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View Michael Levitt Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Michael Levitt Profile
2017-03-21 13:03
Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to the Subcommittee on International Human Rights.
We have some guests with us, but before we begin, I just want to mention that the subcommittee returned from a visit to Washington, D.C., the week before last. Without going in depth about the trip, which was very successful, I want to recognize the immense efforts of our clerk and analysts in preparing us for that trip, dealing with the logistics and really having that trip run as smoothly as it did. I know it took a lot of work. The very fact that we had close to 18 meetings over a day and a half is testament to the hard work put in by the three of you.
I know that all members of this subcommittee will recognize those efforts.
Some hon. members: Hear, hear!
The Chair: Good. It also means we get to propose going on another trip, since that one was so successful. That's a topic for another day.
This was MP Hardcastle's request. She has obviously been very active on this file. When we received the request from Common Frontiers Canada to hear from these two gentlemen, Bernardo Belloso and Aleisar Arana Morales, we certainly worked as a committee and made the time to have you come and speak to us on the important issues that you laid out in the briefing.
I just want to give you some background. Mr. Belloso is the president of the Association for the Development of El Salvador. He has been a rural activist since 1995, notably in a campaign against sugar cane plantations in the lower Lempa delta. The CRIPDES leads resistance against mining projects of the region of Chalatenango in El Salvador. Mr. Belloso has travelled through North America, South America, and Europe, advocating for communities affected by mining.
I would like to welcome you Mr. Belloso.
Mr. Morales is the leader of the Xinca Parliament in Guatemala. The Xinca people are indigenous to Guatemala. The Xinca Parliament is composed of 13 organizations and 20 communities spread through southern Guatemala, representing more than 500,000 Xinca and successfully leading local referenda against mining projects.
I would just add that I was pleased to be able to travel to Guatemala last August with the foreign affairs committee. We did a trip to Guatemala and Colombia. We got to spend some time in rural Guatemala, so I have a real sense of the lay of the land. We got to have some really important meetings with civil society on a number of issues.
Again, Mr. Morales, I welcome you on behalf of the entire committee.
Gentlemen, if you would like to take around 10 to 15 minutes to provide testimony, then we can open up the floor to some questions, if that's acceptable.
Please, you have the floor.
Aleisar Arana Morales
View Aleisar Arana Morales Profile
Aleisar Arana Morales
2017-03-21 13:06
Good afternoon. My name is Aleisar Arana. I am from Quesada, in the department of Jutiapa in Guatemala.
I am currently the president of the Xinca Parliament of the people of Guatemala. In 2012, I was also elected as president of the Xinca indigenous community of Quesada. In 2014, I was elected president of the Xinca Parliament, and I am representing that parliament here today.
I am very proud of the land that I love with all my heart.
The Xinca Parliament is made up of 13 communities. We bring together more than 500,000 people. We have our own communal lands. We have title to those lands, and we administer them according to our ancestral knowledge. The Parliament's purpose is to protect our land and to respect the free determination of our peoples. Our land, our territory, our people are seeing their rights violated with a number of extractive projects, in particular, by Tahoe Resources. Without consulting us—and we as a people have a right to be consulted—Tahoe has arrived to impose extractive industry projects on our communities. It is worth mentioning that in many of our communities we have organized our forces, have consulted internally, and have the right to be consulted. The municipal bylaw in article 64 states that we are entitled to be consulted.
In Quesada, in my community, we held a consultation. We asked the municipal council to organize it. It requires a procedure, which is also laid out. It requires 10% of the signatures of all those concerned, namely the voters, on a petition that is presented to the municipal council. With those signatures, the municipal council authorizes the consultation. It was authorized by the municipal council and took place on May 8 of last year. The result of the consultation was an outright “no” to mining. More than 99% of the population said no. Only 0.7% said yes.
This consultation process has also taken place in another seven municipalities, where the entire population have said no. Why is that? Well, it is because we oppose the development of our communities in this way because these projects affect us. The natural resources that we have.... And as indigenous peoples, we have a very strong link to nature, because nature gives us life. There is the right to water, which is a right that we must all have. It is a right that we must all fight for. What Guatemala is doing, what Central America is doing, what a number of countries in the world are doing, is fighting for that right.
I also want to say that it's not just the Xinca people, because the Xinca people are a minority in Guatemala. There are also the Maya people. The Maya represent more than 70% of the Guatemalan population, and they are also against these mining projects.
These projects and their imposition have led to the persecution of community leaders. In many cases there have been criminal charges against our leaders. They have been put in jail. Others are being persecuted and are in hiding, so that they aren't caught.
The outcome of all this has been a conflict, and it's growing, because we rely on agriculture for our livelihoods. We produce food, we have livestock, and we produce milk. With the mining licences that are granted, there are 60 of them for an area that is very small. That is where they would like to set up mining, and leave us without land for agriculture. That is why the Xinca people are advocating, so that the resources there can be part of the right to the life we need.
I can also tell you that the former president of the Xinca Parliament was under an arrest warrant. He was persecuted. He was in hiding for a long time. Then he went to the authorities and stood before a judge, and they had no evidence against him. The prosecutor did not have any crimes to charge him with, so they released him. Who ended up persecuting him was the former minister of the interior, López Bonilla. I think you know about this. He's being accused of corruption and drug trafficking.
In the former administration of Otto Perez Molina, there was an entire team—you could even say a team of criminals—that persecuted our people.
We are here to speak to you and ask you to take a closer look, as much as possible, at Canadian companies, particularly Tahoe Resources, because these companies are causing a great deal of harm and a great deal of pollution. They are creating a situation in which we do not know what we will do, because our communities are resisting. We are resisting peacefully, because we are not a violent people. We are a people who love peace, a people who are seeking to be respected and have their rights respected.
I can also tell you that the well-being of countries like mine—developing countries seeking progress for their people—depends on you. We know that we do need projects, but please, they should not be mining projects and iron ore extraction projects. The situation in Guatemala is a terrible one. We are being threatened. Our resources are being lost. The forests are on the verge of disappearing. That is why we wish to say a resounding “no” to these companies.
Thank you very much.
Bernardo Belloso
View Bernardo Belloso Profile
Bernardo Belloso
2017-03-21 13:18
Thank you, Aleisar.
Good afternoon, members, friends, and parliamentary assistants. It is an honour for me to be here and to share my experiences with you. I want to talk to you about a number of violent acts and fundamental abuses of human rights in Central America and, in particular, in El Salvador.
My name is Bernardo Belloso. I am the president of CRIPDES, which brings together approximately 300 communities in seven of the departments that make up the 14 departments in El Salvador. We work in about 350 communities, so it represents about 30,000 people.
We always try to promote human rights and search for alternative development for these communities while we work in those seven departments. El Salvador is a very small country in Central America of approximately 20,000 square kilometres, and almost seven million Salvadoreans live there. That means that on this land, which is inhabited, a number of projects are being carried out that violate human rights and impinge on the structure of natural resources.
There is the threat of exploitation of the mineral resources underground. We are in a critical situation. Water, groundwater, and water above ground are contaminated, making us very vulnerable, according to studies carried out by the Ministry of the Environment. The future holds a number of problems for our society in this regard.
Since 2000 we have been working in communities developing awareness-raising and information campaigns for the population to try to find alternative ways of developing those communities. A number of alternative projects were developed that are environmentally friendly and that have to do with agricultural production: meat, milk, grain, fruit, and vegetables. In other words, we have developed an alternative economy in our communities and in 2000 a number of companies arrived in El Salvador with the idea of being able to develop mining projects.
Most of those companies in the 29 areas for which mining concessions have been granted are Canadian, American, and Australian; but most of them are Canadian. What does that mean? Based on the different companies that were given concessions for mining exploration in the northern part of the country in particular, where the main water sources for the rest of the population are located, that area is under threat.
Some of the impacts that have been generated by the exploration by these companies can be enumerated, and we have denounced them. There is environmental destruction, as water has been contaminated and forests have been destroyed as well.
However, the main source of local problems has been the increased insecurity and the persecution of environmental leaders who defend their territories, their lands, and their lives.
In El Salvador, as recently as 2009, more than four community leaders were assassinated. The population cried out against this through local institutions. The investigations carried out by the people themselves found that these were linked to processes carried out by the mining companies.
There were a number of local problems, and it's true that we have problems locally. There's insecurity. There are a number of minority populations, and of course, there is drug trafficking. Well, the companies used those problems as a pretext, and this was something that the population that was directly affected denounced. Steps were taken using the relevant institutions to push these investigations forward to find those responsible for the murders. Marcelo and Dora, who was six months pregnant, were murdered as well. They were murdered, and they were murdered with impunity. That is what we want to highlight, because it is important for you to know what is going on so that you can demand that the companies issue a true report of what's happening in the territories where they operate.
There are also a number of problems with regard to the increase in corruption, particularly in the public sector, because, as you may know, mining companies, particularly Pacific Rim, start out by purchasing political will not only from the local political authorities but also from leaders who oppose mining projects. We have been caught in that dynamic, and we find it hard to generate the kind of support we need in the population.
There is an argument to the effect that mining is good and generates development, but I think that in El Salvador, and in other countries, we say that we're against mining. Why are we against these mining projects? First of all, nowhere in the country have mining companies have carried out their projects without harming natural resources, without destroying forests, without polluting water, without generating violence, and without generating corruption. The saddest thing about all of this is that I know of no place in the country where the companies have not dispersed the local population, particularly the indigenous population. That is of great concern in El Salvador.
Second, mining in El Salvador does not help resolve social conflict. It does not contribute to the economy of our country, either. It generates more poverty, more insecurity, and more destruction of natural resources.
As I already mentioned, El Salvador is a very vulnerable country. El Salvador is the country in Central America that is the most impacted by climate change, with droughts, floods, and landslides. Right now, the stress caused by water scarcity is also creating social problems, because the population does not have the water it needs to survive.
View Michael Levitt Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Michael Levitt Profile
2017-03-21 13:28
You have two more minutes.
Bernardo Belloso
View Bernardo Belloso Profile
Bernardo Belloso
2017-03-21 13:28
We think it is very important to listen to the population when it denounces the threats and the actions of major companies. What companies do is resort to international conventions.
As you know, there was a 250 million dollars lawsuit in El Salvador against Pacific Rim. Really, it's a battle between David and Goliath. I would like to tell you what happened there. We are defending our land, but the company continues to go to the tribunals and the courts and continues to harm the natural resources, which will create more poverty and destroy our natural resources even more.
View Michael Levitt Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Michael Levitt Profile
2017-03-21 13:29
Mr. Belloso, I would just interject at this point, because I want to have time for the members to ask you questions, and we're going to run out of that shortly. If you can take another 30 seconds just to wrap up, we can get to some of the questions that I know the members around the table want to ask.
Bernardo Belloso
View Bernardo Belloso Profile
Bernardo Belloso
2017-03-21 13:29
Yes, of course. Thank you.
What I was saying was that when the local population defend the land, the companies start to make demands on the state. They have tried to use trade agreements that were signed in the past to protect themselves, but we saw in response to a suit at the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes a decision that Pacific Rim and OceanaGold had actually been destroying resources. They continued to operate and to explore and continued to promote corruption of public authorities.
Given that, we ask you to intervene in these problems caused by Canadian companies and to see how we can help protect the fundamental rights that are being violated in countries like El Salvador.
Thank you very much.
View Michael Levitt Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Michael Levitt Profile
2017-03-21 13:30
My thanks to both of you.
We'll get right to questions.
We're going to begin with MP Sweet.
View David Sweet Profile
CPC (ON)
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I just want to express my concern with regard to this meeting. My understanding is that it's only a one-off meeting. I don't doubt the allegations that have been made, but that's not the point. The point is that these allegations are very wide-sweeping and serious. We have an act that deals with the corruption of foreign officials and these allegations go to an offence that's very serious. I'm concerned that there's an ongoing lawsuit.
I guess the best thing to begin with is to ask Mr. Morales the following. Could you tell me, Mr. Morales, if you are one of the seven people who have filed the lawsuit in Vancouver with regard to Tahoe Resources?
Aleisar Arana Morales
View Aleisar Arana Morales Profile
Aleisar Arana Morales
2017-03-21 13:31
No.
View David Sweet Profile
CPC (ON)
Do you represent them at all? Did you get legal advice before you came to testify before us?
Aleisar Arana Morales
View Aleisar Arana Morales Profile
Aleisar Arana Morales
2017-03-21 13:32
No, I am here to talk about the experience we had in Guatemala. Our legal advisers could give far more information about that.
View David Sweet Profile
CPC (ON)
I understand that. My concern is, sir, that you would compromise the case that is being dealt by your testimony here before the committee, but if you feel that you want to go ahead, then I'm fine with it.
You mentioned that on May 8 last year, an overwhelming majority of the people, some 99% voted—I think you said you represent 14 communities in your country—no to any mining. The previous concerns date way back to 2014, or probably previous to that. That was when the lawsuit was filed. Give me an idea about why it took so long for this referendum to happen in your communities and for them to say no to the mining.
Aleisar Arana Morales
View Aleisar Arana Morales Profile
Aleisar Arana Morales
2017-03-21 13:33
I would like to explain. The Xinca Parliament represents 13 communities: Jutiapa, Jalapa, Santa Rosa. Those are three departments. I am from the municipality of Quesada, which is being threatened, and there are two licences being granted: one for El Silencio, which is an reconnaissance licence; and one for Teresa, which is an exploration licence. My municipality is about 15,000 people strong. The municipality is where the consultation took place. It's not in the region represented by a parliament.
View David Sweet Profile
CPC (ON)
So, then, we're talking about a future mine, not the existing Tahoe facility.
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