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‘We were not consulted’: Native Americans fight lithium mine on site of 1865 massacre

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Friday, October 13, 2023

Indigenous groups say huge project in northern Nevada threatens environmental, cultural and historical destructionThe rugged and beautiful Thacker Pass in the desert mountains of northern Nevada has long been a sacred site for Native American tribes in the region.It has witnessed bloody and terrible history. On 12 September 1865, US federal soldiers in the 1st Nevada cavalry committed a massacre of Native Americans, the Numu, across Thacker Pass, named Peehee Mu’huh – Rotten Moon, in the Numu language. Thirty to 50 Native Americans are believed to have been killed, including women and children. Continue reading...

Indigenous groups say huge project in northern Nevada threatens environmental, cultural and historical destructionThe rugged and beautiful Thacker Pass in the desert mountains of northern Nevada has long been a sacred site for Native American tribes in the region.It has witnessed bloody and terrible history. On 12 September 1865, US federal soldiers in the 1st Nevada cavalry committed a massacre of Native Americans, the Numu, across Thacker Pass, named Peehee Mu’huh – Rotten Moon, in the Numu language. Thirty to 50 Native Americans are believed to have been killed, including women and children. Continue reading...

Indigenous groups say huge project in northern Nevada threatens environmental, cultural and historical destruction

The rugged and beautiful Thacker Pass in the desert mountains of northern Nevada has long been a sacred site for Native American tribes in the region.

It has witnessed bloody and terrible history. On 12 September 1865, US federal soldiers in the 1st Nevada cavalry committed a massacre of Native Americans, the Numu, across Thacker Pass, named Peehee Mu’huh – Rotten Moon, in the Numu language. Thirty to 50 Native Americans are believed to have been killed, including women and children.

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After the (White) Gold Rush

The global push for electric vehicles could have devastating consequences for Argentina’s Indigenous communities, Amelia Rayno reports.

Under the searing sun of the Argentine Puna, or high desert plateau, Eufemio Alancay raises a pickax and slices into the upper crust of the Salinas Grandes salt flat. Beneath, in a freshly exposed pool, is the “white gold” of his ancestors: salt. Alancay lifts a shovelful, the saturated crystals gleaming like heavy snow. The abundant commodity, hand-washed atop this eighty-square-mile porcelain-like desert, will later be bagged and sold around the region. It’s not high-income labor, he says, but “it’s our identity. We work in harmony with nature; we never take more than [nature] can reproduce. And we always have at least enough to live, to eat, and to survive.” This salt flat in the Jujuy province of northern Argentina, some 13,000 feet above sea level, has for thousands of years been the heartbeat of the Indigenous Kolla and Atacama communities that surround it, its rhythm still setting the pace amid an unforgiving terrain where cellphone service is a rumor and llamas run free. It now yields jobs in salt extraction, artisanal crafts made from salt, and tourism. Its extensive veins feed freshwater aquifers that are critical for humans and livestock, and for growing crops. It’s a sacred place, according to traditional beliefs, inspiring ceremonies of prayer and gratitude. Resting on the handle of his shovel, Alancay looks out into the luminous expanse. “We are totally invested in the salina,” he says. “Without it, we’re nothing. For those of us who live here, it truly is life.” That life, once barely registering beyond the blue-tinted mountains that contain it, is suddenly at risk, with the communities’ survival pitted against that of the world as efforts to transition away from fossil fuels have spurred the pursuit of a “white gold” that lies beneath the salt flat’s surface. Lithium, a soft, white mineral that is abundant within the brine, is a key component in electric vehicle (EV) batteries. It has been called the single most critical element in the energy revolution. According to a study by progressive think tank Climate and Community Project and the University of California, Davis, if today’s demand for EVs is projected to 2050, U.S. requirements alone would account for more than three times the lithium currently produced for the entire global market. U.S. President Joe Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act, which offers subsidies for EV purchases, is expected to increase domestic consumption of lithium fourfold. Similar estimates are being projected for other highly developed nations around the globe. This new paradigm has transformed Argentina into the fastest-growing lithium producer in the world as part of the so-called Lithium Triangle, which includes territories in Chile and Bolivia. The region, occupying the middle stretch of the Andes Mountains, holds more than half of the world’s known lithium reserves, and perhaps as much as 80 percent of the type of lithium deemed most profitable and easiest to extract. But as car-centric nations like the United States race for access, and local governments scramble to take advantage of new cash windfalls, the Indigenous villages of northern Argentina have become the front lines of complications and conflicts related to lithium extraction. Lithium carbonate mining, an enterprise mostly led by foreign multinationals, requires vast quantities of water in an arid, fragile ecosystem where water is already very scarce, threatening mass displacement. Meanwhile, as constitutionally protected communities resist these developments, laws are broken, protests are violently repressed, and residents say that, while outside investors and corrupt local actors enrich themselves, the people who live here are left more impoverished than ever. “Our land has so much wealth,” Alancay’s daughter, Mari, who is involved with community organizing against lithium exploitation, tells The Progressive. “But we are losing it to those who come from the outside and fill their pockets.” Given these factors, Bruno Fornillo, an Argentine researcher who studies natural resources and geopolitics, calls lithium production, in its current form, “contemporary neocolonial enslavement.” From the United States’ perspective, Laura Richardson, the commander of the U.S. Southern Command, gushes about this lithium-rich region often while invoking claims of U.S. national security. This suggests the United States, with just one active domestic mine located in Nevada, has its eye on lithium as one of the next major geopolitical frontiers. According to the Buenos Aires Herald, last year, the U.S. government encouraged Argentina to boost its lithium production fivefold as the United States pushes for a free-trade exception with Argentina, which is necessary to comply with the current wording of the Inflation Reduction Act. But “this degree of plunder is exacerbating economic, environmental, social, and racial inequalities,” Fornillo says. “It recalls the continent’s darkest moments.” While lithium is often hailed as “green energy” because it doesn’t pollute in its final stage of use, such labels mean little to the thirty-three Indigenous surrounding the Salinas Grandes-Guayatayoc basin, and others like them in northern Argentina. “Green for whom?” asks Clemente Flores, a spokesperson for various Indigenous villages in the area. “Because we’re saying that for this to happen, communities must die.” In the shade of thick adobe walls, Cecilia Sarapura’s sun-leathered hands glide across a collection of tejidos, or woven items—a pair of socks, a tiny stuffed llama, a chullo, or cap—all made from the wool of her llamas, which had wandered, mid-morning, to graze. Her husband of forty-five years, Pasqual Quipildor, was busy collecting water—clear and sweet—from the couple’s sixty-five-foot well. “It still draws,” he says, scooping a cup-full from a tin pot. “We maintain it, and it gives us what we need.” While Quipildor’s ancestors have lived in these hills for possibly thousands of years, his direct family has inhabited this exact plot of land for three generations, maintaining a lifestyle largely unchanged by the march of modernity that he and Sarapura sometimes hear about on their radio. Quipildor’s father and grandfather built the squat, mud-packed structures that once sat at the edge of the glittering Guayatayoc Laguna when it was speckled with pink flamingos and little else. The drive over rugged terrain to the main road that leads to Salinas Grandes takes nearly an hour by car, although there are few of those here. Like most people in the region, the couple, now in their late sixties, live off their livestock, small-scale agriculture such as potatoes and green onions, and Cecilia’s tejidos, which her daughter takes to a town about a three-hour drive away to sell. But in recent years, El Cerrito, where time is measured by the sun’s arc and grazing schedules, has been thrust into the fire of twenty-first-century problems. This hacienda, on the outskirts of the village of Rinconadillas, is feeling the acute impact of climate change despite not contributing to it. These days, the laguna is mostly a desert, sprinkled with water only occasionally after rains that grow more sparse each year. And now, even greater disruption could happen. In pursuit of the mineral that will allow high-polluting societies an off-ramp without sacrificing autonomous transit, lithium companies have begun to arrive and push for mining installations. Communities like El Cerrito again stand to suffer the consequences. “The water is already low,” Sarapura says. “It’s enough for us for now, but already the llamas are suffering.” Two decades ago, Argentina was barely a footnote in the international lithium market, accounting for less than 2 percent of global production. Now, with three active mines and nearly forty projects under development, Argentina is on track to become the world’s third-largest exporter in the next three years. The reasons for the rapid expansion are clear: Compared with its similarly fertile South American peers, Argentina is especially attractive to foreign investors, thanks to a unique legal framework that favors corporations. While lithium mining in Bolivia is controlled by the state, and Chile announced last year a new strategy that requires all lithium projects to be public-private partnerships, Argentina’s mining sector is managed by the country’s provinces—the product of a pair of deregulation laws passed by the U.S.-friendly administration of Carlos Menem in the 1990s, a time when the United States controlled the only lithium production project in Argentina. In January, the U.S. firm Livent—which still manages the 1990s-era lithium mine in the Catamarca province—merged with the Australian company Allkem to create Arcadium Lithium, which is now Argentina’s largest lithium mining operator. That legislation, which also capped royalties paid by mining companies at 3 percent (in comparison, Chilean contracts include royalties of up to 40 percent), prevents Argentina from establishing a national policy regarding lithium exploitation and enables local governors to directly negotiate with companies. “It’s a really perverse dynamic,” says Thea Riofrancos, a political science professor at Providence College and lead author of the Climate and Community Project study on lithium production. “It becomes a race to the bottom with provinces competing with their neighbors for mining investment. And that, of course, can open the door to corruption.” By law, local communities should still have the final say over any proposed lithium mining projects. Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization, known as the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention, which was adopted into Argentine law in 1992, requires Indigenous communities to be consulted on the forms of resource extraction. Article seventy-five of the Argentine Constitution also recognizes community ownership of Indigenous lands. “Green for whom? Because we’re saying that for this to happen, communities must die.” — Clemente Flores, spokesperson for various Indigenous villages But “the legislation that recognizes Indigenous rights is simply bypassed,” says Argentine lawyer Alicia Chalabe, who represents communities in Salinas Grandes. Organizing efforts by those communities, which have taken legal action at both national and international levels against the provincial government and various mining companies, have successfully forced out early-stage lithium projects in recent years. In 2019, an attempt by a Canadian mining company to conduct tests to explore for lithium in the Guayatayoc Laguna—not far from where Sarapura and Quilpildor live—failed after residents from the surrounding villages blocked access to the area. Sarapura and Quilpildor, who may move more slowly today than they used to but still maintain the same fiery resistance, say they are ready to battle the mining companies again if necessary. “They can’t take away our land,” Sarapura says. “We would gather the whole community to fight.” Last year, the provincial government in Jujuy responded to growing protests in the region by passing a highly controversial constitutional reform that locals say was intended to override pushback against lithium mining. The new law, approved without including Indigenous communities in the public debate, paves the way for forcible seizure of ancestral lands while prohibiting demonstrations, including roadblocks. When mass demonstrations rejecting the reform erupted across the province last year, local police responded with a violent crackdown that left at least 170 people injured, some seriously. Later, a group of Indigenous activists with ties to the surrounding communities established a permanent camp at the site of the most brutal repression, outside of the town of Purmamarca. The camp, called La Permanencia, stands as a symbol of resistance, with activists staying in rotation, cooking over a fire, and sleeping in a dorm made from tarps and other materials. Jujuy’s former governor, Gerardo Morales, later scrapped parts of the constitutional reform pertaining to blocking roadways, but other clauses related to Indigenous rights remain. “We have the right to oppose our own extinction,” says Rafael Herrera, one of the founders of La Permanencia. “The state argues that you have to build markets, that lithium is good for trade. But the most vulnerable people, those who don’t benefit from all of this change, are the ones who always suffer from the greed of other nations and the complicity of our politicians, who end up giving us away as slaves.” About an hour and a half west of Salinas Grandes by car, mazes of dry, brown salt are punctuated by man-made, turquoise-green pools. Here, lithium companies have already begun production, pumping salt-rich water into the manufactured ponds to evaporate, leaving an ever-drying landscape in their wake. Local residents say wildlife, such as vicuñas, the free-ranging ancestor of domesticated alpacas, are becoming more rare. Abandoned houses abutting the salt flats add to the desolate landscape. “Every year the water is depleted a little more,” says Adela Soriano, a nearby resident who was tending to llamas in fields of dry, desert grasses. “Already several areas have none at all. If this continues, we’ll be left with nothing.” The neighboring salt flats of Olaroz and Cauchari are home to two of Argentina’s three exporting lithium firms. On the Olaroz flat, a joint project between Arcadium Lithium and Japan’s Toyota Tsusho Corporation has been exporting lithium since 2016. The newest player, a collaboration between Canadian and Chinese firms located on the Cauchari flat, started mining last July. The Argentine state company JEMSE controls 8.5 percent of the shares of both Jujuy projects. The mining intelligence firm CRU Group estimates that eighteen other lithium mining projects should begin production in Argentina in the next four years. These companies have been successful in their bids in large part by preying on the precariousness of the surrounding communities, locals say. In nearby Huáncar, community commission member Ema Quispe estimates that about thirty residents work as mining employees, despite hesitance about the mines’ very presence. Unlike in Salinas Grandes, these salt flats have never been major tourism destinations, and the salt isn’t fit for human consumption, eliminating two key industries that keep their eastern neighbors afloat. Faster diminishing water reserves, meanwhile, have also put greater pressure on traditional livelihoods dependent on livestock and tejidos. The cumulative result is that many local residents are desperate, Quispe says. “The government should be investing here but it’s not,” she adds. “It’s just us and the mining companies. Other communities say, ‘How could you allow that?’ but they don’t see the reality here.” Still, local benefits are limited. According to 2016 data in a report coordinated by Fornillo, lithium mining accounted for less than 0.9 percent of registered private jobs in Catamarca and about 0.42 percent of such jobs in Jujuy, with two of Argentina’s three active mines in production. Additionally, some in the area report diminishing water levels and cloudy water emerging from wells. Near the U.S. lithium mine in Catamarca, a project that has already been extracting for twenty-five years, the Trapiche River has dried up. Communities from other regions rich in lithium deposits are paying close attention. “Even if there is work in the short term, when the lithium runs out, what happens then?” asks Jaime Tolova, a young tour guide in Salinas Grandes. “The multinational [corporations] are going to leave, there will be no more work, and these territories will be makeshift camps. It’s going to be very ugly.” Riofrancos and other researchers at the Climate and Community Project argue that drastically expanding lithium mining is not an adequate response to climate change. According to the group’s 2023 study, a combination of ambitious investments in mass transit and urban infrastructure, smaller EV batteries, and improved battery recycling could slash the amount of additional lithium required by up to 90 percent. These shifts, Riofrancos says, would allow the United States to reduce greenhouse gases to zero by 2050—which scientists say is crucial to avoiding the worst effects of climate change—while minimizing mining threats to water sources, biodiversity, Indigenous sovereignty, and human rights. “The United States has a high level of responsibility for climate justice as the largest historic producer,” Riofrancos says. “Oftentimes, these goals are framed as if we must choose [between them]. But the fastest way to address climate change is also the path that minimizes mining-related harm. We can do both, and we should.”

Rio's Carnival Parade Makes Urgent Plea to Stop Illegal Mining in Indigenous Lands

Rio de Janeiro’s Salgueiro samba school has paid tribute to Brazil’s largest Indigenous group, the Yanomami, crafting its giant floats, costumes and songs based on the group’s ancient culture and traditions

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Carnival dancers took the biggest stage in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday night with their faces painted red in a traditional Indigenous manner, while percussionists had “Miners out” written across the skins of their drums. It was part of Salgueiro's samba school's tribute to the Yanomami, Brazil’s largest Indigenous group, with its giant floats, costumes and songs based on the group’s ancient culture and traditions. “My Salgueiro is the arrow for the people of the forest,” the parade participants sang out as they marched through the Sambadrome, delivering their message to more than 70,000 revelers at the Sambadrome and millions watching live on television. “The chance that’s left for us is an Indigenous Brazil.”President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is under pressure to deliver on promises to eradicate illegal mining, particularly amid a recent backslide in efforts. Sunday’s parade comes as Brazil celebrates one year since Lula declared a public health emergency for the Yanomami people in the Amazon, who are suffering from malnutrition and diseases such as malaria as a consequence of illegal mining.“Ours is a cry for help from Brazil and the world in general,” said Davi Kopenawa, a Yanomami leader and shaman who advised the samba school on how to remain truthful to his people, and paraded with Salgueiro. “My hope is that the world, upon hearing our call, will put pressure on the Brazilian government to remove all the miners, destroyers of our mother Earth, who are soiling the water and killing fish.”Kopenawa paraded with feathered armbands and headdress, plus a beaded necklace depicting a jaguar. He was joined by 13 other Yanomami who flew across the country to participate in Salgueiro’s parade. One of the first floats consisted of a severed tree trunk, with an performer depicting a Yanomami mother seeking to protect her child as invaders drew close, and other floats featured massive sculptures of Yanomami people.Through this homage to Yanomami history and culture, Salgueiro sought to draw attention to the devastating effects brought by illegal mining inside Yanomami territory, including widespread river contamination, famine and disease.Some 30,000 Yanomami live in Brazil’s largest Indigenous territory, spanning more than 9 million hectares (22 million acres) in the northern area of the Amazon rainforest, along the border with Venezuela.Three weeks after assuming the presidency, Lula declared a public health emergency and sent the armed forces, doctors, nurses and food. Still, over 300 Yanomami died of various causes in 2023, according to the health ministry.Lula swiftly created a dedicated inter-ministerial task force to fight illegal mining and in 2023, Brazil’s environmental agency destroyed a record 33 aircraft found on or near Yanomami territory. The agents also wrecked or apprehended mining barges, fuel, chainsaws, Starlink internet units and campsites. Government officials say that since the beginning of the operation, areas with illegal mining inside Yanomami territory have dropped 85% and that Yanomamis’ health has improved. But after the operation's initial success, prosecutors, law enforcement and employees of federal environmental agencies say illegal miners are returning.“There has been a significant reduction, but mining hasn’t ended. We reckon that the miners are exploiting as much as possible, because they assess they eventually will have to leave,” Jair Schmitt, head of environmental protection at Brazil’s environmental agency Ibama, told The Associated Press.Schmitt said miners have adapted to escape law enforcement and satellite detection by working at night, setting camp under the forest canopy and choosing old mining pits instead of clearing forest to open new ones.Humberto Freire, director of the newly created Amazon and environmental unit of the federal police, said officers also noticed miners have begun working in a much smaller, artisanal way, and that government agencies need to take stronger action.“We need, for example, the air force to effectively control the airspace over Yanomami land. We need the navy to control the flow of people on rivers. We need the army to do a quality job, too,” Freire said. “The federal police can do more, the armed forces can do more, as well as Ibama and Funai (the Indigenous affairs agency.)"One of the parade’s wings featured dancers dressed in the dark-green garb of army uniforms. Following behind was a float featuring two giant army hats with skulls, an explicitly critical element of the parade.Lula had said the armed forces would play a key role in the fight, providing logistical support and security to public workers and federal agents on the ground who say they increasingly fear for their lives.But it isn't the military's responsibility to engage in direct combat, according to political scientist João Roberto Martins Filho. Still, the big question is why the army, which has three permanent bases inside Yanomami territory, didn’t sound the alarm under Lula’s predecessor, Jair Bolsonaro.“There was nearly a massacre of an unprotected population. Why did the army let this happen instead of denouncing it to the federal government or reaching out to the press?" Martins Filho, a professor at the Federal University of Sao Carlos, told the AP. "In a certain way, they were accomplices.”In a written response to the AP, the army said that illegal mining and the health crisis within the Yanomami territory “are complex issues involving the legal jurisdiction of various government agencies,” and that the army is “always prepared to fulfill its strategic missions.” That includes providing support to federal agencies through logistical, communication, and intelligence activities, such as those being conducted in the Yanomami territory, the statement said.Illegal planes are essential for transporting prospectors and equipment to far-flung reserves, as shown in a 2022 Associated Press investigation in Roraima state, where most mining affecting the Yanomami takes place. Without unauthorized aircrafts, officials and experts have said illegal mining operations would collapse.After a Jan. 2023 presidential decree ordered the air force to close the airspace over Yanomami territory, the situation on the ground improved significantly, authorities and Indigenous people told the AP.In a written response to the AP, Brazil's air force said it has been patrolling the so-called Air Defense Identification Zone over the Yanomami Territory. Under this rule, an aircraft may be shot down for failing to obey orders to change route. The force claims the measure led to a 90% reduction in illegal flights.“It’s highly efficient. We would find landing strips, but no planes,” said André Luiz Porreca Ferreira Cunha, a federal prosecutor who oversees cases linked to illegal mining across the western Amazon.But some on the ground suggest the armed forces are no longer sufficiently involved in operations, and that illegal miners started coming back as a result.In a joint statement last month, the associations representing federal workers in environmental and Indigenous affairs accused the armed forces of “failing to fulfill their mission of supporting and facilitating the work of other agencies” combating illegal mining. The association alleged that the military denied use of aircraft for transporting personnel and equipment, haven't collaborated in the destruction of mining machinery and airstrips and instead shut down support points for refueling environmental agency aircraft.Ferreira Cunha, the prosecutor, said violent attacks of Ibama agents and members of the federal police are becoming more frequent, with some cases of attempted murders. Government health teams have also been targeted, and are unable — or unwilling — to reach certain communities, said Júnior Hekurari, a member of the group and president of Condisi-Y, the local health council.“Some are heavily armed, the health teams are scared,” he said.“This state of emergency cannot solve the problem. We need something permanent, for all the communities,” Hekurari added. “If they (government authorities) don’t stay, the miners will return tomorrow.”Maisonnave reported from Brasilia. ___The Associated Press’ climate and environmental coverage receives financial support from multiple private foundations. AP is solely responsible for all content. Find AP’s standards for working with philanthropies, a list of supporters and funded coverage areas at AP.org.Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Brazil Indigenous Group's Crisis Persists After 308 Deaths in 2023, Report Says

By Anthony BoadleBRASILIA (Reuters) - The Brazilian government's effort to evict illegal gold miners from the Yanomami Indigenous reservation in...

BRASILIA (Reuters) - The Brazilian government's effort to evict illegal gold miners from the Yanomami Indigenous reservation in the northern Amazon has stalled with outsiders increasingly invading the vast territory, Yanomami leaders said on Friday.The Hutukara Yanomami Association released a report on the year since President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva declared a humanitarian emergency and sent military and police to expel the miners. It said the situation remains bleak for the 30,000 Yanomami nation who live in the rainforest on the border with Venezuela, with malnutrition, disease and violence plaguing their communities.The report said 308 Yanomami died in 2023, of which 129 deaths were due to infectious diseases and parasitic and respiratory diseases. At least seven Indigenous people died from gunshot wounds in clashes with wildcat miners, it said."Authorities must do more. I ask them to go after and jail the bosses behind the illegal mining who have never been arrested," said Yanomami chief and shaman Davi Kopenawa."They must be put in prison, because the miners leave but then come back. Their machines destroy everything, knock down the forest and poison the river and the fish we live off," he said in a video issued with the report. "Enough is enough."The report said illegal mining and deforestation have slowed, but the continued presence of armed miners makes it impossible for intimidated health workers to care for the Yanomami who have not been vaccinated properly.The presence of security forces in the first half of last year reduced the number of invaders by 80%, according to the report, but after the military scaled back operations, the miners soon started returning.An elite special forces unit of the environmental protection agency Ibama told Reuters in December they have been left to chase the miners on their own with no military support.In a meeting with environmental and Indigenous protection agencies and the commander of the armed forces earlier this month, Lula decided on a renewed task-force operation with the military involved again to restore the presence of the state.The Federal Police have reinforced investigations to track the financial backers and suppliers of precursor substances like mercury, after 13 such operations in 2023 that seized 590 million reais ($120 million) worth of goods, mainly gold, Humberto Freire, director of the police's Environment and Amazon department, told Reuters.(Reporting by Anthony Boadle in Brasilia; Editing by Matthew Lewis)Copyright 2024 Thomson Reuters.

‘He had a machete in his cheek’: how Guatemala’s hydropower dream turned deadly

Latin America’s water wars: The people of the Ixquisis valley thought their most valuable resource would help lift their villages out of poverty. Instead, murder and violence followedRead more in this series: Murder, drought and peyote: the deadly struggle for Mexico’s waterPhotographs by Nicola ZolinEvery morning, Juan Alonzo, a 35-year-old Indigenous farmer, accompanies his eldest son to work in the cardamom and corn fields along the Pojom River. Until 2017, Alonzo’s father also made the journey. But on 17 January that year, Sebastián Alonzo, 68, was killed in a demonstration against a hydroelectric project in the Ixquisis valley, an oasis of rivers and plantations in north-west Guatemala.Since the tragedy, Juan has developed a stammer. Two of his four daughters sit on his lap as he visits his father’s grave, remembering his prominence in the Maya-Chuj Indigenous community: “My dad was very involved in the struggle for natural resources.” Juan believes it is the reason Sebastián was killed.Juan Alonzo at home with two of his daughters. His father, Sebastián, ‘was very involved in the struggle for natural resources’ Continue reading...

Every morning, Juan Alonzo, a 35-year-old Indigenous farmer, accompanies his eldest son to work in the cardamom and corn fields along the Pojom River. Until 2017, Alonzo’s father also made the journey. But on 17 January that year, Sebastián Alonzo, 68, was killed in a demonstration against a hydroelectric project in the Ixquisis valley, an oasis of rivers and plantations in north-west Guatemala.Since the tragedy, Juan has developed a stammer. Two of his four daughters sit on his lap as he visits his father’s grave, remembering his prominence in the Maya-Chuj Indigenous community: “My dad was very involved in the struggle for natural resources.” Juan believes it is the reason Sebastián was killed.In Yulchén Frontera, one of the eight villages that make up the valley, a few miles from the Mexican border, subsistence farmers live in extreme poverty, without electricity and other modern amenities, which drives young people to emigrate to the US.Guatemala rivers mapYet this region is very rich in one resource: water. Three rivers – Río Pojom, Río Negro and Río Yolhuitz – are the lifeblood of these Indigenous Maya communities. The area can only be reached via pickup trucks that navigate the winding and hazardous mountain roads.This wealth of resources caught the eye of one Guatemalan company. Previously known as Promoción y Desarrollos Hídricos, Sociedad Anónima (PDH, SA) and since renamed Energía y Renovación, the company’s arrival in 2010 marked the beginning of a long conflict over natural resources in the valley that continues to this day.In 2012, Energía y Renovación called the eight villages of the Ixquisis valley to a meeting, during which villagers say it outlined the benefits the project would bring: the construction of schools and health centres, improved access to drinking water and, above all, the long-awaited arrival of electricity to the community – although the company denies that power was promised. At first, most of the inhabitants were enthusiastic.Sebastián Alonzo was a man of few words and no formal education. But, his son says, when he met a company worker who told him a tunnel was being built to divert the Pojom River he immediately realised the threat to his land. “Are you going to leave us with nothing?” he asked.The company says that although the river was to be diverted, 36% of its natural flow would still run along the original course, enough to sustain the current ecosystem. Despite this reassurance, Alonzo’s opposition to the Energía y Renovación hydroelectric project remained firm from that moment until the day he died.María Bautista, a 39-year-old schoolteacher, lives in San Mateo Ixtatán, about 28 miles (45km) from the valley, but owns a modest plot of land and a tin house in the village of Yulchén Frontera, next to one of the rivers the hydroelectric project planned to divert.Bautista feels that the company played on the needs of the villagers in order to persuade them to agree to the project.Well-educated and fluent in Spanish, Bautista studied the law. After Energía y Renovación arrived, she identified inconsistencies in what she says it was proposing to residents. Under Guatemalan law, electricity generation and distribution are two separate activities. Guatemala’s National Electrification Institute is the only entity authorised to distribute electricity. Thus, Bautista realised, Energía y Renovación was not in fact able to offer electricity to the villages.Maria Bautista, land defender and activist, in San Mateo Ixtatán, was the first woman to oppose the hydroelectric project. She owns a plot of land in the village of Yulchén Frontera “They already had a document they wanted people to sign. I realised our people didn’t understand much of what they were reading ... So I gave my opinion and people didn’t sign,” says Bautista.She was the first woman to oppose the hydroelectric project. Other mothers and neighbours joined her once it became clear that the electricity produced by the project would not supply the valley but would go to the central electricity grid.Despite opposition, in 2013 the company obtained funding from IDB Invest to construct two power plants. This private organisation, a subsidiary of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) whose purposes include contributing to sustainable development in the region, receiving funds from 48 countries – including the United Kingdom since 2023 – decided to invest £11.2m of finance in the project.By 2017, 30% of the project had been completed. The company planned to adjust four other watercourses in addition to the Pojom: the Primavera, Varsovia, Palmira and Negro rivers. Parts of the Yal Witz mountain – considered sacred by local people, who believe deities inhabit it – were dynamited to create tunnels to divert the Pojom River.With Bautista and Juan Alonzo at the forefront, Yulchén Frontera became the heart of the opposition to the hydroelectric dam, and demonstrations against the project grew louder. On 17 January 2017, between 600 and 1,000 people from different municipalities around San Mateo Ixtatán marched in Ixquisis against Energía y Renovación.Sebastián Alonzo was there. As the protesters reached a meadow, armed individuals began firing. The gunfire dispersed the crowd as protesters fled in all directions. Everyone except for Alonzo. His body lay motionless on the ground, his green T-shirt soaked with blood.“When I looked back, he was already lying there with a blow to his eye and a machete in his cheek,” recalls Juan. His father remained there for four hours without medical assistance. When his friends returned, he had two bullet wounds, one in the back of his head and one in his chest. Sebastián died a few hours later while being transferred to the nearest hospital, three hours from Ixquisis.Between 2012 and 2022, 1,335 land activists, like Sebastián Alonzo, were killed in Latin America – about 70% of all deaths – making it the most dangerous region in the world for environmentalists. As in about 95% of these murders, the crime remains unpunished as police investigations into Alonzo’s death are still “in progress” almost seven years later. To date, apart from a few interviews with witnesses, the police have not carried out any in-depth investigation into the events.Cristian Otzin, a lawyer specialised in the defence of Indigenous rights, whom the Alonzo family asked to investigate the murder, argues that private security guards from Energía y Renovación shot at protesters and fatally wounded Sebastián Alonzo in 2017. “It’s the most likely hypothesis,” he says.Interviewed in his office in Guatemala City, Alfonso de León, director of Energía y Renovación, said the security guards were not responsible for the shooting.“For [the protesters], everything is the company’s responsibility. If it rains or doesn’t rain, it’s the company’s fault,” De León says. “It is up to the authorities to determine what happened that day.”Since the farmer’s death, women like Bautista are at the heart of the battle for water. She says that she believes Sebastiàn Alonzo’s death was intimidation: “It was like saying to us: ‘Don’t protest any more.’ But on the contrary, it pushed us to continue the struggle.”They face numerous obstacles. Between 2014 and 2022, the Interamerican Association for Environmental Defence (AIDA) registered almost 100 acts of violence, including intimidation of leaders, poisoning of pets, and physical assaults on opponents of the Ixquisis hydroelectric project.For months, Bautista says she received anonymous death threats every day, as did other women who did not fall in line.“[The anonymous callers] told me not to get involved in this problem and not to cry when something was going to happen, because they had warned me,” she says, adding: “Those of us who demonstrated were called ‘whores’. They threatened they were going to rape us, and we were afraid to walk alone at night.”Fear didn’t stop her, though. She says: “At first, my family was not so supportive of this struggle, and my parents would always tell me, ‘Be careful. We don’t like you being involved in this, don’t go any more.’ But I say, I feel it is a job I started, and I must finish it.”Led by Bautista, the women documented how the hydroelectric project and the modification of the rivers were affecting them and submitted a formal complaint. In response, IDB’s Independent Monitoring and Investigation Mechanism (MICI) withdrew its support for the project in April 2022 – a first for the institution. The development bank claimed the company had said there were few Indigenous people in the project area – when, in fact, they made up 86% of the population – and, among other issues, had failed to conduct a proper consultation process. .After losing its major investor, the project is now at a standstill. But De León remains confident in the project’s future. He says: “It has technical and social viability and must continue. We will look for new investors.”The role of women was crucial to the withdrawal of funding for the project. MICI recognised that the project did not comply with its gender policy since women were disadvantaged, as they were the most dependent on water from the rivers.“Without water, we are finished,” says Catalina, a woman from Bella Linda, one of the villages in the valley, who is pregnant with her fifth child. “From 5am, I use the river water to heat my coffee, and then to cook and drink, and to clean my clothes, like all the women here. The best future we can give our children is to protect the water. We owe it to Sebastián.”With the support of international associations, some of the female activists have received legal training law, allowing them to help lead the struggle for water rights. They now attend and speak at the assemblies in Ixquisis, where the future of their villages are decided. The youngest says: “Now we feel we are part of the decisions and our opinion counts. It’s new for us.”At the end of an assembly held in the spring of 2022, Bautista explains how overwhelmed she is by the progress that had been made. “I was moved because there are few opportunities for women to express themselves, to defend themselves. No matter what happens, we will protect our rivers.”Behind barbed wire, the company’s facilities remain, waiting for investment.

Indigenous Protesters in Brazil Interrupt Hearing on Amazon Grain Railway

BRASILIA (Reuters) - Indigenous protesters on Friday tried to prevent a public hearing on the construction of a railway that is planned to run...

BRASILIA (Reuters) - Indigenous protesters on Friday tried to prevent a public hearing on the construction of a railway that is planned to run through their lands to carry grains to a northern port in the Amazon.The 1,000-km (620-mile) Ferrograo railway is backed by farmers and grain companies who say it would reduce reliance on roads and lower costs for transporting soy from the farm state of Mato Grosso to the river ports in the Amazon basin.But Munduruku and Kayapo Indigenous communities say they have not been consulted on a project that will affect their environment and cause deforestation.Some 100 protesters holding banners blocked the entrance to the hearing in Novo Progresso in southern Para state, but the meeting eventually began when the protesters left the building, videos on social media posted by attendees showed."The railway is a development project that will benefit everybody," one of its main backers, Senator Zequinha Marinho, told the protesters.Leading the protest was Alessandra Munduruku, a winner of the 2023 Goldman Environmental for her efforts to stop mining development in the Amazon and protect the rainforest."We cannot agree to a project that will hurt our territory and threaten the future of our children and grandchildren," she told Reuters by telephone."We are worried about climate change and trying to save the forest, but Congress is more worried about profiting from our lands," she said.The hearing was not to consult Indigenous people, it was about reconciling interests of soy-producing agribusiness that will benefit from the railway and local interests that seek to compensate for a loss of business from reduced road traffic, said Ana Carolina Alfinito, a legal adviser to Amazon Watch, a conservation advocacy group who attended the meeting.It was held one day after a victory for the farm lobby in Brazil's Congress when lawmakers overturned a presidential veto that had struck down the core of a bill that limited Indigenous land rights. The issue of a deadline for land claims will now be decided by the Supreme Court.In August, in a ruling on the grain railway, the top court upheld the suspension of a government plan to reduce the size a forest conservation park to allow for the building of the railroad, pending new studies.(Reporting by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Aurora Ellis)Copyright 2023 Thomson Reuters.

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