Here’s a recent story I did based on interviews in Chihuahua State, in northern Mexico. Published by The Dominion with support from their investigative journalism fund. Haz clic aquí para leer el articulo en español.
BENITO JUÁREZ, MEXICO—It was a day he’ll never forget, but it began like any other for Erick Solorio Solís, an engineering senior at the Autonomous University of Chihuahua (UACh) in Chihuahua, Mexico. He rolled out of bed on Monday, October 22, 2012, and stepped into the warm morning air that graces Chihuahua City through the fall. He had a bite to eat, and took a quick call from his parents, who were heading to the city to visit him and his brothers later that day. Solorio, a tall young man with inquisitive eyebrows and a trace of a beard, went to school and sat through three hours of classes. He recalls that he left campus around noon. With his two brothers, then-21-year-old Solorio spent the next couple of hours at home, waiting for his parents to arrive.
After the morning phone call with their son, Solorio’s parents hopped in their pickup truck and pulled out of Benito Juárez, a rural town a couple hours south of the US border, where the Solorio family has farmed for three generations. Solorio’s mother was due for a check-up in Chihuahua, and his father planned to take advantage of the outing to run a few errands.
Around 2:00 pm, Solorio’s elder brother got a phone call from a local police official. The man said their parents had been involved in an accident. Erick called his uncle, who said his parents had been caught in the middle of a firefight. The brothers went to the offices of El Barzón, a farmers’ rights group their father was involved in, to see what was happening. It was then they found out that their parents had been murdered.
“The first thing we thought was that it was people from our town, the people from the mine,” said Solorio in an interview with The Dominion in Chihuahua City. “The jealousy was too much, the hatred they had towards [my father] because he demonstrated, using facts, that the mine [would be] bad.” (more…)
I recently produced a 29 minute radio documentary titled “Communities in the Crosshairs: The Drug War in Guatemala” for Free Speech Radio News, which will air in the US on December 25, 2012. Click here to listen to the audio version online. Big thanks to Shannon Young and the team at FSRN for their help with editing, production and tech. The music you hear in the documentary is from “Time for Marimba” [Minoru Miki], performed by DHernDniz. I hope to have a Spanish version of the documentary ready in the new year.
A transcript of the documentary is available after the jump, just click the “more” button to the right. (more…)
Here’s a piece I prepared for Toward Freedom recently. The Spanish version is forthcoming.
GUATEMALA CITY—The news broke in the United States during the lazy summer days of late August: 200 US Marines were stationed in Guatemala as part of the war on drugs. The deployment of US combat troops to Guatemala was part of Operation Martillo, a military plan meant to disrupt cocaine trafficking routes that pass through Central America on their way from Colombia to the United States.
Fighting organized crime and drug trafficking is the most recent justification for US incursions in Guatemala, also
serving to justify the increased activity of Guatemalan military around the country. This militarization is taking place in areas where there are fierce social and land conflicts related to the imposition of mega-resource extraction projects, such as in mining and oil industries. In addition, communities that resist displacement and the extractive industries have been tarred with accusations that they are involved in the organized crime; in some cases entire peasant villages have even been labeled “narco-communities.”
“We have the sense that [fighting narcotrafficking] is a pretext to return to the level of military deployment that was maintained during the height of the armed conflict, which resulted in acts of genocide,” said Iduvina Hernandez Batres, of the Guatemala City-based NGO Security and Democracy (Sedem). The Guatemalan Army, which is still formally ineligible for receiving US military assistance, was responsible for the vast majority of the 200,000 killed and the 50,000 disappeared during the internal armed conflict, which officially ended in 1996.
The Guatemalan army was called upon “to put an end to the external threats and contribute to neutralizing illegal armed groups by means of military power,” by Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina the day after his inauguration in January 2012. Pérez Molina, a former General and head of army intelligence, also promised to increase military spending. So far, he has kept his promise. According to Plaza Publica, a Guatemalan investigative journalism outlet, projected spending on military and security equipment in 2013 alone will surpass all such spending between 2004 and 2012.
The arrival of US Marines in Guatemala represents more than a military maneuver to disrupt drug trafficking. It demonstrates that in allied countries like Guatemala, the US can champion a military invasion under the discourse of the war on drugs with little fanfare or criticism. The deployment of US troops to Guatemala is arguably the most blatant example of an evolving strategy that the US military establishment is betting on in order to expand and exercise control in the hemisphere, all within an international framework of formal democracy and law and order. (more…)
Last week I was interviewed during an episode of Inside Story Americas on Al Jazeera English where the topic at hand was Canadian mining in Guatemala.
And as to the question above: Even effective monitoring wouldn’t come close to what’s needed to prevent further disasters like the one people are living in San Marcos because of the Marlin Mine. There is no sustainable way to take out five grams of gold per tonne of ore. Open pit gold mega-mining is pure greed and shouldn’t be permitted anywhere.
Anyhow, if you haven’t seen it already, do have a look!
I had the chance a couple of weeks ago to head over to San José del Golfo and visit some of the folks holding down a camp in front of the entrance to a proposed mine. Yesterday, folks from the company tried to enter the site, and this morning I received two more messages that the community is preparing for another attempted incursion by workers of the company. I’ll do my best to keep folks posted. In the mean time, here’s the piece I wrote up after my brief visit to the site last month.
Guatemala: Peaceful Resistance in the Face of Violence, Upside Down World, October 24, 2012
Telma Yolanda Oquelí Veliz, who was nearly killed for her activism against mining in San José del Golfo, Guatemala, spoke out publicly Monday morning for the first time since the attack against her in June.
“I want to tell the world that here in Guatemala there is a peaceful resistance that exists, and we are prepared to stay here as long as possible,” said Oquelí, sitting upright on a plastic chair inside a permanent camp blocking the entrance to a proposed gold mine about 30km from Guatemala City. “We always hoped no blood would be spilled in this struggle, and personally mine did, but I think it has been a very important test and today I am back in action, and I know that they will not quiet me, while god gives me life I will continue.”
While Oquelí spoke, many of those active on the blockade gathered under the cover of the simple roadside shelter to listen. Other men stacked firewood, while children played along the edge of the camp. Some of the women prepared warm drinks and food to feed everyone at the camp, which has been permanently occupied since March of this year.
“I haven’t wanted to make statements or give interviews because in truth I didn’t want to talk about myself, I want the focus to be on the resistance, on the people who are present here,” said Oquelí.
Banners against mining and in solidarity with the blockade grace the side of the road, while a beat-up gate closes off the main entrance to the concession. Traffic on the dirt road was sparse, as it is well off the main highway, serving community members going from one village to another. Most would honk and wave as they rolled past; others would stop and say “hi” to the people on the side of the road.
Six teams of at least 10 adults take a weekly 24-hour shift and each week one team stays over on Sundays. No one lives permanently at the camp: every night, those who spend the night light a fire and rest, rising again to make breakfast for their whole group in the morning.
“The group leaders meet and they each tell their groups when their shifts will be, what is planned for the weekend, if there are meetings, and if there is new information,” said Miguel Antonio Muraller, who has been active in the blockade since the outset. “That’s how we communicate so that we’re all aware of what’s going on.” (more…)
Here’s a dispatch I prepared after a visit to Peten, Guatemala in March, 2012. It is this month’s cover story for Briarpatch magazine. Check the version on their site for photos by my compa Murray Bush of Flux Photo.
The spoils of an undeclared war: How Guatemala’s ‘War on Drugs’ is being used as a front to clear land for oil companies
I didn’t go to La Libertad, Petén, for the fried chicken. I went because of the war.
That said, for three nights in a row I sat on the same plastic bar stool looking out over the main road through town and ate the best chicken I’d ever tasted. The cook, bills folded into her apron, kept watch over a huge, cast iron pan filled with dozens of legs and breasts frying under a generous portion of oil. Each night I was in La Libertad, I would venture out for fried chicken after dark, when the temperature settled down to a comparatively comfortable 30 degrees. From my spot at an outdoor table, I would sit, eat, and watch.
Everything seemed to happen at once: bikes and mototaxis stopped, started, and turned; women grabbed their children and dodged across the street; buses came and went; trucks blazed through at full speed. Even after dark, amid the traffic, people were selling mangos (ripe or unripe), dictionaries, drinks, and clothes. A group of pharmacy workers in white uniforms were getting off shift. One night, armed park rangers sat a couple of tables away and ate, but police and soldiers, a fixture on the main drag during the day, seemed to disappear after dark.
It feels so normal, I kept thinking to myself. It doesn’t feel like war. And if La Libertad is known for anything these days, it’s war. I expected some kind of tension, perhaps an unofficial curfew, intensive checkpoints, or convoys of SUVs with tinted windows.
Dawn Paley probes beneath the surface of the drug war in Colombia and Mexico. She explores the mechanisms employed, reports on the economic and human devastation, analyzes the possible reasons for continuing the war and suggests further areas of inquiry. PDF of an extended edition for the web.
In both the United States and Canada there have been sustained grassroots efforts to spotlight the unjust mass incarceration and criminalization of poor people, and especially poor people of color, for drug-related arrests. But there has been too little analysis about the reasons behind and mechanisms of this war, and its economic impact on Mexico and beyond.
Even before a withdrawal from Iraq or Afghanistan has been achieved, the United States has become involved in a series of intensifying conflicts taking place from Mexico’s north border through Peru. Governments and mainstream media label it a “war on drugs.” It is important to examine how the expanding “war on drugs” connects to the expansion of transnational corporate control over markets, labor and natural resources.
In Honduras, four Indigenous people were shot and killed in May, when Honduran forces opened fire from a U.S. State Department helicopter, all under the supervision of uniformed U.S. agents. In Mexico — under the guidance of the United States, Canada, Israel and Colombia — the police and army are being transformed.
In Colombia, the war has gone on for decades and involved billions of U.S. dollars, but is being rebranded as a fight against crime. Through the 1980s, the Colombian state became increasingly paramilitarized, a process which “manifested itself as threats, bombings, and selective assassinations or collective massacres of government officials (principally but not exclusively from the left), and of popular political leaders, workers, peasants, professors, human rights activists, and members of nongovernmental organziations.”
U.S. assistance to Colombia in the form of anti-narcotics program funding resulted in the strengthening of paramilitary and unofficial police groups, reported to have patrolled alongside the Colombian Army and involved in the vast majority of massacres and forced displacements in the country.
“Saying that the drug war has failed is to not understand something,” remarked Noam Chomsky in a speech this May. “One must ask oneself what is it that the planners have in mind given the amount of evidence that what they are trying to achieve doesn’t work. What are the probable intentions?”(1)
Chomsky’s comments point to an urgent area of research for activists and journalists wishing to understand today’s drug wars. It is increasingly clear that there is more work to be done in order to properly piece together the reasons for U.S.-led militarization in the Americas. (more…)
Been working on a fair bit of oil and gas related stuff recently, at this link you can download a piece I did for Watershed Sentinel on Canadian oil companies in Latin America, and below, a piece on fracking in south Texas. What brought me on to the gas-in-Texas story is that I wanted to understand first hand a little more about fracking, which I hadn’t written about before. In addition, this shale play crosses the border into Mexico, so it was a way of getting my hands dirty a little on a story I plan to pursue.
Finally, it’s been one week since Bernardo Vásquez Sánchez was killed in Oaxaca. I wrote a short piece that night, which you can read here. Protests against his assassination and Canadian mining companies in Oaxaca took place yesterday in various locations in Oaxaca and also at the Canadian Embassy in Mexico City.
Report from the Texas Energy Boom
The Tyee, March 19, 2012
British Columbia isn’t the only place where government and industry have ambitious plans to build pipelines to exploit shale gas reserves for the lucrative export market. Texas is booming again, and it’s setting its sights on Asia.
Yet while U.S. politicians and oil executives talk about ensuring energy self-sufficiency with cheap natural gas from shale, their long-term plans suggest a future where natural gas prices might soar — to the benefit of oil and gas companies rather than the domestic American economy.
Deborah Rogers, a financial analyst and advisory committee member at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, reckons that today’s natural gas boom may become tomorrow’s consumer squeeze. While high-profile industry players push the Pickens Plan, which proposes mass conversion of U.S. power plants and truck fleets to natural gas, the industry’s move to export natural gas will eventually drive up domestic prices. (more…)
Published by Upside Down World, February 25, 2012.
The U.S. is about to get a whole lot more involved in extracting Mexican oil, according to an agreement which promises to open up offshore oil and gas drilling in the Gulf Coast, signed Monday by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her Mexican counterpart Patricia Espinosa.
On top of pushing more underwater drilling into an area still recovering from the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster, the deal foreshadows an even closer relationship between foreign oil companies and Mexico’s state owned oil company, Pemex. Though the tone of Monday’s meeting was rosy, the agreement signals increased U.S. involvement in the oil sector of a country at war.
“The government lacks the territorial control to guarantee security, as has been demonstrated in the gas deposits in the Burgos basin, and if federal authorities don’t have the capacity to provide security tocompanies on land, they will be far less able to do so in the high seas,” wrote Oscar Contreras Nava in the Gaceta, an online paper published out of Ciudad Victoria, Tamaulipas. (more…)