Marketing Consent: A journey into the public relations underside of Canada’s mining sector
AUGUST 22, 2012
A journey into the public relations underside of Canada’s mining sector
by SANDRA CUFFE
VANCOUVER—It’s no secret that Canadian mining companies are fanned out around the world. Conflicts linked to large-scale mining projects have come to the fore as some of the most intense social and environmental struggles in this hemisphere and beyond. But well outside of the headlines, another industry, one that purports to link Indigenous people internationally in order to benefit from resource extraction, has slowly taken off.
Whether or not they are upfront about their connections to mining companies, Canadians with labyrinthine corporate, consulting and Indigenous affiliations have been paying unexpected visits to Indigenous communities throughout the Americas. A closer look at an example of this intervention reveals how their promotion of the Canadian mining industry in impoverished communities undermines local struggles to protect territory and exacerbates conflict.
In Panama, Vancouver-based Corriente Resources began promoting the Cerro Colorado copper deposit in recognized Ngabe-Bugle territory three years ago, even though the company never secured permits from the government. In February 2011, Law 8 was passed, revising the 1963 mining code to allow direct foreign investment in mining concessions. Together with a proposed hydro-electric dam, mining interests at play even before the legislation changes were at the heart of intense protests and repression. The government repealed Law 8 in March 2011, but protests demanding a definitive ban on mining in Ngabe-Bugle territory continued.
Two Indigenous protesters were killed on February 5, 2012 when police opened fire on highway blockade actions taken to defend the Comarca’s land and resources. On March 21, after an agreement between the government and the elected Ngabe-Bugle leadership, the National Assembly of Panama passed Special Law 415, prohibiting mining concessions and development in the Ngabe-Bugle territory, and requiring consent for hydro-electric development.
The Ngabe-Bugle Comarca—a State-recognized territory with some degree of political autonomy—was established by the Panamanian government in 1997, in large part due to political pressure from the Ngabe and Bugle peoples seeking political autonomy and control over lands threatened by resource exploitation. With the largest Indigenous population in the country, the level of poverty in the Ngabe-Bugle Comarca is among the highest in the country. Since the Panamanian government did not cede subsoil or water rights as part of the agreement, struggles to protect the territory, subsistence agriculture and traditional culture are ongoing.
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