Photo: Barrick Gold in Latin America
Canadian mining and oil companies have rapidly expanded their investments in Latin America in recent years, but they also face serious allegations of human rights abuses as well as legal disputes with regional governments over their labor, social and environmental practices.
In Chile, a court has halted Canadian mining major Barrick Gold’s Pascua-Lama open-pit gold, silver and copper megaproject straddling Argentina and Chile due to environmental concerns.
In Bolivia, Canada’s South American Silver Corporation commenced international arbitration proceedings against the Bolivian government after La Paz revoked its concession for a silver and indium mine in the Andean region of Potosi.
In Peru, Canadian oil company Talisman Energy withdrew from the country’s Amazon region after years of protests and run-ins with Achuar Indians who oppose the drilling of oil wells on its traditional lands.
Troubles related to their Latin American operations even dog Canadian firms in their homeland.
In March, a Toronto court held a hearing to determine whether lawsuits filed against Canadian miner HudBay Minerals for alleged human rights violations in Guatemala should be heard in the North American country.
And Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina’s administration said Thursday it had imposed a state of siege on four municipalities in the eastern part of the country to rein in violence stemming from protests over the government’s decision to authorize the San Rafael mining project, which is operated by Canada-based Tahoe Resources.
According to the spokesman for the non-profit organization Mining Watch, Jamie Kneen, who has followed Canadian mining activities abroad since 1999, these cases are just the tip of the iceberg of these companies’ bad practices.
“The situation is much worse. This is what we know, but there’s much more that we don’t hear about. And we have to be very careful about what we say,” Kneen told Efe.
Kneen said the Canadian mining sector is backed by a very powerful lobby that includes nearly all of the country’s former prime ministers, “who work as lawyers or advisers for the mining companies.”
Canada, a country known for its natural resources, has become one of the world’s leading foreign investors in the mining and energy sectors.
According to the latest data published in January of this year by Canada’s Natural Resources Ministry, Canadian mining companies had $213.1 billion in assets in 2011, 15 percent more than the previous year.
Most significantly, 70 percent of the total, or $146.2 billion, were located in 106 foreign countries worldwide, demonstrating the extent of Canadian investment in the global mining sector.
The countries that account for most of the Canadian mining companies’ assets are Mexico ($20 billion), Chile ($19 billion) and the United States ($17 billion).
Mining Watch and other organizations such as Rights Action and Amazon Watch, which have denounced Canadian mining companies’ activities in recent years, say Canadian embassies in Latin America act as representatives of those firms’ commercial interests.
After the coup that ousted leftist Honduran President Manuel Zelaya in 2009, Rights Action noted that Canadian companies’ interests were served by the putsch.
At the time, Canada criticized the coup that ousted Zelaya but it did not demand he be returned to power and urged only that “a peaceful solution” be found to the crisis.
Kneen told Efe that it is “difficult” to ignore a series of coincidences.
“The Canadian government was very quick to recognize the government that came to power (as a result of) the coup. CIDA, Canada’s international development agency, was involved in last year’s overhaul of Honduras’ mining code. The mining companies had problems with Zelaya,” Kneen said.
And the coup occurred shortly after Zelaya had imposed a moratorium (on new mining concessions) in the Honduran mining sector. It’s very difficult not to draw conclusions,” Kneen said.