Spartacist Canada No. 186
Canadian Mining in Latin America
Blood, Plunder and Profit
In the build-up to the federal election, the parliamentary parties are vying in patriotic rhetoric about how Canada is, or can be, “the greatest country in the world.” The brutality and greed of the Canadian mining industry, particularly in Latin America, exposes as an utter fraud the notion of Canada as a benevolent power on the world stage.
The Canadian mining corporations view Latin America as their own private El Dorado. In the spirit of the early conquistadors, their vast profits are underwritten by killings, disappearances and torture of those who stand in their way, by destruction of entire communities and by the dispossession of indigenous peoples. Last year, Shin Imai, a lawyer with the Justice and Corporate Accountability Project, said: “Our preliminary count shows that at least 50 people have been killed and some 300 wounded in connection with mining conflicts involving Canadian companies in recent years” (Inter Press Service, 31 October 2014). To cite only a few examples:
• El Salvador, 2009: Marcelo Rivera’s body was found at the bottom of a well showing signs of torture; Ramiro Rivera was shot and killed when his car was ambushed; Dora “Alicia” Sorto was eight months pregnant when fatally shot. All were opponents of the Canadian-owned Pacific Rim mining company.
• Mexico, 2012: In Chihuahua, a married couple who had led protests against the Cascabel mine owned by Vancouver’s MAG Silver were shot to death. The husband, Ismael, had previously been beaten by mining company employees. In Oaxaca, Bernardo Mendez was shot seven times while protesting near Vancouver-based Fortuna’s Cuzcatlán mine.
• Guatemala, 2014: 16-year-old Topacio Reynoso was shot dead and her father Alex was seriously injured. Both were community leaders from Mataquescuintla, Jalapa, and actively opposed Vancouver-based Tahoe Resources’ Escobal mine. According to MiningWatch Canada, thousands of families in this area have suffered violence and repression for their opposition to Tahoe’s mine.
These barbaric crimes merely scratch the surface. Canada’s violent despoliation of this region is a perfect illustration of the workings of capitalist imperialism, an economic system based on the conquest or domination of the semicolonial world for raw materials, markets, cheap labour and spheres of influence. For Marxists, this also demonstrates how the Canadian capitalist state is an instrument of organized violence, wielded to further imperialist plunder and exploitation internationally, and to enforce workers’ exploitation at home.
Canada’s mining sector is one of the largest in the world. Fully 75 percent of the world’s mining companies are headquartered here. This is thanks in large part to the lowest corporate tax rate in the G7 group of imperialist powers as well as a securities industry designed to promote mining. With a climate of impunity and generous, no-questions-asked public subsidies, Canada is, as the London Guardian put it, “a haven for the global mining industry” (24 April 2013).
Canada has 1,500 mining projects in Latin America; fully 41 percent of the large mining companies there are under its flag. The imperialist pillage of these countries—and the brutal repression it entails—is a joint venture between the venal local bourgeoisies and their imperialist patrons, chiefly the U.S. but also secondary powers like Canada. In this division of labour, the local rulers’ military forces, police and death squads are subcontracted by the imperialists to ensure the seamless flow of profit.
Guatemala: Under the Imperialist Boot
Canadian mining in Guatemala has a particularly long and violent history, rooted in decades of plunder by the U.S. imperialists. To defend its “interests,” the U.S. has sponsored one death-squad regime after another. During a 36-year campaign against a leftist guerrilla insurgency that began in 1960, some 200,000 people—mostly Mayan peasants—were killed and another 45,000 “disappeared.” That same year, the Canadian mining giant Inco launched operations in Guatemala. However, open-pit mining was prohibited. As well, the leftist insurgents had their base of operations around the town of El Estor in the Izabal department where Inco wanted to build its open-pit nickel mine.
A 2012 York University report by Shin Imai and two colleagues titled “Accountability Across Borders: Mining in Guatemala and the Canadian Justice System” documented how Inco’s problems were solved by the ruling military regime. An Inco-friendly mining code was written to permit “open sky mining” and Inco was granted generous tax concessions and a 40-year lease. Above all, it got the “stability” it demanded thanks to a reign of terror launched by the Guatemalan military. The indigenous people were driven out and between 3,000 and 6,000 killed to pave the way for Inco’s mine.
The Inco mine shut down in 1982 when the price of nickel fell. In 2004 the mine, now called Fenix, was bought by another Canadian operation, Skye Resources. For the Mayan farmers who had gradually begun to reoccupy the area, this signalled a renewed wave of violence. Acts of great brutality took place at the hands of the police and military and at the behest of Skye Resources, including evictions and the burning of houses. Among the most grisly was the gang rape by cops and Fenix security of eleven women from the Mayan Q’eqchi’ community. When the Toronto-based Hudbay bought the mine in 2008, the violence did not end, and the mining bosses continued to drive out the inhabitants. In 2009, protesters were shot at by the security thugs of the Guatemalan Nickel Company (owned by Hudbay). One man was murdered, another left paralyzed. Cases involving these shootings and the mass rapes are presently before the courts in Canada.
Everything Must Have Its Price
The Canadian capitalist government is deeply intertwined with the mining corporations, which it supports politically and financially. To this end, its embassies, diplomats, cabinet ministers and hired guns in Bay Street law firms are mobilized. Their services include blackmail, economic and legal bullying and cover-up.
In Mexico, with more than 230 Canadian mining operations, the forces behind the violence against community leaders and mining opponents reads like a who’s who of the mining industry. The well-documented crimes of these companies have not deterred Ottawa in its unflagging support to the industry. Among the most notorious is Calgary-based Blackfire, on whose behalf the Canadian embassy engaged in an intense lobbying campaign with the Chiapas state government. This was gratefully acknowledged by a Blackfire executive in an email sent to embassy officials in September 2008, thanking them for all “that the embassy has done to pressure the state government to get things going for us. We could not do it without your help” (Toronto Star, 8 December 2014).
In the aftermath of the November 2009 murder of Mariano Abarca, Ottawa again came to Blackfire’s aid. Abarca was a leader of the Mexican Network of People Affected by Mining which had protested Blackfire’s mine for contaminating rivers and destroying livestock and crops. He knew he was a target and had warned, “if anything happens to me, I blame the Canadian company Blackfire.” Soon after, governor-general Michaëlle Jean and Tory cabinet minister Peter Kent were in Chiapas doing damage control. Faced with angry protesters, Jean prattled about “justice” while Kent brazenly claimed that Canadian mining companies in Mexico “are held up and recognized as virtual models of corporate social responsibility.”
The Tories use “foreign aid” funding to support “community initiatives” linked to mining projects. Peru, one of the most mineral-rich countries in the region, is one recipient of such funds. A paltry $53 million will go to “development projects” in areas with Canadian mining operations, opening the door to the looting of billions of dollars of mineral wealth by these corporations. A Canada-Peru free trade agreement has further opened up the country to incursions by the mining companies.
This profitable triangular relationship between the mining industry and the Canadian and Peruvian governments has spawned bloody repression. Rosa Huamán, a community leader in northern Peru, told an October 2014 hearing of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights that “the government has installed a police post that follows our activities and reports to the mining company and the government” (Georgia Straight, 5 December 2014). In 2011, at least four people were killed and 24 injured in protests against a silver mine owned by B.C.-based Bear Creek Mining Corp. Two years later, some 25 protesters against Vancouver’s Candente Copper Corporation were wounded in clashes with police. In November, when over 400 protesters shut down construction on Hudbay’s copper mine in Peru’s southern Andes, a dozen women were attacked by Peruvian police while sitting outside the mining compound’s front gates.
Against this backdrop, in late 2014 Canada unveiled a warmed-over version of its 2009 “Corporate Social Responsibility Strategy” for the mining industry. This is meant to paint a picture of a government that will no longer play ball with a few supposed bad apples who don’t comply with its purported high standards. It’s all smoke and mirrors, intended to pacify critics and suck in the gullible. Indeed, a CBC reporter nailed its actual purpose: “to increase the prospect of new business for our resource companies abroad” (14 November 2014).
Liberal Illusions in Canadian Imperialism
Under the Harper Tories, the Canadian ruling class has shed the “Canada the good” image. Yet this self-serving myth continues to be nurtured by the NDP. For their part, the United Steelworkers union seeks to pressure the government in Ottawa to make the mining companies answerable in Canadian courts, while MiningWatch Canada offers liberal nostrums about “ensuring corporate accountability.” But real justice and “accountability” cannot come through the courts of the capitalist rulers. Then there is the related myth that Canada’s bloody misdeeds abroad are an anomaly for this otherwise well-mannered country. This was captured by Murray Klippenstein, the Toronto lawyer for the Guatemalans’ case against Hudbay, who made the astounding claim that “we would never tolerate these abuses in Canada.”
To the contrary, when Native people stand their ground in Canada—at Oka, Quebec, at Gustafsen Lake, B.C. or more recently in Rexton, N.B. when the Mi’kmaq people sought to prevent fracking for oil on their lands without consent—they are typically met with massive police repression. While De Beers rakes in massive profits from its diamond mine in northeastern Ontario, the people of nearby Attawapiskat, where unemployment is 70 percent, get a mere pittance. In Canada and the U.S., as in the countries south of the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo, aboriginal life is measured in poverty, police violence, racism and dispossession. The idea that the imperialists of this or any other country can be pressured to serve the interests of the oppressed is illusory.
Imperialism is not simply a reactionary policy of right-wing governments, but a global system rooted in the capitalist drive for profit. In 1916, the revolutionary leader V.I. Lenin noted in Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism that imperialism is “capitalism at that stage of development at which the dominance of monopolies and finance capital is established,” and “in which the division of all territories of the globe among the biggest capitalist powers has been completed.” A small club of wealthy imperialist powers subordinates and oppresses the vast majority of the world’s population. Dependent countries, such as those in Latin America, “politically, are formally independent, but in fact, are enmeshed in the net of financial and diplomatic dependence.” The history of the entire subsequent century, including two interimperialist wars to redivide the world and countless colonial adventures, amply confirms Lenin’s words.
For Socialist Revolution Throughout the Americas!
The mining operations of the Canadian ruling class have brought extreme suffering to the indigenous populations of Latin America. We vehemently defend these peoples against the predatory resource companies and their hired guns, as well as the ruling classes of the region.
We say that the vast mineral wealth of Latin America belongs to the toiling masses, in the first instance to the workers of that region. Under a rationally planned socialist economy, these resources would be used to eradicate hunger and poverty in a society of generalized abundance. When the working class rules throughout the Americas, the irrational, profit-driven pillage of resources will end and this wealth will be subject to the egalitarian and rational decisions of the working people.
Such a perspective requires internationalist class struggle. Instead, the pro-capitalist Canadian labour tops promote Maple Leaf nationalism, pitting workers here against their class brothers and sisters in other countries. When the NAFTA free trade agreement was being negotiated in 1991, the Mexican, U.S. and Canadian sections of the International Communist League issued a joint statement calling to “Stop U.S. ‘Free Trade’ Rape of Mexico.” We explained that U.S. imperialism wanted to “turn Mexico into a giant maquiladora, or free trade zone—‘free’ of unions, and ‘free’ for capital” (SC No. 85, Fall 1991). In contrast, the labour bureaucrats’ national-chauvinist tirades against NAFTA served to set U.S. and Canadian workers against their Mexican class brothers and sisters, as well as each other. Over the past two decades, NAFTA has meant increased profits and power for the U.S. rulers and their Canadian junior partners through the superexploitation of Mexican workers and the economic ruination of Mexican peasants.
The need for united struggle by workers internationally flows directly from the global nature of the mining industry. Like mineworkers in Canada, those of Latin America are compelled by necessity to work, to sell their labour power. The workers who toil in the mines—in Canada, Mexico, Guatemala, Peru and elsewhere—have enormous potential social power to lead all the oppressed in anti-capitalist struggle. The billions in profits that flow into the pockets of the mining bosses, whatever their nationality, come from the surplus value created by the workers who extract the ore and truck it to ports for export.
In Peru, where mining accounts for as much as 15 percent of GDP, tens of thousands of workers in the National Mineworkers Federation struck in May against outsourcing and a measure that would allow massive layoffs should a mining company report losses. Faced with threats of firing from the companies, the strike had a limited character and duration. Nonetheless, it pointed to the potentially great power that these workers have to throttle the capitalists’ profits. Historically, from Chile to Bolivia and north to Mexico, the struggles of mineworkers in Latin America have been among the most combative and far-reaching.
Throughout the region, intense poverty exists alongside fabulous wealth, an expression of combined and uneven development. The national bourgeoisies are utterly dependent upon imperialism and incapable of carrying out the economic modernization of society. Criss-crossed by artificial borders, bourgeois rule in much of Latin America has alternated between bloodsoaked military juntas and various forms of bourgeois populism, with the latter generally tailed by the left.
Instead of fantasies about the backward, imperialist-
dependent bourgeoisie of one’s own oppressed country as the vehicle for liberation, we fight for the perspective of permanent revolution, which was first developed by the Marxist leader Leon Trotsky. The complete and genuine solution of the tasks of achieving democracy and national emancipation in the countries of Latin America can come only through the rule of the working class leading the subjugated nation, above all the indigenous peasant masses. On taking power, the working class cannot stop at the democratic tasks but must immediately continue with the socialist tasks, including the expropriation of the bourgeoisie as a class, collectivization and economic planning. To survive and flourish, such revolutions must be extended to the centres of world imperialism, pointing to the necessary perspective of workers revolution in the U.S. and Canada.
The ICL fights to build revolutionary, internationalist workers parties—part of a reforged Fourth International—that will link the struggles of workers in the semicolonies to those in the imperialist countries. The perspective outlined by Trotsky in “War and the Fourth International” (1934) retains all its force today:
“South and Central America will be able to tear themselves out of backwardness and enslavement only by uniting all their states into one powerful federation. But it is not the belated South American bourgeoisie, a thoroughly venal agency of foreign imperialism, who will be called upon to solve this task, but the young South American proletariat, the chosen leader of the oppressed masses. The slogan in the struggle against violence and intrigues of world imperialism and against the bloody work of native comprador cliques is therefore: the Soviet United States of South and Central America.
“The national problem merges everywhere with the social. Only the conquest of power by the world proletariat can assure a real and lasting freedom of development for all nations of our planet.”