Anniversary of a Bad Day

13 Jan

 

4293703325_3868444d23(Photo: Colin Crowley)

I’m having some renovations done to my house these days.

Walls and ceilings have been taken down, heating ducts rerouted, and old carpet pulled up. I’ve had to turn my office into a pantry, dining room and sitting room. There is rubble and dust everywhere, and while I know it’s ridiculous, I keep thinking about the Haiti earthquake as I step on pebble-sized chunks of plaster (or worse, once, a nail) and battle the endless dust.

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Ridiculous because if it gives me a tiny glimpse of what it must be like to live in an environment where destruction has occurred , my circumstances are infinitely better than anything people had to deal with – and are still dealing with – after January 12, 2010.

Close to 60,000 homeless people woke up today to begin their seventh year in a tent in what is still a disaster zone. That alone is unbelievable in this day and age. Tens of thousands more live in utterly sub-standard housing, including the desert-scape of shacks outside of the Port au Prince called Canaan.

But everyone today woke up to a political situation that is distressingly same-old same-old. Hugely flawed elections continue to be the way a group of squabbling politicians divide up resources among themselves and their pals.

In eleven days, Haitians will go back to the polls, for the third time since August, to choose a new president. This final run-off is the last chapter in a sorry but repetitive tale of fraud, voter intimidation, and outside interference in the electoral process.

That horning in by outsiders has been taken care of by something the Core Group. Made up of representatives of some of Haiti’s biggest foreign assistance donors, it has, according to Prospere Charles of the 1804 Institute, “been pushing by all mean necessary to ensure the continuity of Haiti’s elections, no matter the flaws.”

So while the Provisional Electoral Council found that 47 per cent of the vote results it verified were questionable it is still going ahead with the January 24th vote with all the mechanisms of fraud in place. Despite their findings – and what many have simply observed – Council members seem to have been swayed by voices such as that of American ambassador Peter Mulrean, who said, “The world cannot wait for Haiti. There is no evidence of massive fraud in these elections.” After all, the country he represents put $30 million into making them happen.

What’s more, Mr. Charles summed up three big issues that neither aid nor history has resolved in Haiti. The first: “The abject failure of the international community to build and support effective public institutions after at least 30 years of unaccountable, astronomical spending and broken promises.” He also cited the complete inability of Haiti’s institutions to create a political system that is fair and free from local and foreign manipulations, as well the two-hundred year old “rift between the bourgeois elite and the mass poor in Haiti that is more pronounced than ever.”

To be honest, it is difficult to perceive much difference among or between Haiti’s presidential candidates. The whole ‘building back better’ theme failed to get through to them. They still couldn’t care less about making their nation better, or more about grasping power and money.

As I found while researching my newly published book, The Anatomy of Giving, there are many, many thousands of Haitians working hard to build a better nation, but they are being swamped by that “bourgeois elite”, the Core Group, and the deep trench of poverty in which most Haitians must try and survive.

My rubble will eventually be cleared away and my home rebuilt.

I wish I could say the same of Port-au-Prince, but that’s not on the cards – not while the same groups of unaccountable politicians continue to fight over their country’s resources and its future.

When Less is More

8 Dec
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Photo Courtesy thethreesisters via Creative Commons

It may all be very nice of Facebook’s young Sun King to donate a big swack of cash – some $45 billion at current market value in company shares – to charity. It might encourage others to think about donating something, or to at least think about the very issue of inequality. It might even annoy Bill Gates that his $41-billion philanthropy earmark is no longer the largest such donation ever.

Yet somehow Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan’s announcement brings out not only the skeptic in me but also the critic. And that’s because previous flashy donations of big money designated to in some way confront poverty often seem to miss the whole point.

I realize that other observers of billionaire philanthropy have come out with criticisms already. One of them, Linsey McGoey was recently interviewed here on CBC Radio. She wrote a book about the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, called No Such Thing as a Free Gift, which exposes the way its vast trove of funding actually ends up enhancing the same systems that made these philanthrocapitalists billionaires in the first place.

In a recent Guardian column, she pointed out how the three items wealthy people like Gates tend to fund – microfinance, impact investing and growing grants to corporations – “there is little direct evidence of positive outcomes for the global poor and considerable evidence that such trends tend to enrich the wealthy at the poor’s expense.”

In fact, the Zuckerberg billions aren’t even going to a charity as such, or even into a foundation, but into a limited liability company. It will, presumably, disburse funding to efforts the young couple deem worthy – not that you and I will ever know necessarily what those efforts are and whether or not they achieve anything. That’s the way such companies are set up.

And for me, this is the point.

When wealthy donors choose to support certain projects and initiatives, those choices are always based on their on their world views. It is, after all, their money.

It may provide medical care or save lives, but it won’t do anything to ensure that the poor will have a more permanent system, a state system, to provide such essential services.

Or it may, like the Gates foundation has, push a lot of investment into charter schools for American children. But it fails to consider the fact that maybe disadvantaged kids would have better educational opportunities if their parents earned a decent wage.

It’s clearly not the priorities of poor people that inform the choices made by these wealthy donors, business tycoons who have little idea of what it’s like to live as a disenfranchised person in a Third World country – or even in a rich country.

In my new book, The Anatomy of Giving, I devote less time that I would have liked to the fact that the Gates Foundation initially supported, then withdrew their support from, a very worthy organization – Slum/Shack Dwellers International, or SDI.

I write about the SDI in my previous book about grassroots social movements. Their affiliates in places of desperate urban poverty like India and South Africa work to empower the urban poor within grassroots social movements to demand tenure rights, land and better services, and also to recognize the capabilities and responsibilities of the poor. In fact, organizations like SDI, or the Indian Alliance, are not charities at all. So I was surprised when I learned that, some eight years ago, they got a big boost from the Gates’.

I felt less surprised and more cynical when I learned that, a few years later, the foundation decided to place their funding elsewhere. No real explanation for that from Melanie Walker, who directed that project: Mr. Gates and his board had simply decided that it “was no longer the best use of foundation resources for the kinds of poverty alleviation we were seeking.”

For people who consider themselves on the cutting edge of technological innovation it is disheartening to see how un-innovative their ideas on poverty, and the causes of poverty, are. They may talk about inequality, as Zuckerberg and Chan do in their announcement. But they don’t seem to understand that poverty has political roots. Change means changing the system. And changing the system means changing the way people think, and the relations between poor people and local elites.

The thing is: there are many movements and approaches that do make a difference in the lives of the poor. But they don’t seem to get much attention, or support, from the world’s billionaires.

Rather, each new super-donor comes to the table with not just a lot of money but with his or her own ideas of what needs to be done with it.

In that sense, would it not be a lot more helpful, a lot more revolutionary and innovative, if philanthrocapitalists actually gave away less money, but did so in ways that recognize the notion that there are already a lot of great solutions out there?

Those solutions don’t usually include the inflation of some important person’s ego, however. Maybe that’s why they don’t get the support they deserve from people like the Zuckerbergs or the Gates.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Definitions of Aid: Conservatives Vs. Alternatives

12 Aug

The Quebec City Summit of the Americas – remember that? I do, if only vaguely at this point — it was 14 years ago – but the three-day peoples’ summit organized by dozens of local grassroots movements and groups was truly one of the most awesome experiences of my life.

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Super well-organized with transport and lodging, really interesting lectures, people of all ages from all over the hemisphere with whom to get into all manner of spontaneous chats and discussions, the sense of solidarity among just regular folk so at odds with the powerful enclosed behind their chain-link fence barriers. And where did they find all those awesome bands for the Saturday night concert?

The whole thing just rocked, and one of the groups I got to know a little bit about there was called Alternatives. All about solidarity in action, it was working to support social movements in many developing world countries, helping them to leverage and reinforce their efforts to cut at the root causes of poverty. It is exactly the kind of organization that should be involved in development work, understanding that poverty is all about politics. The status quo divests the poor of their right to a better life and to protest against that is, in my opinion, both noble and essential.

Photo by Travis Lupick, Courtesy of Creative Commons

Photo by Travis Lupick,
Courtesy of Creative Commons

But now, all these years later now, Alternatives has come to the attention of the Harper government. And what its self-righteous and narrow-minded bean-counters are doing is horrible, enraging and scary – especially for the poor.

According to its general director Michel Lambert, the Montreal-based NGO supports movements “working for social justice all over the world. Including Canada. And we do that in different ways, sometimes talking about their issues, providing resources when we can, networking, for example, helping organizations meet other groups doing similar kinds of work in their region.”

Alternatives also defends human rights by supporting local rights defenders under attack in their own countries. It also does some humanitarian work — when there were humanitarian emergencies in places where they already have programs.

And Alternatives has received support from the Canadian International Development Agency for these efforts. “Since we were created in 1994, we have received a lot of support from the Canadian government,” said Mr. Lambert, between $2 million and $5 million a year for different programs, depending.”

In the past, added Mr. Lambert, organizations like Alternatives would approach CIDA’s Partnership Branch with an idea for a project. Discussions ensued and if CIDA decided the idea was a good one, some funding came through. The Branch disappeared several years ago, however, and of course, CIDA itself has been vacuumed into the Department of Trade.

But now the Harperites have gone a step further, challenging the very notion of aid as something that ought to empower the poor. Last year, said Mr. Lambert, “we

received a letter from Revenue Canada, saying, ‘when we gave you this charitable status 20 years ago, somebody was tired or drunk or something, and we made a mistake. Because now, according to the law as we understand it, what you are doing is not charity work.’”

Since then, he added, “we’ve had many discussions with them, and they have said they will be sending us a new sort of contract, but we are still waiting for it. We still don’t know what’s happening.”

And while he didn’t waste time speculating on the anachronistic philosophy that might be informing the Conservatives’ approach, he did say this: “They have been trying to restrain aid to a very, very limited definition. Everything that is outside of humanitarian work does not get resource support. The other thing is that, many organizations doing work which is not exactly in line with the foreign policy of Canada are in difficulty.

“Concretely,” he added, “Revenue Canada is telling many organizations ‘you should not work with local partners. If you work with local partners in Iraq, for example, you can no longer guarantee that the money will be spent in a charitable way.”

Indeed, according to RCA’s original letter, he organization is in the wrong because it doesn’t administer its programs itself. Rather said, Mr. Lambert, the directive to Alternatives and organizations like it is to “not involve local people when you work there. Just do the job and then go away.

“It’s contrary to all of the ethics of international cooperation,” he pointed out, which “basically starts with partnering with local people, with working, involving, and engaging local people, because at the end of the day, you are going to leave.  And those people are the ones who are going to have to deal with what is happening in their countries. If you want to strengthen something, you have to engage them, you have to give them the power to make decisions with the resources they have and to support them in this. So it is contrary to all of the basic rules of international cooperation.”

The irony I see is that even as the Harper government narrows the definition of aid to simple charity, more and more development aid organizations are recognizing that this is not working. As Oxfam’s Duncan Green has emphasized, “effective states and active citizens are the main actors in the drama of development.” What we need to do, he suggests, is become active global citizens, giving our solidarity “to the struggles of poor people and their communities within developing countries. ”

But these ideas – accountability, protest, solidarity with those who struggle for social and economic justice, — are anathema to the government we’ve been stuck with for too long. For them, rather, development aid is all about the advantages already privileged people can derive from it, whether it’s mining companies or big agri-businesses. They don’t care whether it works for the poor or not.

And it’s not only with Alternatives but with other Canadian organizations that they are making this abundantly clear. “I don’t know how anybody is going to work if this continues,” said Mr. Lambert.

A final irony: Alternatives is still getting funding for the work it does from other sources, like the European Union and even the United States. That’s right. We as Canadians are no longer giving official support to an excellent Canadian NGO whose work most of us viscerally care about, while other countries are.

And while this story is getting almost zero attention in the Canadian media — CBC being one exception — it should be. We should all be aware of the travesty our government is committing when it tells an organization like Alternatives that, as Mr. Lambert put it, human rights is not charity and empowering the poor is not their job.

El Chapo Tweets

24 Jul

Personally I’ve never understood the appeal of Twitter — celebrity spam, politicians’ pronouncements, links to other links – but whatever. Lately, though, it has come to my attention that Twitter has been adopted by the most-talked-about man in Mexico right now. No, not a footaller, and not an actor. I’m talking about Sinaloa cartel leader and skilled escape artist Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman.

Okay, maybe it’s an imposter. Maybe it’s some wit having us on. But, apparently, those in the know believe it really is him, and certainly his more than a half million followers seem to think they really are picking up the billionaire drug lord’s innermost thoughts.

So I’ve been checking out (on my lap top) El Chapo’s tweets. And, with a photo of him in his 1990’s prison garb, they are certainly amusing, if mostly anodyne.

Here’s his opinion of Wednesday’s controversial Gold Cup soccer match between Mexico and Panama (controversial because of the apparently unfair decisions of the ‘arbitro,’ or referee.)

                  Joaquín Guzmán Loera ‏‪@ElChap0Guzman 15h15 hours ago
 

Nunca espero nada de la Selección Mexicana y aún así terminan decepcionándome. — “I never expect anything from the Mexican Selection,” he says, “and even so I end up being disappointed.”

and

Joaquín Guzmán Loera ‏‪@ElChap0Guzman 14h

14 hours ago

El mejor jugador del partido fue el árbitro. — “The best player of the game was the referee.”

Guzman is also handy fellow with thought-of-the-day-type aphorisms, like ‘Better a stupid question … than a stupid person who doesn’t ask questions’ (from Nov. 7); Good people suffer the most’ (from Feb. 26) and, from earlier this month, just days before making his escape from prison by means of a carefully constructed tunnel, this gem: ‘a single mom is like any other mom, except she has the balls the dad didn’t have.’

But what might be the reason he has become so popular are not these bons mots but the stuff he has been saying about President Enrique Peña Nieto. Like this one:

Joaquín Guzmán Loera

‏‪@ElChap0Guzman

Y tú ‪@EPN no me vuelvas a llamar delincuente porqué yo doy trabajo a la gente no como tu pinche gobierno corriente. –‘And you @EPN don’t you call me a delinquent again because I give people jobs unlike your shitty cheap government.’

The irony, of course, is that El Chapo really owes his ease of escape to EPN and governors like him, to the entire culture of which EPN is simply the current most obvious representative of its greed and unaccountability. A culture where trying to help out the police is not just pointless but all too often a big mistake.

“Money makes the dog dance,” he has also proclaimed, summing up the main reason he and other traffickers have been able to earn vast amounts of cash from illegality. His money has made a lot of dogs dance, no doubt, and injects millions of laundered dollars into a Third World economy in which about half the population still live in poverty.

“The Sinaloan economy depends, in large part, on these guys,” says a banker in Culiacan, the state capital. “It’s their cash and investments that provide the work.”

El Chapo’s feistiness, and the embarrassment he has brought an unpopular government, has turned him into a kind of pseudo Robin Hood for many Mexicans. There were big protests in Sinaloa when he was captured and jailed last year. He’s in some way like Mexico’s version of Donald Trump, criticizing the government, posing as a man of the people (absurd as this in in Trump’s case), just a regular guy smart enough to mine a golden business opportunity – and reinforcing the idea that the only worthwhile purpose of life is to become fabulously wealthy. But to the joy of many Mexicans, El Chapo has also tweeted that he will make the racist real estate developer “swallow his words” of criticism against of immigrants from that country.

It’s the Mexican’s government’s huge number of failures, however, that make El Chapo look so, well, so innocent, somehow. He’s a dangerous criminal, proud and grandiose as his tweets indicate, but he doesn’t pretend to be anything else.

Meanwhile the politicians making decisions about the lives and welfare of more than a 100 million people are no less criminal and no less dangerous when threatened, but they pretend to be respectable. They read their lines from their prepared statements, average folk ranged behind them like an admiring Greek Chorus, and admit to nothing but how much they are doing to improve Mexico.

That’s what makes El Chapo this strange local hero, and even now is brings fresh questions to the entire escape. Maybe he didn’t use that tunnel to escape – maybe he was let out , because of all the inside info he’s got on those respectable politicians. After all, as some journalists have pointed out, the police has never let them actually traverse the entire tunnel, only explore either end of it.

What’s more, the Solicitor General has convinced no one with his explanations of the 43 Normal School students presumed murdered in Iguala, Guerrero, or the killing of 22 presumed delinquents in a ‘shoot-out’ in Tlatlaya, or the many other murky incidents that have left large numbers of dead.

So when a country’s elected leaders make a cartel leader look more trustworthy than they are, you know there’s something very wrong – even if the guy was out to lunch about that Mexico-Panama match.

Haitian Hearts: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

28 Jun

pain-de-singeDr. John Carroll is one volunteer whose work in Haiti has never been, as Teju Cole puts it, “about having a big emotional experience that validates privilege.” One of the few, I’d say.

Today I am going to do something I’ve never done before, and re-post one of Dr. Carroll’s blog posts for the Peoria Journal Star. ‘The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly’ reflects the reality of the charity he and his wife run, Haitian Hearts, more viscerally, I think, than any annual report, fund-raising brochure or heart-tugging television ad. 

Recent conversations and social media texts:

Jean-Michel

Jean-Michel texts, “I hope they want me to come back and visit.” He doesn’t know that shortly after his heart surgery, when he was a little boy, his ICU nurse overdosed him on fentanyl and he quit breathing. But we got him back.

Sadly, a number of health care professionals very quickly arrived at the same conclusion why Jean-Michel quit breathing that morning. It wasn’t good. And a heart surgeon banned Jean-Michel’s nurse from ever working with his patients again. Are you sure you want to return, Jean-Michel?

Rose

I terminated my pregnancy today, Dr. John. My OB doctor told me that my last pregnancy with my heart disease was just too difficult. But I know the medical system does not want to make the effort for Rose’s baby or for Rose. They are poor Haitians and don’t count. I have to hang up because her healthy three-year old is crying loudly next to the phone. And I feel sick.

Suze

My abdomen is swollen and I can’t walk. Plus I have a fever. I still take my blood thinner and see the Haitian cardiologist. When will you be here?

Katia

My heart valve was replaced years ago and I am 30 weeks pregnant. Please write me a letter to get me to “Miami”. The C-section for my first baby three years ago at the General Hospital in Port almost killed me. I am scared. I can’t do this again. Dr. John, please write the letter and get me out of here.

Daniel

Can you order my medication from France? I heard it is cheaper there.

Dieudonne

Please, my Father, get me a visa to come back to be with my host family again. And how is your family, Father?

But, Dieudonne, your wonderful host mom is gone forever.

Please, Father, help me. Do something. (Sixty-six desperate phone calls over the weekend from Dieudonne and they continue now.)

Heurese

I lied to you and used the money for my rent, not for the echocardiogram. I live in a tiny room in Carrefour. My landlord will take my key if I don’t pay. (Sobbing…) I have lost my children. No one here cares about me. I walk the streets a lot and think about death.

Keket

After her breast biopsy in Port, Keket gave birth on the tap-tap, or was it in Saint Marc? Others say she had the baby in Cap Haitien. Who really knows or cares? Both Keket and baby are doing well. But she refuses to leave her village high in the mountains because she is breastfeeding and she feels good. And she has no money to take the bus back to Port, let alone to pay for her mastectomy.

Mondesir

Your patient is cleared to go back to Haiti. He is doing great and anxious to see his little boys and wife again. He had no hope nor future six months ago. Now he does.

(Names have been changed but not the details.)

(Some names have been changed, but the details have not been altered.)

Star Power

21 Jun
Photo from UNHCR

Photo from UNHCR

Past readers of the Global Kiosk already know that I am not exactly a fan of celebrities who get involved in development, poverty alleviation, and conflicts in poor nations that are so often the result of poverty, and elites fighting over whatever wealth and resources are there for them to fight over. In fact, I’ve written a whole chapter on the failure of this model – and I think is safe to call it that by now — in my book, ‘The Anatomy of Giving.’

I don’t mind them doing fundraising for the causes other, more dedicated people are running. And I don’t mind them lending their camera-ready presence to making the rest of the world more aware of the kinds of things they would probably rather ignore, like fistulas and female (read child) genital mutilation and the lack of basic sanitation in urban slums.

But I do mind them publicly deluding themselves — and us  — that they, incongruous as it may seem, are somehow equipped to run development efforts, set up useful charitable foundations, and suggest solutions to complex problems more knowledgeable people have inexplicably failed to think of.

Photo: Economic World Forum

Photo: Economic World Forum

These are, after all, people who have devoted their lives to the pursuit of not just personal success in their fields, but fame; they have both the money and the staff to make sure they always look great, despite the magazine spreads that delight in showing us that, sometimes, parking their cars or going to Starbucks, Stars Are Just Like Us.

And if, when I go to an IDP camp in Port au Prince, for example, I am aware that, even with my few writer’s grants and nice house, my life is vastly over-privileged compared to those of the people there, the lives of even average celebs are in a whole other galaxy of privilege. I may think about how lucky I am to have running water and appliances to wash dishes or clothes, compared to making do with a basin and standpipe. But who would even bother to imagine the typical Unicef ambassador, say, ever even thinking about such tasks? Someone else takes care of them.

If I have some control over the decisions that affect my life, and the poor have next to none, the wealthy have almost total control. It doesn’t even have to be in a space that is particularly grand, to find certain people convinced that anything they do or want to do is all right.

Take the Canadian Broadcasting Company, a sphere of influence that is almost laughably tiny compared to that of a Hollywood comedian or multi-million-album-selling rap artist. There too, the culture of celebrity – and celebrity arrogance– is at work, and the examples of egregious behaviour are quickly adding up. “When you create celebrities, you create monsters,” says Canadian media critic Jesse Brown.

I can’t help thinking about all this as I read about the aftermath of last year’s four-day Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict. It took place in London, cost the British taxpayer more than $10 million — $600,000 for meals alone – and was hosted by a celebrity – in this case, Angelina Jolie – and the then-Conservative Foreign Minister, William Hague. It’s true – it’s hard to think of these two people caring that much about such a horrific phenomenon, one so painful and complicated, and so resistant to easy answers.

And although if there’s one justification I can think of for celebrities to get involved in these kinds of issue, it’s that the world’s decision-makers have left a great void in terms of dealing with them, that notion of mine gets no traction at all in the example of this Summit. It presented nothing new, nothing innovative. It was just another elite gabfest in luxurious First World surroundings, where the privileged sit down together and talk about the dilemmas of the (massively) underprivileged. At the end of it, a protocol was signed, a pledge to “eradicate” the rape of women and girls by military.

Well, who know it could be so simple?

Except that it wasn’t. Have African nation governments suddenly taken to prosecuting the criminals, you might ask, to curbing the rampaging of its military, and to helping these women recover from their ordeals? Has the rape of women and girls finally stopped in places like the Congo?

Tragically, the answers to those questions are no, no, no and not at all. Recent trials in Congo, where just one lawyers’ group, the American Bar Association in Goma, has received 18,000 complaints from women since 2008, were a sham. Only 126 cases were prosecuted, only 56 women were brought in to testify, and only two soldiers convicted.

Meanwhile, the two main local hospitals that deal with hundreds of victims every month have had their funding cut, as has Physicians for Human Rights, an organization that gathered forensic information, as have womens’ shelters. Rape victims received not a penny of the court-mandated compensation they are owed, and local lawyers are unable to afford either appeals or more prosecutions. When he asked for help from the international community, said Charles-Guy Makongo, a lawyer interviewed by The Observer, “we got none. We are totally alone. The international community seemed happy just to see the military in court.”

And how much did Hague’s own government contribute to the cause after spending $10 million to make him look good and to permit Ms. Jolie to earn herself an honorary damehood? Just about one fifth of that, a measly $2 million. The amount spent on hotels and transport was actually about the same as that slated for all of the eastern Congo.

Apparently I’m not the only person who thinks that part of the problem, no really the entire problem, with the celebrity summit was the focus on who got invited: important people, the ones who matter. Not the ones who suffer, who are willing to work for justice, and who just might, against all odds, actually have some answers.

“When the Minova women heard about the summit,”writes The Observer’s Mark Townsend referring to a town where sexual assault has been prevalent, “they hoped to be among the 1,700 delegates from 123 countries invited.” But they weren’t.

As lawyer Makongo put it, “No one wanted to know.”

Indeed these women, and others like them, are nobodies. They are people the elite of this world – including their own governors — will never meet, never listen to, and never respect. They are in a whole other distant galaxy of awfulness, one where star power has no hope of reaching.

Who Us?

10 May
Memorial for Mariano Abarca Photo courtesy of Mining Watch

Memorial for Mariano Abarca
Photo courtesy of Mining Watch

For Silvia Nuñez of the national Autonomous University of Mexico’s Centre for North American Studies, it’s really not possible to say that Mexicans are actually changing their (generally) positive impression of Canadians simply because our mining companies are damaging their nation’s environment while sloughing off any responsibility for the abuse of the rights of those who are complaining about it.

But maybe they should be.

I mean, I do understand when Ms. Nuñez says that it “is a very focused sector that is tracking this issue” – NGOs concerned about human rights and the environment.

What’s more, the Mexican media already have a lot of other serious issues – from missing students to economic malaise to government corruption to drug cartel hyper-violence — to deal with.

But there seems to be something especially wrong when it are foreigners coming to your town and causing havoc, yet pretending to be good guys. And in Mexico, increasing numbers of people all over the country have been complaining and protesting about what happens when a Canadian mining company finds something valuable under their land.

Most of those protests have to do with water pollution, such as in Guerrero where the cyanide used by Vancouver-based Goldcorp in La Carrizalillo has caused major health problems, or in Zacatecas, where the same firm’s Peñasquito open pit mine grabbed most of the water supply, or in San Luis Potosi, where New Gold’s leach ponds at their Cerro de San Pedro mine overflowed into the community’s water source.

In other cases, such as in Veracruz, communities are simply concerned by potential disasters, such as that presented by Goldcorp and Timmins Gold blasting near a nuclear power station.

These protests tend to be given short shrift by local and Canadian authorities, and by the media. After all, these are mostly poor, mostly rural, often indigenous people who are doing the complaining. Shouldn’t they just be happy that some local investment is coming to their hardscrabble hick towns? Some actual development? Even the current Canadian government considers mining companies excellent promoters of development, to the point that it wants Canadian charities to work with them in the global struggle against poverty.

Indeed, one small town in Durango called La Sierrita did take that approach. When Toronto-based Excellon Resources showed up wanting to exploit the zinc, lead and silver in their area, they signed a contract that seemed to make the most of the situation. Along with paying some royalties, the company would provide a certain number of jobs to locals, buy all their food from the community, and build a water treatment plant.

The only problem was the company immediately reneged on most of their side of the deal. What’s more, when mine workers tried to organize after a workplace death, they were fired. Subsequent demonstrations were used by the Canadian Embassy in Mexico City to dig up information of use to Excellon, while the protest camp at La Sierrita was attacked and burned down by Excellon employees. No wonder the company is, according to its website, “positioning itself to capitalize on undervalued projects by focusing on increasing La Platosa’s profitable silver production and near-term mineable resources.”

But maybe the folks in Durango should consider themselves lucky. In Chihuahua, two protestors against the Vancouver-based MAG Silver Corp mine were killed, while in Oaxaca, according to Mining Watch, “numerous members of the Coordinating Committee of the United Villages of the Ocotlán Valley, which leads opposition to Vancouver-based Fortuna Silver’s mine in San Jose del Progresso, were shot or assaulted.”

And in Chiapas, Mariano Abarca, an outspoken organizer of the protests against the Chicomuselo barite mine run by Calgary–based Blackfire Explorations also paid with his life.

(In an interesting side note, Blackfire actually sued the corrupt mayor of Chicomuselo when his demands for bribes became untenable; not only did he want even more money than what the community was getting in royalties, and vacations for him and his family, in return for his support of the project, but the sexual pleasure of his favourite Mexican soap opera actress.)

So as Canadian companies now account for 70 per cent of all the mining exploration going on in Mexico, and as the clauses of the 1994 Free Trade Agreement protect them from any liabilities, and as the Canadian Embassy works hard to smooth any obstacles in the path to their profits, I for one wouldn’t mind if I had to face some opprobrium when an average Mexican learns that I am an average Canadian. I would be happy to declare that I, too, deplore this kind of behaviour, and even more so to know that my taxes are helping to pay for it.

But so far, the most I can do is wish this egregious behaviour would get more of our attention, that of both Canadians and Mexicans. As vacationers from the north start to worry about Mexican drug traffickers spoiling their week at the beach, I wish they at least recognized that, for too many Mexicans, it are Canadians who are ruining their livelihoods and lives.