War and Strife News

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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Hindus Flee Pakistan—and Other Indo-Pak Issues

Indian newspapers have recently been reporting that the large numbers of Hindus are fleeing Pakistan and seeking refuge in India. Such reports focus on southern Pakistan, especially Balochistan and Sindh, where most Pakistani Hindus reside. According to one article, “reports speak of abduction for ransom [of] traders and business-people [and of] professionals like teachers and doctors being harassed and in some cases dragged from their homes or places of work and killed in broad daylight.” Abductions and forced conversions of young Hindu women to Islam are frequently mentioned as well.

Pakistan’s Hindu community is often overlooked yet is far from insignificant, numbering between 2.5 and 4.5 million. Before the 1947 political division of the Indian subcontinent, Hindus were far more numerous than they are today in the territory that became Pakistan. In the bloody partition process, almost all Hindus were expelled from Pakistan’s portion of the Punjab, just as almost all Muslims were expelled from India’s portion of the Punjab. Hindus also fled Karachi en masse at the time. But in rural Sindh, and especially in districts near the Indian border, most Hindus remained.

Very few Hindus live in the northern Pakistani region of Gilgit-Baltistan, an area that has long been almost entirely Muslim, with noted concentrations of Ismaili Shiites. Until recently, Gilgit-Baltistan was a peaceful place, but that is no longer true, as Sunni extremists have been attacking Shiites. As a result, Pakistani authorities fear that the area could experience massive sectarian violence. Some Indian nationalists are angry that this issue is not receiving more attention in their country, as India retains territorial claims over all of Gilgit-Baltistan, which was once part of Kashmir. As one recent article frames the issue:

Ironically, this report, involving the lives of people from Gilgit-Baltistan, which India claims to be an integral part of its sovereign territory and is now currently under the occupation of Pakistan, was published on the ‘international’ page of one of India’s leading national newspapers. Of course, many others did not bother to publish the news at all.

Meanwhile, efforts to reduce tensions between Indian and Pakistan are proceeding on several fronts. One intriguing avenue for hostility reduction is popular culture, focusing on food and television. As NPR recent reported:

The Indian cooking show Foodistan, on NDTV, has all of these tricks plus another spicy device: nationalistic pride. The show pits Indian chefs against Pakistani chefs in a mad race to prepare three dishes in 90 minutes. And in doing so, it exploits the long rivalry between the two countries — something that has rarely been a joking matter ….

While there’s still a long way to go for the kitchen stadium to replace the cricket stadium as the main battleground for the Indo-Pakistani rivalry, both seem better than the alternative.








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Indigenous Protests in Panama

Large protests by indigenous people, occasionally accompanied by violence, have been occurring in Panama since late January. On March 1, leaders of Ngöbe-Buglé people walked out on talks with the Panamanian government after several of their young supporters were shot with rubber bullets. Ngöbe-Buglé  protestors subsequently reestablished roadblocks on the Pan American Highway that they had dismantled in early February when the talks began.

As if often the case in regard to indigenous right issues, the conflict centers on dam building and mining. A new Panamanian law recently pushed through the National Assembly allows the construction of dams in Ngöbe-Buglé territory, infuriating tribal leaders. In negotiations, the Panamanian government agreed to suspend mining in the area, but remained unwilling to cancel the hydroelectric projects.

At first glance, Panama seems like an unusual place for such indigenous-rights protests. The country not only has a thriving economy, but it has also allowed an unusual degree of territorial autonomy for its larger American Indian groups, including the Ngöbe-Buglé. In Panama’s comarcas indígena, indigenous peoples have been granted a relatively large degree of power. This policy has been widely viewed as relatively successful in eastern Panama, where the Guna (Kuna) people have been able to develop their own resources and their own eco-tourism-based economic sector.

Conditions among the Ngöbe-Buglé, who number more than 100,000, are much less favorable. Arable land has grown scarce, forcing many men to work as migrant laborers. With low level of competence in the Spanish language, many have difficulties adapting to life outside of the comarca indígena. According to the Wikipedia, “malnutrition is prevalent, especially in children and expectant mothers.”

As the Ngöbe-Buglé territory contains vast copper deposits, it seems likely that struggles with the Panamanian state will continue for some time.

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The Ethiopian-Eritrean Cold War Heats Up

Wikipedia Map of Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Ranking

Wikipedia Map of Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom RankingThe struggle between Ethiopia and Eritrea has recently been extending well beyond the boundaries of the two countries. Ethiopia has accused Eritrea of supporting the radical Islamist group al Shabaab in Somalia, and is now pushing for stronger U.N. sanctions against the Eritrean government. Ethiopia is particularly concerned about the growing mining industry in Eritrea, which has recently attracted massive investments from such firms as Nevsun Resources Ltd. of Canada. Eritrea, for its part, has denounced Kenya and other African states for joining the struggle against al Shabaab. Although Eritrea has been viewed as increasingly isolated from the global community, it has made progress on this front, agreeing, for example, to establish diplomatic relations with Georgia in late February.

Struggles over telecommunications in the region involve a number of countries. In mid February, Lebanon condemned Ethiopia for its practice of jamming satellite television signals, a practice designed to prevent “the increasingly popular Eritrean Television from being viewed in Ethiopia,” but which also has the effect of keeping out Lebanese shows broadcast over the Saudi-based Arabsat network. Ethiopia has extensive jamming expertise, as it has also been blocking signals from Al-Jazeera Arabic, Voice of America (VOA) and Deutsche Welle (DW).

Ethiopia and especially Eritrea are generally viewed as repressive countries; Human Rights Watch has gone so far as to call Eritrea a “giant prison.” In Reporters Without Borders most recent assessment, Eritrea has the world’s most restrictive press regime, exceeding even North Korea, whereas Ethiopia ranks 127th out of 179 countries rated. The Christian Science Monitor, however, recently reported that Eritrean opposition groups have become very sophisticated in using the Internet to spread their messages. As the article notes, the sizable Eritrean diaspora has been crucial to maintaining the flow of information into the despotic country.


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Protests on the island of Réunion

Wikipedia Map of France and its Overseas Possessions

Wikipedia Map of France and its Overseas PossessionsFrench news outlets are reporting “spontaneous and unorganized” outbursts of violence on the island of Réunion, one of France’s overseas departments.  Protests against the high cost of living and rising prices of fuel exploded several days ago.  In the administrative capital, Saint-Denis, the quarter of Le Chaudron is littered with stone and broken glass after violent clashes Wednesday night.  Protestors also burned cars in Saint-Denis and Le Port, both located in the northern parts of the island.  Saint-Benoît, a commune in the east, also experienced disorder.

The Mayor of Saint-Denis, Gilbert Annette, made an appeal for peace Thursday morning on public radio.  He emphasized the necessity of finding a solution to Réunion’s high youth unemployment and lack of purchasing power among low-income inhabitants.  He urged the state to “take exceptional measures for Réunion.”

Le Chaudron, one of the most heavily populated districts on the island, is known for violent protests.  In 1973, demonstrations led to clashes with France’s riot control police, the Comapgnies Républicaines de Sécurité (CRS).  The 1991 “Événements du Chaudron” were a series of riots marked by skirmishes between young protestors and the police, the use of Molotov cocktails, and the torching of cars and stores.  This latest outburst of socioeconomic tension continues.

Similar conflicts have occurred in other French overseas departments in recent years, including Mayotte and Martinique.

(By Rebecca Hecht)

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No New State for the Beleaguered Garo People of India

India’s Economic Times recently noted that the demand by the Garo National Liberation Army (GNLA) for the creation a new Indian state for the Garo people was not going to be met, dashing hopes that a negotiated settlement could end one of northeastern India’s numerous “tribal” insurgencies. India’s former home secretary G. K. Pillai dismissed the Garo call for a new territory to be hived off from the state of Meghalaya, noting that a number of larger, better organized activist groups elsewhere in India have been unable to gain their own states. Pillai concluded by noting that, “The GNLA is more like a bunch of criminals and therefore the state government must put efforts to neutralise it.”

Demands for new state creation in India are indeed numerous, as indicated on the map. A number of these movements are based on ethnic tensions, as many of India’s smaller ethnolinguistic groups want to acquire their own political territories. Others are rooted in historical and economic issues, as is the case in regard to the would-be state of Telangana, the subject of the very first GeoCurrents post. Some Indian states are simply too massive to be effectively governed, some argue. Uttar Pradesh, which faces separatist movements on both its eastern and western flanks, would be the world’s fifth most populous country if it were independent.

Several specific issues lie behind the Garo insurgency, but mining figures prominently. The Wikipedia article on the state of Meghalaya provides a pithy summary: “Meghalaya is also notorious for illegal mining that is creating havoc in the state. Balpakram National Park located in South Garo Hills District is constantly being encroached as forest areas are cleared for coal mining. The Garo Hills Anti-Mining and Conservation Forum are constantly shutting these illegal mines, which the government has so far simply ignored.” In the same vein, the Times of India notes understatedly that, “The land in Meghalaya is rich – with minerals, flora and fauna in abundance — but the people of the state are still languishing in poverty.” The International Business Times recently reported that Indian mining companies are intensifying their efforts to establish uranium production facilities in Meghalaya.

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Hazara Exodus from Quetta

A recent UN report indicates that the Hazara people of Quetta Pakistan are living in such terror that the entire community may abandon the country. The Hazaras, Persian-speaking, Shiite group reputed to have Mongolian ancestry, are concentrated in central Afghanistan, but 6,000 to 7,000 live in Pakistan. As more than 600 have been killed since 2000, Hazara leaders in Pakistan claim that the community is facing a genocidal situation. Sunni extremists target Hazaras largely because of their faith, although their ethnic identity also is also said to play a role.

In recent years, many Pakistani Hazaras have attempted to flee to Australia.  Fifty-five perished last December, however, when the boat carrying them capsized in Indonesian waters.

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Arming Equatorial Guinea

On February 2, 2012, the Russian newspaper Pravda ran a headline reading, ”Africa’s Richest Nation Ready For War.”  The country in question is the small, oil-rich state of Equatorial Guinea, noted for its rampant corruption and for the fact that its oil wealth has brought few benefits to its largely impoverished population. The county’s social ills have not, however, prevented it from engaging in a major military build-up. As Pravda notes, “The fleet of the 600,000-strong country will be larger than that of 160 million-strong Nigeria. Is Africa preparing for a major war?”

Equatorial Guinea’s military procurement program is highly global. It newest frigate was built in Bulgaria with Ukrainian oversight. Israel, Brazil, and South Korea have also provided ships. The country’s air force has been modernized by major purchases from Russia, and both Russia and China have been supplying equipment for its army.

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