Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

What values are we exporting? September, 18, 2006.

There's been a lot of talk in recent months about exporting democracy (or Canadian values or our way of life) to benighted lands like Afghanistan. Occasionally the export-import metaphor breaks down and we hear loose talk about "imposing" democracy (whatever that means) or at the other extreme, someone speaks delicately about "bringing" democracy (or our values or our way of life) to Afghanistan.

Today, we look at the sometimes unfortunate--or allegedly unfortunate--role of Canada's mining industry as it helps us export our values to some of the places where we do that, whether we like it or not.

In October 2005, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development recommended concrete regulatory measures to end human rights and environmental abuses committed by Canadian mining companies abroad.

The Halifax Initiative, a Canadian coalition of labour, environmental and human rights groups, claims that Canadian extractive companies, which include mining, oil and gas, have been implicated in human rights abuses and environmental disasters in more than 30 countries, including Colombia, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Last year's Parliamentary Committee considered the specific case of the Canadian mining company TVI Pacific in the Philippines and expressed "serious concern" about the environmental, social and political impact of their Canatuan silver and gold project; about the impact of the project on indigenous rights and the human rights of the people living in the area; about TVI Pacific’s use of military-trained-and-controlled security forces, which has allegedly led to a militarization of the region and related human rights abuses; and about the support TVI has received from the Canadian government.

The Committee also heard from representatives of the company and of the Siocon Subano Association, a body that represents some of the indigenous Subanen people in the area, who testified to benefits of TVI Pacific’s activities at Canatuan Mountain.

The benefits include the signing of a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with some members of the community, under which TVI pays a royalty to the community and provides health care, education and training for sustainable agriculture and livestock rearing. Benefits also include the clean-up of illegal mining waste and tailings, some 300 full-time jobs, and contributions to the national, regional and local tax base.

Clearly, the issue is not a simple one, nor is it limited to this one operation in the Philippines.

TVI itself is planning a $23 million expansion of the Canatuan project and is working to acquire and rehabilitate another project, the 26,000-hectare North Davao copper and gold mining property in the Compostela Valley.

Despite questions raised by the Parliamentary Committee, TVI Pacific moves ahead undeterred.

The internationally reknowned "Pascua Lama" proposal on the Chile-Argentina border high in the Andes is set to become another contentious mine with a Canadian operator--this time the gold giant Barrick.

According to Barrick, Pascua-Lama is being designed as an open-pit operation, centered at an elevation of 4,600 meters. The project will produce both oxide and sulphide ores. Based on existing reserves of 17.6 million ounces, the minimum mine life is expected to be 21 years. (Barrick)

The European NGO, Corporation Watch claims that silver, copper and mercury will also be taken from the mine.

The Pascua-Lama site extends to both sides of the Argentine-Chilean border, with 80 percent in the latter, and lies under the glaciers known as Toro 1, Toro 2 and Esperanza. They feed into Huasco valley, 660 km north of Santiago, supplying irrigation water for some 70,000 small farmers. (González Gold mining Jun 18 05)

"...Sara Larraín, director of the Sustainable Chile Programme, ...told Tierramérica that Barrick Gold's 'avarice and obstinacy' prompt the transnational to 'improvise technical proposals' for the environmental authorities, citing the supposedly successful removal of a glacier for one of its mines in Central Asia.

Quote "'No glaciologist, no scientific institute, no known study supports the risky experiment that the Barrick firm conducted in the republic of Kyrgyzstan,' endquote Sara Larrain (González Gold mining Jun 18 05).

In Guatemala, Mayan groups and their supporters continue to demand closure of the Marlin Mine. Of the Governments of Canada and the United States they call for quote "an IMMEDIATE radical change in the policies of promoting, facilitating and financing Canadian and US mining companies [that] ... contribute to grave human rights." violations

But official Canadian values are silent on this question.

Canada's Parliamentary Committee notes that quote "mining activities in some developing countries have had adverse effects on local communities, especially where regulations governing the mining sector and its impact on the economic and social wellbeing of employees and local residents, as well as on the environment, are weak or non-existent, or where they are not enforced." endquote

It does not note that mining activities may also be problematic in jurisdictions where governments have come to view themselves as promoters rather than as regulators of mining activity. The committee seems to have missed this point.

In the words of a declaration by Mayan organizations in the region last March, quote "Historically, as Indigenous Peoples, we have been subjected to the pillage of our natural patrimony and our very territories, practices that began with the Spanish invasion, the creation of a racist, classist and exclusive Guatemalan State, and now continue with the neo-colonialism of the so-called developed North." endquote

Neoliberal principles that generally underlie much of the aid given by international financial institutions like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund often require legislation that opens the door to foreign investment and reduces business costs associated with regulation. The Philippines are a good example.

Last year, after a Supreme Court decision on the constitutionality of the Mining Act, the Philippines hosted an international conference on mining dubbed "Open for Business: Mining and Minerals as New Drivers of Growth."

According the Alternative Forum for Research in Mindanao (AFRIM), the Mining Act provides incentives to attract mining investors to the country. For example, it allows 100-percent foreign ownership of mining firms (up from 40%); guarantees the direct flow of capital, profits, equipment and loan services out of the country; reduces the royalty on gold to two percent; assures non-expropriation; and reduces excise tax from five to two percent. It also provides for tax holidays (TVI got a 4-year tax holiday) and assures that mining companies will receive priority access to water in their areas" (Balane Sep 6 06).

Geoff Nettleton, coordinator of Philippines Indigenous Peoples Links (PIPLinks), a London-based environmental advocacy group, urged international funding agencies to look carefully into the policies of government for indigenous peoples who are the most affected in mining activities.

Speaking at the "Forum on the international mining industry in the Philippines" held Monday [Sep 4] at the Grand Men Seng hotel, (Bayanihan Sep 6 06) Nettleton said that the Philippines should stop promoting mining to international investors because it is not yet capable of "effectively" regulating the mining industry.

"If the national government could not do its work and protect Filipinos from abuses of mining operations, who will?" he asked. (Balane Sep 6 06)

That brings us back to Canada's Parliamentary Committee.

Although the Martin government rejected the Committee's recommendations, it did in good Canadian fashion commit to a series of "multi-stakeholder roundtables" to run from June to November, 2006.

The first took place in Vancouver this June, and the second in Toronto just last week. The next, scheduled for October 10 to 12 in Calgary, will focus on "instruments and incentives." You might want to participate. The last roundtable is to be confirmed for November 14-16 in Montreal. The topic for that final meeting will be "Host Country Governance & Assistance to Companies."

The text for this broadcast is available on the World Report website and contains links that aim to enable your participation in the National Roundtable. You don't have to attend in person.

You can send your written submission to the Department of Foreign Affairs or submit your comments online. You can talk or write to your MP. Remember, when Parliament is in session, letters to your federal representative do not require postage.

If documentaries are your thing, you can download "The Curse of Copper" or purchase a copy of "Sipakapa is not for Sale." Again, links are available in the text for this broadcast at

As always, you can spread the word by writing a letter to the editor. If you are feeling especially energetic, you can organize a discussion group.

Remember, governments are fond of portraying themselves as the champions of rights and freedom won by the military in foreign wars. But real rights and real freedoms usually come directly from the efforts of humble citizens and everyday people standing up against daily wrongs and refusing to be used as a pretext for injustice against others. Solidarity is a real force for democracy.
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