Protest Movements

William: Not Just Prince of Wales But Also Duke of Cornwall

Now that Charles has become king, Prince William has become Prince of Wales. That title is customarily given to the heir apparent by the reigning monarch. The day after he became King, Charles bestowed the title on his eldest son. The position is not without controversy. Thousands of Welsh people have signed a petition calling for the abolition of the title, which they see as an insult to Welsh national and historical identity. Many want much more than that: the independence of Wales. In late September, an estimated 10,000 people marched for Welsh sovereignty in Cardiff.

Public opinion polls, however, show that only around a quarter of Welsh people want independence, a much lower figure than that found in Scotland. Another poll found that 55 percent of the Welsh people also approve of the seemingly antiquated title of the royal heir, “Prince of Wales.” But Wales is not doing well economically and is now one of the poorest parts of the United Kingdom. As a result, the desire for Welsh independence does seem to be growing. As Welsh journalist Will Hayward recently argued:

Most [independence] supporters have simply looked at the state of the United Kingdom, seen that it isn’t working for Wales, and view independence as the most effective vehicle for fixing Wales’s problems. That doesn’t mean independence necessarily is the answer, just that the status quo is leaving the country both impoverished and unable to fix [its] problems…

“Prince of Wales” is not the only title held by William. When Charles became king, William automatically became Duke of Cornwall. Although the former is the more illustrious title, the latter is in some ways more consequential. Being Duke of Cornwall does not give any power over Cornwall, but it does bring financial rewards. This Dutchy controls landholdings of some 135,000 acres (55,000 hectares) as well as a portfolio of financial assets. All told, it is worth about $1.3 billion. In 2021, it provided Prince (and Duke) Charles with an income of some $25 million.

The land holdings of the Dutchy of Cornwall are not actually concentrated in Cornwall, the historical county located in far southwestern England. As is typical of such premodern and essentially feudal holdovers, they are widely scattered. Roughly half of the estate is located in Dartmoor, a scenic low plateau located in Devon, the county just to the east of Cornwall. Most of Dartmoor is administered as a national park. Unlike national parks in the United States, those of the UK include considerable private properties. But, also unlike in the United States, private land holders in the UK are not always allowed to exclude the public from enjoying their lands.

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Iran’s Striking Decline in Religiosity

The GAMMAN survey on religious beliefs in Iran, discussed in yesterday’s post, has some interesting and unexpected results. According to conventional sources, over 90 percent of Iran’s people follow Shia Islam; according to GAMAAN, only around a third of the Iran people actually believe Shia doctrine. Most of the rest are supposedly either non-religious or religiously heterodox in one way or another. If these results are accurate, Iran is much more similar to Europe in terms of religiosity than it is to most other Middle Eastern countries. Although the GAAMAN results may be exaggerated, it is clear that many Iranians have turned away from religion. They have done in part because of the brutality and incompetence of their country’s theocratic government. Tensions with the Arabic-speaking world also seem to play a role. Many Iranians stereotype Arabs as prone to religious extremism, and some blame them for politicizing Islam and thus contributing to the 1979 Iranian Islamic Revolution. This attitude puts pressure on Iran’s own Arab minority, and in turn pushes them to respond. As reported in the Wikipedia article on Iran’s 2016 pro-monarchical Cyrus the Great protests:

Despite the anti-Arab slogans chanted by some, a perception by many Iranians that Arab cultural dominance has entered Iran through the government’s political Islam, Iranian, Arabs, traveling from as far west as Khuzestan, gathered in support of the protest, chanting slogans in Arabic in support of indigenous minorities and the use of their native languages, which has often been repressed by the Iranian government in favor of Persia.

The GAMAAN survey puts Iran’s Sunni Muslim minority at five percent of the total population, which is similar to the conventional figure. If these figures are correct, Sunni religious beliefs in Iran have not appreciably declined, unlike those of the Shia community. As can be seen on Michael Izady’s map of religion in Iran, Sunni Islam is followed mostly by members of ethnic minorities: Baluchs in the southeast, Turkmens in the northeast, and Kurds in the northwest. Note also that Izady pegs Iran’s Sunni population at 11 percent. Other sources suggest that it could be as high as 25 percent, a figure that, if true, is concealed by the Shia establishment. If these higher numbers are accurate and if the GAMAAN figures are also correct, then Sunni Islam has also experienced a pronounced erosion of belief in Iran. If this is indeed the case, I suspect that the drop in Sunni religiosity is most pronounced in the Kurdish northwest. The Kurds in general are a relatively secular people who are also inclined to religious heterodoxy.

The most surprising aspect of the GAMAAN survey is the prominent position of Zoroastrianism. It found that almost eight percent of Iran’s people claim to follow this faith, which had been the predominant religion of Iran before the Muslim conquest in the seventh century. According to official statistics, Iran’s Zoroastrian community is tiny: roughly 25,000 people out of a national population of almost 87 million. It is inconceivable that millions of Iranians have converted to this venerable but dwindling faith, commonly regarded as in some danger of extinction. But increasing numbers of Iranians do express solidarity with, and interest in, Zoroastrianism. They do so both to distance themselves from the Shia clerical regime and to show their loyalty to a deeply rooted version of Iranian nationalism. Zoroastrianism has also seen something of a revival among the Kurds of Iraq, and perhaps in Central Asia as well.

The Iranian government is not happy about the revival of interest in Zoroastrianism. According to a recent article in Swarajya magazine, it is “the religion that the Iranian mullahs fear the most.” Iran’s theocratic regime is also worried about Yarsan, a mystical faith with some connection to Zoroastrianism that is followed by up to one million Iranian Kurds. As IranWire recently noted, “Official report calls Yarsan religious minority a ‘security threat.’”

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Radicalization of Russia’s Muslims—Are Crimean Tatars Next? (Part 2)

[Part 1 can be read here. Thanks to Iryna Novosyolova for a helpful discussion of some of the issues discussed in this post.]


In 2014, the Russian Federation acquired another Muslim group that may prove troublesome both within Russia and globally: the Crimean Tatars. According to the 2002 Russian census, there were only 4,131 Crimean Tatars living in the country, concentrated in Krasnodar Krai in southern Russia; the March 2014 annexation of Crimea, however, brought with it some 245,000 Crimean Tatars. The referendum, which allegedly showed an overwhelming desire of the people of Crimea to join Russia, was boycotted by Crimean Tatars (various Ukrainian and international media sources reported at the time that 95-99% of Crimean Tatars did not take part in the referendum; see here, here, and here; while Russian media stated that the proposed boycott did not take place). Also, reports surfaced in the social media and Ukrainian news outlets that Russian (para)military personnel were confiscating and tearing up passports of potential voters of Crimean Tatar background (see here, here, here, and here).

Crimean Tatar MapCrimean Tatars have good reasons for viewing the Russian annexation of their homeland with suspicion and worse: since the Crimean Peninsula was first made part of the Russian Empire in 1783, Crimean Tatars have been subjected to massacres, exiles, discrimination, and deportations. By 1897, they constituted only 34% of the peninsula’s population. After the Bolshevik Revolution, persecutions of Crimean Tatars continued throughout the 1920s and 1930s, marked by widespread imprisonment and execution. The confiscation of food to supply central Russia resulted in widespread starvation. According to some sources, half of the Crimean Tatar population was killed or deported between 1917 and 1933. Persecution reached its culmination on May 18, 1944, when the Soviet government deported the entire remaining Crimean Tatar population to Central Asia as a form of collective punishment for alleged collaboration with the Nazis during their occupation of Crimea in 1941-1944 (the reality of this purported collaboration is discussed in my earlier post). The deportation process, as described by the victims in their memoirs, was horrific. More than 32,000 NKVD troops participated in this action. The deportees were given only 30 minutes to gather personal belongings, after which they were loaded onto cattle trains and moved out of Crimea. The expulsion was poorly planned and executed; the lack of accommodation and food, the harsh climatic conditions of the destination areas, and the rapid spread of diseases generated a high mortality rate during the first years of exile. It is estimated than nearly half of the deportees died of diseases and malnutrition, causing Crimean activists to call it an instance of genocide. Even after Crimean Tatars were officially “rehabilitated” in 1967, they were not allowed to return to their homeland until after the fall of the USSR because, as some scholars explain, Crimea was seen by Soviet leaders as too geopolitically and economically crucial. Although many Crimean Tatars have returned to the peninsula since 1991, few managed to move into the areas of their historical settlement. Prior to the deportations, the majority of Crimean Tatars—members of the Tat and Yalıboyu subgroups—lived in the mountainous central and southern parts of Crimea and on the southern coast. These areas, and particularly the coastal region, are climatically favorable, protected by the east-west running mountains from frigid northern winds. But upon their return, most Crimean Tatars had to settle in the less desirable central and eastern parts of the peninsula.

The resentment is further fueled by a new wave of repressions since the 2014 annexation. Many Crimean Tatar activists have been prosecuted by Russian authorities: some face criminal charges in Russia and hence cannot go back to Crimea, others have been subjected to unjustified searches and seizures of their property. As noted in Lily Hide’s article in Foreign Policy,

“The new regime has banned leading Crimean Tatars from the peninsula, and instigated politically motivated court cases against others. It promised to make Crimean Tatar one of three state languages, then reduced hours of Crimean Tatar instruction in schools, closed down ATR, the Crimean Tatar television network owned by Islyamov, and has regularly raided Tatar households and religious institutions in search of ‘extremist’ material. Until a January 2016 visit by a Council of Europe envoy, the new authorities refused to grant access to Crimea to international monitoring organizations and the U.N., though human rights violations have been extensively documented.”

The initial reaction from Crimean Tatars has been “to resist through peaceful means”, says Hide. For example, a long-term media campaign led by Serhii Kostynskyi of Ukraine’s National TV and Radio Committee aimed to “expose human rights abuses and win back Crimea with ‘soft power’”. However, such attempts to draw the attention of international and domestic media to Crimea have been a limited success. The continuing fighting in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine has deflected the attention of both politicians and the media, locally and internationally. Moreover, the majority of Crimea’s Russian-speaking population are happy to be part of Russia, even if it brought the peninsula little economic or social development. Thus, Crimean Tatars, who constitute a minority in their historical homeland, have little support within Crimea and have to look for an alliance elsewhere. As noted in Hide’s article, “Crimean Tatar activists and Ukrainian nationalist paramilitary groups” have joined forces in “leading a low-level insurgency against the Russian annexation”. In the fall of 2015, the two groups together imposed a unilateral “trade blockade of the peninsula, stopping traffic, demanding to see travelers’ documents and confiscating goods”; in November 2015, “unknown saboteurs cut four nearby power lines providing electricity to Crimea, leaving the entire peninsula in the dark”. Many Crimean Tatar activists realize that joining forces with the paramilitaries and adopting their tactics “meant giving up the moral high ground”. But Hide cites Evelina Arifova, one of Crimean Tatar activists pushing for a trade and electricity embargo on the peninsula, as saying: “Without their radicalism, we wouldn’t have achieved anything”.

This conclusion in favor of radicalism can be based not only on Kostynskyi’s less-than-successful media campaign in Ukraine on behalf of Crimean Tatars, but also on the contrasting experiences of Muslim groups in the North Caucasus, particularly the Chechens and the Circassians. When I mention the two groups in my classes, I typically get many nods of recognition for the first group and mostly blank stares for the second. As mentioned above, the Circassians, like the Chechens, were subjected to a prolonged war with the Russian Empire and ultimately the majority of them were expelled from their ancestral homeland. The exiled Circassians—those who survived the brutal expulsion—found new homes throughout the Ottoman Empire, especially in present-day Turkey, Jordan, Syria, and Israel. Yet unlike the Chechens, today’s Circassian activists chose to follow a peaceful, non-violent path for maintaining their ethnic identity and culture, seeking recognition of the genocide committed against them, and campaigning for Russia to allow some of them to return to their homeland in the Northwest Caucasus (the latter issue is particularly relevant for the Circassians in war-torn Syria). The 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, where the Circassians’ ancestors were boarding the Ottoman ships, offered them an excellent opportunity to draw international media’s attention to their cause. And yet, most mainstream media organizations downplayed or ignored the Circassian issue, as discussed in detail in Martin Lewis’ earlier GeoCurrents post. The Chechens, in contrast, have gained much more media attention. “They got their PR campaign together”, a student in one of my adult education classes once joked. “By blowing stuff up”, I replied. Here, I agree with Martin Lewis that the media is to some extent complicit in driving nationalist movements to become more radicalized and more violent. As Lewis puts it, “if news source chose to highlight violent responses while ignoring non-violent ones, a perverse message is seemingly sent: ‘If you want our attention, kill someone!’”. While Crimean Tatars have not yet been involved in violence against persons, they are evidently prepared to blow up power lines and destroy goods. It is, however, a step in the radical direction.

Several other factors suggest that we might see a rise in violence perpetrated by Crimean Tatars and an internationalization of their more militant activists. Unlike the Chechens and the Volga Tatars, the Crimean Tatars do not constitute the majority or even a plurality in their region. It is therefore hardly likely that they will be able to gain much cultural or economic autonomy, regardless of whether Crimea remains under Russian control or is transferred back to Ukraine—and independence is entirely out of the question. In fact, the vector of Russian policy with respect to Crimean Tatars is clear from the recent persecutions of the Crimean Tatar activists, including the exile of their leader, 72-year old Mustafa Jemilev, a veteran of the dissident movement. Jemilev is now banned from Crimea by Russian authorities, while his wife remains in Crimea and his son is in prison in Russia. While for now Crimean Tatars align themselves with Ukrainian paramilitaries, it would not be surprising if the more militant wing of their movement begins to look for alliances in the larger Muslim world.

krimea3The comparison between Tatarstan and Chechnya above also suggests that stunted economic and social development facilitates radicalization of Muslim groups. While the authors of a recent article in Foreign Affairs William McCants and Christopher Meserole focus on “political culture”, they too admit that economic factors play a role, particularly the high degree of unemployment. As many other authors have suggested, high unemployment among young males creates a demographic base for jihadi recruiters to draw upon. By all accounts, Crimea was economically underdeveloped already on the eve of the Russian annexation in March 2014, even according to Russian sources such as Russia Today, a media outlet that peddles pro-Putin state-sanctioned propaganda in English. According to their article “Crimea’s economy in numbers and pictures”, published on March 15, 2014, Crimea’s budget deficit at the time constituted $1 billion, while the republic’s annual GDP was only $4.3 billion (see image on the left, reproduced from the Russia Today article). By 2018, Crimea expected Russian investment of about $5 billion. Yet Crimea also had a lot to lose by severing its ties with Ukraine: on the eve of the annexation, 90% of water, 80% of electricity, 60% of primary goods, and 70% of tourism came from Ukraine. The Russia Today article hypothesized that “if Crimea becomes a part of Russia it’ll become a more attractive holiday destination for Russia’s population of 142 million, whose per capita income is more than three times that of Ukrainians”. However, in reality, the hostilities turned off tourists and the logistical difficulties in getting to and from the peninsula with a ferry caused a further drop in Russian tourism. As reported by, “almost 60% of tourists from Russia do not consider the resorts of the annexed Crimea … to be a decent replacement for Turkey and Egypt”. Thus, although Sergey Aksyonov, Crimea’s prime minister and an advocate of joining Russia, had hoped that breaking away from Ukraine would transform the economy for the better and would turn the peninsula into another Singapore, this has not happened. The economic sanctions imposed by the European Union, the United States, Canada, Australia, and several other countries directly against Crimea and Crimean individuals have further inhibited tourism and infrastructure development.

eng_ukraine_mapThe political and economic problems, as well as direct persecutions, have caused many Crimean Tatars to leave the peninsula; according to, 10,000 Crimean Tatars have been forced out of Crimea and moved to Kherson, Lviv, Zaporizhye, and Kiyiv districts of Ukraine (see map on the left from This mass displacement parallels what had happened in Chechnya in the wake of the two Chechen wars. Thus, the destruction of family and community ties as a result of this relocation may bring Crimean Tatars to the point where religious identity would matter more than ethno-linguistic identity. As is, only a small minority of Crimean Tatars speak their indigenous language, which is considered to be endangered: although it is taught in several schools, it is mostly spoken by older people, according to the Ethnologue. Islam, on the other hand, has always been an important part of Crimean Tatar identity. Historically, Crimean Tatars were described as “diligent Muslims”, but while some important Muslim traditions—charity, fasts (including that of Ramadan), and pilgrimage to Mecca—were strictly observed, others were downplayed or ignored. For example, the German geographer Gustav Radde, who visited Crimea in the mid-1850s and wrote an ethnographic treatise about Crimean Tatars, informed his readers that Crimean Tatars drank vodka and a low-alcohol homebrew, though not wine. Another Islamic proscription that was generally ignored by Crimean Tatars is the ban on gambling, playing cards and dice, which were considered acceptable and indulged in widely, Radde wrote. Yet the treatment of women and the family law in traditional Crimean Tatar society, as described by Radde, is reminiscent of what is practiced in the most strictly Islamic countries. Thus, although Crimean Tatars today have certainly not seen the de facto implementation of Sharia law that has been experienced in Chechnya under Ramzan Kadyrov, including polygamy and enforced veiling, they could move in the more radical Islamist direction, especially as dislocation, persecutions by Russian authorities, and the continuing loss of their indigenous language make Islam the linchpin of their identity.

All in all, Chechnya has experienced significant radicalization and internationalization of its rebels, Tatarstan seems to be experiencing the same phenomena in a milder form, and the Crimean Tatars may be beginning to move in the same direction. Such developments may be driven as much by Russia’s repressive policies and the international media’s silence on non-violent protests as by internal causes such as economic and social underdevelopment. I think the conclusion of the authors of the Chatham House summary about the North Caucasus applies as well to Crimea:

“The causes of radicalization in the North Caucasus mean the situation is unlikely to change until Russia itself changes and Moscow is able to offer an alternative vision to the people in the region. If religious repression continues, so will the insurgency.”

“Russian political culture” may yet prove to be as deadly as the French one, albeit not by banning the veil but by allowing it—and by leaving little room for moderate Muslim identity based on history, culture, traditions, and language rather than jihad.




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The Brazilian Crisis: Lecture Slides

The DuckThis week’s lecture on the history and geography of current global events examined the on-going political and economic crisis in Brazil.  The lecture slides, converted to PDF format, can be found at the links below. (As the file was large, it was divided into two parts.)

I ended the lecture with some images and comments pertaining to my frustrations with the idea of the one-dimensional (left-right) political spectrum. I find that I need to constantly evoke this notion when discussing political issues, yet at the same time I think that it obscures as much if not more than it reveals. In the end, I think that we would be better off envisaging political ideas within a complex, multi-dimensional space, but that is easier to advocate than to accomplish.

Brazil Crisis 1

Brazil Crisis 2

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Mapping Chile’s Indigenous Population

(Note: This post concludes the recent GeoCurrents series on regional differences in Chile)

Chile Indigenous Population MapOne of the most interesting tables found in the Wikipedia article on “Ranked Lists of Chilean Regions” is that of the indigenous population. According to the 2013 Casen Survey, nearly 10 percent of Chileans identify themselves as belonging to an indigenous group, a significant increase over earlier assessments. In the 2002 census, for example, 609,000 people identified themselves as Mapuche, by far the country’s largest indigenous group, whereas in the 2013 Casen Survey the number was 1,322,000. Evidently, increasing numbers of Chileans of mixed ancestry are identifying themselves as indigenous.

The main areas of indigenous population in Chile are located in the peripheral parts of the country, both to the north and to the south of the country’s core. In the north, which includes a sizable section of the highland Altiplano, the main Andean peoples predominate: the Aymara and Quechua. In Antofagasta, however, the largest indigenous population is that of the Atacameños, who are also regarded as an Andean people and Chile Indigenous Peoples Mapwere once under the rule of the Inca Empire. In the south, the vast majority of indigenous people are Mapuche. Here, many of the other native groups were driven into extinction, such as the Chono of the now almost uninhabited Chonos Archipelago in the Aysén Region. In the extreme south, several other small groups are encountered, such as the Kawésqar, who number about 3,500, and the Yaghan (or Yámana, formerly called the Fuegians), who number around 1,600.

The heartland of the Mapuche people, who constitute roughly 80 percent of Chile’s indigenous population, is Araucanía Region, located in the northern part of southern Chile. (“Araucanía” refers to a Spanish term formerly used to designate the Mapuche people). By strictly geographical considerations, the agriculturally productive region of Araucanía belongs to Chile’s central region, but historical factors place it in the south. For hundreds of years, the Spaniards, and later the Chileans, were unable to subdue the Mapuche, whose lands thus constituted a separate realm. As explained in the Wikipedia:

Generally cities like Temuco [the capital of Araucanía] are considered to be located in the south despite of being relatively close to the geographical center of Chile. This is mainly because mainland Chile ended in La Frontera until the occupation of Araucanía (1860s-1880s). Similarly, the Southern Chile wine region is close to the geographic center of the country, encompassing wine-growing areas in the Bío Bío Region and Araucanía Region.

Chile Mapuche Population MapToday, Araucanía, which has Chile’s largest percentage of indigenous people (over 32%), is the poorest region of Chile by most measurements (see the maps in last week’s posts). But large numbers of Mapuche have relocated to much more prosperous parts of Chile, including greater Santiago and the far southern regions of Aysén and Magallanes. In fact, Metropolitan Santiago now counts more Mapuche residents than Araucanía itself (431,000 as opposed to 308,000), although of course its percentage is much lower.

Chile Household Income Map 1Overall, the map of indigenous Chileans has an unusual pattern: indigenous people are concentrated in both the poorest and the richest parts of the country. As was explored in an earlier post, the sparsely populated, resource-rich regions of the north and far south rank quite high in terns of both economic output and social development. They are also highly urbanized, unlike many of the agriculturally productive but less prosperous regions of geographically central Chile.* It would be very interesting to see an economic break-down of the north and extreme south by ethnic groups. I suspect that the Mapuche people living in the far south would fall somewhat behind the area’s other inhabitants (who tend to be of European background**) on most socio-economic indicators, but I also imagine that they are more prosperous and better educated than the Mapuche living in the homeland regions of Araucanía, Los Lagos, and Los Ríos. Yet as academics are wont to say, “more research in needed.”

In the Mapuche heartland, ethnic tensions are currently running high, focused mainly on land claims and environmental issues. As explained in a 2014 article in the Washington Post:

[The] question is at the heart of what is known as the Mapuche conflict, which has become Chile’s open wound. It is a case of colliding histories as messy and complicated as any in the Americas, at a time when a voracious need for more oil, timber, gold and other resources is triggering new clashes with the region’s oldest inhabitants. …

The worst of the violence has flared in southern Chile’s fertile Araucania region, where the rapid expansion of the paper-pulp industry, once championed as an engine for growth, turned out to be a time bomb.

Vast pine and eucalyptus plantations blanket millions of acres, but unlike wheat, oats or other local crops, the tree farms provide few jobs, as the saplings need years to mature and require little maintenance. The cultivated trees are insatiably thirsty, absorbing far more groundwater than the local native forests they replaced.

Mapuche subsistence farmers, often living on tiny plots immediately downhill from the tree farms, saw their wells and springs go dry. …

By most accounts, tensions are higher now than perhaps at any time since the 1880s, when the Chilean army, fresh from its defeat of Peru and Bolivia in the War of the Pacific, marched in to subdue the Mapuche and complete the country’s territorial unification. A similar campaign vanquished the Mapuche on the southwest plains of Argentina. The conquests were no less brutal than the American Indian wars of the same era.

Chile Urban Population Map*The final two maps posted here, showing the percentage or rural and urban Chile Rural Population Mappopulations, are based on the same data, and are thus inversions of each other.

**Roughly half of the population of Punta Arenas, the capital of Magallanes, is of Croatian descent. Croatian Chileans would make an interesting subject for a separate post.


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Egyptian Protests, Ethiopian Dams, and the Hydropolitics of the Nile Basin

Nile Hydropolitics MapWater struggles in the Nile Basin have recently intensified as Egyptian nationalists denounce Ethiopia’s building of the Grand Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile, the river’s largest tributary. Ethiopia is now diverting the river in preparation for construction, angering many Egyptians, whose country is heavily dependent on the Nile flow. Protestors gathered in front of the Ethiopian embassy in Cairo last week as the Egyptian opposition lambasted the Morsi administration for allowing the project to proceed. The reaction from the Egyptian government, however, was muted. The country’s irrigation and water resources minister ruled out any “military solution” to the controversy—an option advanced by figures in previous Egyptian administrations. Meanwhile, Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Qandil met with his Ethiopian counterpart in Tokyo to smooth over the budding crisis. The two negotiators agreed that “the dam would not affect Egypt’s share of Nile water.” They also optimistically predicted that “the next period would see increased levels of coordination between Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia to find a consensus surrounding Nile water issues.”

As the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is designed primarily for hydroelectric power rather than irrigation, its effect on the flow of the Blue Nile will be minor. Some water will be lost from evaporation, which is intense in this hot, low-elevation region of Ethiopia, as well as seepage. Yet Egypt and especially Sudan will also benefit slightly from the dam, as it will trap sediments that would otherwise flow downstream, thus prolonging the lives of their major reservoirs. Ethiopia may also sell surplus electricity from the facility to Egypt. As the Grand Renaissance will be Africa’s largest hydroelectric facility, and as Ethiopia is currently building other major dams, it may have power to spare in the coming years.

Ethiopian Grand Renaissance DamMuch of the antipathy to the project in Egypt stems from the country’s political opposition, particular its liberal and Coptic Christian elements. The noted Coptic writer Sameh Fawzy, who stresses Muslim-Christian commonalities, has called for the project to be rejected outright, while Mohamed Hanafy, parliament member from the relatively liberal Al-Wafd Party, argues that Ethiopian hydrological engineering presents a national crisis, adding that  “Israel, Qatar, and China are behind the construction of the dam.” (Although China is financing the turbines and associated electrical facilities, most of the rest of the funding is apparently coming from Ethiopia’s own government.) The leftist politician Hamdeen Sabahi has gone so far as to argue that Egypt should consider preventing the dam’s foreign supporters from using the Suez Canal. It would appear that non-Islamist elements are trying to use the issue both to oppose the Morsi administration and to spark pan-Egyptian solidarity in hopes of reducing the country’s religious division. Egypt’s Christian establishment has also found an important diplomatic role to play, owing to the fact that the Coptic Church is in communion with Ethiopia’s majority faith, the Orthodox Tewahedo Church. As noted in a recent Al-Monitor article:

Ramses El-Najjar, a lawyer for the Coptic Church, revealed that the presidency delegated Coptic Patriarch Pope Tawadros II to mediate in the crisis with Ethiopia. He explained that the pope received calls from the presidency urging the Egyptian church to intervene with the Ethiopian church — which was historically affiliated with the former — in order to reach a consensual solution to the crisis.

Egyptian nationalists are concerned about the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam not merely because of the threats posed by the project itself, but also because it is connected with a larger hydro-political realignment that could prove much more menacing. Since 1999, the countries of the Nile drainage system— Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo—have worked together through the Nile Basin Initiative to “develop the river in a cooperative manner, share substantial socioeconomic benefits, and promote regional peace and security.” This World-Bank-funded program has generally upheld a 1929 colonial treaty that requires up-stream countries to obtain permission from Egypt and Sudan before engaging in any major water-development projects. In 2010, however, Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi signed a new treaty designed to allow up-stream countries more hydrological leeway and autonomy. Egypt and Sudan were infuriated and refused to agree to the new agreement. DR Congo, however, is expected to sign, as is South Sudan, which gained independence in 2011.

The new agreement signed by the up-stream countries emphasizes the equitable sharing of water among all countries of the basin:

Nile Basin States shall in their respective territories utilize the water resources of the Nile River system and the Nile River Basin in an equitable and reasonable manner. In particular, those water resources shall be used and developed by Nile Basin States with a view to attaining optimal and sustainable utilization thereof and benefits therefrom, taking into account the interests of the Basin States concerned, consistent with adequate protection of those water resources. Each Basin State is entitled to an equitable and reasonable share in the beneficial uses of the water resources of the Nile River system and the Nile River Basin.

285428591_3857ca93dcAlthough Egypt and Sudan have recently found common ground in opposing the revised pact, the two countries have often been in contention over the Nile. As the 1929 treaty gave Egypt priority for the entire flow of the river, when Sudan gained independence in 1956 it demanded revision. A new agreement reached in 1959 allotted 55.5 billion cubic meters of water annually to Egypt and 18.5 billion cubic meters to Sudan. In the future, however, Sudan may want more water than that; unlike the upstream countries, it has vast tracks of flat, fertile, semi-arid land that could profit greatly from expanded irrigation. In the late 20th century, Sudan had planned to increase it water supplies by draining the Sudd wetlands of the far south, where evaporation losses are huge. Owing to the southern rebellion, the massive Jonglei Canal project was abruptly halted in 1984, its gargantuan machinery left to rust away. The entire project has now been made moot by the independence of South Sudan.

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Separatism in French Polynesia

As previously noted on GeoCurrents, the political entities that comprise the French Republic exhibit a multitude of different administrative designations with varying legal responsibilities. One such possession is French Polynesia, which was officially designated an “overseas country” in 2004, though legally its status is indistinguishable from that of France’s other overseas collectivities (see map at left). Overseas collectivities yield control of foreign affairs, monetary policy, and security to Paris while otherwise exercising legal autonomy. In recent years, increasing chaos and animosity have come to define the political landscape of French Polynesia. Elected officials are split over the question of greater autonomy or independence, and legislative coalitions often prove ephemeral.

French Polynesian President Oscar Temaru is at the center of the controversy. Temaru and his pro-independence party, Tavini Huiraatira (People’s Servant), have recently stepped up their separatist rhetoric. On October 8, Temaru reportedly removed the French flag and a portrait of the French President from French Polynesia’s assembly chamber. Pro-independence members of the assembly have also begun using a Tahitian name for the territory, “Maohi Nui”, rather than “French Polynesia”. According to Temaru’s main political opponents, the anti-independence Tahoera’a Huiraatira (Popular Rally), Temaru’s actions are illegal. They further charge that he is becoming more of a dictator than a president.

Opposition to French rule is colored by a history of controversial nuclear testing. Between 1966 and 1996, 193 nuclear tests were conducted in French Polynesia. At first, such tests enjoyed a measure of support, but overtime they became an environmental scandal. France’s final series of tests, conducted in 1995 and 1996 on the French Polynesian atoll of Moruroa, provoked worldwide controversy and condemnation in the South Pacific Forum. After the last 1996 test, France signed and ratified both the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty and the Treaty of Rarotonga, which creates a nuclear weapon-free zone in the Pacific. In 2006, President Temaru renamed a prominent park in Papeete—the Place Chirac—the Place de 2 Juillet 1966. The new name references the date of the first nuclear test to take place in French Polynesia, and the park now hosts a memorial dedicated to all nuclear detonation sites around the Pacific.

French Polynesia’s independence movement faces several political and economic obstacles. Aside from tourism in Tahiti, French Polynesia’s economy has little to stand on, and depends on roughly a billion of dollars in annual subsidy from Metropolitan France to maintain its standard of living. Politically, conservative parties within French Polynesia that oppose independence consistently control about half of the government’s elected positions, including—at times—the presidency. Tahoera’a Huiraatira, founded by Gaston Flosse, is the largest such party and garners the support of most French settlers. The peculiar instability of French Polynesian politics further confounds the situation. The former Tahoera’a Huiraatira President, Gaston Tong Sang, fell to a contentious no-confidence vote in 2006, paving the way for President Temaru’s ascendancy and splitting the anti-independence Tahoera’a Huiraatira into two competing parties. Though independence is certainly one of the largest issues in French Polynesian politics, it would be a mistake to interpret each parliamentary election as something approaching a referendum on the subject.

Temaru and other independence-seekers within Tavini Huiraatira point with hope to recent comments made by French President Francois Hollande during a visit to Senegal. Hollande promised an end to “Françafrique”, a term used to refer to France’s special relationship with its former African colonies. Tavini Huiraatira’s hopes may be somewhat overstated, especially given that the demise of Francafrique is itself a nebulous notion. For the near future, French Polynesia will almost certainly continue on with the status quo, and there are currently no plans for a independence referendum, as is the case in New Caledonia. In the longer term, though, an independent French Polynesia appears to be quite possible, perhaps even likely.

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Strife in Ethiopia over an Anti-Radical (or Is It Radical?) Muslim Sect

The Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa has been recently shaken by violent clashes between the police and Muslim protestors. According to Shabelle News, “The protesters, some wearing masks, blocked the entrance of the Anwar Mosque in the west of the capital and hurled stones at riot police who had surrounded the compound after noon prayers.” The protestors were angered by the government’s alleged interference in the practice of their religion, claiming that it has been trying to foist the Al Ahbash sect on the Ethiopian Muslim community. According to the Shabelle News story, the infuriated protestors view Al Ahbash as “an alien branch of Islam.” The Ethiopian government denies promoting the sect while insisting that “is determined to prevent Islamic militancy spilling over from neighbouring Sudan or lawless Somalia.”

Although Al Ahbash grew on Lebanese soil, it was founded by an Ethiopian cleric (Abdullah al-Harari)—as is reflected by its Arabic name, which literally means “the Ethiopians” (although the group officially calls itself the “Association of Islamic Charitable Projects,” or AICP). According to the Wikipedia article, Al Ahbash is noted for blending “Sunni and Shi’a theology with Sufi spiritualism into a doctrinal eclecticism that preached nonviolence and political quietism.”

The organization’s own website stresses its Islamic orthodoxy: “The A.I.C.P has as guides the Qur’an and the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad and the path of the Islamic scholars like Imam Ash-Shafi^iyy, Imam Malik, Imam Ahmad and Imam Abu-Hanifah.” In an interesting twist, it claims that that it is actually the Islamists who are guilty of bid’ah, or of concocting novel, heretical doctrines. In particular, it singles out the Muslim Brotherhood and the Wahhabi movement of Saudi Arabia for censure: “Unlike the followers of Sayyid Qutub [spiritual founder of the Muslim Brotherhood] who deviated from the right path by following an erroneous idea that sprung fifty years ago, and unlike the followers of Muhammad ibn adbil-Wahhab who deviated from the right path by following an erroneous idea that sprung two hundred years ago, unlike them we are following the right path of the prophet, his companions and their followers.”

Al Ahbash stresses charity, which it says must be followed regardless of the religion of those in need. As its website specifies: “The A. I. C. P. urges Muslims to help each other and share responsibilities, such as encouraging the wealthy to console and relieve the poor—whether Muslims or non-Muslims.”

Street fights and other conflicts pitting Al Ahbash against Hezbollah and the Muslim Brotherhood have broken out on several occasions in both Lebanon and Jordan. Mainstream Muslim groups tend to be skeptical of Al Ahbash, which many clerics regard as a cult that seeks to undermine Islamic unity.  In 2011, the Australian National Imams Council tried to shut down the group’s Sydney-based radio station, claiming that it was run by a ”radical cult” that promoted “sectarian fringe views.” A scathing IslamicWeb article on the group, which ranks third in a Google search for “Al Ahbash,” relies on crude anti-Semitic characterizations. In regard to the founder of the sect, it states that, “Some people said he is Jew man, however there is no clear evidence for that, but at least he has a lot of the Jew’s characteristics.”

Although Ethiopia is a Christian-majority country, its eastern half is solidly Muslim, as can be seen from the detail of an M. Izady map posted here. Some 28 million Muslims live in Ethiopia, a figure roughly equal to that of Saudi Arabia.


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The Nasa (Páez) People Take on the Colombian Military and the Leftist Rebels

A recent article in the Chinese news site CRI notes that the indigenous Nasa people of southwestern Colombia have “lashed out at a Colombian Army outpost in southwestern Cauca province, as the military refused to leave their land as requested.” The report goes on to note that some 1,000 people surrounded a military outpost and literally tried to drag the soldiers away. As reported elsewhere, Colombian riot police soon evicted the Nasa demonstrators, and later shot and killed a member of the movement who allegedly refused to stop at an armed checkpoint.

Other articles on the conflict provide a more nuanced understanding. As the Washington Post reported, the Nasa are simultaneously taking on the Colombian military and the leftist guerillas that form the army’s main target in the region. According to the Post, indigenous leaders have vowed to “put on trial before tribal elders four alleged leftist rebels they accuse of attacks on civilians.” As the article goes on to note, the “Nasa say they are fed up with being in the crossfire of Colombia’s long-running conflict.”

Nasa leaders frame their actions in non-violent terms. As stated on a website run by the indigenous peoples of the region:

No vamos a agredir a nadie, pero utilizaremos la fuerza de nuestra comunidad reunida, de nuestra palabra y de nuestros derechos para recuperar nuestros territorios.  (We will not attack anyone, but we will use the strength of our united community, our speech and our rights to reclaim our territories.)

The Wikipedia article on the Nasa (found under the older term for the group, the  Páez), highlights as well their non-violent orientation. It also notes, however, that “they have about 7000 men and women who stand guard in their territory armed with nothing but ceremonial three-foot batons. They persuade the fighting forces of both sides to leave their land” (in light of the recent reports, however, the more accurate wording would be “try to persuade…”). The article also notes that while the Nasa generally avoid fighting, they do apply harsh corporeal punishments to those who break their tribal rules.

Nasa culture seems to be strongly rooted in the highlands of south-central-western Colombia. Out of a sizable ethnic population of some 140,000, an estimated 80,000 speak Páez, or Nasa Yuwe (“Nasa language”), roughly half of whom are reported to be monolingual. The language is evidently an isolate, although it may be related to several extinct tongues of the southern Colombian and northern Ecuadoran highlands. Most language maps, such as that of the Ethnologue, show the Páez speakers occupying a doughnut-shaped block of territory, in the center of which lies the lands of the Guambiano Indians.

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Heightened Unrest in Venezuela’s Zulia State

Northwestern Venezuela, especially the state of Zulia, is an anti-Chavez stronghold, noted for its “oppositional “ culture.  As explored in a previous GeoCurrents post, the northwestern Lake Maracaibo area stands apart from the rest of the Venezuela; even consumer products that sell well in Caracas often fail to find a market in Zulia.

In recent weeks, Zulia has experienced mounting troubles. Several leaders of the indigenous Yukpa and Wayuu communities were murdered, reportedly by wealthy ranchers infuriated at indigenous peoples moving into their prime grazing lands (Zulia is a major beef and dairy—and oil—producer). The indigenous movement has occurred with the blessing of the national government, which in 2009 gave communal land titles to 103,000 acres (41,600 hectares) to a number of Yukpa communities. The state-oriented Venezuelan press lays the blame for the recent violence on the U.S., Colombia, and Zulian intransigence, highlighting “the U.S.-funded Plan Colombia, as well as a large, historic, rightwing in Zulia state.” International organizations, however, have reported that the Venezuelan military itself has attacked the Yukpa and other local indigenous groups within the past three years.

Northwestern Venezuela is a resource-rich area in a geopolitically precarious environment. Besides oil and pasturage, the region contains some of South America’s largest coal reserves. Owing in part to tensions between Venezuela and neighboring Colombia, Zulia has been a focus of rebel activity and smuggling. Survival International notes that the Colombian leftist insurgent groups FARC and ELN “have been settling along the border areas of the Bari and Yukpa indigenous communities, bringing in weapons and drugs, and enticing young people to join them and squat on indigenous lands.” Colombian authorities have accused Venezuela of offering sanctuary to FARC rebels, charges that Venezuela steadfastly denies, officially stating that “any rebel groups found in Venezuela would meet with the “iron fist” of the Venezuelan military.” In early June, four Colombian men claimed that they had been tortured by Venezuela police who falsely accused them of belonging to the FARC.

The FARC funds its rebellion in part by drug transshipment, which is a major business in the region. Some sources estimate that roughly 200 tons of cocaine pass through the regional annually. Just this week, the Venezuelan police raided a ship bound from Zulia to Mexico carrying 20 tons of liquid cocaine. A recent article in The Economist summarizes the current narcotics situation in the region:

Venezuela has become the main transit point for Colombian cocaine headed for the United States and Europe. Because of Venezuela’s price controls on fuel—a litre of petrol costs two American cents in Venezuela, compared with up to $1.30 in Colombia—smuggling is another lucrative business. Such opportunities have lured the Zetas, a violent Mexican mob, who have teamed up with a Colombian outfit called the Rastrojos. Together they control much of Colombia’s La Guajira department and Venezuela’s Zulia state.

Media outlets in Zulia are also coming under attack. Earlier this month, the offices of Versión Final were racked by gunfire and those of Qué Pasa were hit with a grenade. Two days after the latter assault, the television channel Catatumbo TV was shot-up. Press freedom in Venezuela has recently been severely restricted, and critics charge the government with failing to protect journalists. The recent attacks in Zulia, however, do not seem to be linked to the Chavez regime. As recently reported in InSight: Organized Crime in the Americas:

While critics of President Hugo Chavez accuse his administration of stifling the media by abusing its regulatory powers or by presenting trumped-up criminal charges against media workers, there is little reason to suspect the state is behind this rash of attacks. The government has previously tried to limit media coverage through legal means; what’s more, the Catatumbo TV network is linked to the state. As such, there may be reason to suspect organized crime is behind the attacks.


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Another Cartoon Controversy Strikes India

Yet another political cartoon controversy has embroiled India in recent weeks. The cartoon in question dates to 1965, when opposition to the planned imposition of the Hindi language across India generated unrest over much of the country and especially the southern state of Tamil Nadu. Tamil activists feared that the imposition of Hindi would reduce non-Hindi speakers to the status of second-class citizens, and thus agitated for the continuing use of English as the country’s unifying, common language. In the end, the government backed down, allowing the perpetuation of English in official communication and granting each Indian state the right to establish its own official language or languages.

The cartoon is currently generating controversy due to the fact that it has been recently included in a political science textbook. Tamil partisans claim that the drawing unfairly represents the student organization that led the anti-Hindi demonstrations in the 1960s, falsifying history in the process. While the cartoon depicts the students leaders as ignorant of the English language, opponent of the textbook argue that, “As far as English is concerned, few could match Tamils in acquiring the skills of the language.” They also claim that the cartoon hides the fact that the government of Tamil Nadu at the time reacted to the anti-Hindi agitation with harsh repression.

Several other cartoon controversies have agitated India in recent months. Many Indians were outraged at the use in another textbook of 1949 sketch that depicts Jawaharlal Nehru wielding a whip and chasing a snail-riding B. R. Ambedkar in order to speed up work on India’s constitution. Ambedkar, the dalit (“untouchable”) mastermind of the constitution, is a much-idolized figure, especially among lower-caste Indians, and is thus not to be trifled with. Another recent cartoon controversy in the Indian state of West Bengal was analyzed in a separate GeoCurrents post.

A number of Indian advocates of free expression have been outraged at the outrage expressed over these cartoons. Intriguingly, the noted—and aged—Communist stalwart V S Achuthanandan responded with particular force, arguing that “I am a subject of large number of cartoons. I always enjoy them and try to understand the message sought to be conveyed through them. In a democracy, tolerance and readiness to face criticism are vitally important.” (In contemporary India, “communists” generally seek power through the ballot box, whereas “Maoists” advocate—and engage in—revolutionary violence).

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Food-Cost Protests in Northern Canada

Major protests against the high price of food and economic insecurity more generally were held last weekend in the remote northern Canadian territory of Nunavut, inhabited mostly by Inuit (“Eskimo”) people. Organized on Facebook, the “Feed My Family” campaign has attracted roughly a third of Nunavut’s population.  A recent study found that some “three-quarters of Inuit preschoolers live in food-insecure homes, and that “half of youths 11 to 15 years old sometimes go to bed hungry.” Food is exorbitantly expensive in Nunavut because almost all of it must be brought in over vast distances from southern Canada or elsewhere. As a result, a single head of cabbage can cost as much as twenty dollars.

Nunavut is a vast territory, roughly the size of Mexico, but it contains only about 32,000 people, some 84 percent of whom are Inuit. Traditional hunting, fishing and gathering practices are still carried out and contribute to feeding the population, but most of the people of the region are now dependent on imported food. Hunting, moreover, now demands modern inputs, and hence is itself an expensive proposition. According the article cited above:

Nunavut’s larder of “country food” — caribou, seals, fish and other animals — is there for the taking, but only if people can afford the snowmobiles, gas, rifles, ammunition and gear needed to travel safely. Elliott estimates hunting costs about $150 a day.

Although a poor region by Canadian standards, Nunavut does possess a large array of natural resources, and mining activities in the territory are increasing. Currently the Canadian government is negotiating with territorial leaders to allow Nunavut to have “province-like” powers over local resource development and to collect mining royalties directly. As a recent National Post article emphasizes, “Mining companies spent more than $300 million in 2011 alone on exploration and development in the territory…”  Yet the same article also notes that “years of negotiations are likely to follow.”

Many Inuit leaders support mining in their territory, but most insist that their community should have substantial input in the development process. Most of their efforts in this regard are carried out through Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., a native corporation designed to “ensure that promises made under the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement (NLCA) are carried out. Inuit exchanged Aboriginal title to all their traditional land in the Nunavut Settlement Area for the rights and benefits set out in the NLCA.” In April of this year, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. “received the first royalty payment as a result of mineral production on Inuit Owned Lands. The royalty payment of $2,249,500 was made by Agnico-Eagle Mines Ltd. from its Meadowbank Gold Mine north of Baker Lake.”


Food-Cost Protests in Northern Canada Read More »

Continuing Tension in Namibia’s Caprivi Strip

Namibia is generally regarded as one of the most successful states of sub-Saharan Africa, with a stable, relatively democratic government, a high degree of press freedom, and a political-economic system that successfully translates wealth in natural resources (diamonds particularly) into broad-based gains in human wellbeing. Just this month, for example, Namibia announced that that it will be able to bring electricity to all rural schools in the country within five years, which would be a significant accomplishment in such a large, sparsely settled country.

Namibia, however, suffers from a major political dilemma in the Caprivi Strip, its long northeastern “panhandle,” a legacy of the European partitioning of Africa in the late 1800s. The people of the Strip are relatively isolated from the rest of country, and many have long held secessionist aspirations. A major push for independence was crushed in 1999, but fall-out from the event continues to generate tension. Trials of secession advocates continue, hundreds of suspects languish in prisons, and many Caprivian activists continue to advocate their cause from exile.

Such tensions intensified in mid April, as activists planned peaceful demonstrations, circulated petitions calling for the unconditional release of all political prisoners, and demanded a referendum on the political status of the Caprivi region. Such demands were rebuffed by the Namibian government, which refused permission for the planned demonstrations. Activists denounced the prohibition as unconstitutional, and vowed to continue the struggle through peaceful, legal means.

The upsurge in secessionist activities in the Caprivi Strip has been linked to recent events elsewhere in Africa, especially the proclamation of the new country of Azawad by the Tuareg movement of northern Mali. It has also been connected with the independence movement in Barotseland in neighboring Zambia, where “2,000 chiefs, indunas and headmen recently had a meeting where they demanded the secession from Zambia of the Western Province – formerly a British Protectorate.”

Meanwhile, villagers in the Caprivi Strip have been demanding help from the national government to protect their maize fields from rampaging elephants herds. According to a recent allAfrica article, neither the beating of massive drums nor the use of “chili bombs” have been sufficient to keep the elephants at bay. Locals are therefore asking for the instillation of electric fences to protect their crops and villages.


Continuing Tension in Namibia’s Caprivi Strip Read More »

The Culture of Queensland and the Desire to Divide the State

Queensland has a reputation of being the most conservative state in Australia, especially in regard to social and racial issues. As such, it has been deemed Australia’s “Deep North,” in reference to the “Deep South” of the United States. Such attitudes, however, have changed significantly in recent years. A study from the 1990s concluded that there were no longer any “significant differences between Queenslanders and New South Wales residents.” Significantly, Queensland passed a same-sex civil union bill in late 2011. Such unions are now accepted across eastern Australia, but not in the west or the south of the country.

But if one digs a little deeper, a more complex picture emerges. Although the residents of the Brisbane area in southeastern Queensland, the state’s demographic core, are now relatively liberal on social issues, the same cannot be said for the people of central Queensland. As indicated on the first map posted here, a 2010 study showed that residents of central-eastern Queensland have the most pronounced anti-homosexual attitudes in Australia.

Intriguingly, central Queensland along with northern Queensland have long maintained separatist movements devoted to creating one or two new Australian states. In earlier times, the main complaints were distance from the state capital of Brisbane and neglect by the state government. Today, difference in political philosophy figure more prominently. One of the proposals for division would create a new state of Capricornia, depicted on the second map posted here.

The economy of central Queensland rests heavily on natural resources. The region contains Australia’s largest coal reserves, located in the Bowen Basin. This area is noted for its high-quality coking coal, vast quantities of which are exported annually. The business is currently expanding rapidly. According to the Wikipedia, “In mid 2011, evidence of a continuing mining boom was provided by state government figures which showed more than 50 mining projects are under consideration in the Bowen Basin.” Natural gas is also abundant in the region.

The “Capricornia movement” is by no means the only drive to create a new state in Australia. In recent years, a more organized movement has sought to carve out a state of “New England” from the northeastern portion of New South Wales. As the first map indicates, this area is also more socially conservative than the rest of the state in which it is located.

The Culture of Queensland and the Desire to Divide the State Read More »

Anti-Mining Protests in Ecuador and Peru

The economies of both Peru and Ecuador are both growing at a brisk clip, due mostly to the booming oil and mining sectors. According to the CIA Factbook, the Peruvian economy expanded by 6.2 percent in 2011, and that of Ecuador at a rate of 5.8 percent. The mining boom, however, has brought environmental degradation and community dislocation, resulting in massive protests.

In Ecuador, hundreds of indigenous protestors have been marching for two weeks from the far south to the capital city of Quito, which they are scheduled to reach today. Road blockades have led to clashes with the police as well as numerous arrests. One teacher was shot and killed. The protests were set off by a deal between Ecuador and China for a 25-year, US$1.4 billion investment in a copper-mining concession in the province of Zamora-Chinchipe. The indigenous peoples in and near the region are demanding the power to veto mines on their lands. Although the government accepts indigenous land ownership in the abstract, it retains sub-surface mineral rights, and thus reserves the right to lease vast concessions.

The protests put the Ecuadorian government of Rafael Correa in a difficult position. Correa is leftist politician who has aligned his country with Venezuela and Bolivia and has pledged to respect indigenous rights. But the mining deals provide the money needed for Correa’s ambitious social programs, which have given him high approval ratings. After finalizing the copper-mining deal with a Chinese firm in early March, Correa stated that, “We cannot be beggars sitting on a sack of gold,” going on to claim that deal would launch a “new era” of industrial mining in Ecuador. A similar dynamic has generated major problems for the government of Evo Morales in Bolivia, where indigenous protests against road-building projects have been heated.

The Shuar people have been particularly influential in the recent Ecuadorian protests. Numbering between 40,000 and 100,000 people, the Shuar live at the margin of the Amazonian rainforest and the Andes. They are perhaps the most powerful and tightly organized of all Amazonian ethnic groups. Formerly known as the Jivaro, they once had a rather infamous reputation due to their practice of making shrunken heads.

Some of the current anti-mining protests in Peru have a very different character. Recent struggles in the southeastern part of the country were set-off by governmental attempts to ban informal gold mining, which has generated massive mercury contamination in local rivers. According to a recent report, “Wildcat miners, who are also protesting in other regions including the south, are demanding the government throw out decrees President Ollanta Humala issued that toughen laws against illegal mining and give the government more power to seize their equipment.”

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