Donuts and Mining: Canadian Elections, Trade, and Foreign Policy

Small farm near the Marlin Mine in Guatemala. Anna Vogt

Small farm near the Marlin Mine in Guatemala. Anna Vogt

Anna Vogt is the MCC LACA Advocacy and Policy Analyst.

I was in a grocery store in a small Colombian city the other day, hoping against hoping to find the elusive holy grail of imports: cheddar cheese. While I did not find any cheese, what I did come across was even more unlikely. There, in the middle of the bakery section, were stacks of boxed donuts, each one adorned with a maple leaf sticker proudly proclaiming the contents a Product of Canada.

Just like those donuts, we may not often expect to find Canada in Latin America, yet the longer I live in Latin America, the more I learn of Canadian presence in the region.

We are currently in the midst of an election campaign in Canada, but within all the rhetoric, there is not a lot of honest analysis about our policies outside of Canadian borders, especially in the Americas. Part of what it means take part in an active citizenship, however, is being aware not only how Canada’s policies impact Canadians, but how our policies also impact those living in other parts of the world, such as Latin America. What Canada does as a country in the rest of the world shapes who we are as Canadians. Elections are a strategic time to think critically about connections and possibilities.

The current government has three goals for their engagement in the American Hemisphere, first outlined in 2007 under the title The Americas: Our Neighbours, Our Priority:

  • Increasing Canadian and hemispheric economic opportunity;
  • Addressing insecurity and advancing freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law; and
  • Fostering lasting relationships.
Remains of a building in a Guatemalan community displaced by the Marlin Mine. Anna Vogt

Remains of a building in a Guatemalan community displaced by the Marlin Mine. Anna Vogt

In practice, these goals have been highly focused on trade and economic policy in the region, implemented through Free Trade Agreements (FTAs). Currently, Canada has Free Trade Agreements with seven countries in Latin America (Honduras, Colombia, Panamá, Perú, Costa Rica, Chile and Mexico) and is in negotiations for five more (Caribbean community, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and the Dominican Republic). On Monday, Canada entered into the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a massive trade deal that involves, in the region, Mexico, Chile, and Peru.

Trade can have a positive impact on a society, but if precautions are not taken, engaging in trade with few regulations in countries of conflict or with high levels of human rights violations can increase harm and cause negative social impacts. In the majority of Canadian FTA negotiations, local civil society has spoken out against the agreement because of fear of worsening conditions. Colombia, for example, is the most dangerous country in the world to be a union leader. Civil society worries that the current FTA, which does not adequately monitor its impact on human rights, provides implicit approval for impunity. The same FTA has opened the doors for assault weapons export- weapons currently banned in Canada- to Colombia, a country that already has over six million internally displaced people because of violence.

Many of our FTAs facilitate access for Canadian based companies to extractive sectors in Latin American countries. These corporations are viewed as the most important actors in generating economic growth, yet there is a concerning lack of accountability, amid accusations of human rights violations and irreparable environmental destruction. Currently, Canadian companies are only responsible for upholding voluntary corporate social responsibility standards. As a recent Globe and Mail article states “Canada is host to 75 per cent of the world’s largest exploration and mining companies, as well as more than 100 medium– to large-sized oil and gas companies, many of which operate in developing countries. Major and minor players in Canada’s extractive industry have been the subject of serious allegations of complicity in grave human rights abuses.”

Marlin Mine. Anna Vogt

Marlin Mine. Anna Vogt

The Marlin Mine in Guatemala, owned by the Canadian company GoldCorp, is one of the most emblematic projects, for concerns raised about human rights violations, environmental degradation and lack of prior consultation, but it is not unique. In Honduras, for example, Canadian mining has displaced Indigenous groups and contributed to violence, after an FTA was signed after a military backed-coup in 2009.

In fact, laws and regulations currently in place favour the activities of Canadian companies abroad above all other considerations. A report entitled The Impact of Canadian Mining in Latin America and Canada’s responsibility, outlines how Canadian companies are taking advantage of, and actively encouraging, weak legal frameworks around extraction in multiple Latin American countries.

It is important to keep in mind that previous governments, from other political parties, have also encouraged similar policies in the past, especially where extractive industries and free trade are concerned. We must hold all parties and candidates to account on these issues.

Let’s make sure, therefore, to ask questions to all parties about their foreign policy platforms when in office, including questions about economic policies. Is trade conditional on human rights standards being met by local governments, or does Canada engage in trade under any condition? How will different parties regulate Canadian companies working abroad accountable to respect human rights and uphold environmental protections?

As a Canadian living in Latin America, I would like Canada to be more known in the region for its donuts than for harmful foreign policy. Sadly, this has not been the case so far, but elections are a great opportunity to raise critical questions and demand change.

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Another Canadian gold mine: Barrick Gold and the Indigenous communities of Huasco, Chile

Huasco River valley

The Huasco Valley in the arid Andes Mountains of Chile and the glacier fed river that enables cultivation. Photo by Adrienne Wiebe.

Adrienne Wiebe is an MCC Alberta staff member. A trained anthropologist, Adrienne summarizes the findings of a longer report she undertook forMiningWatch Canada and the Latin American Observatory of Environmental Conflicts (Observatorio Latinoamericano de Conflictos Ambientales or OLCA) on the impacts of the company Barrick Gold. While Mennonite Central Committee does not have a program in Chile, it is important to highlight the activities of Barrick Gold, as the company operates throughout the Americas.  This article was originally posted on the MCC Ottawa Office Notebook. 

In March of this year, I visited the beautiful Huasco River valley in the Andes Mountains in northern Chile to learn about the impact of a gold mine on the local people and their valley. The mine is operated by Toronto-based Barrick Gold, the largest gold mining company in the world. Straddling the height of the Andes Mountains between Chile and Argentina, thePascua-Lama site boasts one of the largest reserves of gold and silver ever discovered – an estimated 15.4 million ounces of gold and 675 million ounces of silver.

The mine has been plagued with challenges and controversy since construction began in the late 1990s. Of primary concern has been the negative environmental impact of the project, particularly given the location of mineral reserves underneath and near glaciers that are part of a watershed that serves this fragile but fertile valley. The small glacier-fed river in the valley enables small-scale irrigation and cultivation of food crops and vineyards. Threats to the supply and quality of the water have been the primary concern. Several times over the last 15 years, operations have been halted because of environmental violations. A denunciation by local community groups was accepted by the Inter-American Human Rights Commission in 2009.

Indigenous peoples and social license

A meeting with Diaguita community leaders in the Huasco Valley, Chile to talk about the impact of the Pascua-Lama mine. Photo by Adrienne Wiebe.

A meeting with Diaguita community leaders in the Huasco Valley, Chile to talk about the impact of the Pascua-Lama mine. Photo by Adrienne Wiebe.

Given the generally negative local perception of the mine, Barrick has been focusing in the past ten years on gaining the support of the local Indigenous population. These are people who identify as Diaguita, the traditional Indigenous people in the area, and who represent about half of the current area population. However, until 2006, the Diaguita were not an official “ancestral people” recognized by the Chilean government.

Barrick was involved from the beginning in the process of what the company called “rescuing” Diaguita culture. The company funded cultural classes and documentation and application for Indigenous status for residents. It was also involved in the formation of Indigenous state-recognized community groups.

In May 2014, the company signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with 15 Diaguita  communities that it helped to form. According to Barrick Gold officials, the agreements met the requirements of international guidelines of the rights of Indigenous peoples to consultation, participation, and to set their own development priorities as laid out by the international Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention, (International Labour Organization ILO – No. 169). Barrick felt that this MOU set a new standard for mining companies around the world in their relationships with local Indigenous communities.

A problematic process


Palinay, a Diaguita community member, impacted by Barrick’s Pascua Lama gold mine in the Andes Mountains of Chile. Photo by Adrienne Wiebe.

However, local community members presented a different story. Palinay, a Diaguita artisan, objects to the commodification and exploitation of her Indigenous identity:

“We dress up for ceremonies and photos when we sign agreements. We are learning the Quechua language, the language of the Inca Empire, not the local language, because [Barrick brought] someone from the Quechua area who came to teach ceramics and taught people some Quechua words. Those people signing the MOU are a caricature of our culture. Barrick is using Indigenous status to legitimize its presence. We need to make an effort to guard our authentic culture, preserve it, and transmit it to our children.”

Jhon Meléndez, a Diaguita and a spokesperson for the Coalition for Water of Huasco Alto (Asamblea del Agua del Huasco Alto), is a member of a small Diaguita community which was one of the groups that did not sign the MOU with Barrick:

“Although we have lost a lot of our culture, we maintain our traditions. We are not ‘rescuing’ our Indigenous identity, like Barrick says; rather we are ‘preserving’ our identity.”

For many of the local people, Barrick Gold was in a conflict of interest when it utilized its immense resources to finance the registration of Indigenous identity, form government-recognized Indigenous communities, and then sign agreements with these groups.

The result: social conflict

According to the community members I spoke with, the development and approval of the MOU was a confusing process, which lacked transparency, and created social conflict and division. Barrick Gold provided handouts of money to community groups that resulted in accusations of mismanagement, bribery, and cronyism. Because of the conflicts, today there are two or three Indigenous organizations in communities where  previously only one existed.

Since 2013, mining operations at Pascua-Lama have been suspended because of environmental and regulatory compliance issues. In early September 2015, an indefinite halt of operations was announced because of escalating costs (the project has cost more than $5 billion to date), the declining price of gold on the international markets (a price of $1,500 per ounce is needed to make the project feasible), and share-holder dis-satisfaction with performance.

However, while mining operations may have halted for now, the Pascua-Lama mining project has done enduring damage to the social fabric of the valley.

Read the full report published by MiningWatch Canada and OLCA (Observatorio Latinoamericano de Conflictos Ambientales).

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Weekly News Roundup, October 2

Photo: Anna Vogt

Photo: Anna Vogt

Where Women Are Leading the Peace

Dr. Claudia Paz y Paz, former Attorney General of Guatemala and a distinguished scholar in residence at the institute, notes, “The Women’s Sector opened a new space for women’s participation at all levels, from the peace table to the streets. In Guatemala today, women are still in the streets, fighting for justice.“…Despite these powerful examples, the inclusion of women is still not seen as fundamental to peace processes. As we mark the 15th anniversary of the adoption of historic U.N. Security Council Resolution 1325, which recognized the disparate impact of violent conflict on women and girls, and affirmed the participation and representation of women in building peace, it is critical that we reflect on and learn from the experiences of women who have played leading roles in brokering peace at international, national and local levels.


We expect that when the U.S. government’s fiscal year closes at the end of this month, Border Patrol will have apprehended about 36,500 children, about 26,000 of them from Central America’s “Northern Triangle” countries. This is just over half the 2014 total (67,339 and 51,705), placing 2015 near the same level as 2013, which was the second-highest year ever for apprehensions of unaccompanied minors at the U.S.-Mexico border. The increase in members of “family units”—parents traveling with children—was perhaps more notable in August, as Border Patrol apprehended 5,158 of them, up from 4,506 in July.

Thousands mark anniversary of missing Mexico students

Thousands of people have marched in Mexico City to demand answers over last year’s disappearances of 43 students, piling new pressure on President Enrique Pena Nieto to clear up a case that has battered his image. A year to the day since 43 trainee teachers went missing in the southwestern city of Iguala after clashes with local police, protesters held up banners ridiculing Pena Nieto’s response to the crisis and accusing him of trying to draw a line under it.

Against Odds, Seeking Hope for Mexican Students Who Vanished a Year Ago

Through it all, the day-to-day reminders of his son’s disappearance keep the loss fresh: no extra hands to repair their old taxi, a fragile grandmother who still does not know that he is gone, a daughter without her closest sibling…Exactly one year later, the facts are as scattered and unknown as the whereabouts of the victims. Remains of just one of the students have been identified with certainty, those of Alexander Mora. Investigators know neither the location of the remaining 42, nor what happened to them. The case struck a nerve with the Mexican public, a tragic distillation of the tangle of corruption and complicity that governs life in parts of Mexico. In this case, the suspected involvement of local law enforcement and powerful drug gangs tore open the lives of 43 families whose children were studying to become rural teachers.

El Salvador Debates Security Tax for Cell Phones

Overall, this back-and-forth over how to fund Secure El Salvador suggests that the country’s elites and powerbrokers do not yet feel enough pressure to compromise on a solution. In contrast, in order to raise money for Colombia’s fight against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas, former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe successfully instituted a wealth tax. At the time, the FARC were at their most powerful, and were threatening the very existence of the Colombian state. It seems that Salvadorans do not yet feel they are in a similar position, and do not perceive rising violence and gang activity as posing an existential threat to their livelihood. As a result, they may be correspondingly less willing to be subjected to increased taxation for security purposes.

OAS to establish anti-corruption body in Honduras

The Organization of American States (OAS) said on Monday it will create a mission to tackle graft in Honduras, where protestors have been pushing for an anti-corruption body like one that helped bring down the president of neighboring Guatemala. OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro unveiled the planned Mission to Support the Fight Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH) alongside Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez, whom the protestors have been urging to resign.

Chinese mogul behind Nicaragua canal lost 85% of his fortune in stock market

Fresh doubts have arisen over a Chinese billionaire’s plan to build a $50bn (£33bn) interoceanic canal through Nicaragua after it emerged that China’s stock market crisis wiped out nearly 85% of his fortune. Wang Jing, the Chinese telecoms tycoon behind the gargantuan shipping project, has seen his net worth plummet since his country’s stock market meltdown began, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

World Bank support for Haitian mining: far from a gold standard

The social and environmental implications of the Bank’s assistance are staggering, as the draft law, if passed, will determine the rules and regulations for all mineral mining in Haiti. Nonetheless, the Bank’s involvement has utterly failed to produce a fair and transparent consultation process. While private mining companies have been invited to provide input on the draft law, Haitians – including groups such as the Justice in Mining Collective that track mining issues in Haiti – have been largely excluded from the conversation.

In the jungle, FARC rebels prepare for peace

Since peace talks began, FARC units on the ground in Colombia have been almost entirely closed off to journalists. But in a rare opportunity, the organization gave three foreign journalists access to one of its units for a few days in the country’s southern department of Caquetá. There was little risk of combat — the FARC had implemented a unilateral cease-fire to as a good-will gesture to advance the talks, and the military had stepped down its actions. The unit, led by a commander with the alias Federico (all rebels are referred to here by their nom de guerre) was small, but its day-to-day life offered a window into the broader reality of FARC troops on the ground and the challenges posed by the prospect of peace.

Scapegoats of Displacement: Colombia’s Culpability in Venezuelan Border Conflict

Maduro’s reaction to the Colombian-Venezuelan border situation was rough and unnecessary. However, despite his exaggerated response, Maduro has shown an implicit self-critique through his recent behavior, something that has been largely unseen throughout the hemisphere. Venezuela’s reacceptance of the deported Colombians is only a continuation of the support that it has provided to Colombian migrants for decades. Meanwhile, Bogotá has failed to address the structural issues that lay at the base of its impoverished border communities. The sloppy implementation of demobilization and land reform policies has ultimately led to scores of displacements in Colombia, and has contributed to the exacerbation of a situation that is jeopardizing Venezuela’s Bolivarian Republic ahead of parliamentary elections this December. Nevertheless, in spite of the stark political landscapes present in these neighboring countries, the restoration of healthy diplomatic relations between Colombia and Venezuela is a promising sign for future relations. However, as unabated trafficking throughout the Colombian-Venezuelan border persists, Santos and Maduro must begin to work together to solve an increasingly troublesome, but ultimately assailable situation.

Bolivia stands up to US with coca-control policy

Morales dubbed his initiative “Coca Si, Cocaina No” and established a system legalising small plots of coca in some areas such as the Chapare, where it had been targeted, while encouraging farmers to find ways to prevent the leaf from entering the drug market. It was a landmark statement: A poor Latin American country dared to stand up to the US and its “war on drugs” strategy, forgoing millions of aid dollars in the process.  Now, nine years since “Coca Si, Cocaina No”, Bolivia is claiming victory. It is even presenting itself as a model to neighbouring Colombia and Peru, the first and second-largest producers of cocaine, respectively. 

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Ayotzinapa: Not Resigned to Oblivion or Silence

Photo by Katie Geluso

Photo by Katie Geluso

José Luis Beltran is a journalist who graduated from the School of Journalism Carlos Septien Garcia. He is interested in social issues and has three years of experience working in Mexico Evaluates, an organisation dedicated to public policy analysis. He’s a friend of Mexico Mennonite Central Committee.

10483737_10152613823131130_6730856451445046331_n“Where do the disappeared go,

One seeks in the waters and in the thickets,

And why is it that they disappear,

Because we are not all equal,

And the disappeared returns,

Each time a thought brings them back.”

-Rubén Blades

If it is possible to describe a country’s pain, it is through telling the stories of its disappeared.

On Saturday, the 26th of September, Mexican society will take to the streets to remind their politicians that they do not forget or forgive the attack that took place a year ago in Iguala, Guerrero, by local security elements and members of organised crime against the students of the Normal Rural Isidro Burgos of Ayotzinapa.

Photo by Katie Geluso

Photo by Katie Geluso

Fortunately, if we can use that word in the midst of the crisis in which we live, this new tragedy has not been forgotten, thanks to the insistence and pressure of the families and friends of the assassinated and disappeared students, along with society in general that is crying out ENOUGH. Enough impunity, enough lies, enough everyday tragedy.

A few days ago, the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI) of the InterAmerican Court of Human Rights (CIDH) published a report about the investigations of the case carried out by the Inspector General of the Republic. In the report, the group recommends a general reassessment of the investigation.

A year since the tragedy has gone by and not only do we not know where the young people are, we also do not know exactly what took place or why those detained in this case have not been sentence nor processed for forced disappearance.

There are no simple answers to the multiple problems we face, but we could start by accepting where we have gone wrong. The Mexican State can lay the groundwork so that this tragedy is not repeated with other names and motives. Instead of seeking to construct the “true historical” narrative, the federal government should see this crisis as an opportunity to reform, for good, our security and justice institutions.

Photo by Katie Geluso

Photo by Katie Geluso

The march must be a turning point to demand the truth in the case of the disappeared students, as well as the the other 24, 812 people that the Ministry of the Interior recognizes as lost or disappeared. This is the official data. In reality, we do not know how many more people are also absent.

This Saturday, Mexican society will march to tell impunity that it will not longer be a guest of honour in Mexico, that things have changed, and that the country is not the same.

One year after the tragedy, we want to say that we are not resigned to oblivion and silence.

This video is the testimony of one the fathers of the disappeared from the School in Ayotzinapa, filmed on Monday, January 26th during an interreligious celebration and march hosted by the Centre for Ecumenical Studies, an MCC partner in Mexico. Here is the translation of his speech.

“On the 26th, when they were kidnapped Since that day, we think about them every single morning and night.

We think, where are they? Did they eat? Did they drink water? Are they blindfolded? Are they tied up?

When it is time for me to eat, I do not eat. I do not eat because I think…I also have a picture of my son hung up on the wall.

I stare at the  picture. It’s like if he was here, and he is looking at me. I say to the picture, ”Son I am going to eat.” Then I ask him, ”Son where are you, where are you?’ So then I stop eating, I start crying, and I vent out my feelings. Now that I have cried, then I can eat with my wife.

Now that we have both cried, I tell my wife, ”Lets eat.” Our son is not dead he is still alive. Since that day, on the 26th, it has been almost 4 months since he disappeared. We do not know anything about him or where he could be. Everytime that the government shows us movies, all they find are bags of bones, meat, or bags of bodies in the river…”

The Centro de Estudios Ecumenicos (CEE) is a Christian faith-based ecumenical organization that has been in existence since 1968 in Mexico.  Their mission is to contribute to the formation and strengthening of collectives as social actors who advocate for justice with equity in public policies and local government; and to be a bridge for ecumenical and theological dialogue between civil and church actors who are committed to transformative processes leading to holistic human development by and for marginalized people, with the aim of attaining a just, equitable and democratic society.

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