Environmental and social successes of the last few months
Good news is always ne eded to keep going forward. Now more than ever because the extractivist machinery, presented as a supposed alternative to debt and economic crises, is devastating the Planet. And in this context, now even more so because of the Covid 19 crisis. On the one hand, they are taken advantage of it to impose more projects or to execute others due to the impossibility of offering resistance. On the other hand, this crisis fills the media informing us only of its details, and spreading fear and suspicion (not unfounded), which, together with the confinement measures, provoke demobilization.
Moreover, while disasters occur, we get negative news related to these projects such as the one the other day in the Himalayas, the anniversaries of Brumadinho, Mariana, Zaldibar, the murder of Samir, etc., and it is difficult to overcome it if we do not look for the positive side, which also exists. Therefore, today more than ever, we need to appreciate the achievements of our struggles and keep them in mind to motivate us, but also to reaffirm the moto that we can only achieve something if we fight, and if we unite.
As we say, we could think that because of Covid 19 things are not being achieved, or many people will even think that there is no struggle. Nothing could be further from the truth. We already made a tour of some of the major protests, rebellions, that have taken place in this period («2020: not only pandemic, but also a year of revolt!!!») and now we want to list those conquests that make us happy and help us to continue.
In the aforementioned article we cited some of them, such as the deposition of a president and a possible coup d’état in Peru, or the flow of elections in Bolivia, or that consultation that meant the end of Pinochet’s constitution and the beginning of a constituent process in Chile. In that note, we mentioned in passing, because it did not correspond to a revolt, the achievement of women in Argentina to decriminalize abortion, at the end of December. And undoubtedly, the overthrow of all those symbols of racism and colonialism (and patriarchy) in so many cities after the assassination of George Floyd, and the debate it provoked, can also be considered as achievements.
Stopping mining: Guatemala, Colombia, and now Ecuador?
In the midst of confinement we were delighted to hear the news from Guatemala of the stoppage of the mining project of Exmingua (a subsidiary of Kappes Cassiday) in the municipalities of San Pedro Ayampuc and San José del Golfo, when its license was revoked. This was the result of great resistance from La Puya, which also entailed great repression. This achievement thus joined 5 other metal mines suspended by community resistance in that country, and other projects such as Hidro Santa Cruz de Barillas paralyzed in 2017. We have more to stop.
In October also, on October 2, we received a similar situation from Colombi
a, a country not prone to give us good news. Another strong popular campaign to defend that beau
tiful and fundamental enclave that is the Santurbán moor prevented it from being destroyed by the MINESA (Sociedad Minera de Santander) mining project. The National Environmental Licensing Authority (ANLA) shelved the project due to deficiencies in its evaluation of the Environmental Impact Study. This site and the struggle to defend it is very reminiscent of Conga in Peru, where Yanacocha also wanted to extend its mine, which was also stopped by a large social mobilization.
This week we also received the news that the province of Cuenca in Ecuador, where most of that country’s mining projects are located, has decided, through a popular consultation in conjunction with the presidential elections, to paralyze the mining projects. There are 73 mining projects in this province. The decision has to be implemented, because the vote cast by the local population in the last elections (February 7, 2021) is binding, so let’s hope that the regional and state governments act accordingly.
Because, anyway, with all the conquests, we cannot lose focus, nor neglect because they are lurking to at any moment remove the obstacles. In the province of Chubut (Argentina) mining has also been banned since 2003 but both the current government and the companies want to open the doors to this activity. The people who achieved such an achievement are still active and organized, so we hope that they will prevent this new attempt.
Oil and gas pipelines are stopped in Isla Tortuga
On Turtle Island, in the USA, there has been good news too, which has benefited the indigenous population as well, but above all the ecosystems and the Planet. And they are not the result of a change of president but of very old resistances. On January 20, President Joe Biden signed an executive order for the shutdown of the Keystone XL pipeline. Four years earlier, Trump entered the White House, revoking the shutdown of another pipeline, the DAPL, ordered by his predecessor Barack Obama. Both pipelines are unwanted because of the risk they pose in the event of a possible rupture, and because they are fundamental in the structure that makes possible the consumption of fossil fuels and their extraction. But apart from all the environmental impacts involved in all these phases, their construction itself is also an environmental nonsense.
From all this, the main ones affected and also the main resisters are the indigenous communities. That is why they are now also demanding that the DAPL, operating since 2017, be paralyzed. The courts declared on July 6, 2020 that it should be closed, which is also a milestone, but it was overturned by another court. Even so, it is still pending environmental review.
Both the Keystone XL and DAPL pipelines are tasked with transporting oil from tar sands and fracking. In February 2020, oil sands spreading destruction and pollution in southwestern Canada had another stalled project, the Teck Resources mega-mine, which would be the largest of the existing ones at 292 km2. In addition to the destruction in situ, there is the destruction associated with the burning of this oil, which is highly polluting and has a major climatic effect.
In July, another gas pipeline, the Atlantic Coast pipeline that was to cross the Appalachian Mountains, was also stopped. Its owners, Duke Energy and Dominion Energy, argued that the lawsuits and actions by environmentalists had almost doubled their costs: from between 4.5 and 5 billion to 8 billion dollars. They are suing Dominion and Duke for their promotion of fossil fuels.
Similarly, with regard to infrastructure affecting the environment and indigenous peoples, although many years have passed, the resistance also succeeded in getting four out of six of the Klamath River dams in Oregon to be removed by 2024. This will open up almost 650 km of river habitat for salmon, trout and eels, which, in addition to repopulating the river, are essential for the livelihoods of these peoples.
In October, our joy was also short-lived, as the Spanish Minister for Ecological Transition, Teresa Ribera, stopped the works for the extension of the Yesa dam, only to allow them again… three minutes later. A great disappointment, but which confirms that it depends on political will, and that we must continue until they take that decision. Months before, the government did paralyze the Barrón dam project, in Álava.
Successes in Nigeria against Shell and a highway
In relation to oil exploitation, triumphs were also achieved in Nigeria. A Dutch court ruled at the end of January that Shell’s subsidiary was responsible for oil pollution in Nigeria due to spills. This is the result of 13 years of litigation of legal disputes. Shell now has to offer reparations to the people affected.
And less than two weeks later, as we write these lines, another court, this time British, also decided in favor of the Niger Delta claimants, the Ogale and Bille communities, against Shell. The 50,000 or so plaintiffs can now take Royal Dutch Shell (the parent company) to court in the UK.
In Nigeria too, last December, thanks to the actions of an environmental coalition, a rainforest was saved from being destroyed for the construction of a superhighway through protected territory, the Cross River National Park and home to the indigenous Ekuri people.
Defunding fossil fuels
Also related to oil, this time in the Ecuadorian Amazon, the defunding campaign was successful. As we know, it is not only the companies that directly destroy the environment and directly benefit, but also those that benefit from the credits, and without their loans, these activities would not happen.
Thus, the defunding campaign succeeded in getting three of the largest European banks, BNP Paribas, Credit Suisse and ING, to stop financing oil exploitation in the Ecuadorian Amazon. A report published last August reports that European banks have provided $10 billion in financing for 155 million barrels of oil from that region for export to the United States.
In addition to contributing to the climate emergency, oil extraction in the Amazon involves deforestation and the contamination of land, water and air by spills from oil deposits and pipelines and formation waters, of an area of great biodiversity but at the same time very vulnerable, and negatively affects the health and ways of life of indigenous communities.
Also along these lines, in December, the British government announced new measures to alleviate the climate emergency as part of its proposals prior to the COP26 to be held in Glasgow in November 2021. The most notable of these is to abandon «export finance, aid finance and trade promotion for new crude oil, natural gas or thermal coal projects» abroad with public money. In the last four years, the British government invested 24 billion euros in oil and gas exports.
Another country banning GMOs and glyphosate
Also in this period we have seen new advances in the prohibition of GMOs and pesticides such as glyphosate or Roundup. Both go hand in hand, since one of the objectives of the research and creation of new species is to make them resistant to pesticides that others are not, thus making possible, when they can be massively treated, an environmental and health disaster. This disaster is taking place in many places, where fumigation has destroyed ecosystems and sickened the population and even affected future generations. In this period, Bolivia decided to lift the ban on GMOs for five crops. But at the end of December 2020, Mexico joined the many countries that have excluded the use of glyphosate and GMOs in their territory, among them Belize, Ecuador, Venezuela and Peru (now to be renewed) in Abya Yala. Mexico’s decision has already meant the beginning of pressure from large corporations.
Other success stories in Abya Yala and Africa
And also as we write these lines, we receive the news of the provisional suspension of the construction of the Mayan Train in Yucatan, until February 19. It is not definitive, nor does it mean the end of this project which has been so opposed by the local Mayan communities and environmentalists, but it does bring another difficulty to its definitive implementation. Furthermore, this is not the only appeal against this project; there are already several appeals, one of which is before the Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation (SCJN) demanding a decision on the constitutionality of the authorizations granted to this project. This process was promoted by the Mayan organization Chuun t’aan, whom alleges that the affected communities were not consulted. Through another process, indigenous organizations together with environmental organizations such as the Mexican Center for Environmental Law (CEMDA) obtained the definitive suspension of section 2 of this project due to the irreparable damage to the environment.
The organization Salva la Selva also echoes campaigns that it has supported and that have been successful. In October 2019, the expansion of tea plantations that threatened the destruction of the Kafuga rainforest in Uganda was halted, as was a tourism project in the Cotubanamá National Park in the Dominican Republic. In August, logging that threatened the Ebo rainforest in Cameroon was halted.
Other positive news included the closing of the Antarctic ozone hole. This hole was formed during 2020 and has been one of the largest and deepest. Its prevention depends on the non-use of some 100 chemical substances, or Ozone Depleting Substances (ODS), such as CFCs, which have been included in the Montreal Protocol since 1987.
Therefore (and I am sure we have missed some more), it is clear that despite Covid 19, and despite the added difficulties it entails, we continue to face in many places unwanted projects with great environmental and social impact, and we continue to achieve success. As we have said on previous occasions, «Yes you can!…sometimes…but only if you organize and fight».
2 Comité para la Defensa del Agua y del Páramo de Santurbán – their page is now defunct, only contactable through social networks: www.facebook.com/comitesanturban
4 More about this campaign at noalamina.org
7 See www.ienearth.org/category/tar-sands/tar-sands-pipelines/keystone-xl
11 «Defunding» in English