minerals

Forget The Firm--Meet Francia

Francia -- Photo curtsey of Elizabeth Palmberg
Francia -- Photo curtsey of Elizabeth Palmberg

Most real-life law students I've met are at way, way less risk of being murdered than their counterparts in a John Grisham novel--except for Francia Marquez. The Afro-Colombian activist and mother of two has received multiple death threats as she advocates to keep her home community from having their ancestral home stolen by a land-grab big mining project.

There's gold in them thar hills in Francia's home, La Toma, in Colombia's Cauca province. Families in her hometown have lived for generations off of small-scale, by-hand gold mining. (Francia herself still puts in some mine time when she visits home, although these days she's spending the most time in her legal studies in Bogota.)

But lots of larger-scale mining concerns want in on the action. Some have sent in bulldozers illegally. Others are joining the land rush of getting mining concessions from the national government--notwithstanding laws on the books that give local communities various rights, including prior consultation on any mining projects.

Poisoning Eden

PATAGONIA IS A land of myth. Like Siberia or the Australian outback, it’s one of those far-off places that, despite today’s round-the-clock global information flow, remain a mystery. Unfortunately, the myth of Patagonia as distant wild country has become a smokescreen for those who profit from extracting the region’s subsurface resources—silver, gold, uranium, lead, and oil. From their point of view, the less anyone knows about what’s happening, the better.

When I arrived in the South American region of Patagonia nearly a decade ago, the general public was almost entirely unaware of the mining bonanza about to burst onto the landscape, though government and corporate officials had already set the wheels in motion. After a few years setting down roots, I saw the mining activity rapidly picking up speed. As a result I spent a year filming a documentary about extractive industries and widespread conflict over land rights in the area. As is the case with so many resource-rich areas of the world, the communities hardest hit, and least rewarded, by mining are Indigenous Peoples.

The Mapuche people native to Patagonia lived semi-nomadically on both sides of the Andes, in what is now Chile and Argentina. In the 1880s, brutal military campaigns by the Chilean and Argentinian governments finished a two-century-old project that wiped out the majority of the population and left survivors scattered in the most isolated and inhospitable land around, which of course no white folks wanted. Until recently, when they discovered profitable mineral deposits under it.

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Do You Know if There's Blood in Your Phone?

Last summer's financial reform bill included something the world has long needed: a requirement that electronics manufacturers disclose whether their products include conflict minerals from Congo. Money from conflict minerals helps fund militias' reign of terror and rape in the country's eastern region. (See activist site Raise Hope for Congo's listing of how 21 leading electronics companies are doing at voluntary disclosure -- no one gets a gold star, but some are worse than others. Yeah, we're talkin' to you, Nintendo.)

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