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Events in April

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Issue: 45 Section: Month in Review Geography: Earth Israel, Vancouver, Somalia, Immokalee, Denendeh, Kashipur, Peru Topics: Mining

May 2, 2007

Events in April

Direct actions in Vancouver, mining strike in Peru, Immokalee workers, Somalia, and more

by Dru Oja Jay

Demonstrators from No One Is Illegal and allies at the Canadian Border Services Agency offices in Vancouver. Photo: NOII

Montreal-based multinational aluminum processor Alcan pulled out of a contentious mining project in Kashipur, in the Indian state of Orissa. The company held a 45 per cent stake. The Montreal solidarity group Alcan't in India had previously undertaken a multi-year campaign against the project, gaining the support of several union locals representing Alcan workers, who said they would refuse to smelt aluminum from the proposed mine. The mine faced fierce resistance from local indigenous groups, who said that the resulting destruction and pollution would destroy their way of life. Alcan is the second investor that has divested its shares, and a renewed battle is expected with whoever buys Alcan's shares.

Members of immigrant rights group No One Is Illegal Vancouver staged an occupation of Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) offices for several hours on April 23, and demanded a meeting with Citizenship and Immigration Minister Diane Finley. In a statement, the group said that it intended to challenge Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) and CBSA employees to account for their participation in "the destruction of the lives of those deported and detained every day." Group members and supporters returned two days later and shut down the CBSA building, blocking the entrance and placing a lock on the front doors before police threatened arrests and the demonstrators agreed to leave. The group said that about 500,000 people live without official status in Canada, and an estimated 13,000 are deported annually.

In Florida, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers won a major victory in their campaign to force McDonald's to raise the price it pays for tomatoes by 32 cents per packet. The price had not been raised since 1978. A spokesperson for the Coalition said that McDonald's was "just trying to find another way to find a solution, but without necessarily including us in that process." The Coalition previously forced Taco Bell to negotiate a price increase, and now sets its sights on Burger King.

Journalists in Guangzhou, China found that fast food chains like McDonald's, KFC and Pizza Hut are using loopholes to exploit service industry workers. While the part time minimum wage is officially 7.5 yuan per hour in large cities, loopholes are used to pay part-timers between 5 and 6 yuan per hour.

Anti-poverty activists besieged a meeting of the Non Partisan Association (NPA), the ruling political party in Vancouver. The demonstration, organized by the Anti-Poverty Committee (APC), attempted to breach police lines to gain access to the meeting three times, and used whistles and loudspeakers to disrupt the proceedings. "The NPA's political vision is social cleansing and they conduct their brutal business with no real significant 'official' opposition," APC members wrote on their web site. 22 police officers were reported to be working overtime to keep the demonstrators out.

A delegation of 44 poor people and Halifax Coalition Against Poverty (HCAP) organizers disrupted the AGM of the riding association of Provincial community services minister Judy Streatch. " We felt that it was necessary for Streatch to come face-to-face with poor people in Nova Scotia, the people who live with the day-to-day reality of the deplorably low rates of social assistance in Nova Scotia," said HCAP member Susan LeFort. HCAP is demanding that the Department of Community Services double income assistance rates and peg these income assistance rates to inflation.

Organizers from the Bay of Quinte Mohawk community in Ontario promised more "economic disruptions" after ending a blockade of train tracks between Montreal and Toronto. The community members, who are operating outside of the government-run band council system, are targeting a gravel pit that is operating on disputed land. The operation should be shut down until land claim negotiations are concluded, spokesperson Shawn Brant told journalists.

Deh Cho Grand Chief Herb Norwegian announced that Canadian troops would "not be welcomed" in Fort Simpson. Forty military personnel were scheduled to arrive in Fort Simpson as a part of Operation Narwhal, billed as a security exercise to prevent terrorist attacks against the proposed Mackenzie Gas Pipeline. The Deh Cho are currently in negotiations over a land-use plan, which they say must be adopted before they grant permission for the pipeline to cross their land. "We have our own sovereignty over this land and do not intend to be intimidated by soldiers of a government using the threat of terrorism as an excuse to show their flag on our land," said Norwegian. Defence officials later met with Norwegian, who said that the Deh Cho feel the "pressure of Canada, the psychological pressure of their presence on our territory."

"Military intervention won't stop the killing. Those who are clamouring for troops to fight their way into Darfur are suffering from a salvation delusion." Those were the opening words of a review of recent peace talks in Sudan by Alex de Waal, published by the London Review of Books. In an extensive description of peace talks around conflict in Sudan, de Waal writes that the "crisis in Darfur is political. It's a civil war, and like all wars it needs a political settlement."

Representatives of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) and supportive musicians in Chicago. The CIW's national campaign recently forced McDonald's restaurants to increase the price they pay for tomatoes for the first time since 1978. CC 2.0 Photo: Jason Alegria

Fighting in Somalia's capital of Mogadishu was described as the heaviest warfare in the city's history, as occupying US-backed Ethiopian soldiers battled forces aligned with the Islamic Courts. According to the UN, roughly a third of Mogadishu's population has fled the fighting. Most observers note that Islamic Courts had restored stability to the war-torn country, while introducing unpopular bans on movies and televised soccer. The US-backed invasion by Ethiopia overthrew the Islamic Courts and created Somalia's largest humanitarian crisis in a decade, observers say. The US has said that it will not call for a ceasefire, saying it doesn't want to "leave the field to violent extremists who do not have an interest in building up the institutions of a democratic state." Canada has said little about the crisis, though Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor has publicly speculated that Canadian troops could invade Somalia or Sudan in the future. In January, hundreds of members of the Somali diaspora denounced the invasion, in which US Special Forces also participated.

Fourteen people were arrested during a protest inside a US Senate office building on the same day that Senators voted 51 to 46 to approve $95 billion in funding for the occupation of Iraq. Demonstrators from a group known as Artists Against War unfurled a banner inside the building, which read "your silence, your legacy." The largest banner contained the full text of Article II Section 4 of the US Constitution, which defines the conditions under which a President can be impeached, provoking chants of "impeach now."

Unions in Russia are reckoning with declining membership and pressure from the country's political class to avoid participation in political struggles, IPS News reported. "I urge trade unions to carry out stable and balanced work which is not timed to political events in the country," Russian President Vladimir Putin said in a speech to union delegates. "Many institutions' management are unprepared to see such bodies standing in opposition to their capitalist policies," one Russian academic was quoted as saying.

UBC professor of international law Michael Byers and Irish professor of human rights William Schabas sent a letter to the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, requesting an investigation of possible war crimes. The letter indicates that Canada's General Rick Hillier and Minister Gordon O'Connor appear to have allowed Afghan detainees to be handed over to the Afghan government "despite an apparent risk of torture," and chose "not to take reasonable and readily apparent steps to protect detainees against torture." If the evidence is shown to be accurate, the law professors argue, Hillier, O'Connor and other Canadian officials would be in contravention of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), which was drafted in 1998 and ratified by Canada's parliament in 2000. According to the website of the Department of Foreign Affairs, "Canada supported the ICC effort from the very beginning and continues to support the ICC with crucial leadership, advocacy and resources."

The "One Laptop Per Child Project" announced that rising costs of materials would result in an increase from $100 dollars per laptop to $175. The non-profit project aimed to provide low-cost access to technology for children in the developing world.

The US military announced the creation of a new command centre in Africa, known as AFRICOM. In a news release, a State Department spokesperson denied that the US was taking a military leadership role in Africa. The report also denied claims that the US was responding to a larger Chinese presence in Africa, or was seeking influence over natural resources. AFRICOM is "not being stood up in order to secure resources such as oil," the briefing said.

The Associated Press reported that the Japanese government's practice of coercing women into prostitution continued after US troops occupied Japan. "Tens of thousands of women were employed to provide cheap sex to US troops until the spring of 1946, when Gen. Douglas MacArthur shut the brothels down," the report said. According to a recently released official police history, "police had to set up sexual comfort stations for the occupation troops... The strategy was, through the special work of experienced women, to create a breakwater to protect regular women and girls."

Mordechai Vanunu, the Israeli technician and whistleblower who revealed the size of Israel's nuclear arsenal to the world public, was convicted of violating a court order forbidding him to communicate with non-Israelis. After he told journalists that Israel possessed an estimated 100 nuclear warheads, Israeli agents kidnapped him in Rome and brought him to Israel. He subsequently spent 18 years in prison, 11 of which were spent in solitary confinement.

Facing massive protests, military recruiters announced their withdrawal from a job fair at the University of California at Santa Cruz. "If every school prevented recruitment, if every port stopped shipping weapons, if every community refused to accept war profiteers as neighbors, war would be impossible," said student organizer Natalie MacIntyre.

Several groups, including Jews for a Just Peace and the Canada Palestine Association, staged a protest at the annual dinner of the Jewish National Fund (JNF) in Vancouver on April 29. Israeli peace activist and former Knesset member Uri Avnery recently called for the abolition of the JNF. Avnery wrote that the fund, which holds 13 per cent of all land in Israel, has an explicit mandate to "prohibit the sale or rental of land to non-Jews," and as a result, is inherently racist. Donations to the JNF are tax-deductible charitable donations under Canadian law.

A global day of action against Toronto-based Barrick Gold is planned for May 2. The company, which is considered the largest gold mining company in the world, is facing increasing resistance to its projects worldwide. Simultaneous actions will be held in Chile, Argentina, Peru, Australia, Canada, the Philippines, Tanzania, and Europe. In Peru, protesters opposing a Barrick Gold project in the province of Àncash have been killed by paramilitary groups. In Australia, aboriginal groups have targeted a planned mine at Lake Cowal with a direct action campaign, and the massive Pascua Lama project in Chile and Argentina has faced significant local opposition.

Mine workers in Peru are gearing up for a major strike over wages, benefits and labour rights. The Peruvian government has declared the strike illegal. In the early 1990s, the World Bank established a "structural reform" program designed to make conditions favourable for mining. Peruvian critics say that under current laws, the mines provide very little benefit for Peru, despite rising commodity prices. Canadian firms' investments in Peru reached $2.3 billion in 2005, with the vast majority of investments going towards mining. Canada and Peru signed a bilateral trade agreement in 2006, which then Trade Minister David Emerson said would "help companies by creating a predictable environment for Canadian investors." Canadian companies have faced resistance from mine workers in Peru before. During a strike in 1999, a protest against the Canadian companies Barrick Gold and Antamina was broken up by the Peruvian army.

Worldwide demand for uranium is outstripping supply, and a flood at a major mining operation in northern Saskatchewan has pushed prices up. According to Bloomberg news service, a "rock fall" at Cigar Lake rendered 10 per cent of the anticipated world supply of uranium inaccessible for the time being. The current shortage "could limit the nuclear power industry's plans to develop 168 new nuclear plants worldwide by 2020," Bloomberg reported. Rising prices have set off a wave of uranium speculation in New Brunswick. Canada is the world's largest supplier of mined uranium, accounting for 28 per cent of world supply. Critics have long opposed uranium mining for its adverse effects on health and ecology, and Canada's history of using indigenous workers to mine and haul the uranium used to create the first atomic bombs continues to affect northern communities.

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