 530 hectares that make up the community of Los Cacaos, 500 hectares were granted. The method was to be by means of subterranean tunnels, from the foothills of the mountain to the upper part of the town.

Alberto Villatoro, a farmer from the community of Los Cacaos, between a mixture of sadness and anger, remembers his childhood, how he walked on the silver-blue rocks without knowing that it was titanium that would later be exploited in his community. Today, the Chinese mining company, Honour Up Trading, as in many communities in the Sierra Madre de Chiapas, seeks to monopolize one of the largest titanium veins in Mexico. “Since I was a child I remember those metals in the river, on the path we kicked it, but we didn’t know it was titanium. Until by way of deceipt, some people agreed to sign on to the exploration process,” says Alberto Villatoro.

The first mining company arrived in the community of Los Cacaos, recalls the farmer Florentina Antonio Morales, in 2009 and carried out open-pit mining. Today, by action of the community itself, the activities of the Chinese group were paralyzed, but the concession is still in effect. “They came to deceive us, this is the truth. They promised us many things. They said they were going to build a market, a road, a park for the children. But all that was just words,” said Morales, a peasant farmer.

One of the strategies used by the company, says Morales, in order to obtain community support, was through the distribution of food pantries. “They are giving some money to the authorities and deceiving the people with a pantry, like the government does. The truth is, I don’t need food. I grow my cocoa, my coffee. We work and that’s how we live. No more. We want them to go away. They are affecting our harvest, our health and that of our animals,” says Florentina.

Children in Los Cacaos have skin infections. Photo: Renata Bessi

According to data from the REMA organization in Soconusco, in the municipality of Acacoyagua, where two titanium mines are in the process of exploitation, cases of liver, stomach and testicular cancer are five times more frequent in the region than they should be, and some of these cases have occurred in children. In addition, people who have bathed in the Cacaluta, Doña María and Cintalapa rivers, where the mine waste flows into, have skin irritations, sores and rashes.

Division of the Community

The community of Los Cacaos is an ejido, a rural property of collective use, peculiar to Mexico, resulting from the Mexican Revolution (1910). “An ejido is a community of 100 to 200 people – the ejidatarios in an equitable manner own a fraction of land. An ejido is not a property. The organization of an ejido is governed by the majority and for this we use the assembly. There is a commissariat that represents everyone, but the highest authority is the assembly. The commissariat is in charge of enforcing what is determined by the assembly,” explains Villatoro, one of the ejidatarios.

According to the farmer, there were irregularities on the part of the commissioner in the convening of the assembly and in the constitution of the minutes in which the concession was approved. “They did not comply with the requirements of the Agrarian Law. There were fewer signatures than necessary from ejidatarios who are legally registered in the national agrarian registry,” says the ejidatario. In addition, “the day the assembly was held, the authorities communicated that the exploitation would be for one year. When they brought the signed agreement, we saw that the truth was that it was for 50 years. The ejido authorities were already sold out to the company. Many people are afraid to say anything”.

“What we are seeing is that the companies have already begun to use a pattern with the communities, division. They divide, they buy, they use all kinds of pressure and blackmail. And this is the case with all extractivist projects in the country, which has generated a range of conflicts,” says Gustavo Castro.

2 dollars per ton extracted

The reporting team had access to the contract of the Constitution that certifies the temporary occupation and service in the ejido Los Cacaos, made in 2013 between the authorities of that time and the company where the following are listed: the president of the ejido of Los Cacaos, Orlando Ramírez Tomás; the secretary, María Esther Ventura Ruiz; the treasurer, Edesa Reyna Tomás; president of the oversight council, Edgar Rusbel Pérez Pérez; and the Grupo Minero El Puntal SA, a company represented by its legal representative Víctor Manuel Espinoza Almaguer.

Rivers contaminated by mine tailings. Photo: Santiago Navarro F.

The contract establishes that “the ejido and the beneficiary agree on a payment of 500,000 pesos for the implementation of this contract, which will be paid in two installments, the first in December 2012 and the second in January 2013, as well as a royalty of 5 US dollars per ton extracted.”

Also, “the ejido and the beneficiary agree that the parcels where there the mineral is present will have to negotiate privately with the owner of said parcel so that a contract can be made individually in which it is agreed to deliver a royalty of 2 US dollars per ton extracted.”

Impacts Ignored

A document produced by the Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources of the Mexican government, which evaluates the Environmental Impact Study done by the company to obtain the concession, admits that the Los Cacaos project is in a region of high biodiversity and national importance. “Priority regions are areas that are used as a reference for national planning, due to their high biodiversity and significant functional ecological integrity.” Despite being considered a priority area by the agency itself, the secretariat approved the mining project.

In the community of La Libertad, the rivers carry mining waste. Photo:Santiago Navarro F.

On the other hand, the Secretary of Environment and Natural History of Chiapas issued its own evaluation, in September 2014, contrary to the mining project, issuing the following opinion:

“According to the review carried out, in accordance with the Ecological and Territorial Planning Program of the State of Chiapas, published in the Official State Newspaper n. 405, on December 7, 2012, the project to be developed called “Casas Viejas Mining Project,” to be developed in the municipality of Acacoyagua, is considered unfavorable, as the implementation of such actions would cause irreversible damage to the environment.”

This technical evaluation was ignored by federal authorities.

The Jewel

Another example is the concession issued to the Chinese company Honour Up Trading in 2013, called “La Joya”, established in the ejido of the community El Triunfo, in the municipality of Escuintla, Soconusco region, with an area of 207 hectares and valid until 2063.

“It is there, in the high part, in the ejido of El Triunfo where minerals such as titanium are found. We are worried because if these mines are developed, our ejido will be buried. In the municipality of Escuintla alone there are at least 8 concessions. It is the government that grants the concessions regardless of the well-being of human beings, nature and animals. We have not received any information. We enjoy clean oxygen and freedom, what is going to happen with mining?” said Francisco Bautista Hernández, secretary of the ejidal commission of the community of Independencia, Escuintla, Chiapas.

The Independencia ejido is the most organized town in the region. The community, along with its traditional authorities, is against mining. On several occasions they have denounced the owners of La Joya mining company. However, there are at least three other larger mining concessions in this same area that adjoin La Joya’s project and that remain silent for the time being. They are: “La Nathalia” mining, concessioned since 2012 to Helmar Antonio Faviel Solís; “La Fernanda”, concessioned to Evaristo Pérez Cano; and “La Ceiba” mining, concessioned to the company ATENMOV, S.A. DE C.V., who exploits gold, silver, iron and titanium in other regions of Chiapas.

Women from the community of La Independencia oppose titanium mining. Photo: Santiago Navarro F.

The mining concessions follow a continuous line along the Sierra Madre de Chiapas, which indicates that there is a large vein of titanium primarily along this strip. Along the length of these mountains, a large number of rivers and streams flow down, which the communities use for drinking, bathing and agriculture. “We don’t want the Sierra Madre de Chiapas to be destroyed because we have a lot of vegetation and a lot of water. We have two streams and if the mine is exploited they will be contaminated and there will be many diseases, death of our animals and people,” says Francisco Bautista.

“In our communities we have never had problems with cancer before, but now we have registered many cases after the first mining operations. Young women who are pregnant are already having deformities in their fetuses, or there are also miscarriages. There are animals that are already dying. That’s why we don’t want the mines,” said Paula Velázquez, a health volunteer from the community of Independencia, Escuintla, Chiapas.

Local authorities warn about risks in La Joya.

In May 2015, the Secretary of Civil Protection for the Integrated Management of Disaster Risks for the state of Chiapas, at the request of the municipal president of Escuintla, Juan Carlos Méndez Córdova, issued an assessment of the risks posed by the operation of the La Joya mine.

The town of Independencia, according to the document, is located in a mountainous system with very steep slopes. The houses are self-built. The municipality is located on the foothills of the Sierra Madre de Chiapas mountain range, which makes the surface of about 80% of its land area rugged.

The document characterizes the region to be mined as High Risk. “The study area described here is classified as high risk, due to the natural conditions of the environment and the interaction of anthropogenic elements.” Nevertheless, the concession was granted by the federal government to the Honour Up Trading S.A. company.

International Pressure

Under free trade agreements, all governments are required to guarantee foreign investments or they will be sued before the World Bank’s International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), which settles investment disputes between companies and nation states, explains Soto. “If States do not guarantee the investment they are accused of indirect expropriation. There is almost no mention of this condition. There are many lawsuits by transnational companies against governments because of laws that hinder investments, or because the government withdraws concessions. There are studies that show that 60% of the lawsuits filed by companies at ICSID are from the extractive industry,” Castro adds.

The coveted mineral. Photo: Santiago Navarro F.

There is no country in Latin America that is not linked to a free trade agreement with the United States, China, Europe or Canada. “So what the governments do is to repress the people who are against these projects. It is easier to repress demonstrations than to pay millions of dollars to these companies,” explains the member of the organization Otros Mundos.

Governments must adapt the laws in their legal framework to facilitate investments. “Before the Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), for example, 52% of the Mexican territory was communal property. More than half of the territory and its riches, such as gas, oil, gold, water, wood, were in the hands of the poor. With the package of structural reforms that the government has been promoting, indigenous and peasant territory is being privatized so that international investment can make inroads,” says Castro.

Free Territories

One important development has been the non-conformity of those in the Soconusco region, where 1 out of every 3 hectares is concessioned to the mining industry, since the beginning of this year 2015, various communities together with their authorities and inhabitants of the region have carried out countless demonstrations and brigades to inform about the impacts of mining exploitation.

As one of the concrete actions of this declaration, in September of this same year, inhabitants of the Nueva Francia ejido, municipality of Escuintla, Soconusco, agreed to prevent the mining development of the project called El Bambú, in charge of Obras y Proyectos Mazapa and El Puntal, which have been extracting titanium for more than eight years.

In August of this same year, several municipalities in the state decided to declare themselves in a general community assembly “Free of Mining.”. Nearly 300 representatives from the municipalities of Tapachula, Huhuetán, Mazatán, Suchiapa, Tuxtla Gutiérrez, Acacoyagua, Escuintla, Cintalapa and Tonalá made this decision due to the serious health effects that have already occurred in the region. “We join the more than two thousand declarations of territory free of mining in the country, as well as the more than 80 ejido and communal property acts and 30 municipalities of Guerrero, Oaxaca, Puebla and Chiapas that say no to mining,” Castro adds.

Corporate Developers Seize Indigenous Lands in Brazil and Hire Hit Men to Murder Residents

In an effort to make way for new investment projects, the Brazilian government and transnational corporations have been taking over ancestral indigenous lands, triggering a rise in murders of indigenous people in Brazil.

According to the report, "Violence Against Indigenous People in Brazil," recently published by the Indigenous Missionary Council (CIMI by its Portuguese initials), the number of indigenous people killed in the country grew 42 percent from 2013 to 2014; 138 cases were officially registered. The majority of the murders were carried out by hit men hired by those with economic interests in the territories.

The states of Mato Grosso del Sur, Amazonas and Bahía figure heavily in the statistics. An emblematic case was the brutal killing of the indigenous woman Marinalva Kaiowá, in November of 2014. She lived in recovered territories, land that for over 40 years has been claimed by the Guaraní people as the land of their ancestors. Marinalva was assassinated - stabbed 35 times - two weeks after attending a protest with other indigenous leaders at the Federal Supreme Court in the Federal District of Brasilia. The group was protesting a court ruling that annulled the demarcation process in the indigenous territory of the Guyraroká.

For four days and three nights, more than 1,500 indigenous individuals filled one of the gardens in front of the National Congress with colors, music and rituals. (Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)For four days and three nights, more than 1,500 indigenous individuals filled one of the gardens in front of the National Congress with colors, music and rituals. (Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)

In addition to this, there has been a steady flow of people forced to move to small territories after being displaced by economic development projects, as in the case of the state of Mato Grosso do Sul, where the majority of the population - over 40,000 people - live concentrated on small reservations. These are communities that are exposed to assassinations by hired hit men, lack education and basic necessities, and endure deplorable health conditions. Infant mortality rates in the community are high and rising: According to official statistics, last year 785 children between the ages of 0 and 5 died.

"We, the Guaraní, principally from Mato Grosso do Sul, have been the greatest victims of massacres and violence," the Guaraní Kaiowá indigenous leader Araqueraju told Truthout. "They have killed many of our leaders, they have spilled much blood because we are fighting for the respect for and demarcation of what is left of our territories that the government does not want to recognize."

Indigenous women leaders were also present for the taking of congress to denounce violations of human rights suffered by indigenous people. (Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)Indigenous women leaders were also present for the taking of congress to denounce violations of human rights suffered by indigenous people. (Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)

The rise in the rate of violence is related in large part to the development policies of the Brazilian government - policies that have been denounced by the Indigenous Missionary Council. Another report, titled "Projects that impact indigenous lands," released by CIMI in 2014, revealed that at least 519 projects have impacted 437 ancestral territories, directly affecting 204 indigenous groups.

The energy sector has most deeply affected indigenous people; of the 519 documented projects, 267 are energy-related. In second place is infrastructure, with 196 projects. Mining is third, with 21 projects, and in fourth place, with 19 expansive projects, is agribusiness. Ecotourism comes next with 9 projects.

"In the Amazon region, the region of the Tapajos River, we are being fenced in," João Tapajó - a member of the Arimun indigenous group - told Truthout. "The Teles waterway is being constructed and the BR163 highway widened. This is being done to transport the transnational corporations' grain and minerals," added Tapajó, who is part of one of the groups that make up the Indigenous Movement of the region Bajo Tapajós, in the state of Pará. "We live under constant threat from agribusinesses and lumber companies. There is a construction project to build five hydroelectric dams on the same river. To top it off, our region is suffering from a process of prospecting for the exploitation of minerals, by the companies Alcoa y Vale do Rio Doce."

The military police were constantly present, protecting the headquarters of Brazil’s three branches of government from the indigenous protesters. (Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)The military police were constantly present, protecting the headquarters of Brazil's three branches of government from the indigenous protesters. (Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)

Similarly, a report produced by the Federal Public Ministry, based on its own evaluations and carried out by anthropologists María Fernanda Paranhos and Deborah Stucchi, shows that the processes of social change generated by these projects principally affect those who live in rural contexts. This includes many groups living collectively who are relatively invisible in the sociopolitical context of Brazil.

"The evaluations provide evidence that the intense social changes, the possibility of the breaking up of productive circuits, the disappearance of small-scale agriculture, fishing, and forested areas, a reduction in jobs, and the impoverishment and degradation of material and immaterial conditions of life ... have led to strong reactions and an avalanche of social conflict," according to the ministry's report.

Hydroelectric Dams in the Brazilian Amazon

The government's Ten-Year Plan for energy expansion - 2023, which projects for the period of 2014 to 2023 an expansion of over 28,000 megawatts of energy generation by way of hydroelectric dams, claims that none of the 30 hydroelectric dams projected for construction in this country during this period will have any direct effect on indigenous lands.

Data from the Institute of Socioeconomic Studies, through an initiative called Investments and Rights in the Amazon, tells a different story. According to research carried out by Ricardo Verdum, a PhD in social anthropology and member of the Center for the Study of Indigenous Populations at the Federal University in the state of Santa Catarina, of the 23 hydroelectric dams that will be built in the Amazon, at least 16 will have negative social and environmental effects on indigenous territories. They will destroy the environmental conditions that these indigenous groups depend on to live and maintain their way of life.

"The difference in results is due to the way the idea of 'impact' or 'interference' is defined conceptually and materially," Verdum told Truthout. "According to current legislation, interference in indigenous lands occurs when a parcel of land is directly affected by the dam itself or the reservoir. The territorial and environmental criteria do not consider the human and social aspects of the interference, or influence of the project on the population."

A Militaristic Approach to the Economy

Brazil's development model - a model adopted by most countries in Latin America within the old international division of labor - leads the country to specialize in the export of raw materials or basic products at a low cost in relation to the import of final products that return to Brazil at elevated prices. This is a logic that is based on the colonial model, according to Clovis Brighenti, a professor of history at the Federal University of Latin American Integration. "It is an entry into the globalized world by way of intense exploitation of the environment with few results," Brighenti told Truthout. "What's more, these results are in exchange for high investment costs, made with public resources and subsidized interest rates, concentrated in a tiny group of beneficiaries. It is a dried-up model but in its death throes, it causes irreversible damage to the environment and for the people that depend on these ecosystems."

The design of this development model, according to Brighenti, is connected to the modern myth that an economy needs to grow rapidly and continuously to satisfy the material necessities of society. "However, behind this myth, is hidden the essence of the capitalist system: the need to guarantee a logic that is based on consumerism, and in this way, guarantee the accumulation and the benefit of the elites and the privileged sectors of society."

In Brazil, the belief is that material happiness is connected to the search for new spaces for development expansion. "In other words, it is searching for constant advancement into 'new' territories, where there is still a natural environment to be explored and appropriated," Brighenti said. "Thus, capital's interests revolve around indigenous and traditional territories, as ideal spaces for the execution of these projects."

He added that in Brazil there is a continuity of a militaristic mentality, due to the fact that the country was shaped by a military dictatorship from 1964 to 1985. During that time, the United States was involved through a program called Operation Brother Sam.

The objective was to remove peasants and indigenous people from their lands to concentrate territories in the hands of businesses that currently produce soy, sugar cane and eucalyptus. These companies include Monsanto, ADM, Cargill, Bunge, Louis Dreyfus Commodities, Coca-Cola, Nestlé and Ford. In this sense, current governments did not inherit just the military structure but also a business platform that dominates production and the raw materials market. "The principal similarity between the military government and what we are currently living is the development perspective, which means thinking about natural resources as infinite and readily available. In order to make a country grow economically, the amount of territory that is occupied for economic projects must increase," Brighenti said.

Another similarity is the relationship that they establish with communities. "It could be said that there is no dialogue," Brighenti said. "The government makes a decision and all that is left for the communities to do is to hand over their territories in the name of these initiatives. Trying to keep indigenous communities quiet is a recurring action in the sense that these populations are seen as barriers to the establishment of these projects ... thus, the continuance of a militaristic mentality is explicit - proceed with development and stop the protests of those who are affected."

An essential point that sets the period of the dictatorship apart from progressive governments is the source of financing for the projects. "Today the works are financed with public resources, through the National Economic and Social Development Bank, which is the principal funder of these megaprojects, while under the military dictatorship they were financed by the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank," he said.

In 2013, the Brazilian government published an order that allowed the intervention of the Armed Forces in protests against development projects. That same year, the military police in southern Brazil killed an indigenous Terena man and wounded others in the fulfillment of an order to re-take the land that the Terena had reclaimed as part of their ancestral territories. This was disputed by Ricardo Bacha, a former congressman from the Brazilian Social Democratic Party, who said that the lands had belonged to his family since 1927.

Similarly, at the request of the ex-governor of Bahia, Jaques Wagner, who is the current defense minister of Brazil, President Dilma Rousseff signed in 2014 an authorization by the federal government to dispatch close to 500 military personnel to the Tupinambá territory, alleging that his objective was the "guarantee of law and order" and to "pacify" the region. To this very day, the Tupinambá region continues to be militarized.

Since 2010, indigenous people have intensified the re-taking of their lands in a process of self-demarcation. (Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)

Institutional Violence Against Indigenous Communities

The assassinations are just the tip of the iceberg. Among the constitutional amendments that are being debated in Brazil's Congress is PEC-215, which transfers the power to decide the demarcation of indigenous territories to the legislative branch, when it has historically been in the hands of the executive branch. The amendment would leave indigenous people in the hands of Congress and the Senate, which are primarily made up of the family members of large businessmen and the owners of huge extensions of land.

"These proposed constitutional amendments favor a group of 264 parliamentarians of Brazil's Congress, who have received campaign financing from multinational corporations, such as Monsanto, Cargill, Bunge and Syngenta. PEC-215 favors the expansion of big agriculture, using the discourse of food production, but Brazil's food is produced by small-scale producers," Lindomar, of the Terena people, told Truthout.

The principal cause of the conflicts, according to the Indigenous Missionary Council, is the negation on the part of the Brazilian government to recognize and demarcate indigenous territories. In 2014, of the almost 600 indigenous territories currently claimed by different groups, only two were recognized (Xeta Herarekã, in the state of Paraná, and Xakriabá, in the state of Minas Gerais) and one was approved (Paquicamba, in the state of Pará). The current government of the Workers Party, led by Dilma Rousseff, is that which has demarcated the fewest indigenous lands since the end of the military dictatorship in Brazil.

In the state of Mato Grosso do Sul, the state with the highest rates of violence against indigenous people, communities live on the edges of highways, in precarious living conditions. The recognition of indigenous territories was outlined in an agreement that was signed in 2007 by the National Indigenous Foundation, a government agency, which later broke the agreement. Even if the demarcation had gone into effect, indigenous people would only occupy 2 percent of the state, in one of the regions of Brazil where the largest number of indigenous people reside.

Resisting the Old Development Model

According to Brighenti, since the start of the Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (Lula) administration, indigenous people have expressed to the government that they wanted to share their knowledge and practices with the new administration. "But the government ignored them, and what's worse, Lula declared that Brazil needed to overcome three great obstacles to development, including indigenous groups, environmental laws and the Federal Public Ministry," he said. "Thus, since the beginning, he made it clear that for the indigenous movement and its allies, the government had chosen a different model and aligned himself with other sectors that are unfortunately at odds with indigenous groups, big agro-industry."

Indigenous people realized that they needed to come together to avoid losing their rights. "Few social and union movements supported them. Each social movement defined its relationship with the government and indigenous people were many times criticized for their radicalness," Brighenti added.

Indigenous lands in Brazil, as recognized by the federal government, are property of the government. Indigenous people can possess and use the land, with the exception of the subsoil and water resources. "It is necessary to advance in the sense of constructing autonomous communities, which does not mean independence, but the freedom to decide their own future," Brighenti said.

Even with the demarcation of indigenous territories, there is no assurance against intervention in indigenous lands, since the law allows for the intervention of the federal government at any time because the lands are considered property of the government.

"All the government projects are threatening to us and the entire Amazon," María Leus, an indigenous Munduruku woman, told Truthout. "We do not accept any negotiation with the government, because we cannot make negotiations regarding our mother and because we do not accept any of these projects that are going to affect us. We have always been here: These are the lands of our ancestors, and today we continuing fighting for the respect for our way of life, because governments have never respected how we live, and today they are devastating what is left of our lands in order to continue with their projects."

Oaxaca, Mexico, Faces Police Militarization as Governor Acts to Preempt Education Protests

Thousands of federal and state police troops were dispatched in mid-July to the state of Oaxaca in southern Mexico to guard strategic buildings, patrol the skies and ensure that protesters cannot take over local radio stations.

The aim of this heightened police militarization? To prevent protesting teachers from exerting pressure on the administration of Gabino Cué Monteagudo, the current governor of Oaxaca, in their efforts to resist nationally imposed education reforms.

Protesting teachers have argued that the reforms, which were approved in 2013 by the Federal Congress and are being implemented in every state in Mexico, seek to reframe education as a private service, replacing current teachers with new workers who work on contract and have no labor rights.

"This is not an education reform as much as it is a labor reform."

"This is not an education reform as much as it is a labor reform; what they want is for the state to stop offering free and public education," said Dolores Villalobos, a teacher and member of the Section 22 teacher's union, which is part of the National Organization of Education Workers (CNTE).

"Before, the state had an obligation to provide public education," Villalobos told Truthout. "As part of the reform that is changing. The concept is now just a 'guarantee' of education, and this means that there won't be requirements, and it will be privatized. At the root of it, they want to reduce the number of education workers. With the reform it will become a system of contracts for one or two years, with no benefits."

Teachers in Oaxaca, Michoacan and Guerrero have resisted the implementation of the reforms, arguing that the principal objective of the changes is the privatization of education.

With the backing of President Enrique Peña Nieto, Oaxaca's governor took a major step to repress this resistance on July 21 by seizing control of the State Institute of Public Education of Oaxaca, which had previously been in control of the teachers of the Section 22 teacher's union, which is part of CNTE (the dissident teachers' union). Subsequently, the government canceled the CNTE's bank accounts, blocked their radio channel and issued 32 arrest warrants for union leaders in the state of Oaxaca.

The intensification of the militarization process, which began after the state elections in June, has now become acute. Thousands of federal and state police troops were sent to guard strategic sites such as the plant belonging to the state-owned petroleum company Mexican Petroleum (Pemex), the state's airports and tourist destinations on the Pacific Coast in Puerto Escondido and Huatulco. In Oaxaca City, nine federal police helicopters patrolled the skies, protecting malls, gas stations and radio stations so that they could not be taken over by the teachers' union as a way to put pressure on the government, like they did during the education protests of 2006.

US Involvement in the Militarization of Oaxaca

Among the close to 10,000 police officers patrolling Oaxaca's capital city are federal police squads, who were trained with funding from the Merida Initiative, a security cooperation agreement between the United States and Mexico. With broad bipartisan support, the US Congress has designated $1.6 billion to Mexico through the Merida Initiative to date. Through this money, police in Mexico have been equipped with helicopters and high technology equipment. Funds from the Merida Initiative have also provided technical training with the goal of "professionalizing" the police force and implementing legal and penal reforms.

The current militarization in Oaxaca is a harsh reminder of 2006, when the government also attempted to repress teacher protests.

"The United States Embassy is honored to be partnering with the Mexican government for the development and training of its security forces," said Anthony Wayne, the US ambassador to Mexico, in August 2014, at the official presentation of the new Mexican National Gendarmerie of the national police force. He added that through the Merida Initiative, "various U.S. agencies offer training and share best practices to improve leadership and professionalism within the Mexican justice system."

Bishop Raúl Vera, who was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012, told Truthout that in reality the Merida Initiative has increased militarized repression of popular protest.

"Since these neoliberal policies began to be implemented and since the Washington Consensus, a process of the elimination of people as a means for social control began," Vera said. "And of course people began to defend themselves and that was when they started to respond with the military and the police. In that sense, the government does not defend the people; it defends itself ... so that transnational investments can continue to advance in education, energy, petroleum resources, mining and other sectors."

The current militarization in Oaxaca is a harsh reminder of 2006, when the government also attempted to repress teacher protests. One million people responded by taking to the streets to demand the removal of the governor at the time - Ulises Ruiz Ortiz of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) - whom they accused of abuse of power and misuse of public resources. The six months of protests that ensued were met with brutal repression that left 27 people dead, among them a US journalist, Brad Will. Hundreds were detained and tortured.

Forcefully Imposed Education Reform

The current presence of the federal police generates palpable tension; it is a reminder of the possibility of repression similar to 2006.

"The military contingent that is here in Oaxaca is to control insurgents, but what is the insurgency?" Bishop Vera asked. He added that people "are simply asking for justice, asking the Mexican state to stop the education reform that is nothing but the elimination of public education."

Since the beginning, the teachers of Section 22 have rejected the new nationally mandated education model because it is a homogenous model for the entire country, without taking into consideration the states that have indigenous populations or conditions of extreme poverty. This is the case in Oaxaca, where there are places without basic school materials and sometime not even classrooms.

"The government knows that the greatest resistance to the reforms is here in Oaxaca."

The greatest obstacle for the government in implementing the reforms fully has been the CNTE. Although the CNTE has as members only a fraction (200,000) of the total number of teachers in Mexico (900,000), of those 200,000, 60 percent are in the state of Oaxaca.

"The government knows that the greatest resistance to the reforms is here in Oaxaca," said Villalobos, the teacher from Section 22. "If this reform goes into effect here, in this state, there will be no more resistance and it will be implemented in all the rest of the states."

Meanwhile, on July 22, in Toluca, in the state of Mexico, at least 10 governors from different states and the head of government of the Federal District gathered to plan their next meeting, this October, with governors from the United States and Canada. At the October meeting, they will discuss steps they may take in the case of possible mobilizations of the CNTE as a response to the restructuring of the State Institute of Public Education of Oaxaca.

Along with the military strategy, the government has devised a media strategy. Starting July 21, all the commercial media outlets have synchronized their message, from the newspapers to the television channels. They have been incessantly emitting messages in favor of the governor's decision and about the benefits of the educational reform.

There is an entire team behind the government's Twitter account that maintains a constant barrage of messages that drown out the opposing messages with tweets such as, "In #Oaxaca a new period of efficiency, modernity and dignity in the state education system has begun" or "The #EducationReform in #Oaxaca moves ahead and will not stop."

The federal government has also tweeted its messages of support: "The @GobRep [Federal Government] supports the government of #Oaxaca and governor @GabinoCue."

Government allies from across the political spectrum have also applauded the education reforms in Oaxaca via social media.

The Origin of the Current Education Reforms

The education reforms currently in question were approved in 2013, after a wave of protests and a strong police-military presence. In 2008, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) had made reform suggestions to President Peña Nieto in the "Agreement for the Cooperation of OECD-Mexico for the Improvement of Education in Mexican Schools." In the document, the OECD positioned itself as the "vanguard of the efforts undertaken to help governments understand and respond to the changes and concerns of the modern world, such as corporate governance, the information economy and the challenges that are generated by an aging population."

One of the OECD's suggestions was to open up spaces for the private sector in the education arena. "The education reform is much too important to the future of Mexico to leave the work to educators alone," the OECD document said. "The Advising Council of the OECD considers it urgently necessary to create an 'orienting coalition,' which would include political and university leaders, leaders of the private sector and from civil society."

"In this country, the presence of police and the military do not represent a greater guarantee of security."

The body made 15 basic recommendations, proposing an "action strategy that seeks to give more support to schools, directors, and teachers to improve outcomes for teachers and for students, in search of 'efficient schools.'" One of the components of this agreement has to do with the development of policies and best practices for evaluating the quality of schools and the teachers, and to connect those results to incentives for improvement. "These solutions came from the OECD's advising council regarding evaluation and incentive policies for teachers in Mexico, made up of international experts," according to the document.

"We are not against evaluations," Villalobos told Truthout. "The problem is how they are done and the consequences that these evaluations bring along with them. On the contrary, we have built an alternative model that we have presented to Congress, and it has not been respected."

An example of an alternative model of education in Latin America is the model used in Brazil, which like Mexico has an educational policy guided by international bodies.

"The systems of evaluation as they are implemented don't serve anyone," Alayde Digiovanni, a researcher from the University of São Paolo, told Truthout. "In some places we already have this model that incentivizes competitiveness, a system of awards for those who provide the best evaluation performances. The result is competition and inequality among schools. The system commonly does not take into account the socioeconomic contexts where schools are located."

According to Digiovanni, the agreements with international bodies are not limited to Brazil and Mexico. They are policies determined by international bodies, like the OECD and the International Monetary Fund, for implementation in all of Latin America and the Caribbean. "Such recommendations follow a model oriented toward neoliberal policies," Digiovanni said.

Civil Organizations Sound the Alarm

A network of over 100 human rights organizations recently published a statement expressing their concern for the use of the federal police and armed forces against Oaxacan teachers and the citizenry in general.

"In this country, the presence of police and the military do not represent a greater guarantee of security," their communiqué states. "On the contrary, it is synonymous with the repression and criminalization of social protest, like the grave violations of human rights that were experienced in 2006. Many of these violations were investigated by the District Attorney's Office for Crimes of Social Significance."

The communiqué demands the immediate removal of the federal police forces and the Gendarmerie of Oaxaca and holds the state and federal government "responsible for any events that ensue as a result of this process of militarization that Oaxaca is in the midst of."

The Oaxacan Truth Commission, which registered and denounced violations of human rights during the 2006 militarization, also made a declaration regarding the issue. According to the commission, "The presence of the Gendarmerie, far from safeguarding human rights, is creating a climate of intimidation across different sectors of the population. For many sectors, the memory of 2006-2007 in Oaxaca is still fresh. The Federal Preventative Police Force committed grave offenses and violations of human rights, facts which this Commission is still currently investigating."

Amid the context of militarization and the federal government's restructuring of the State Institute of Public Education of Oaxaca, Section 22 published the central demand of the members of the CNTE: the repeal of the education reforms, along with the rejection of the evaluation system and the rescinding of the order for the disappearance of the State Institute of Public Education of Oaxaca. They stated that if no favorable response is received they will continue organizing a national strike. Meanwhile, on July 27, the first large teachers' protest took place in the city of Oaxaca. The rest of the union members of the CNTE in other states have already begun to protest in solidarity with their Oaxaca colleagues and against the education reforms.

By Renata Bessi and Santiago Navarro F

Published in Truthout

In Brazil, Demarcation of Indigenous Lands Stalls and Violence Worsens

Adenilson da Silva Nascimento, a 54-year-old indigenous man better known as Pinduca Tumpinambá, grew up and lived his entire life in his village in the region known as Serra desTempes, Olivença, in the northeastern Brazilian state of Bahia. This year, on the first of May, he was returning from a day’s work fishing with his wife and two of his six children – a one-year-old baby and a girl of 15 — when they were ambushed by three armed, hooded men who instantly killed Pinduca. His wife Zenaildes shielded the baby with her body and received serious gunshot wounds to her leg and back. Their daughter fled through the forest, maintaining cell phone contact with members of the village, who called the authorities.

The indigenous leader María Valdelice, better known as Jamapoti Tumpinambá, says that this is not the first time something like this has happened. She says it all has to do with their indigenous lands and the people interested in them. “There have been more than 29 indigenous killed in just three regions of Tumpinambá lands in the state of Bahía, between 2013 and 2015. The government bears responsibility because they have not delineated our lands and there are people claiming these lands for themselves,” Jamapoti told the Americas Program.

Two days later, in another village named Pambú, which belongs to the Tumabalalá people in the municipality of Arabé, a 40-year-old indigenous man named Gilmar Alves da Silva, was hit by a car while he was returning home on his motorcycle. Then, while he was on the ground, he was shot several times. Gilmar was able to tell part of the story himself; he had strength to return to his village by motorcycle, but died soon after.

This made three murders in a two-week time period from late April to early May, all with the same modus operandi. Eusébio Ka’apor, from the Alto Turiaçu indigenous territory, in the state of Maranhão, was assassinated April 26; he was shot in the back.

For four days and three nights, more than 1,500 indigenous individuals filled one of the gardens in front of the National Congress with colors, music and rituals. (Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)

The Consejo Indigenista Misionario [Indigenous Missionary Council of the Brazilian Catholic Bishops’ Conference, or CIMI] issued an immediate response, declaring that “Based on our evaluation, the cowardly attacks that led to the deaths of Eusebius Ka’apor on April 26 in the state of Maranhão; Adenilson da Silva Nascimento, on Tupinambá territory on May 1; and Gilmar Alves da Silva, on Tumbalalá lands on May 3, in the state of Bahía, are not isolated incidents. This is a case of selected serial killings of indigenous leaders and the indigenous peoples of Brazil.”

CIMI also maintains that these assassinations are linked to the racist discourse of members of the National Congress, specifically the congressional faction known as “ruralists,” who have paralyzed the process of demarcation of indigenous lands and openly favor transnational corporations.

In Brazil — the largest country in Latin America, Agrarian Reform comes down to one law, No. 4.504, passed during the military dictatorship (1964-1985). Among other provisions, it states: “Agrarian reform is the set of measures designed to promote the best distribution of land, through modifications to the law governing its possession and use, to comply with the principles of social justice and increase productivity.”

According to CIMI’s records, the assassinations of indigenous people in Brazil have occurred over several governments. In the administration of  Fernando Enrique Cardoso (1995 – 1998 and 1999 – 2002) 167 assassinations of indigenous persons were registered. During the administration of Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (2003 – 2006 and 2007 – 2010) the number of assassinations rose to 452. In 2011, President Dilma Rousseff’s first year in office, 51 killings were recorded, and in 2012 there were 57 more.

Distribution for whom?

In reality, land distribution in this country seems to be only for the agro-industrial and real-estate sectors. According to the National Institute on Agrarian Reform (INCRA), in 2007 and 2008 the concentration of land owned by foreign capital, most of it from the United States and Europe, increased by 12 kilometers a day. In 2010, this represented an accumulation of more than 4.5 million hectares, concentrated in the states of São Paulo, Bahía, Minas Gerais and Mato Grosso. Added to this are the vast extensions of territory that the federal government grants to mining, petroleum, clean energy, and other interests – all in the name of economic growth.

Indigenous women leaders were also present for the taking of congress to denounce violations of human rights suffered by indigenous people. (Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)

More than 60 percent of the nation’s lands are public, but they not officially delineated and registered as public patrimony. Instead they are often informally occupied by private owners, even as the government says there is no land for Agrarian Reform. But there is land for sugar cane, eucalyptus, soy,” says Nadia Akauã of the indigenous Tucú village. “Agro-toxins are driving out indigenous communities, because they are being poisoned. Not a single government project takes indigenous people into consideration.”

“We no longer believe in the government because it is all set to have Congress approve congressional amendment PEC-215, which denies our right, our ancestry, and our spirituality. The government is already dominated by the multinational soy, eucalyptus, and corn industries. The ruralist caucus in Congress has no interest in meeting the needs of Brazilian society; on the contrary, they want more growth and they either order us to be killed or they send in the police and the military,” Ytajibá Souza, one of the indigenous leaders of Tucum village, told the Americas Program.

In reference to the distribution of lands for agroindustry, the ecological economist Joan Martínez Alier, in his article Sudamérica: el triunfo del post extractivismo en el 2015, refers to neoliberal and progressive countries that persist in promoting primary exports to the point of saying that in order to have less extraction of raw materials, there has to be more. Martínez said that a ton of raw materials that is imported has always been more expensive than a ton that is exported, even at the height of the boom in the price of prime materials “… Peru, Brazil and Colombia export, in tons, much more than they import, and they can’t even pay for their imports,” says Martínez Alier.

A Xucuru dancer in front of the National Congress in April 2015. The indigenous Xucuru people from the state of Pernambuco are from one of the best-organized groups in Brazil. (Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)

In 2012 the organization GRAIN reported on an investigation of the intermediaries for multinational corporations in the countries where the most land grabbing is taking place. To cite just one example, in Brazil José Minaya, general manager of the Teachers Insurance & Annuity Association – College Retirement Equities Fund (TIAA-CREF) in the United States, has seen to it that the retirement savings and investments of U.S. professors are channeled into the expansion of sugar cane, among other projects in Brazil. Sugar cane, along with other types of plantations, is characterized by the use of slave labor, destruction of ecosystems, and theft of indigenous lands. According to GRAIN’s report, 3 percent of the population of Brazil own nearly two-thirds of arable land.

Thus, the assassination of Adenilson is not an isolated situation, Carlos José F. Santos an indigenous professor at the State University of Santa Cruz (UESC), insists.

“It is important to point out that Pinduca was an indigenous leader respected for his clarity about our rights, about our indigenous way of thinking that is contrary to the interests of the ruralists —owners of vast expanses of land— about capitalists and predatory development. This made many people uncomfortable",

SANTOS TOLD THE AMÉRICAS PROGRAM.

“People from NGOs and the government have come to talk about REDD [Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation program, the platform for a market for the exchange of carbon credits, or pollution permits, by the world’s corporations that produce carbon dioxide emissions] and protected areas, but we are careful, because there is always something else going on behind the scenes. Without these programs, we are taking care of our Mother Earth. Moreover, we know how to take care of her and do our own monitoring; the government has no reason to get involved,” Ytajibá said.

Another form of concentration of land ownership in Brazil has taken place through ecological colonialism, where land is granted by means of national and transnational agreements to non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to be administered by them. These organizations include the Canadian International Development Organization (CIDA); Ford Foundation, Club 1001; Both Ends; Survival International; Conservation International (CI); Inter-American Foundation; MacArthur Foundation; Rockefeller Foundation; W. Alton Jones Foundation; World Wildlife Foundation; Summer Linguistics Institute (SIL); National Wildlife Federation (NWF) ; The Nature Conservancy; European Working Group on Amazonia (EWIC); and International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). These organizations, among others, have interfered in regional and federal planning for the conservation of areas denominated as Protected Areas, where speculation takes place with so-called carbon credits – designed to allow countries or industries from wealthy countries to continue to pollute while other countries, such as Brazil, conserve their ecosystems – that directly affect indigenous communities.

The Tumpinambá no longer expect anything from the state

The National Indian Foundation (FUNAI), in an anthropological report about the ancestral lands of the Tupinambá, acknowledged the presence of at least 4,700 members of the Tupinambá indigenous group, concentrated in at least 23 communities between the mountains and the coast in the state of Bahia. In the same study, the FUNAI acknowledged that more than 47,000 hectares are Tupinambá lands.

Nevertheless, the Brazilian government has failed to officially recognize these lands as belonging to the Tupinambá. Since 2004 , several Tupinambá villages have reclaimed for themselves at least 80 percent of the territory officially recognized by the FUNAI report. The Tupinambá are one of the few indigenous peoples of Brazil who have dared to demarcate their borders on their own and occupy those lands. They have expelled ranchers, landowners and others who had power over enormous amounts of land, some of which were destined to become tourist complexes with luxury hotels and restaurants.

According to Itajubá, one of the oldest leaders of the indigenous village Tukum and a teacher of the Tupinambá language, “We already waited too long and don’t intend to wait any longer; this is the territory of our ancestors and if the minister does not demarcate our lands, we’ll do it ourselves; we’re not afraid.”

Arson

Meanwhile, on May 7 in the village of Patiburi, in Belmonte, when everyone was harvesting their cacao, two houses were set on fire, along with part of their plantings. According to a CIMI report, these actions against the village of Patiburi have intensified since the end of 2013, when the delimitation of territorial borders and the reports of the FUNAI studies were published in the Diario Oficial del Estado [Federal Gazette].

“The government had an opportunity to directly negotiate with us, and I think that opportunity is over. Because we can already see that we don’t have a space for dialogue, and because decisions are made without consulting anyone. And our young people have to prepare for a new moment of struggle. Because we have the time of our rituals, of planting and harvest, but we also have the time of war. If we don’t die, we cannot be born anew, and if they do not want to establish those borders, we will occupy and we will fight to the point of offering our lives to the spirits — our ancestors — if it’s necessary,” insisted Nadia Akauã.

Indigenous People Occupy Brazil’s Legislature, Protesting Bill’s Violation of Land Rights

Indigenous leaders from the five regions of Brazil traveled for days to an encampment convoked by the Coordinating Body of Brazil's indigenous people (APIB), which took place from April 13 to 16 in the federal district in Brasilia. The district is both a geographical center and a center of power in Brazil, as it is where the three branches of government are headquartered.

For four days and three nights, more than 1,500 indigenous individuals filled one of the gardens in front of the National Congress with colors, music and rituals. Their principal objective was to put pressure on the three branches of government so that the proposed constitutional amendment No. 215 - better known as the PEC 215/2000 - is not passed. This amendment, among other things, would transfer the decision-making power of demarcation of indigenous territories to Brazil's legislative branch. Currently, this type of legal-political decision is in the hands of the executive branch.

Within Brazil's Congress, there is a faction known as the "Rural Legislators," a group of legislators who have transferred jurisdiction over private multinational companies to the legislative branch. Of the 50 members of Congress that make up the special commission that will review the proposed constitutional amendment, PEC 215/2000, at least 20 financed their electoral campaigns with support from big farming, mining and energy firms, as well as from the forestry sector and banks. Among the members of the Rural Legislators group is Agriculture Minister Katia Abreu, a business owner and fierce defender of big agriculture businesses. Another is Luis Carlos Heinze, one of the leaders of the group, who is also the president of the Parliamentary Farming Front (FPA). In 2014, a lawsuit was brought against him by indigenous organizations because he encouraged industrial farmers to use armed guards in order to forcibly remove indigenous people from their land.

Those who attended the protest dressed in their traditional attire as leaders and sages of the community and painted their faces with vibrant vegetable-based paints of red, yellow and black. Some smoked tobacco; others prepared their bows and arrows. It was a moment to take to the streets and deliver a letter signed by all of the groups present at the encampment, addressed to President Dilma Rousseff, urging her to approve and sign a bill that is still within her power regarding 20 indigenous territories. They also reminded her of her commitment, expressed to indigenous groups during her presidential campaign in an open letter in 2014, where she pledged not to change the constitution and to move ahead with demarcating indigenous lands.

"During her presidential campaign, she [Dilma Rousseff] committed to demarcating indigenous territory in Brazil. Today, we see that indigenous people are moving toward complete disappearance," said Francisco da Silva, an indigenous Kapinawá leader from the state of Pernambuco. "If she herself does not honor her own words and the constitution, the only thing left for us to do is for us to demarcate our own territories and to defend our ancestral lands ourselves, because if we do nothing, this law will leave us in the hands of the multinational corporations."

While the encampment was underway in Brasilia, Rousseff was asked by various media outlets in an April 15 press conference about those who were protesting. Her response attempted to discredit the presence of the indigenous groups. She affirmed that the discussion regarding indigenous rights in her administration is "systematic," and stated that "there is no unified indigenous movement; the question regarding indigenous movements is not singular; it is diverse."

"Having declared that, [Rousseff] committed a grave error in her discourse, because we are here with representatives of the five regions of the country, with more than 200 different indigenous groups represented," said Sonia Guajajara, an indigenous woman from the state of Maranhao in northeast Brazil.

The military police were constantly present, protecting the headquarters of Brazil's three branches of government from the indigenous protesters. (Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)

Dried Up Dialogue

The indigenous leader Babau Tupinamba, leader of one of the best-organized groups in Brazil, who live with a high degree of self-sufficiency, readily affirmed that indigenous people need to prepare themselves for a more radical, even violent struggle. "I said in the Congress that we have returned to colonial times. And we, as the Tupinamba, the first people to confront the colonizers in the year 1500, today we call on all indigenous people to prepare themselves for a confrontation. And if it is necessary, we will even form a guerrilla force if this law is not rejected," he told Truthout.

Babau knows that his words carry a heavy weight and extreme responsibility, but argues that what is at risk are the lives of the indigenous people who are being assassinated by the owners of industrial farms. "We as indigenous people are pacifists; we have no desire to have a confrontation; we just want our lands. But with these types of decisions, they are pushing us to a point of rebellion. If we don't have another option and they continue like this - there are 102 proposals in Congress against indigenous people - we will have to form a guerrilla, because we are not going to let them force us off our ancestral lands; we refuse to leave. Because an indigenous person without land is no longer indigenous."

The PEC 215 bill is just one of the many violations of the human rights of indigenous people in Brazil. "There is no community right now that is not suffering the impacts of a capitalist project. Behind the impetus for this law are the interests of Monsanto, Nestlé, Syngenta, Cargill and other corporations that want to take our lands. They are the same ones that promote the killing of indigenous people," Rootsi Tsitna, an indigenous person from the state of Mato Grosso do Sul, told Truthout.

All indigenous groups have suffered violations of their human rights. "There are hundreds of projects in indigenous communities and none of them consulted the people. They are violating the 1988 constitution, which came at the cost of a lot of blood, and the United Nation's International Labor Convention 169, which establishes the requirement of previous consultation of indigenous people. We should not have to negotiate anything, because they are our lands and it is our right [to be here]," said da Silva, the indigenous man from Pernambuco.

Allies?

Not only indigenous groups worry about the PEC 215 bill. Organizations such as the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) have also expressed concern, since the amendment would also affect protected natural areas in the country. However, theirs contrasts with the position of several indigenous groups that have been affected by their politics. As an example, in 2011, the Maggi Group sold for the first time 85,000 tons of its "responsible soy," with the "green label" given by the WWF, through a program of "environmental certification" in collaboration with Bunge, Cargill, Monsanto, Nestlé, Syngenta, Unilever and other corporations that have been connected to the forcible removal of indigenous people from their lands in Brazil and various countries around the world.

Some political figures came to visit the indigenous encampment as supposed allies, such as ex-presidential candidate Marina Silva. She is an honorary member of the International Union for Nature Conservation (UICN) and a defender of the conservation policies promoted by the WWF and other nongovernmental organizations that promote national parks, natural protected areas, peace parks, cross-border parks, sanctuaries and green market policies such as carbon credits.

"There are many politicians who have come to talk with us, above all during election season, but all that we want is the demarcation of our territories," an indigenous Cayapo individual from the town of Xingu in Mato Grosso do Sul told Truthout. He argues that carbon credits are another way to remove them from their land. "We have seen the experiences of the Suruí people, who accepted the REDD and its carbon credits and conservation projects. They can no longer hunt, grow crops or use materials they need for celebrations and rituals," he said. "We know how to take care of nature because she is our mother and we don't want another carbon credit agreement, because it is just another way of removing us from our sacred lands."

At the encampment, indigenous Mundurukus denounce plans to build the biggest hydroelectric dam in Brazil on the Tapajós River, which would lead to the disappearance of the Munduruku people. The presence of armed forces has been the only signal of dialogue thus far. (Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)

Indian Day?

During the encampment, the indigenous leaders appeared in the House of Representatives and the Senate several times, not just to deliver their signed letter, but to express their discontent and their rage. The response was that PEC 215 will not be voted on, but neither will it be archived, which left the indigenous representatives unconvinced.

On the encampment's last day, April 16, Congress' doors were opened in a tribute to the indigenous representatives in honor of "Indian Day." Due to security issues, only 500 out of 700 in attendance were allowed entrance. The mayor did not attend the event.

Indigenous leader Marcos Xucuru expressed his anger and said that little should be expected of the government and political parties; what remains is the necessity of taking their land and assuming the consequences. "Our fight will continue and we are going to demarcate our lands ourselves. And if necessary, we will fight like the Tupinamba, who have confronted the federal police and the military and we will force them to leave our territory. As indigenous leaders, we are willing to give our lives for our Enchanted Ones - our ancestors - and for nature," Xucuru told Truthout.

Babau says that it is the government that will be held responsible if the genocide continues in his country. "We call upon all indigenous people all over the world, who are the only ones who understand us, to pay attention to what will happen. Because the government had the opportunity to negotiate with us, but the dialogue is drying up," he said. "We will offer our lives if necessary, but we will not let them take away our lands."

A Xucuru dancer in front of the National Congress in April 2015. The indigenous Xucuru people from the state of Pernambuco are from one of the best-organized groups in Brazil. (Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)

Published in ⇒ Truthout