Thursday, January 31, 2008

Reflective Images Publishes 'The Ethical Jewelry Handbook'


Martin Rapaport on Fair Trade Diamonds & Jewelery

Santa Fe, New Mexico:
Reflective Images
, a designer jewelry firm, announces the free Ebook for the jewelry trade entitled: THE ETHICAL JEWELRY HANDBOOK (A Resource Guide for the jewelry sector wishing to adopt exceptional standards and radical transparency: Fair, Responsible, Ecological System.)

The book provides articles and information for those in the jewelry sector wishing to be more ecologically and socially responsible in their business practices. It is also a handbook which explains how any company can implement the FRE System, which offers customers a detailed insight into the supply chain, from the mine to the showroom, for all components of every finished piece of jewelry the company sells.

The term FRE, empowers customers to make decisions based on a product’s: F= Fair labor; R= Social Responsibility and E=Ecological impact. It’s an "open source" model, said Marc Choyt, president of Reflective Images and author of the work.

"If the Fair Labeling Organizations (FLO) are analogous to a closed operating system, such as Microsoft, our FRE system is analogous to Linux. Any jewelry company can make it their own,” said Choyt.

Reflective Images (http://www.celticjewelry.com) developed the FRE system because, in the current market, terminology such as "fair trade jewelry" and "eco jewelry" are practically meaningless. Choyt, who is working on a Madison Dialog committee to develop international third party fair trade standards for jewelry manufacturing, knows that this processes take years. He has implemented the FRE system on his website. His second commercial website, http://www.artisanweddingrings.com will also have the FRE system up soon.

“This book is the start of a project hopefully supported by the larger community in the ethical jewelry sector. Anyone who has information, articles, or supply sources can contact me. They will be included and listed as a contributor to future versions of the book,” said Choyt.

Choyt writes about ethical jewelry issues at www.fairjewelry.org, the most important source in the sector for those seeking to learn the politics, sourcing and production of ethical jewelry. His seminal article on the ethical jewelry sector was recently published in Modern Jeweler.

Reflective Images, was established in 1995. It sells jewelry through its website, from its store and to approximately 75 jewelry stores around the country. In 2006, it was named one of Santa Fe, New Mexico's most visionary businesses.

Here is the full article.

Ask Hard Questions Before Buying Gold

What is the real price of gold? In an age when we are becoming aware of global warming and global destruction of natural resources, we need to be aware that gold mining is one of the dirtiest industries in the world.

The production of a single gold wedding ring generates 20 tons of mine waste. Gold mining bears the scars of conflict, destruction and human rights abuse. In places as diverse as Guatemala, Ghana, Peru and Indonesia, local communities and indigenous peoples have encountered intimidation, abuse and even violent suppression when voicing opposition to mining projects.

Gold mining is a dirty industry. It can displace communities, contaminate drinking water, hurt workers and destroy pristine environments.

Open-pit gold mines essentially obliterate the landscape, opening vast craters, flattening or even inverting mountaintops. Cyanide is used by large mining operations to separate gold from ore and pollutes the landscape. A rice-grain of cyanide can be fatal to humans.

Metal mining employs just 0.09 of the work force, but consumes as much as 10 percent of world energy. Metal mining is the No. 1 toxic polluter in the United States, responsible for 89 percent of arsenic releases, 85 percent of mercury releases and 84 percent of lead releases in 2004.

Most gold is used to make jewelry. Jewelers should ensure they are not selling gold produced at the expense of people's lives and our environment. Consumer demand will help lead to an alternative to dirty gold. Ask jewelers when you buy gold if they have taken the first steps toward more responsible sourcing of gold by declaring their support for the Golden Rules, which represent social, environmental and human rights criteria for more responsible gold production. We, as consumers, should support these retailers.

Here is the full article.

Canadian Mining Industry Boss Kicks Back $30 Million to Bill Clinton Charity After Inking Half Billion Dollar Uranium Mining Deal In Kazakhstan

Bill Clinton and the Canadian Mining Magnate

Late on Sept. 6, 2005, a private plane carrying the Canadian mining financier Frank Giustra touched down in Almaty, a ruggedly picturesque city in southeast Kazakhstan. Several hundred miles to the west a fortune awaited: highly coveted deposits of uranium that could fuel nuclear reactors around the world. And Mr. Giustra was in hot pursuit of an exclusive deal to tap them.

Unlike more established competitors, Mr. Giustra was a newcomer to uranium mining in Kazakhstan, a former Soviet republic. But what his fledgling company lacked in experience, it made up for in connections. Accompanying Mr. Giustra on his luxuriously appointed MD-87 jet that day was a former president of the United States, Bill Clinton.

Upon landing on the first stop of a three-country philanthropic tour, the two men were whisked off to share a sumptuous midnight banquet with Kazakhstan’s president, Nursultan A. Nazarbayev, whose 19-year stranglehold on the country has all but quashed political dissent.

Mr. Nazarbayev walked away from the table with a propaganda coup, after Mr. Clinton expressed enthusiastic support for the Kazakh leader’s bid to head an international organization that monitors elections and supports democracy. Mr. Clinton’s public declaration undercut both American foreign policy and sharp criticism of Kazakhstan’s poor human rights record by, among others, Mr. Clinton’s wife, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York.

Within two days, corporate records show that Mr. Giustra also came up a winner when his company signed preliminary agreements giving it the right to buy into three uranium projects controlled by Kazakhstan’s state-owned uranium agency, Kazatomprom.

The monster deal stunned the mining industry, turning an unknown shell company into one of the world’s largest uranium producers in a transaction ultimately worth tens of millions of dollars to Mr. Giustra, analysts said.

Just months after the Kazakh pact was finalized, Mr. Clinton’s charitable foundation received its own windfall: a $31.3 million donation from Mr. Giustra that had remained a secret until he acknowledged it last month. The gift, combined with Mr. Giustra’s more recent and public pledge to give the William J. Clinton Foundation an additional $100 million, secured Mr. Giustra a place in Mr. Clinton’s inner circle, an exclusive club of wealthy entrepreneurs in which friendship with the former president has its privileges.

Mr. Giustra was invited to accompany the former president to Almaty just as the financier was trying to seal a deal he had been negotiating for months.

In separate written responses, both men said Mr. Giustra traveled with Mr. Clinton to Kazakhstan, India and China to see first-hand the philanthropic work done by his foundation.

A spokesman for Mr. Clinton said the former president knew that Mr. Giustra had mining interests in Kazakhstan but was unaware of “any particular efforts” and did nothing to help. Mr. Giustra said he was there as an “observer only” and there was “no discussion” of the deal with Mr. Nazarbayev or Mr. Clinton.

But Moukhtar Dzhakishev, president of Kazatomprom, said in an interview that Mr. Giustra did discuss it, directly with the Kazakh president, and that his friendship with Mr. Clinton “of course made an impression.” Mr. Dzhakishev added that Kazatomprom chose to form a partnership with Mr. Giustra’s company based solely on the merits of its offer.

After The Times told Mr. Giustra that others said he had discussed the deal with Mr. Nazarbayev, Mr. Giustra responded that he “may well have mentioned my general interest in the Kazakhstan mining business to him, but I did not discuss the ongoing” efforts.

As Mrs. Clinton’s presidential campaign has intensified, Mr. Clinton has begun severing financial ties with Ronald W. Burkle, the supermarket magnate, and Vinod Gupta, the chairman of InfoUSA, to avoid any conflicts of interest. Those two men have harnessed the former president’s clout to expand their businesses while making the Clintons rich through partnership and consulting arrangements.

Mr. Clinton has vowed to continue raising money for his foundation if Mrs. Clinton is elected president, maintaining his connections with a wide network of philanthropic partners.

Mr. Giustra said that while his friendship with the former president “may have elevated my profile in the news media, it has not directly affected any of my business transactions.”

Mining colleagues and analysts agree it has not hurt. Neil MacDonald, the chief executive of a Canadian merchant bank that specializes in mining deals, said Mr. Giustra’s financial success was partly due to a “fantastic network” crowned by Mr. Clinton. “That’s a very solid relationship for him,” Mr. MacDonald said. “I’m sure it’s very much a two-way relationship because that’s the way Frank operates.”

Foreseeing Opportunities

Mr. Giustra made his fortune in mining ventures as a broker on the Vancouver Stock Exchange, raising billions of dollars and developing a loyal following of investors. Just as the mining sector collapsed, Mr. Giustra, a lifelong film buff, founded the Lion’s Gate Entertainment Corporation in 1997. But he sold the studio in 2003 and returned to mining.

Mr. Giustra foresaw a bull market in gold and began investing in mines in Argentina, Australia and Mexico. He turned a $20 million shell company into a powerhouse that, after a $2.4 billion merger with Goldcorp Inc., became Canada’s second-largest gold company.

With a net worth estimated in the hundreds of millions of dollars, Mr. Giustra began looking for ways to put his wealth to good use. Meeting Mr. Clinton, and learning about the work his foundation was doing on issues like AIDS treatment in poor countries, “changed my life,” Mr. Giustra told The Vancouver Sun.

The two men were introduced in June 2005 at a fund-raiser for tsunami victims at Mr. Giustra’s Vancouver home and hit it off right away. They share a love of history, geopolitics and music — Mr. Giustra plays the trumpet to Mr. Clinton’s saxophone. Soon the dapper Canadian was a regular at Mr. Clinton’s side, as they flew around the world aboard Mr. Giustra’s plane.

Philanthropy may have become his passion, but Mr. Giustra, now 50, was still hunting for ways to make money.

Exploding demand for energy had helped revitalize the nuclear power industry, and uranium, the raw material for reactor fuel, was about to become a hot commodity. In late 2004, Mr. Giustra began talking to investors, and put together a company that would eventually be called UrAsia Energy Ltd.

Kazakhstan, which has about one-fifth of the world’s uranium reserves, was the place to be. But with plenty of suitors, Kazatomprom could be picky about its partners.

“Everyone was asking Kazatomprom to the dance,” said Fadi Shadid, a senior stock analyst covering the uranium industry for Friedman Billings Ramsey, an investment bank. “A second-tier junior player like UrAsia — you’d need all the help you could get.”

The Cameco Corporation, the world’s largest uranium producer, was already a partner of Kazatomprom. But when Cameco expressed interest in the properties Mr. Giustra was already eying, the government’s response was lukewarm. “The signals we were getting was, you’ve got your hands full,” said Gerald W. Grandey, Cameco president.

For Cameco, it took five years to “build the right connections” in Kazakhstan, Mr. Grandey said. UrAsia did not have that luxury. Profitability depended on striking before the price of uranium soared.

“Timing was everything,” said Sergey Kurzin, a Russian-born businessman whose London-based company was brought into the deal by UrAsia because of his connections in Kazakhstan. Even with those connections, Mr. Kurzin said, it took four months to arrange a meeting with Kazatomprom.

In August 2005, records show, the company sent an engineering consultant to Kazakhstan to assess the uranium properties. Less than four weeks later, Mr. Giustra arrived with Mr. Clinton.

Mr. Dzhakishev, the Kazatomprom chief, said an aide to Mr. Nazarbayev informed him that Mr. Giustra talked with Mr. Nazarbayev about the deal during the visit. “And when our president asked Giustra, ‘What do you do?’ he said, ‘I’m trying to do business with Kazatomprom,’ ” Mr. Dzhakishev said. He added that Mr. Nazarbayev replied, “Very good, go to it.”

Mr. Clinton’s Kazakhstan visit, the only one of his post-presidency, appears to have been arranged hastily. The United States Embassy got last-minute notice that the president would be making “a private visit,” said a State Department official, who said he was not authorized to speak on the record.

The publicly stated reason for the visit was to announce a Clinton Foundation agreement that enabled the government to buy discounted AIDS drugs. But during a news conference, Mr. Clinton wandered into delicate territory by commending Mr. Nazarbayev for “opening up the social and political life of your country.”

In a statement Kazakhstan would highlight in news releases, Mr. Clinton declared that he hoped it would achieve a top objective: leading the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which would confer legitimacy on Mr. Nazarbayev’s government.

“I think it’s time for that to happen, it’s an important step, and I’m glad you’re willing to undertake it,” Mr. Clinton said.

A Speedy Process

Mr. Clinton’s praise was odd, given that the United States did not support Mr. Nazarbayev’s bid. (Late last year, Kazakhstan finally won the chance to lead the security organization for one year, despite concerns raised by the Bush administration.) Moreover, Mr. Clinton’s wife, who sits on a Congressional commission with oversight of such matters, had also voiced skepticism.

Eleven months before Mr. Clinton’s statement, Mrs. Clinton co-signed a commission letter to the State Department that sounded “alarm bells” about the prospect that Kazakhstan might head the group. The letter stated that Kazakhstan’s bid “would not be acceptable,” citing “serious corruption,” canceled elections and government control of the news media.

In a written statement to The Times, Mr. Clinton’s spokesman said the former president saw “no contradiction” between his statements in Kazakhstan and the position of Mrs. Clinton, who said through a spokeswoman, “Senator Clinton’s position on Kazakhstan remains unchanged.”

Noting that the former president also met with opposition leaders in Almaty, Mr. Clinton’s spokesman said he was only “seeking to suggest that a commitment to political openness and to fair elections would reflect well on Kazakhstan’s efforts to chair the O.S.C.E.”

But Robert Herman, who worked for the State Department in the Clinton administration and is now at Freedom House, a human rights group, said the former president’s statement amounted to an endorsement of Kazakhstan’s readiness to lead the group, a position he called “patently absurd.”

“He was either going off his brief or he was sadly mistaken,” Mr. Herman said. “There was nothing in the record to suggest that they really wanted to move forward on democratic reform.”

Indeed, in December 2005, Mr. Nazarbayev won another election, which the security organization itself said was marred by an “atmosphere of intimidation” and “ballot-box stuffing.”

After Mr. Nazarbayev won with 91 percent of the vote, Mr. Clinton sent his congratulations. “Recognizing that your work has received an excellent grade is one of the most important rewards in life,” Mr. Clinton wrote in a letter released by the Kazakh embassy. Last September, just weeks after Kazakhstan held an election that once again failed to meet international standards, Mr. Clinton honored Mr. Nazarbayev by inviting him to his annual philanthropic conference.

Within 48 hours of Mr. Clinton’s departure from Almaty on Sept. 7, Mr. Giustra got his deal. UrAsia signed two memorandums of understanding that paved the way for the company to become partners with Kazatomprom in three mines.

The cost to UrAsia was more than $450 million, money the company did not have in hand and had only weeks to come up with. The transaction was finalized in November, after UrAsia raised the money through the largest initial public offering in the history of Canada’s Venture Exchange.

Here is the full article.

For Peru's Indians, Lawsuit Against Big Oil Reflects a New Era - Outsiders, NGOs and High-Tech Tools Help Document Firms' Impact

NUEVO JERUSALEM, Peru -- Tomás Maynas Carijano strolled through his tiny jungle farm, pinching leaves, shaking his head. The rain forest spread lushly in all directions -- covering what oil maps call Block 1AB.

"Like the trunk of that papaya, the cassava and bananas are also dying," said the spiritual leader of this remote Achuar Indian settlement in Peru's northern Amazon region. "Before Oxy came, the fruits and the plants grew well."

Oxy is Occidental Petroleum, the California-based company that pulled a fortune from this rain forest from 1972 to 2000. It is also the company that Maynas and other Achuar leaders now blame for wreaking environmental havoc -- and leaving many of the people here ill. Last spring, U.S. lawyers representing Maynas and 24 other indigenous Peruvians sued Occidental in a Los Angeles court, alleging that, among other offenses, the firm violated industry standards and Peruvian law by dumping toxic wastewater directly into rivers and streams.

The company denies liability in the case.

For indigenous groups, the Occidental lawsuit is emblematic of a new era. The Amazon region was once even more isolated than it is today, its people largely cut off from environmental defenders in Washington and other world capitals who might have protected their interests. Now, Indians have gained access to tools that level the playing field -- from multinational lawsuits to mapping technologies such as Google Earth.

Oil companies that once traded money and development for Indians' blessings are increasingly finding outsiders getting involved. "History has shown that oil companies will cut corners if someone isn't watching," said Gregor MacLennan of Shinai, an internationally funded civic group in Peru. "We try to get to local communities first to help them make informed decisions about oil companies and the changes they bring."

Lured by global energy prices, Peru is placing record bets on Amazon energy lodes: Last year the country's concessions agency, PeruPetro, signed a record 24 hydrocarbon contracts with international oil companies. EarthRights International, a nonprofit group that is helping represent the plaintiffs in the Achuar case, says half of Peru's biologically diverse Amazon region has been added to oil maps in the last three years.

Occidental pumped 26 percent of Peru's historic oil production from Block 1AB before selling the declining field to Argentina's Pluspetrol in 2000. "We are aware of no credible data of negative community health impacts resulting from Occidental's operations in Peru," Richard Kline, a company spokesman, said in an e-mail statement.

Kline said that Occidental has not had operations in Block 1AB in nearly a decade and that Pluspetrol has assumed responsibility for it. Occidental made "extensive efforts" to work with community groups and has a "long-standing commitment and policy to protect the environment and the health and safety of people," he said.

The California-based group Amazon Watch has joined the suit as a plaintiff, and the case is now inching through U.S. courts. In a federal hearing scheduled for Feb. 11, company lawyers will ask a judge to send the case to Peru, where Indians say corruption and a case backlog will hurt their chance of winning.

(A mining company just argued that it was not fair to be tried in a foreign court: Supreme Court Decision Rattles Canadian Mining Industry – Right to Pollute Under Threat – Teck Cominco Execs Vow Fight, say No to Cleaning Environment )
Learning Their Rights

The primitive trumpet -- a hollowed cow's horn -- brayed over this gritty river community at sundown. Residents of Nuevo Jerusalem, the Achuar settlement on the Macusari River, trudged up a path, toting shotguns and fishing nets. Some stepped down from palm huts, walking to the meeting in twos and threes. Soon, Lily La Torre was on stage.

"I've come to give you news of the Oxy suit," said La Torre, a Peruvian lawyer and activist working with Maynas's legal team. Barefoot women in dirty skirts circled the room, serving bowls of homemade cassava beer.

La Torre distilled legal strategies into simple terms. She told villagers that the case had been moved to the federal level in the United States. "Now they are trying to move the lawsuit to Peru," she said in Spanish, pausing for an Achuar interpreter. "But we must pray that the suit stays in the U.S. We know it cannot survive in Peru."

Later, as people approached her with questions, a man who was looking on said in broken Spanish: "When Oxy came, we did not know our rights. Now we do."

In addition to alleging that Occidental illegally dumped toxic wastewater, the Achuar suit accuses the company of generating acid rain with gas flares, failing to warn Indians of health dangers and improperly storing chemical wastes in unlined pits.
The "irresponsible, reckless, immoral and illegal practices" left Maynas and his people with poisoned blood, polluted streams and empty hunting grounds, the suit says. Plaintiffs want damages, declaratory and injunctive relief, restitution and disgorgement of profits. One woman is suing on behalf of her child, whose death she alleges is related to environmental contamination.

Last spring, before the Achuar case was filed, a team of health experts, lawyers and scientists funded by EarthRights International said in a report that the wells, pipelines and other infrastructure built here by Occidental had directly caused water and soil contamination, which in turn has caused health problems for many local people in Block 1AB.

Kline said the report contained "inflammatory misstatements, unfounded allegations and unsupported conclusions" and failed to provide basic information that would help determine whether oil operations contributed to the alleged environmental and health problems. "Nonetheless . . . we will evaluate the claims and the lawsuit and respond accordingly," he said.

A Technological Assist

Environmental groups are going beyond word of mouth and lawsuits to assist indigenous groups.

One day last fall, Guevara Sandi Chimboras was bouncing a pickup truck along a remote oil road near the Achuar community of Jose Olaya. Carrying a digital camera, notepad and a Global Positioning System transceiver donated by the civic group Shinai, Sandi walked through a grassy field to a pool of stagnant water. With a stick, he dug up a clump of glistening, pungent mud, and sniffed.

"The companies say these sites are clean," he said. "They won't believe us without documented photos. With words, they don't believe us."

There are no mass media in the rain forest. But Shinai has translated a U.S.-made documentary about the Achuar's problems into Machiguenga, the language spoken by Indians in southeastern Peru, where a U.S.-backed natural gas project is underway. The group uses DVD players powered by solar panels and generators to show the film to Indians considering agreements with oil companies.
Meanwhile, Google Earth is proving to be an omniscient eye. Peter Kostishack, a Colorado-based rights activist, uses the application to record coordinates and satellite images of rain forest erosion and post them on his blog. With help from the U.S.-based Amazon Conservation Team, Indians in Brazil's Amazon Basin have used Google Earth imagery to spot river discoloration caused by illegal mining operations.

"Many times a company claims natives don't have the technical knowledge to understand that it is doing the best it can, when in fact it may be doing as little as possible," said Bill Powers, chief engineer of E-Tech International, a nonprofit engineering firm based in California that provides Indians with technical expertise.

"We make it a battle of equals, at least in the knowledge area," he said.

Here is the full article.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Deal Reached for Jailed Chilean Activist

SANTIAGO, CHILE — The Chilean government defended its decision Tuesday to back a church-brokered agreement that ended a months-long hunger strike by a jailed Indian-rights activist.

A top official in the office of President Michelle Bachelet said Patricia Troncoso was not granted a pardon and would serve out her 10-year sentence -- albeit in a work camp and not in a prison, and with weekend leaves.

"She obtained nothing more than the law permitted," Jose Antonio Viera-Gallo, general secretary to the presidency, told a radio station here.

Troncoso has served about half her sentence under anti-terrorism laws for setting fire to a forestry plot -- a charge she denied. The arson was one of many such attacks by Mapuche Indian militants against corporate targets in a low-level conflict that has raised tensions in southern Chile, the Mapuche ancestral homeland.

The hunger strike has focused attention on the plight of the Mapuche minority. Activists say that despite Chile's economic growth, the Indians have been left largely landless, impoverished and victims of police repression.

(For more on this see: Mapuche Struggles In Chile)

The government rejected Troncoso's original demands, including the release of Mapuche "political prisoners" and the "demilitarization" of Mapuche zones.

Under the deal, Troncoso, who is not a Mapuche, will serve out the remaining five years of her sentence in a police work camp and will be allowed to go home on weekends. Two imprisoned Mapuche militants received similar benefits as part of the pact worked out with the help of a Roman Catholic bishop.

In addition, Bachelet named a new commissioner charged with finding ways to improve life for Chile's Indian minority. Census figures show that less than 5% of the nation's residents describe themselves as indigenous.

The deal immediately came under attack from the conservative opposition to Bachelet, who heads the governing center-left coalition.

"You can't pretend the law applies in some parts of the country and not in other parts," Sen. Jovino Novoa said here in the capital, calling the pact a reward for violence.

(Instead of the typical reward for pollution: Chile's Government fines itself for polluting the environment , Legislators outraged with Chile’s main copper company pollution, Revisiting the Valdivia CELCO industrial spill of 2005 )

Troncoso, 38, ended her fast Monday, 111 days after she began taking only liquids. She is being held at a hospital in the city of Chillan, 240 miles south of Santiago.

Last week, police doctors fearing for her life began providing her with intravenous nutrients. Friends and her father described Troncoso as weak but lucid.

Here is the full article.

ICSID International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes undermines democracy and human rights in favor of the interests of large corporations

Global Support for Bolivia’s Challenge to Anti-Democratic Investor Rights

By Sarah Anderson

Not long ago I received emails from 59 countries. No, these were not money scams. They were not shady “get rich quick” offers. No pleas from dubious royal family members in need of help transferring their fortunes.

These were messages from civil society activists across the globe, asking me to add their organization to a letter in support of Bolivia’s withdrawal from an obscure institution of the World Bank called the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID). In all, I received 863 sign-ons from every continent, representing a wide range of labor, environmental, religious, consumer, small farmer, human rights, women’s, development, and peace organizations.

How did this happen?

I would guess that most of the endorsing groups first heard of ICSID through the notorious Bechtel v Bolivia case. As readers of this site well know, the Democracy Center played a lead role in garnering widespread international media attention to this David v Goliath story.

The short version is that Bechtel, through an international consortium called Aguas del Tunari, privatized the water system of the city of Cochabamba in the year 2000. The company almost immediately jacked up water rates to sky-high levels, provoking massive protests that became known as the “Water War.” Bechtel eventually abandoned the project, but then turned around and sued for some $50 million, using a Dutch-Bolivia bilateral investment treaty that gives private foreign investors the rights to bypass domestic courts and sue governments in international tribunals. ICSID is the most widely used facility for adjudicating such “investor-state” cases.

“Water Warriors” and other activists in Bolivia spearheaded an international campaign around the Bechtel v Bolivia case that dragged on for years, but produced several import results, which are still unfolding:

Case dropped: The effective media and strategic work by the Democracy Center, the Coordinadora de Defensa del Agua y de la Vida, and many other groups in and outside Bolivia created enough headaches and embarrassment for Bechtel officials that they finally threw in the towel. Shortly before President Evo Morales took office, Bechtel settled the case for a token sum. It is the only example to date in which public pressure succeeded in ending an ICSID case.

Withdrawal from ICSID: The experience of the lengthy and eye-opening Bechtel case led the Morales administration last May to become the first country in the world to withdraw from ICSID. The government cited the court’s record of favoring narrow corporate interests over the public good and undermining national sovereignty, particularly in developing countries.

However, even though Bolivian officials followed proper procedures, ICSID appears to be simply ignoring them. In October, that court registered yet another investor-state lawsuit against Bolivia, this one by Euro Telecom International, an Italian/Spanish/Dutch corporation that owns 50% of ENTEL, which provides more than 60% of the country’s telephone services.

While the details of the company’s claims are a bit beside the point, it’s worth noting that the company is still operating and generating profits in Bolivia, despite its claims that the Bolivian government “destroyed” the value of its investment by setting up a commission to explore recovering control of the formerly public company and by making some regulatory changes.

Educating Global Civil Society: ICSID’s decision to allow this case to proceed, despite the fact that Bolivia has withdrawn from the ICSID Convention, is outrageous. And yet, it probably would’ve gone largely unnoticed, if not for the campaign against the Bechtel lawsuit. By capturing the public’s imagination, that work helped educate global civil society about a system of investor rights that undermines democracy and human rights in favor of the interests of large corporations. And the payoff is clear in their rapid endorsement of the petition regarding the latest ICSID case against Bolivia.

Worldwide, there are more than 2,500 bilateral investment treaties like the one used by Bechtel to sue Bolivia. Similar investor rights are included in virtually every U.S. free trade agreement.

The Pakistan Attorney General has admitted that these treaties were often forged in his country when a foreign head of state was visiting and an “unimportant” document was needed for a photo-op signing. Only now, he says, are countries beginning to understand the implications.

And many are beginning to learn the dangers of these rules the hard way. Argentina has been hit with more than 30 investor claims totaling billions of dollars, most of them over actions to lessen the pain of the country’s 2000 financial crisis. Ecuador is facing a $1 billion suit from just one company – Occidental Petroleum. Ecuadoran activists have long campaigned against the U.S. oil company for their alleged involvement in human rights abuses and operating in indigenous lands without authorization. Now that the government has canceled their contract (on a technicality involving unauthorized subcontracting), Occidental is using ICSID’s unaccountable tribunals to fight back.

Rich countries are not immune either. The United States is facing a suit brought by a Canadian company over California state laws aimed at reducing the environmental damage of gold mining.

(See: Canadian Mining Company Glamis Gold Ltd. files for NAFTA arbitration - asks for $50 million, claiming California sacred site law devalued property. )

And so the efforts of global corporations to use these wildly excessive rights to advance their own narrow interests continues. But the outpouring of support from around the world for a small country that is attempting to shake up the system gives hope that one day the tables may be turned.

Here is the full article.

Australia will issue its first formal apology to its indigenous people next month - help close 17 year life expectancy gap

CANBERRA, Australia - Australia will issue its first formal apology to its indigenous people next month, the government announced Wednesday, a milestone that could ease tensions with a minority whose mixed-blood children were once taken away on the premise that their race was doomed.

The Feb. 13 apology to the so-called "stolen generations" of Aborigines will be the first item of business for the new Parliament, Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin said. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, whose Labor Party won November elections, had promised to push for an apology, an issue that has divided Australians for a decade,

"The apology will be made on behalf of the Australian government and does not attribute guilt to the current generation of Australian people," Macklin said in a statement.

Rudd has refused demands from some Aboriginal leaders to pay compensation for the suffering of broken families. Activist Michael Mansell, who is legal director of the Tasmanian Aboriginal Center, has urged the government to set up an $882 million compensation fund.

Macklin did not mention compensation Wednesday. But she said she sought broad input on the wording of the apology, which she hoped would signal the beginning of a new relationship between Australia and its original inhabitants, who number about 450,000 among a population of 21 million. Aborigines are the poorest ethnic group in Australia and are most likely to be jailed, unemployed and illiterate.

"Once we establish this respect, the government can work with indigenous communities to improve services aimed at closing the 17-year life expectancy gap between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians," she said.

Christine King of the Stolen Generations Alliance, one of the key indigenous groups the government has consulted in crafting the apology, said she was "overwhelmed" that a date had finally been set.

"Older people thought they would never live to see this day," King said through tears. "It's very emotional for me and it's very important."

Australia has had a decade-long debate about how best to acknowledge Aborigines who were affected by a string of 20th century policies that separated mixed-blood Aboriginal children from their families — the cohort frequently referred to as Australia's stolen generation.

From 1910 until the 1970s, around 100,000 mostly mixed-blood Aboriginal children were taken from their parents under state and federal laws based on a premise that Aborigines were a doomed race and saving the children was a humane alternative.

A national inquiry in 1997 found that many children taken from their families suffered long-term psychological effects stemming from the loss of family and culture.

The inquiry recommended that state and federal authorities apologize and compensate those removed from their families. But then-Prime Minister John Howard steadfastly refused to do either, saying his government should not be held responsible for the policies of former officials.

Barbara Livesey, chief executive of Reconciliation Australia, a government-commissioned agency tasked with bringing black and white Australians together, said the apology on the day after Parliament resumes for the first time since the November elections would be historic.

"It's a moment that all Australians should feel incredibly proud of, that we're recognizing the mistakes of the past," she said.

But opposition leader Brendan Nelson, whose conservative Liberal Party was thrown out of office in November after almost 12 years in power, questioned whether the apology deserved to be the new government's first item of business.

Here is the full article.

US House of Representatives buys $98,000 worth of Carbon Offsets that went to emission reduction projects that were going to happen anyway.

The House of Representatives has presumably learned that money cannot buy love or happiness. Now, it turns out it's not a sure solution to climate guilt, either.

In November, the Democratic-led House spent about $89,000 on so-called carbon offsets. This purchase was supposed to cancel out greenhouse-gas emissions from House buildings -- including half of the U.S. Capitol -- by triggering an equal reduction in emissions elsewhere.

Some of the money went to farmers in North Dakota, for tilling practices that keep carbon buried in the soil. But some farmers were already doing this, for other reasons, before the House paid a cent.
Other funds went to Iowa, where a power plant had been temporarily rejiggered to burn more cleanly. But that test project had ended more than a year before the money arrived.

The House's purchase provides a view into the confusing world of carbon offsets, a newly popular commodity with few rules. Analysts say some offsets really do cause new reductions in pollution. But others seem to change very little.

To environmentalists, the House's experience is a powerful lesson about a market where pure intentions can produce murky results.
"It didn't change much behavior that wasn't going to happen anyway," said Joseph Romm, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress who writes a blog calling for more aggressive action on climate change. "It just, I think, demonstrated why offsets are controversial and possibly pointless. . . . This is a waste of taxpayer money."
The House bought its offsets through the Chicago Climate Exchange, a five-year-old commodities market where greenhouse-gas credits are traded like pork bellies.

This month, officials at the exchange vigorously defended the sale, saying the House's purchase had done a great deal of good by funneling money to those who were helping to combat climate change.

"It basically rewards people for having done things that had environmental good in the past and incentivizes people to do things that have environmental good in the future," said Richard Sandor, the exchange's chairman and chief executive.

He rejected the argument that the exchange shouldn't sell offsets until it can prove that the pollution reductions wouldn't have happened if the money wasn't paid. "We can't, as an exchange, trade hypothetical things," Sandor said.

The offset purchase was part of a Green the Capitol initiative, begun after Democrats took over last year. House leaders bought compact fluorescent light bulbs to save energy and ordered the Capitol Power Plant to burn natural gas instead of dirtier coal. For emissions they couldn't avoid, they bought offsets: 30,000 metric tons at about $2.97 per metric ton.

The Senate has taken some similar steps to reduce energy use but has not purchased offsets.

Daniel P. Beard, the House's chief administrative officer, said he asked the Chicago exchange for offsets based only on U.S. projects. But, he said, he asked not to be told where the projects were, so representatives could not buttonhole him about projects in their districts.

The carbon offset market has taken off in the United States -- worth an estimated $55 million, according to a study last year -- despite its odd-sounding premise. Its stock in trade is, in essence, a claim that some pollution might have been emitted but wasn't.

In Europe, offsets are regulated and often expensive, more than $30 per metric ton. In the United States, offsets are hardly regulated and generally far cheaper.

Many environmental groups say any offset must meet one all-important criterion, called "additionality": Buying an offset must cause some new reduction in emissions that wouldn't have happened if the money hadn't been paid.

"If you don't have additionality," said Mark Trexler, a consultant in Portland, Ore., who advises companies on offset purchases, "you know what you're getting. You're getting nothing."

A review of three projects that got about a third of the funds from the House's offset purchases shows that, in all three cases, it did not appear that offset money was the sole factor causing any of the projects to go forward.

About $14,500 of the House's money went to the North Dakota Farmers Union, some to pay farmers to do "no-till" farming. The farmers stopped using conventional plows and instead make tiny slits to plant their seeds. The practice increases the amount of carbon, a component in heat-trapping carbon dioxide, kept in the soil. But organizers said that some farmers had started the practice before the offset money came in because it saves fuel, brings in federal soil-conservation funds and could increase crop yields.

"When we first started, the financial incentive was trying to raise better crops . . . and that's still the biggest incentive," said Mark Holkup, who raises wheat and sunflowers in Wilton, N.D. He said, however, that the contract for his offsets would prevent him from abandoning this practice in the near future.

That's a troubling sign, according to Wiley Barbour, director of Environmental Resources Trust in Arlington County, which evaluates the worth of potential carbon offsets.

"If they say, 'Well, they were already doing no-till,' then immediately that raises a big, red flag," Barbour said. "Nothing changed."

Another $14,500 went to a project that enabled a power plant near Chillicothe, Iowa, to burn switch grass instead of coal. This was a test program to learn more about making power from plant matter, and it reduced the facility's emissions for 45 days in spring 2006. Officials conducted the test with the expectation that they would get offset money.

Would it have happened in the absence of such funds?

"I don't know," said David Miller, of the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, who helped broker the deal.

About $1,400 went to the Nez Perce Indian tribe to pay for tree plantings on tribal land in northern Idaho. Trees absorb carbon dioxide as they grow.

An official involved said the offset money was welcome in this case but was not the only factor that made the project worthwhile.

"No one is changing any practices for carbon offsets right now, because it doesn't make economic sense" with prices so low, said Ted Dodge, executive director of the National Carbon Offset Coalition, based in Butte, Mont., which handled the transaction.

Rep. Vernon J. Ehlers (R-Mich.) said this month that he was concerned about the real effect of the House's offset purchase.

"This is just extra money in their pocket for something they're already doing," Ehlers said. A member of the House committee that oversees Beard's office, Ehlers said he wanted the money spent on energy-efficiency measures on Capitol Hill.

But Beard said he did not regret the purchase, despite questions about the role that offset money played in the individual projects.

"Whether they were going to do it or not" without the House funds, "the point is that they did do it."

Here is the full article.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Mapuche Woman Ends 110 Day Hunger Strike - Chile Government Agrees to Create Commission for Indigenous Rights - Mapuche Plan Marches

TEMUCUICUI, Chile, Jan 29 - Chile's Mapuche Indians, the fierce opponents of Spanish conquerors five centuries ago, have renewed their ancestral land demands in a series of clashes with police and private businesses.

Groups of the Mapuche, which means "Earth People" in the Mapudungun tongue, have occupied and burned forestry and farming lands in recent weeks and cut off highways to demand territories they say were stolen from them over the past 500 years.

One Mapuche student was shot dead in a clash with police in southern Chile earlier this month. His funeral was attended by angry youths bearing long sticks called chueca, a traditional weapon of Chile's largest indigenous group.

Faced by mounting protests and a well publicized hunger strike by a jailed indigenous rights activist, Chile's government agreed on Monday to create a high commission for indigenous rights.

The activist, 38-year-old Patricia Troncoso, then ended the 110-day hunger strike during which she lost 26 kg (57 pounds) and was kept alive by intravenous drip.

But the Mapuche want more than a rights commission and are demanding the return of lands taken from them by decrees from the colonial conquests to the 1973-1990 dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.

As Chile's economy booms, they accuse the center-left government of protecting corporate interests and repressing their demands with hard-handed tactics like the ones used by Pinochet's police 20 years ago.

"For us there has been no change since democracy started and the military dictatorship ended," said Jorge Huenchullan, a spokesman for the Mapuche in Temucuicui, some 650 kilometers (400 miles) south of the capital Santiago.

Temucuicui is a small settlement with only scattered, rustic buildings and a small school, but it is the focal point for a conflict between the Mapuche and police that constantly patrol its forested hillsides and wheat fields.

"The biggest (police) raids, the most violent, have occurred during the democracy," Huenchullan said.

RESISTANCE

The Mapuche were famed for their resistance of Spanish conquerors and it was a young Mapuche chief, Lautaro, who captured and executed Pedro de Valdivia, Spain's royal governor of Chile, after the Battle of Tucapel in late 1553.

While no one is calling for armed rebellion now, Church leaders and international human rights groups warn the current conflict will escalate unless the government addresses the land issue.

"Lets hope the Commission can advance in resolving the fundamental issues of this conflict for Chilean society as a whole," said Bishop Alejandro Goic, president of the Episcopal Conference of the Roman Catholic Church.

Marches are planned this week in Santiago to support the Mapuche cause and protest the jailing of four Mapuche activists and Troncoso under a Pinochet-era anti-terrorism law.

The five were all sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2002 for setting fire to private lands.

The government insists Troncoso and the others jailed with her are not political prisoners, just people who committed crimes when they burned fields and forests, and business groups want a firmer government hand in dealing with the protests.

"This cannot be tolerated and the government must enforce the law. The guilty must be punished by the justice system," said Fernando Leniz, president of Corma, an industry group of Chile's major forestry companies.

In Temucuicui, where police patrol an area that is home to 120 Mapuche families laying claim to 600 hectares of lands, local leaders call the forestry companies "colonists," like the ones who took their lands five centuries ago.

"The colonists must go, there is no other way," said Huenchullan, the Mapuche spokesman. "We are going to defend our Mapuche rights on the lands that belong to us ... We are decided and will not cede ground."

Here is the full article.

Ascendant Copper Loses Mining Concessions in Ecuador- deliberately mislead not only the Ecuadorian government and the public, but their own investors.


Destruction of Ascendant Copper Corporation's Camp (link)

Ecuador’s government announced on Friday
that it was revoking Ascendant Copper’s mining concessions for the controversial Junin Project.

Mining and Petroleum Minister Galo Chiriboga told reporters that the government decided to revoke a total of 587 mining concessions for reasons that include companies’ failure to pay proper fees on concessions.

“As an Intag resident, I am ecstatic to be rid of a source of conflict that was tearing our communities apart,” said Carlos Zorrilla, executive director of Defensa y Conservación Ecológica de Intag (DECOIN), a local grassroots environmental organization. “In our particular case, it is a clear triumph of community-based resistance over the destructive power of transnational corporations.”

Ascendant Copper accused the government of leftist President Rafael Correa of bowing to pressure from environmental groups. John Haigh, Ascendant's investor relations chief, said that the Ecuadorian government’s actions were “astounding”, “absolute bologna” and that the decision was “rushed.”

“We feel that there is no validity in this at all…we are going to protect those concessions with every legal alternative open to us,” said Haigh.

The company also denies any wrongdoing. "According to Ascendant Copper's records, all concession payments regarding each of its projects have been made, on time, as stated by Ecuadorian law," the company stated. "The company has complied with all government requests, abided by all Ecuadorian mining regulations and remains in compliance with all laws."

Heads in The Sand, Hands in Violence

But the decision shouldn’t have come as a surprise to Ascendant. Just four months earlier the government ordered the company to suspend all activities at its Junin project for violating the country’s mining laws. The government also warned at the time that the company’s concessions could eventually be revoked.

"We will see how the facts evolve, but eventually this could lead to a revocation," Minister Chiriboga said at a press conference in September of 2007. "For those concessions that have violated legal and constitutional regulations...we will apply the law and that will be our mining industry policy."

Using the same tactic as they did this year, Ascendant immediately responded with a press release denying any wrong-doing. This suggests that either company officials are running their business with their heads in the sand, or more likely, that they are attempting to deliberately mislead not only the Ecuadorian government and the public, but their own investors as well.

The mining project, which would cause massive deforestation, climate change, and contamination of the local water supply in a part of Ecuador considered by scientists as a “global center of biodiversity,” has met resistance since the time the company bought the concessions. Human Rights Lawyers representing people affected by the project in Intag filed lawsuits claiming that the Ascendant’s purchase of the concessions were illegal because the government failed to consult with local communities as mandated by Article 88 of Ecuador’s constitution.

In addition, the company’s activities have caused social discord with local communities in the area and have been tainted by human rights abuses. In December of 2005, some residents upset over the government’s inability (or refusal) to protect their rights and interests, burnt down a building owned by the company (nobody was injured), mirroring actions taken a decade earlier against a Japanese company which left only after their camp was burnt down.

Then their have been local protests, marches in the capital and public decrees issued by local government officials demanding the company leave. But rather than respect the wishes of a majority of the local public, Ascendant chose to continue the battle, a decision which would eventually lead to violence.

In December, the Ecumenical Human Rights Commission (CEDHU) (a human rights organization based in Ecuador) denounced violent actions by “paramilitaries” reportedly linked to the company. The paramilitaries wore camouflaged uniforms, were armed with machine guns and handguns, and used tear gas and fired shots at unarmed community members from Junin (some of which was captured on video(5 parts)).

That same month the United Nations decided to investigate whether pro-mining factions had framed DECOIN member Carlos Zorrilla for an alleged robbery and assault in order to silence mining opposition in the region. Zorrilla, who was found innocent of the charges, went into hiding minutes before his home was invaded by local police, some wearing ski masks and heavily armed. He remained in hiding for several months.
Then in July 2007, Amnesty International issued an action alert for ongoing death threats and attacks against mining opponents. These are just a few examples of high profile cases.

Changes Urgently Needed

With the government in the midst of re-writing the country's constitution through a popular assembly, more changes to mining laws can be expected.

“Large-scale mining needs to have clear rules, but the big question remains if we really want open-pit mining," said Alberto Acosta, head of the government-controlled assembly.

He suggested that other changes, in addition to banning open pit mining which what Ascendant wanted to use in Junin, would include prohibiting mining in nature reserves and requiring community consent for any mining project.
This departure from Ecuador’s previous subservience to transnational capital has the international business community seething. Luke Penseney, CEO of Ontario-based Markets Intelligence, that the government’s actions are dangerous. "You risk becoming a pariah, which is what Ecuador's in danger of becoming," said Penseney.

But Karyn Keenan, Program Officer at the Halifax Initiative, a Canadian Coalition working to create a global economy that prioritizes human rights, labor rights and environmental sustainability over narrow corporate interests, believes Ecuador’s recent actions should motivate the Canadian government to make changes to reign in the often irresponsible behavior of Canadian companies in the extractive industries abroad. She said that one thing which could be done is the adoption of recommendations made by the Canadian Roundtables on the Extractive Industries (something the government has thus far refused to do), a multi-stakeholder group that brought representatives of civil society and the business community together.

“The Ecuadorian example illustrates why it’s such a disappointment it hasn’t happened and why it’s so urgently needed,” said Keenan. “It’s a call for the Canadian government to make some policy changes.” In the meantime, Ecuadorians have more work to do.

“Until the government declares areas like the Toisan Range here in Intag, and the Condor Range in the south of the country as permanently free of mining, we will continue our struggle,” said Zorrilla. “Our main focus now is to support the national push to declare all of Ecuador free of large and medium scale metallic mining.”

Here is the full article.

"Cheap" energy costs Argentina billions and more blackouts - The cause of Chile's natural gas shortage?

The four billion US dollars were invested in heavy oil provision, purchase of electricity from Uruguay and Brazil and direct payments to local companies to prevent rates from increasing. On the other hand if the money had been invested as suggested, Argentina would now not be exposed to power cuts and could even have a surplus.

A report from Cammesa indicates that during December/January the northern tropical provinces of Chaco and Formosa suffered 18 major blackouts between 14:00 and 16:00 hours, top peak consumption moments. Something similar happened with metropolitan Buenos Aires and the country’s capital Buenos Aires City.

In the hot Buenos Aires summer for the first time since 1992 supply fell short of demand and government officials desperately asked some of the main factories to cut on demand so as to keep residents satisfied.

For several weeks now every Tuesday an emergency assessment group meets at Cammesa with the main energy suppliers, Spain’s Endesa; Argentina’s Sadesa and Pampa Holding and the US AES. Besides, these corporations must send Cammesa a daily report on production levels and the state of equipment, in an attempt to advance critical moments.

But consumers must also deal with other surprises, for example the range of electricity intensity that can vary from 180 to 240 volts. Watch out for the electronic equipment!

The government has tried to address the issue with small Sullair portable generators on trailers particularly along the Atlantic coast resorts and by advancing time 60 minutes which means abrupt consumption peaks between 19:00 and 21:00 hours have extended up to 23:00 hours.

But on very hot days energy distributors have the official instruction of “lowering the charge”, which has become ever more difficult to comply since industry is reluctant to abide and therefore residential areas are exposed to temporary “adjustments” or as officially described “isolated power cuts”.

The fact is that electricity rates in Argentina are four and five times cheaper than in neighboring Brazil, Chile and Uruguay, and half the price in the province of Cordoba according to Consultants Montamat & Associates, a Buenos Aires energy advisor.

Although rates for industry in Argentina are higher than for residential clients, they are still a third of their cost in neighboring and Mercosur countries.

Here is the full article.

Rich Lands, Poor People. Is Sustainable Mining Possible? Goa Mining Province Declared Ecological Disaster - Mining Jobs Decline 30%

The Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) has called for strengthening regulations for managing the environmental fallout of mining.

Instead of benefiting people, mining has impoverished environment and displaced people, the new-Delhi based CSE has said and made a forceful plea for a new model of benefit sharing, which includes devolving funds for social amenities, a trust fund, preferable shares and direct payment to landholders.

The CSE — in its 356-page, sixth State of India’s Environment Report titled ‘Rich Lands, Poor People. Is Sustainable Mining Possible?’ — says: “The answer is to revamp policies so that mining does not happen at the cost of environment or people’s livelihoods.” The report was released here on Monday by Goa Governor S.C. Jamir.

Describing Goa’s mining as “an ecological disaster,” the report says the State needs stronger regulations to manage mining in the backyard of people’s homes, on farms and in forests. Its recommendations include recognising the people’s right to say ‘no’ to mining, preparation of independent, and impartial environment impact assessment reports, a moratorium on mining in biodiverse and locally important forests, codification of the best mining practices, and framing stronger mine closure regulations.

The report disputes the contention that mining is essential for “growth or employment.” Addressing press persons ahead of the release of the report, authors of the report and CSE Director and Associate Director Sunita Narain and Chandra Bhushan argued that the data showed that some of the least developed and most polluted regions of the country were mining hotspots.

Drop in employment

Employment in mining was going down due to mechanization, Ms. Narain said. The study showed that mining grew by 10 per cent while employment declined by 30 per cent. Therefore, mining should not be allowed without the consent of the people and if the environmental and social costs outweighed its economic gains.

Ironically, Ms. Narain said, “we have not come across a single case where people objected to a mining project during the public hearing and [so] government has canceled mining.”

In the national context, mining has, contrary to government’s claims, done little for the development of the mineral-bearing regions, says the report.

Here is the full article.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Ecuador 'sending wrong message' by cancelling mining concessions, Canadian consultant says – people of Ecuador, Guatemala, Peru & Chile disagree



TORONTO - Ecuador is "sending the wrong message" to international mining companies by cancelling more than 500 mining concessions without starting a dialogue between government leaders and company stakeholders, a Canadian mining consultant says.

If the South American country doesn't "recognize the fact that there's an extended group of stakeholders, then you can never come to any kind of reasonable consideration," said Luke Penseney, CEO of Markets Intelligence in Mississauga, Ont.
"You risk becoming a pariah, which is what Ecuador's in danger of becoming." (which is fine with the people who live on the land)


The Canadian Mining Industry in Guatemala

Last week, Ecuador's government announced it had cancelled the mining concessions because certain companies neglected to pay a US$1 per hectare environmental conservation fee due at the end of last March.

While the country declined to name which companies were specifically affected, several Canadian miners with properties in Ecuador issued press releases letting investors know they were safe.

Ascendant Copper Corporation (TSX:ACX), Dynasty Metals & Mining Inc. (TSX:DMM), Plexmar Resources Inc. (TSXV:PLE) and Aurelian Resources Inc. (TSX:ARU) all put out statements Friday saying they have paid all necessary fees.

Ascendant's shares regained some of the ground lost on Friday, when they fell 28 per cent. They closed Monday at 17 cents, up two cents from Friday's close but down from 21 cents at Thursday's close.


The Canadian Mining Industry in Peru

Reports suggest that two of Ascendant Copper's concessions have been revoked, a suggestion the company denies..

"Ascendant has received no notification of annulment from the Government of Ecuador or the Ministry of Mines and Petroleum, nor is it aware that any such notification exists," the company said in a release.

Ascendant claims that it has met all payments, though the government had already told the company it must stop operations at the project because it had gone against certain regulations.

"The market is already nervous about Ecuador's ongoing overhaul of mining policy," wrote Eric Zaunscherb, an analyst for Haywood Securities wrote in a note.

Some analysts are speculating that the problem could deepen.

"We're expecting . . . that they're increase concession taxes and maybe even require minimum expenditures to maintain that your property is in good standing," said David Stein, an analyst at Cormark Securities.


The Canadian Mining Industry in Chile

On Monday, Dynasty Metals rose three per cent, or 27 cents to $7.54 and Plexmar was up a penny to 14 cents at the Toronto Stock Exchange while Aurelian's shares closed at $8.10, down 19 cents from Friday's close.

Stein said despite the recent news, miners based in Ecuador still have it good.

"When you compare Equador to Peru or Chile or even North America, it's one of the cheapest places to operate right now. There's really no reason for that to be the case going forward," Stein said.

Ecuadorian government officials have been feeling pressure from environmentalists to tighten controls over its concessions because some said they were handing out too many agreements with foreign-based companies.

Some environmentalists also expressed concerns that the miners were polluting drinking water, which has been denied by the corporations.

It always is: Ok Tedi Environmental Disaster

"The government is responding to societal pressure, which is quite reasonable, but what it's not recognizing is that there are a group of stakeholders who include resource developers," Penseney said.

It's "the worst possible scenario other than to kick people out."

Here
is the full article.

Bali climate conference reaffirms carbon trading scam - a giant shopping extravaganza, marketing the earth, the sky and the rights of the poor.

Amid audible gasps of relief, on December 15 the US delegation to the United Nations climate change conference in Bali signalled that Washington would be part of the “Bali Roadmap” for combatting global warming. With the US on board, a two-year process of discussion would begin — hopefully to culminate in the adoption of a new pact to replace the Kyoto Protocol, due to expire in 2012.

But no-one was breaking out the champagne. The US consent had come at an ominous price. Time-frames had been left vague or non-existent. Negotiators for US President George Bush’s administration had forced any specific targets for emission cuts to be dropped from the roadmap. The point had been rammed home that any international pact that grew from the Bali conference would depend strictly on Washington’s readiness to accept its provisions.

And well before the tense, drawn-out final session at Bali, it had emerged that the shambolic system of international carbon emissions trading set up on the basis of decisions taken at Kyoto in 1997 would remain. Moreover, the system had been given a new reach into the Third World. Carbon trading had been accepted as one of the cornerstones of a new adaptation fund, meant supposedly to help poor countries deal with the effects of global warming.

(It is driving Chile dam construction: Kyoto ratification crucial in Australian plans for Chile hydro-development – Carbon Offsets purchased in Europe critical to dam construction. )

If these countries wanted help from the fund, it was made plain, they would have to pay for it by surrendering large elements of their national sovereignty. In particular, natural assets such as forests would have to be opened to the operations of the world emissions market.

(See: Africa: Poor Countries Fail in Demand for Control of New Clean Development Mechanism Fund )

In the words of an NGO delegate quoted by writer Brian Tokar, the Bali conference had been turned into “a giant shopping extravaganza, marketing the earth, the sky and the rights of the poor”.


Cap and trade

The commercial mechanism put in place by the Kyoto Protocol is known as “cap and trade”. Setting the goal of reducing developed-country emissions to 5.2% below 1990 levels by 2012, the system assigns an emissions “cap”, consisting of a certain number of tonnes per year of “carbon dioxide equivalent”, to participating states. If countries manage to keep their emissions below this permitted level, they have the right to sell “carbon credits” corresponding to these savings to other countries that exceed their caps.

Over time, the plan is to reduce the size of the caps, increasing the scarcity and raising the price of carbon credits. In theory, emitters will respond to these cost pressures by changing their practices and cutting their emissions.

As projected by its enthusiasts, carbon trading is to extend far beyond mere country-to-country adjustments to become a worldwide system of emissions-related investment. As well as being rewarded for setting up greenhouse gas-reducing projects elsewhere in the industrialised world, developed-country governments and corporations are to receive credits for undertaking emissions reduction or avoidance projects in underdeveloped countries.

“Win-win” outcomes?

In theory, the scheme promotes “win-win” outcomes for all involved. But the officials who set it up reckoned without the fact that in capitalism, the all-important bottom line measures profits, not environmental benefits. In practice, corporations have regularly found it cheaper to sidestep the new system or to subvert its purpose rather than to join in saving the planet.

(So says: "The Kyoto Protocol has proved totally ineffective on the practical side", says Italy's Enel / Endesa CEO )

The only large-scale carbon trading program yet to be initiated under the Kyoto Protocol is the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS), which began functioning in January 2005. In the program’s first phase, emissions licences were “grandfathered” — that is, granted free of charge to established corporations. With little independent information, the people administering the scheme were often forced to rely on emissions estimates prepared by the firms themselves. Needless to say, these figures gave the corporations generous leeway.

Add in corporate lobbying and the result was massive over-allocation of emissions permits, which in some areas of industry exceeded actual emissions by as much as 50%. In May 2006, after the scale of this over-allocation burst into the open, the market in carbon credits collapsed.

For European companies to have sufficient incentives to actually reduce their emissions, estimates hold, the price of carbon credits needs to be in the range of 30 to 50 euros (A$50-85). But in the period since the crash, the market price of these credits has regularly fallen below one euro. When the “right to pollute” can be had so cheaply, investing money in cutting emissions becomes irrational behaviour.

Subsequent emissions trading schemes, pro-market commentators assure us, will avoid such fiascos. Instead of emissions permits being handed out gratis when schemes are launched, these licences will be sold at auction. But the enthusiasts for cap-and-trade systems forget another propensity of the corporate world: for corruption.

Even if carbon credits retail for not much more than a dollar each, they are good business if they can be created for almost nothing. Perhaps the easiest way to create them cheaply is to claim them for changes that were going to be made anyway.

Deciding whether such changes are genuinely “additional” — that is, made primarily in order to reduce emissions — can be extremely difficult. In the Third World, with its weak state bodies and ill-paid officials, the openings for malfeasance are endless. “It’s routine practice for Indian project developers to fake documents, for example back-dating board approval, that they considered a project on the basis of the Kyoto Protocol”, one former UN adviser acknowledged.

Scandals and rorts

Some of the sharpest practice, technically speaking, has not been illegal at all. British science writer George Monbiot described one such manoeuvre: “Entrepreneurs in India and China have made billions by building factories whose primary purpose is to produce greenhouse gases, so that carbon traders in the rich world will pay to clean them up.”

In 2006, according to the World Bank, 64% of the emissions credits traded came from changes in the refrigerant industry — above all, from reduced emissions by Chinese and Indian refrigerant plants of a gas known as HFC-23. This gas has a greenhouse potential no less than 11,700 times that of carbon dioxide.

For the industrialists who have cut back on emitting it, the journal Nature revealed last year, HFC-23 has so far yielded some US$5.9 billion. Meanwhile, the total worldwide cost of installing chemical scrubbers to halt emissions of the gas — something that could readily be compelled by environmental laws — would not be much more than $100 million.

While the opportunities for rorting the Kyoto system have been a boon to Third World elites — or at least, to their more crooked members — the system as a whole does not promise well for underdeveloped countries. The new adaptation fund set up at the Bali conference, it turns out, is to be administered by the Global Environmental Facility of the World Bank. In its lending for development projects, the World Bank is notorious for favouring schemes that lock the economies of poor countries into the priorities of US and European capital.

(See: Environmental & Human rights NGOs put the World Bank on Trial )

In practice, the adaptation fund is likely to act as a tool for taking control of important natural assets of poor countries. This applies particularly to these countries’ forests — both the old-growth forests now being eyed as “carbon sinks”, and new tree plantations.

(See: Indonesia: WALHI Protest against Kyoto, Carbon Trade, Clean Development Mechanism )

The forests lie at the heart of a key financial “product” pioneered by the Kyoto system — “carbon offsets”. Industrialists who pump carbon into the atmosphere can “offset” their transgressions by buying credits created by the planting of trees, which as they grow will absorb carbon dioxide. Or, emitters can buy credits created on the basis that governments and corporations graciously decide to leave existing forests intact.

Carbon offsets are a questionable proposition for a long list of reasons. How much carbon dioxide a forest will absorb over a given period is at best an educated guess. Forests can burn, releasing their carbon. Old-growth forests absorb much less carbon dioxide than new plantations, which enhances the temptation to clear-fell the former in order to plant the latter.

The problems are multiplied wherever regulation is lax and officials corrupt. Tropical forests, it can be expected, will at times both be logged and claimed as carbon sinks. Where such forests are protected with any vigour, the “protection” is often likely to be aimed at indigenous people who practice a sustainable shifting agriculture. The increased incentives for plantation forestry threaten to cost tenant farmers their land.

(See: A gift from Scotland to Brazil: drought and despair )

So far, the most glaring absurdity to arise from the “carbon offset” provisions of the Kyoto Protocol has not appeared in the Third World, but in Australia. Though refusing to sign the Kyoto Protocol, the former Howard government regularly stressed that Australia was on track to meet its Kyoto targets. Technically, this was true; on the basis of “offsets” earned through restrictions on additional land-clearing, Australia was permitted under Kyoto to increase its emissions by 8%.

(More on Australia: Kyoto deal to clear air for Australian investors, say experts - Pacific Hydro's manager says, Australia is "now open for business". )

The land-clearing, however, had already been encountering fierce criticism from environmentalists, and much of it would have been halted anyway. Meanwhile, fossil-fuel emissions from Australia’s coal-fired economy have continued to boom. Supporters of carbon trading argue that potential critics should forgive the youthful fumbling of a previously untried system. But with the Bali Roadmap promising an extension and elaboration of carbon trading, the system’s record in actually curbing greenhouse emissions deserves to be looked at.

There is no doubt that huge sums of money are changing hands — probably as much as US$60 billion in 2007. But even in the relatively orderly conditions of Europe, where the trading so far has been concentrated, the results in terms of greenhouse gas abatement have been lacklustre.

As of the end of 2005, emissions by the 15 “core” European Union countries were 2% below the Kyoto base year of 1990, compared to a target of 8% below by 2012. “Emissions have in fact been rising since the year 2000”, a November 2005 Skyscraper City report stated.

The December 5 Australian noted that the vast majority of Kyoto signatories were exceeding their emissions allowances, “in many cases by huge amounts”. Most of them, the newspaper observed, have “given up on Kyoto”, and are waiting for the Bali parameters to come into force after 2012.

Why go with the market?

If carbon trading has performed so badly, why persist with it? The question has been posed from some unlikely quarters. At the Bali conference, New York Republican Mayor Michael Bloomberg argued that the cap-and-trade system should be replaced by straight carbon taxes.

“It’s a very inefficient way to accomplish the same thing that a carbon tax accomplishes”, Bloomberg was quoted as saying of the cap-and-trade market. “It leaves itself open to special interests, corruption, inefficiencies.”

Why, indeed, not simply make the polluters pay, using a combination of carbon taxes, state regulation and fines to force them to cut their emissions? Since the carbon trading system only covers relatively large emitters, keeping track of their emissions would be well within the capacities of a determined state apparatus, especially in developed countries.

The 1997 decision at Kyoto to go with carbon trading is especially curious since experience at the time pointed in the exact opposite direction. In the 1990s, various approaches had been tried in order to cut the sulphur dioxide pollution that was causing “acid rain”. In the US, a cap-and-trade system had been instituted in 1990. By 2001, US levels of sulphur dioxide were down by 31%.

In Europe, a rule-based approach scored much better results. For Western Europe, the reduction was 57%.

As noted by Bloomberg, carbon trading “is attractive to many politicians because it doesn’t have that three-letter word ’tax’”. A key tenet of modern capitalist thought is the “need” to oust taxation, along with other forms of state intervention, from all possible areas of economic life.

But the real reason why carbon trading was selected at Kyoto goes deeper. It was summed up recently by British researcher Kevin Smith in a September 20 Transnational Institute article: “The problem lies in the fact that carbon trading is designed with the express purpose of providing an opportunity for rich countries to delay making costly structural changes towards low-carbon technologies. This isn’t a malfunction of the market or an unexpected byproduct: this is what the market was designed to do.”

Once this real function of the carbon market is understood, a great deal else falls into place. The low price of emissions credits ceases to be a mystery. Key features of the carbon trading system — the over-allocation of free emissions permits in the EU, the far-fetched offset credits, and more — take on their true shape as devices for keeping the costs of polluting to a minimum.

That is not to say that a shift to rules and taxes would, of itself, cure the problems. In any battle between polluting corporations and aggrieved populations, capitalist governments stand, to the extent that mass pressures permit, with the polluters. The problem, in short, is capitalism.

We cannot, however, delay campaigning for greenhouse gas abatement until capitalism has been packed off to the historical graveyard. The demand for the carbon trading system to be dismantled, and for strict regulations, taxes and fines to be set in its place, has a firm place in today’s agenda of struggle.

Here is the full article.

Chile is racing to build electrical generating capacity to feed its foreign owned mining sector, which consumes almost 40% of Chile's electricity

Suez Energy to power Chile Esperanza project

SANTIAGO, Jan 28 - Suez Energy International, a unit of French utility Suez, said on Monday it reached an agreement to supply electricity to Chile's $1.5 billion Esperanza copper project, owned by Antofagasta Minerals.

Suez said in a statement it would soon begin construction on the thermoelectric plant (coal fired) that will supply up to 150 MW to the Esperanza mine in northern Chile as of 2011.

The plant will be built in Mejillones, some 1,400 kilometers north of the Chilean capital Santiago, and will feed into the northern power grid.

It will be the second plant of its kind for Suez's Andina Thermoelectric Complex. The first is already under construction and is expected to start supplying a mine owned by Codelco, the world's largest copper company, beginning in 2010.

Chile is racing to build electrical generating capacity to feed its booming mining sector, which produces about a third of the world's copper.

The new plant will be coal-fired and is part of Chile's solution to shortages of natural gas, which has been supplied by Argentina to run northern generating facilities.

Esperanza will be one of Chile's first major greenfield copper projects -- ones built from scratch -- in years.

The mine is expected to be ready for operation in the fourth quarter of 2010 and will add an annual production of some 195,000 tonnes of copper, 229,000 ounces of gold and 1.556 million ounces of silver to Chile's mining roster.

Here is the full article.