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October in Review

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Issue: 49 Section: Accounts Geography: Earth, Canada

November 1, 2007

October in Review

Royalty Hikes, Indigenous Legal Battles, and a Landless March on Gandhi’s Birthday

by Philip Neatby

An M777 Artillery gun in Afghanistan. Canada's military exports have tripled in the last five years, and military spending is now higher than at any point during the cold war. Photo: Combat Camera

After occupying the proposed Sharbot Lake uranium mine site outside of Kingston for four months, members of the Ardoch Algonquin and Shabot Obaadjiwan First Nations ended their occupation after the Ontario government agreed to step in and mediate land-claim talks between the nations and Frontenac Ventures Corp, the mining company which had been conducting test drilling on the site. The withdrawal agreement will allow for 12 weeks of mediation with the province. The protestors have moved their blockade outside of the gates of the mine, to another protest camp that had been set up by non-native supporters from nearby communities. One such supporter, Donna Dillman, has begun a hunger strike demanding a moratorium be placed on uranium exploration and mining in the area.

Canada's military spending is now higher than it has been since the second World War, according to a new study released by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. By the end of the fiscal year, Canada will have spent an estimated $7.2 billion on military missions in Afghanistan.

Canada's military exports have tripled in the past five years, according to a study conducted by the CBC. Exports of tanks, rocket launchers and other military hardware currently stand at $3.6 billion per year.

The Latin American Water Tribunal, an ethical tribunal which evaluates legal claims of environmental damage to water resources in Latin America, gathered in Guadalajara, Mexico to hold a public hearing about the practices of Minerales Entre Mares (MAM) de Honduras, a subsidiary of Canada’s Goldcorp Inc. The Tribunal ruled that the government of Honduras and Goldcorp were responsible for the exploitation and contamination of water in the Siria Valley, which damaged the ecosystem and resulted in adverse health effects for residents of nearby communities. Although this ruling is non-binding, the Natural Resources and Environment Secretariat of the Honduran government has instituted penalizing fines against MAM’s operations in the Siria Valley in the past.

In Belize, indigenous Mayan residents of the villages of Conejo and Santa Cruz have won a ten-year legal battle after a Chief Justice granted an order acknowledging that the constitution of the Central American nation upheld the customary land tenure practices of these villages. The ruling found that the recent United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples also supported the land claims of the Mayan residents. Over the past decades, the government of Belize has denied these land rights, claiming that the residents of the villages were immigrants from Guatemala, and have allowed logging and oil exploration by foreign corporations on traditional Mayan land.

Wildfires in Southern California forced over 700,000 people to evacuate their homes. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) staged a fake press conference, with staff members posing as journalists. Actual journalists were given 15 minutes notice about the event, and were allowed to listen in via telephone, but not to ask questions. Critics say US emergency infrastructure has once again been found inadequate to deal with natural disasters.

The Asia Times reported that, at the close of the Chinese Communist Party's 17th National Congress, the country's leadership has much to fear from discontent among the country's massive population of rural peasants. "Mass incidents"--the official term for riots and large protests in the countryside, are said to be a "daily occurence" as resentment about deeping inequality comes to a head.

In Oaxaca, Mexico, thousands marched on October 27th to commemorate the first anniversary of the murder of American Indymedia journalist Brad Will. Will was shot at a street blockade in 2006 while filming a battle between supporters of state Governor Ulises Ruiz and members of the Oaxaca Peoples Popular Assembly (APPO). APPO organizers have claimed that the Mexican government later used the death of Brad Will as an excuse to send in military troops to put down the popular uprising which overtook the city of three million last year. To date, no individual has been charged with this killing despite the fact that photos of plainclothes police officers firing at Will were published in Mexican newspapers the day after he was shot.

Elsewhere in Mexico, indigenous representatives attending a recent intercontinental indigenous gathering in Vicam, Sonora have called for an international boycott of the Vancouver 2010 Olympics. According to a press release issued by BC First Nations representatives at the gathering, hundreds of Indigenous people plan to attend the Olympic games "not in celebration, but in resistance to the danger the Olympics poses to Indigenous lands, identity, culture, health, livelihoods, and to future generations."

A detainee arrested in September during a protest at a subdivision outside of Caledonia, Ontario, near the site of the Six Nations occupation, has allegedly been subjected to threats by correctional staff within the Hamilton Barton St Jail. According to an alert issued by Six Nations supporters, Skyler Williams, one of at least 9 people arrested during the September demonstration, has been denied working plumbing within his cell, has been threatened with denial of his legal counsel as well as detainment in solitary confinement, and has been told that he would be transferred to a unit reserved for serious violent offenders. The Six Nations demonstrators were protesting the development of Stirling Creek Estates, whose housing developments are located on Kanienkehaka (Mohawk) territory.

Shop owners have windows covered in anticipation of the "October Rebellion" in a Georgetown shopping district. Photo: OctoberRebellion.org

Twenty-three Canadian cities participated in a national day of action calling for an immediate removal of Canadian troops from Afghanistan, with the biggest demonstrations taking place in Montreal and Vancouver. Malalai Joya, the embattled former Afghan parliamentarian and women’s rights advocate, began a brief Canadian tour with a speech at the Vancouver rally. Joya was kicked out of Afghanistan’s Loya Jirga in May after giving a television interview in which she compared the parliament to a stable or zoo, and accused other parliamentarians of being warlords. She faces daily death threats in Afghanistan, travels everywhere within the country in the presence of armed bodyguards, and changes houses each night. Joya’s Canadian visit, which will also include visits to Toronto and Halifax, comes shortly after the Harper government’s throne speech announcement of its plans to extend the Canadian mission in Afghanistan to 2011, despite overwhelming opposition from the Canadian public. Demonstrations were also held in 11 cities across the US demanding an end to the war in Iraq.

The Harper government has introduced a plan to drastically cut corporate taxes by $14.3 billion over the next six years. The announcement, which would make Canada’s corporate taxes the lowest in the G-7, even took the business community by surprise. “This is a surprisingly aggressive and definitely welcome set of tax cuts,” said Douglas Porter, deputy chief economist at BMO Nesbitt Burns. In response to the plan, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives said that the tax cuts would only benefit a small elite, while doing nothing to address the priorities that have been identified by the Canadian public, such as lower tuition fees, reduced greenhouse gases, or shorter wait times within the healthcare system.

In Alberta, following a month-long media campaign undertaken by multinational oil companies, the Stelmach government announced plans to increase the share of oil royalties the province receives by $1.4 billion starting in 2009. The decision follows a ruling by a government-appointed review panel which had called for the royalties to be increased by 20 per cent, or $2 billion. The current royalties regime in Alberta was introduced in the 1990’s in order to offer bargain basement tax rates for investment in tar sands development. It has remained unchanged in the years since, despite the massive profits reaped by the oil industry from the tar sands after oil prices increased.

New studies have found that Boreal forests are losing the ability to absorb man-made carbon dioxide emissions due to climate changes. The studies, conducted by professors at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the US National Centre for Atmospheric Research, found that temperate woodlands in the Northern hemisphere, extending from Alaska and Canada to China and northern Asia, may soon reach a point where they will be releasing more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than they will be absorbing. The recent increases in large-scale forest fires, much like those that have overtaken California in recent weeks, has accelerated the release of CO2 by these boreal forests, according to the studies.

In Haiti, former government minister Maryse Narcisse became the second high-profile activist affiliated with the Lavalas party of ousted Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide to be kidnapped in the past three months. Narcisse, along with her friend Delano Morel, was released after a ransom was reportedly paid to the kidnappers. The whereabouts of another grassroots Lavalas activist and human rights advocate, Lovinsky Pierre-Antoine, who was kidnapped in Port-au-Prince in August, remain unknown. Both Pierre-Antoine and Narcisse spent two years in exile following the February 2004 coup of Haiti's elected president Jean-Bertrand Aristide by US, Canadian, and French military forces. Their kidnappings have raised fears that high-profile Lavalas activists have been deliberately targeted. Although human rights organizations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch were quick to denounce the kidnapping of Narcisse, neither have issued any statement in three months about the kidnapping of Pierre-Antoine.

Canadian Auto Workers union President Buzz Hargrove has signed an agreement with auto parts giant Magna International which will allow the union to organize within the company’s Canadian plants in return for a guarantee that no worker strikes will take place for an indefinite period of time. The agreement has encountered heavy opposition within the Canadian Labour movement, as well as within the CAW itself. Chris Buckley, president of the CAW’s biggest local in Oshawa, argued in a letter to Hargrove that the no-strike clause compromises the fundamental right of union workers to strike. The CAW leadership’s position is that the Canadian manufacturing sector has faced large-scale job loses in recent years, and that compromises are necessary if Magna’s 18,000 Canadian workers are to have any hope of unionized representation. The agreement will be put to a vote at a CAW conference in December.

Following a 2-year campaign by a coalition of 12 indigenous organizations, an internal investigative panel slammed the World Bank’s conduct in the war-torn Democratic Republic of the Congo. The investigation revealed that the Bank encouraged foreign logging companies to destructively log rainforests, misled Congo’s government about the value of the forests, broke their own rules and regulations, and even threatened the lives of millions of Indigenous People and subsistence farmers who depend on the forests for survival. Congo’s rainforests are the second largest in the world.

The IMF/World Bank meetings in Washington DC were once again met with protests by global justice campaigners in late October. Demonstrators decried the IMF and the World Bank for their attempts to strong-arm developing countries into adopting deeply unpopular free market reforms. Although such protests have been held for years in front of the traditional headquarters of the Washington-based financial institutions, a disruptive and destructive march of 200-300, organized under the banner of a direct action coalition calling itself the October Rebellion, wound its way through the posh Georgetown shopping district, where many of the delegates were staying. Two demonstrators were arrested.

In India, 25,000 poor, landless and Dalit protestors marched 200 miles from Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh to the capital of Delhi over the course of October. The march was organized to demand the redistribution of land to the poor and landless. Protesters began marching on October 2nd, the birthday of independence leader Mahatma Gandhi. 40 per cent of Indians are now landless and 23 per cent live in abject poverty. Many of the marchers were farmers who have been forced from their land to make way for government-backed economic projects. In response to the march the Indian government has stated that it would establish a new panel to create policies, guide states and monitor the progress of land distribution.

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