Upside Down World

Ecovillage Survives as Haven for Deep Ecology in Mexico's Central Mountains

About an hour south of Mexico City, nestled in an extraordinary range of mountains called the Sierra del Tepozteco, whose fantastical rock formations studded with forest resemble those in ancient Chinese painted scrolls, an experiment in alternative living has been unfolding for more than 30 years now. The self-described "ecovillage" of Huehuecoyotl, where a group of itinerant artists from Mexico and elsewhere came to rest after traveling the world together for 15 years, has become a kind of seedbed for visionary and transformative projects, particularly ecological ones. The multitude of such efforts, their persistence and success, is one of the stories buried under the avalanche of horror that characterizes the mainstream news from Mexico.

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State Of Siege: Guatemala in Turmoil As Violent Mining Conflict Escalates

With the world's attention on the on-again off-again genocide trial of former Guatemalan dictator Efraín Ríos Montt and his head of military intelligence in Guatemala City, there has been little room for international reporting on other events in the Central American nation. But as the trial continues, conflicts involving rural communities and transnational mining companies are escalating, to the point that a State of Siege has been declared.

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Progress or Promises? Free Trade and Labor Rights in Colombia

Rodolfo Vecino has a death sentence on his head. He has been told he will be kidnapped, tortured and his family will be murdered. Already this year one of Vecino’s colleagues has been killed – in January, Mauricio Arrendondo and his wife Janeth were gunned down in front of their children.

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Rapping in Aymara

At 13,000 feet, the hip hop movement in El Alto, Bolivia is probably the highest in the world. The music blends ancient Andean folk styles and new hip hop beats with lyrics about revolution and social change. As the sun set over the nearby snow capped mountains, I sat down with Abraham Bojorquez, a well known El Alto hip hop artist. We opened up a bag of coca leaves and began to talk about what he calls a new "instrument of struggle."

We were at Wayna Tambo, a radio station, cultural center and unofficial base of the city's hip hop scene. Bojorquez pulled a leaf out of the bag to chew and said, "We want to preserve our culture through our music. With hip hop, we're always looking back to our indigenous ancestors, the Aymaras, Quechuas, Guarani." He works with other hip hop artists in El Alto to show "the reality of what is happening in our country. Through our lyrics we criticize the bad politicians that take advantage of us. With this style of hip hop, we're an instrument of struggle, an instrument of the people."

Bojorquez belongs to a group of rappers in El Alto, a sprawling city above La Paz which is home to around 800,000 people. His group and music is called Wayna Rap (Wayna means young in Aymara). Under the umbrella of Wayna Rap are smaller bands like Insane Race, Uka Mau y Ke, Clandestine Race and others. They often get together in freestyle events, where different singers take turns at the mike, rapping.

Some of their songs are completely in Aymara, an indigenous language. Others include a mixture of Spanish, English, Quechua and Portuguese. This fusion of languages is an integral part of the group's philosophy, and adds to their appeal in El Alto, where a large section of the population speaks Aymara. "The door is open to everyone...This is our proposal for how to change society," Bojorquez said. Though they collaborate with a wide variety of people, "we don't just sing things like 'I'm feeling bad, my girlfriend just left me and now I am going to get drunk.' It's more about trying to solve problems in society." The social and political themes in the music come from the city's reality. The death and conflicts in the 2003 Gas War made a huge impact on El Alto, and many of these songs reflect that.

One song which Abraham made in his own group Uka Mau y Ke deals with the October 2003 mobilizations in El Alto against the gas exportation plan and president Sanchez de Lozada. In the song, "we speak about how bullets are being shot at the people and how we can't put up with this because the people are reclaiming their rights." This song starts out with the president saying he won't resign. His voice is ominous, gruff and peppered with an unmistakable US English accent: "Yo no voy a renunciar. Yo no voy a renunciar." The sounds of street clashes in the song become louder. The roar of machine guns and helicopters come and go until the beat and lyrics begin. "We are mobilized, arming street barricades. We are mobilized without noticing that we are killing between brothers." Another singer comes in, rapping about the "corrupt governments...with closed eyes that don't look at the reality in the society. Many people are ending up in poverty and delinquency, which is why they demand justice..." The song goes on to call Sanchez de Lozada a traitor and assassin. They demand his head, along with that of Carlos Mesa, the vice president. The music fuses with a testimony from a woman whose family member was shot by soldiers. The lyrics kick back in, "We hear over there that there are dead: 80 citizens, 5 police, and mass of people gravely injured. We're in a situation worse than war, killing each other, without a solution."

In many of Bojorquez's songs, Andean flutes and drums mesh with the beat. This aspect, along with the indigenous language, sets the music apart from standard hip hop. The topics covered are also distinct. In one song, they grapple with street violence and homelessness in El Alto. It deals with "children living in the street, orphans of mothers and fathers and the violence that grows every day. The lack of work, all of these things," Bojorquez explained. "We try to show the true reality of what is happening in the country, not hide it."

One of the most moving experiences Bojorquez said he's had within his musical career came when he was invited to perform at the office of the Neighborhood Organizations (Fejuve) of El Alto. He was nervous at first because the place was full of older people. His music is directed more toward a younger audience. After the first song, people clapped weakly. "Then we sang in Aymara and people became very emotional, crying. This was a very happy event for us. It made us think that what we are doing isn't in vain, that it can make an impact on people."

The title of his next CD is "Instrument of Struggle", referring to his musical philosophy. "More than anything our music is a form of protest, but with proposals. We unite, we organize. We look for unity, not division. We want to open the eyes of people with closed eyes...The music is a part of life."

When Bojorquez and I met months later, it was clear that El Alto's hip hop movement was growing. More people were calling Bojorquez for pointers on their music or for help with CD recordings. Others were starting their own groups and showing up at Wayna Tambo for concerts. "Today this music is arriving to many young people who identify with the songs and lyrics," Bojorquez said. "In El Alto there is a lot of poverty and in the lyrics we talk about this. People identify with it."

He had recently helped initiate hip hop classes in a large prison in La Paz which focuses on prisoners that are between 16-18 years old. The idea started when Bojorquez and others did a concert there. The reception was so enthusiastic that they worked to organize a hip hop class in June 2006. Through the classes, Bojorquez said they are trying to "show the jail's reality from the inside." He said the jail was a whole other city within La Paz, a "dead city" without hope. "This is where the hip hop comes in, so that people don't feel like all is lost." At the end of the program, the group will put on a performance and record a disk. Based on the success of the class, Bojorquez expects the program to continue into the future. "They are telling a history that reaches people and can prevent other youth from making the same mistakes," he said. "A lot of them regret what they did and they talk about it in their songs." He offered lyrics by Cesar as an example:

"Yo soy preso en San Pedro/I am a prisoner in San Pedro Estoy esperando la puta paciencia de mi abogado/I am waiting on the fucking patience of my lawyer Lo que el me ha dicho ya me olvidado/What he has told me I already forgot Por tomar el camino mas corto/ By taking the short cut Yo mismo me fregado/I messed myself up"

Back at Wayna Tambo, I ran into some of Bojorquez's fellow rappers, Grover Canaviri Huallpa and Dennis Quispe Issa. Both worked jobs and studied at the same time, leaving little room for writing lyrics and listening to music. We were waiting for a bus to a hip hop concert. It was cold and the bus was late, so we went inside and talked. Like others going to the concert, they were dressed like people I knew in New York City. The camouflage and baseball caps, the baggy pants, it was all very familiar. But it wasn't just the clothing style that these two felt a connection with. "I identify a lot with the hip hop groups in the US that speak of violence and discrimination," Huallpa said. "My mother only studied to 5th grade. She has suffered discrimination. We used to all be out in the streets."

Huallpa started listening to rap in the mid 1990s, and started writing his own lyrics a few years later. "Before Wayna Tambo there were pirated radios, secret places where we gathered because our parents didn't accept it." Both admitted their parents didn't understand their lifestyle as rappers. "They think we are just copying the US," Issa said. "People on the street discriminate us for the way we talk, walk and dress." They both agreed that this kind of hip hop was growing in El Alto in part because of the experience of the Gas War. "October 2003 was a huge change for us musically," Issa explained, referring to the mobilizations. "It had a big impact on El Alto."

Below El Alto, in La Paz, another hip hop movement was thriving. Sdenka Suxo Cadena, a 27 year old hip hop artist and marketing major in college, has been a part of the scene for over ten years. When I met her at the home of Mujeres Creando (Women Creating), an anarchist, feminist group, Cuban salsa was playing on the radio. Her hair was in pigtails and she smiled and laughed a lot while talking about her work. She started rapping in 1996, when she was in high school. "I started doing it because I didn't like society's system - the classism, materialism, the elite. This didn't make people happy." After hanging out with different hip hop groups in La Paz and El Alto, she decided to start a women's hip hop group in 2000. "I didn't like to be controlled by a boy, or be someone else's lady. Other women didn't either. So we started our own group called the Nueva Flavah and had our own meetings and events."

Each Thursday they organized a gathering of men and women from different areas of the city to perform hip-hop, break dance and exchange styles. "We wanted to share hip hop without caring about the differences between us." They did have some rules, however. "We didn't let people in that just talked about gangs, violence, drugs and guns." Her music deals with such topics as Latin American unification, chauvinism, AIDS, race, women's issues and nationalism. She knew politics were important, "but for real change to happen, people have to change themselves."

When I met her, Cadena was about to open a place for hip hop activities and recording music. "Some kids need help editing music, recording. We help them get their message out." One of the events their doing now is a CD exchange where other artists can bring in their own disks and trade or buy one for less than a dollar.

She believed hip hop was becoming more popular in Bolivia because anyone can produce the music, regardless of whether or not they know how to play an instrument. "It's popular in poor neighborhoods where people might not have a guitar. All you need is a pen and paper. You don't need money. You can do it anywhere. People largely identify with it in marginalized neighborhoods, where people don't have access to music lessons or instruments." She also said it is growing along with the current political changes all around Latin America. "It's part of this regional protest movement."

I had an opportunity to see this movement in action at a hip hop concert one cold June night in a neighborhood outside La Paz. We zipped up into the hills like a roller coaster, weaving up steep streets past angry dogs, lit up corner stores, a woman shaking laundry out the window and soccer games under street lamps. The road wound up the hill like a drunken snake at impossible angles. The route was a cavernous labyrinth that never seemed to end. We almost crashed twice and had to ask for directions three times. Eventually the city spread out below in a vast collection of blue, white, yellow and orange lights, oozing and bubbling with life. Beyond the lights were the Andes Mountains in complete darkness. The stars were barely visible, belittled by the constellation of the city.

The concert took place at a large room in a school building. A banner hung outside the door, where young people dressed like New York City rappers were hanging out and smoking. Tilted baseball caps, baggy pants and shirts with US sports logos were the norm. It cost about 12 cents for a ticket. I handed over the money while my friend and I were frisked for alcohol: it was a dry event. Inside, the room was packed with people standing up, bopping to the music, or sitting in chairs. On a balcony above the crowd the performers swung microphones, shook their fists in the air and rapped tirelessly. It looked like a cross between a high school dance and a poetry reading. It had the same angst and self consciousness. The sound quality of the speakers was poor, but the enthusiasm was high. The audience clapped and cheered at every opportunity that merited it. Most songs were a mixture of Spanish and Aymara, with three words making regular appearances: coca, revolution and Mother Earth.

Many of the young people were sipping on clandestine bottles of booze, making out and slicking back their hair. The room was a convergence of cultures. Some rappers spoke of blunts and guns in one breath and their president Evo Morales the next. Bojorquez wore a red baseball cap from a US team, but his coat had indigenous designs on it with the name of his band in Aymara written across the front. I recognized some of the beats from US music, but the flutes, drums and rhythms were all Bolivian. The concert mixed Andean phrases and symbols thousands of years old with themes and rhymes fresh out of MTV music videos. Nations, music, histories and dance moves fused in a new Bolivian hip hop.

The finale was a performance by a young kid who couldn't have been more than ten years old. He proceeded to swing his cap, move his feet and dance exactly like Michael Jackson. The crowd went wild.

A Tightly Closed Door

Leonida Zurita Vargas, a Bolivian coca farmer organizer and alternate Senator, was planning to be in the US right now as part of a three week speaking tour on Bolivian social movements and human rights. This tour would take her to Vermont, Harvard, Stanford and Washington DC. However, upon checking in at the airport in Santa Cruz, Bolivia on February 20th to fly to the US, she was informed her ten year visa had been revoked because of alleged links to terrorist activity.

"I said if I was a terrorist then I should be in jail," Zurita told reporters. She obtained this visa in 1998 and had used it to travel to the US on four previous speaking tours.

A letter from the US Embassy in Bolivia explained her visa was revoked in May, 2004 due to a section of the USA-PATRIOT Act which bars anyone from entering the US that poses a security threat or has participated in or incited terrorist activity.

Her background, however, tells the story of someone who has fought for human rights and peace in her country for years. This mother of two young sons is one of the leading women politicians in Bolivia. She came into the political realm, like President Evo Morales, through her work in coca farmer unions in the Chapare, a coca producing region in Bolivia where the US sponsored war on drugs has resulted in forced eradication of crops sold for traditional use and violence against poor farmers. Though coca leaves are used to produce cocaine, for centuries the leaves have been utilized as a mild stimulant and medicine to combat altitude sickness and fatigue. A large market in Bolivia makes coca farming a legal, viable occupation.

According to the University of Vermont, "In 1997, The Coordinating Committee of the Six Women Peasant Federations of the Tropics was formed under Leonida's leadership and she continues to be democratically re-elected every two years...Leonida has traveled extensively abroad...and on four US tours sponsored by Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, The Kensington Welfare Rights Union Poor People's March, People's Global Action, and most recently Harvard University's Kennedy School. Last year, Leonida was a candidate for the RF Kennedy Human Rights Award."

Zurita is a long time colleague and friend of President Evo Morales, who was elected in a landslide victory on December 18th, 2005. Morales spoke of her visa rejection at a recent press conference in the presidential palace. "I want to tell the U.S. government not to confuse us with some parties implicated in drug-trafficking," he said. "We are not terrorists or drug traffickers but rather humans who want to democratically change our history in Bolivia."

So why was her visa canceled?

According to Jim Shultz of the Democracy Center in Cochabamba, "In 2003 [Zurita] was accused of "terrorism" by the government of ousted-President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, served a brief time in jail in Cochabamba, and was released for lack of evidence."

The Center for International Policy (CIP), and think tank in Washington DC which invited Zurita to speak on this tour, reported that she has been accused of crimes in Bolivia but found innocent in each case.

"In Bolivia...the word "terrorism" is too often used to brand one's political opponents...If the terrorism label does not stick - and we strongly believe it does not - the reason for the visa decision must be politics," explains an article on the CIP's website.

In Burlington, Vermont, Zurita was invited to be the keynote speaker at the "Winds of Change in the Americas" conference which will take place on Sunday, March 5th. Robin Lloyd, an organizer of the conference, said she met Zurita in 1996 during one her first tours of the US. "At that point I saw her very strong commitment to her community, the farmers in the Chapare and I heard about the oppression they were facing from then Bolivian President Banzer, a drug war zealot. He was following the dictates from Washington down the line, supporting a plan for zero coca in a country where this is impossible because coca is a leaf that many people chew as part of traditional ceremonies and daily work," Lloyd said. "Leonida Zurita is an important figure in Bolivian politics and we invited her here to exchange ideas and articulate the change that needs to happen in the war on drugs."

The case for Zurita's visa cancellation is not an isolated one. Dr. Waskar Ari is an Aymara Indian from Bolivia who received his Ph.D. from Georgetown University. He was recently offered a teaching position at the University of Nebraska, but his visa was denied because his name was "placed on a list of individuals under 'conspicuous revision'--that is, he is being subjected to extensive background checks due to alleged security concerns," reported the American Historical Association.

Barbara S. Weinstein, the President of the American Historical Association told the Chronicle for Higher Education that Dr. Ari "has certainly never been a member of any movement that would be of a security concern to the U.S. government."

"We invited Leonida here to increase the dialogue between US citizens and Bolivians at a time of historic change in Latin America. Yet the US government is clamping down exchanges such as this in the name of the war on terror," Robin Lloyd said. "The US government is taking a hard line against countries like Venezuela and Bolivia; they are trying to stifle the winds of change that are sweeping through Latin America."

Lloyd and other organizers of the "Winds of Change in the Americas" conference are working to bring Zurita to speak in spite of the visa rejection. They have contacted the US embassy in La Paz, the offices of Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy and Congressman Bernie Sanders to obtain a new visa for Zurita in time for Sunday's conference. If she cannot arrive in person, she will give a speech via phone to the conference crowd.

The "Winds of Change in the Americas" conference will take place on Sunday, March 5th from 3-9 PM at the Unitarian Church at the head of Church Street in Burlington, Vermont. In addition to the presentation by Zurita, George Ann Potter, Zurita's political advisor in Bolivia, will also to speak at the event. There will be discussions led by Vermonters who recently returned from Caracas, Venezuela for the World Social Forum, a gathering of social movements, NGOs and activists from around the globe. Representatives from the Vermont Worker's Center will be discussing social movements in Vermont.

For those interested in calling the US Embassy in La Paz to voice their concerns, and support Leonida Zurita Vargas' right to travel to the US, the number is 011-591-2216-8000. For more information on the "Winds of Change in the Americas Conference," call 1-802-862-2024.

Free Trade and Resistance in Guatemala

On January 11, 2005, Guatemalan President Oscar Berger spoke to a group of reporters in Guatemala City about ongoing protests against a World Bank mining project in the northern part of the country. He said that his government had to establish law and order.

"We have to protect investors," said Berger.

Hours later the Guatemalan military and police forces armed in riot gear opened fire on protesters, murdering one man and leaving dozens injured. Berger's comments about establishing law and order in Guatemala to protect investors and the ensuing violence and state repression that followed that day and in the following months are not isolated incidents indicative of that country's democratic shortcomings. Rather they illustrates the violent forces employed to secure the expansion of capitalist globalization being forced on people through neoliberal reforms and free trade agreements pushed by transnational corporations, Northern governments, and international lending agencies.

All That Glitters Isn't Gold

Glamis Gold, a mining company incorporated in Canada with headquarters in Reno, Nevada, was given a $45 million loan from the World Bank to construct and operate a gold and silver mine in San Marcos, Guatemala, 90 air miles from Guatemala City in the country's western highlands. Two of the towns directly affected by the project are San Miguel Ixtahuacan, and Sipacapa, whose populations are 98 percent and 77 percent indigenous.

The Guatemalan government ratified International Labor Organization Convention 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples, which ensures (at least on paper) indigenous people's land rights and rights to self-determination. Articles in the Convention state that indigenous communities must be consulted and allowed to participate in decision-making processes in any matters concerning their land and lives.

The World Bank has similar procedural "safeguards" to ensure only projects with "broad community support" are approved. Unfortunately, the ambiguous language coupled with lack of independent oversight and enforcement mechanisms allows transnational corporations like Glamis and global institutions like the World Bank to set their own standards.

According to Sandra Cuffe of Rights Action, a human rights and community development organization, local community members said people were asked to sign their names to receive lunch at Glamis presentations. They now suspect Glamis used the lunch lists to claim they 'consulted' people. Cuffe works in Honduras, has traveled to Guatemala and has monitored Glamis' mining operations in both countries. She is the author of a report on mining and neoliberal reforms in the two countries titled, "A backwards, upside-down kind of development: Global actors, mining and community-based resistance in Honduras and Guatemala."

Graham Saul, International Program Coordinator for Friends of the Earth Canada, has been monitoring the project and agrees the "consultation" process is largely a charade. "Consultation is more of a public relations exercise than a meaningful legal process. It gives companies like Glamis and the World Bank cover [where they can say]: 'Yes we consulted and yes there is popular support,'" said Saul.

Needless to say, both institutions claim the project has broad support. But an article in the Guatemalan newspaper Prensa Libre contradicts their claims. The article cites a survey conducted by the Vox Latina Institute in which 95 percent of people living in San Miguel Ixtahuacan and Sipacapa who were surveyed oppose the mining project. A majority of people believe that mining would harm the environment and not benefit their communities. These people are right. The local communities sustain themselves largely through farming and raising livestock. As a result of the project, which is in its construction phase, many of the people have been evicted and relocated from land they have lived on for generations.

"They don't have any say on whether they want to be moved, where they are moved to and what kind of housing they will receive," said Cuffe.

There have also been reports that one community which was relocated went weeks without access to drinking water.

"The rights of indigenous peoples in Guatemala have been trampled on for hundreds of years. Now they are being told their land has been parceled out to foreign mining companies, most of them Canadian. This is a recipe for disaster - both human and environmental," said Saul.

But the human rights violations just begin there. The mining project will bring long-term social and environmental destruction. The open-pit mining operations will consume vast amounts of water, which could make water used for irrigation of farmland scarce. Glamis is not required to pay for the use of water. Any water that is left available for local communities to use for farming and livestock and the immediate ecosystem can also be expected to be contaminated by cyanide, which is used for the extraction of gold, and other harmful chemicals and debris associated with open- pit mining. Alcohol, prostitution, sexual assault and rape also are often commonplace in mining camps in Latin America.

Now, Glamis and the World Bank will counter that the project will bring employment for many locals, but most of these jobs will be terminated after the construction phase. In addition, Glamis is also building infrastructure that includes roads, new homes, schools, and medical clinics. Guatemala will also receive up to 3 percent in royalties.

Jamie Kneen, communications and outreach coordinator of the Canadian NGO Miningwatch., calls this window dressing.

"If you're destroying productive farm land, dislocating people and destroying water supplies you're going to need more than a school to compensate," said Kneen.

He added that in ten years time the mine is expected to be closed and Glamis is not obligated to fund the maintenance and operating costs for the infrastructure projects that the company touts as benefits. Whatever paltry royalties the Guatemalan government will gain from the project can be expected to be tied up repairing "unforeseen" environmental damages. He said that the so called benefits Glamis are offering is nothing more than an exercise in public relations.

"It's a lot easier to buy PR. When you add it up it amounts to very little money," said Kneen, "nothing compared to the value of the resources extracted or reasonable royalties."

"Bread Today, Hunger Tomorrow"

On December 3,2004, more than 2000 indigenous farmers and villagers gathered to block a convoy traveling on the Pan-American Highway carrying mining equipment from reaching the Marlin site.

This organized opposition resulted from what many local people perceived as lack of consultation and access to decision making along with the widespread belief that the project would destroy their environment and way of life. Though the numbers dwindled, the blockade lasted 40 days until Jan 11, when Guatemala's Interior Ministry deployed the military and security forces to "protect investors."

The security forces used tear gas and fired their AK-47's into the crowd. Raul Castro Bocel, a 37 year-old campesino from Solola, was killed. The company issued a press release stating, "Glamis is saddened that this criminal activity may have resulted in injury and loss of life." Unfortunately, Glamis wasn't referring to the criminal activity of the Guatemalan military and police forces, who, when they fired into the demonstration, violated provisions of that country's 1996 Peace Accord which ended Guatemala's 36 year civil war. Provisions in the Peace Accord were established to set up safeguards to ensure that state-sponsored violence that had resulted in a genocidal campaign against the country's indigenous peoples populating most of the rural areas. Glamis blamed the confrontation on "anti-development activists" and their "misinformation" rousing the local population. Its press release went onto reconfirm that "the project continues to be strongly supported by local residents." The World Bank also posted a statement on its website in response to the murder and state repression. It stated that the Bank was "in frequent contact with the company and the government as concerted efforts were being made to find a peaceful resolution." Conspicuously missing was any mention of the World Bank having any dialogue with the local protesters. Then again, why would it change its practices at this point in the project? The Catholic Church in Guatemala has also been an outspoken critic of the mining project and has been heavily involved with the organized resistance to it. And it is also not immune from the violence. The Guatemalan Human Rights Commission announced that a former intelligence officer reported being offered $50,000 by an anonymous woman to assassinate San Marcos Bishop Alvaro Ramazzini. Berger responded by putting the bishop under government protection. Ramazzini has been a vocal supporter of campesinos' organizing efforts against mining.

Despite the atmosphere of intimidation, local opposition to the mining project has not only sustained itself but continues to grow. Reuters reported ("All's not gold to Guatemala's Mayans", 02/28/05) thousands of Mayan Indians gathered for an anti-mine march organized by the Catholic Church shouting, "Bread today, hunger tomorrow!" to express their belief about the benefits of the mining project.

"We don't want gold; what we want is to defend our way of life and our water," peasant farmer Timoteo Tujil told the Reuters.

And it's not just the way of life that needs to be defended. On March 13 Alvaro Benigno Sanchez, the 23-year-old son of an outspoken critic of the Marlin project was shot and killed by an off duty security guard working for a local company hired by Glamis.

Protecting Free Trade

Bilateral and regional free trade agreements are another mechanism used by transnational corporations and northern governments to open new markets and protect the investors who pillage them. Coincidentally, Glamis is no stranger to free trade.

Glamis is suing the U.S. government for $50 million in lost profits under investor rights provisions contained in Chapter 11 of the North American Free Trade Agreement due to the decisions of the federal government and the state of California to halt the company's open pit mining project which lies on sacred Native American sites in the southern part of the state.

This has interesting implications for Glamis' project in Guatemala. The Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), which is essentially an extension of NAFTA, contains similar investor rights provisions. This raises the question as to whether Glamis could use the same arbitration process, which includes no public access or oversight, should the growing resistance to the Marlin mine succeed in ending the project.

Thousands of protesters, including indigenous farmers, trade unionists and students, converged on the country's capital in early March when CAFTA was set to be voted on by lawmakers. The vote on the free trade deal, which has little public support outside of government officials and wealthy landowners, had to be postponed a day due to the ongoing demonstrations. Protesters were demanding a national referendum to let the people decide what is best for them and their country. President Berger, never shy to "protect investors," sent in troops to quell the protests. What ensued was the murder of two more countrymen and more violence. In addition, Amnesty International reported that two journalists were threatened with death if they continued covering the anti-CAFTA demonstrations. Congress voted overwhelmingly in favor of CAFTA and Berger ratified the agreement on March 15.

Bishop Ramazzini issued a statement articulating why the demonstrators were opposed to the free trade agreement at a press conference during the protests.

"CAFTA was negotiated behind people's backs, and this is the reason that people today are now protesting. It is based on the logic that favors profits over human rights and sustainability," said Ramazzini. "It's clearly intended to facilitate the accumulations of capital to complement and lock into place the neoliberal reforms carried out by the governments in the region."

CAFTA has also been ratified by the other Central American countries in the region and awaits approval by the U.S. government to finalize the deal. Despite widespread opposition to CAFTA in the United States, largely due to the debilitating effects NAFTA has had on the U.S. and economy, workers' lives (as well as strong disagreement from the sugar industry), a vote is expected in May. Some Republican lawmakers are breaking ranks with the president on this issue but the administration and free trade lobbyists representing transnational capital are cashing in favors and cutting deals as CAFTA is recognized as a stepping stone to passing the Free Trade Area of the Americas.

Silence is Golden

The global response to the violence and violations of international law in Guatemala has largely been muted. The media's coverage in Canada has been sparse at best.

"A Canadian mining company having a devastating impact on foreign countries and their ecosystems is far too common to be considered newsworthy," said Saul of Friends of the Earth.

In the U.S., with the exception of a couple of wire stories, the media has been to busy covering more pressing matters, mainly the Michael Jackson case and the death of Terry Schiavo.

There have been no constructive responses by Northern governments. Canadian Ambassador to Guatemala James Lambert wrote an oped published in Pense Libre extolling the virtues of mining as a tool for development by comparing mining projects affecting indigenous populations in Canada to potential ones in Guatemala.

"Through sustainable development of our mining resources, these communities are creating the economic, cultural and social infrastructure necessary to secure their future and the future of their children," wrote Lambert.

The claim that indigenous communities have benefited is dubious at best, while the comparison of Canada to Guatemala is completely inappropriate due to the gross economic, social and political disparities between those two countries.

The U.S. government in turn has rewarded the Guatemalan government for its commitment to neoliberal reforms and protecting investors by resuming military aid to the country for the first time in 15 years with a $3.2 million package; this in the wake of the recent murders and violence and a State department human rights report released in February which criticized Guatemala's National Civil Police to be the worst human rights violator in the country.

Global civil society must engage itself in solidarity work with the people in Guatemala as the World Bank, Glamis Gold and the Guatemalan government have forced them to literally fight for their lives and way of life. We must make it clear that the violence, repression, exploitation, racism and environmental destruction inherent with the nature of capitalist globalization are unacceptable. Here in the U.S., defeating CAFTA must be a priority because of both the short term and long term implications in stopping this "backwards, upside-down kind of development."

A spokesperson for transnational capital, Jorge Arrizurietta, president of Florida FTAA put it best when he recently said, if the campaign to approve CAFTA "is not successful, the FTAA is for the history books...The free trade movement will be stalled."

If we do our work right stopping both is within our reach.


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