Wednesday, May 28, 2008

International Solidarity confronts Corporate Spin

"We cannot keep elevating people out of poverty in a free enterprise society, unless institutions: be they business institutions, private institutions or pubic institutions are able to provide that kind of opportunity that to me is a fundamentality of the United Nations human rights program article #4b, when the UN was founded that every human being regardless of its place of origin, race, or gender is entitled the dignity of pulling himself or his family out of poverty, and I'm very proud to say that Barrick has done that to thousands and thousands of people." – Peter Munk, Chairman and Founder of Barrick Gold, Annual General Meeting 2008

Hearing Peter Munk's statement at this year's annual general meeting (AGM) for Barrick Gold, the world's largest gold miner, one might think that they were listening to the accolades of a global development organization. It was their show, and Barrick used this once-a-year opportunity with shareholders to further their branding as the "Socially Responsible" mining giant, boasting community programs and infrastructure development near their mine sites.

The Barrick love-fest didn't last long, however, as the first person to speak in the obligatory Q&A session was a representative from a human rights organization near Barrick's Porgera mine in Papua New Guinea. "Your mine has destroyed our ancestral land, our sacred places, and our gardens, which we need to feed ourselves. You dump your mine waste directly into our river system contaminating 600 km of river all the way to the sea," explained Jethro Tulin, Executive Officer of Akali Tange Association, in a speech aimed directly at Munk.

He continued, "Your security guards have been shooting and killing our people and raping, even gang-raping, our women with impunity for years now... When will Barrick agree to move the more than 5,000 families who live within your mine lease in a way that is fair and will provide us an opportunity to be healthy, to feed our families, and to educate our children?"

Following Jethro in the Q&A session were indigenous leaders from Wiradjuri in Australia and the Western Shoshone from the U.S., each representing communities affected by Barrick's operations, and each with a vision that differed greatly from Barrick's self-propagated benevolence.

The appearance of these indigenous leaders at Barrick's AGM is the consequence of increasing international networking between mining-affected communities. Barrick's AGM was just one stop on a speaking tour that traveled from the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in New York, through Toronto and Ottawa, and finally on to Montreal. The tour comprised of speaking events representing five different Indigenous communities, including community leaders from Papua New Guinea, Chile, Australia, Tanzania, and the U.S. – all adversely affected by Barrick's operations.

From left to right: Anga Atalu (Secretary, Porgera Landowners Association (PNG), Sergio Campusano (President of Diaguita Huascoaltinos (CHILE), Neville "Chappy" Williams (Wiradjuri elder and spokesperson, Mooka/Kalara United Families (AUS)), Mark Ekepa (Chairman, Porgera Landowners Association (PNG), and Jethro Tulin (Executive Officer, Akali Tange Association (PNG)). photo: Alan Cedillo Lissner

Throughout the tour, indigenous participants made connections about the mining company's tactics in suppressing dissident voices, dividing communities, manipulating local and national politics and spinning their message to the mainstream press.

"Barrick negotiated in secret with five unauthorized Wiradjuri," Neville "Chappy" Williams told the room of shareholders. Neville is a Wiradjuri elder and spokesperson for Mooka and Kalara United Families, who hold the only continuing native title claim to the Lake Cowal area, where Barrick is mining an ancient ephemeral lake and Wiradjuri sacred site. However, Barrick negotiated exclusively with a small group of Wiradjuri who filed a previous title claim to the area that has since been discontinued. "Barrick claims a good record in negotiating with Wiradjuri, but this is not true and the main negotiator, Percy Knight, was on a suspended sentence for fraud when he signed the deal. Now the entire Wiradjuri nation is supposedly bound to this agreement but no-one else can see it, even though we have tried to get a copy under Freedom of Information."

After the shareholder's meeting, Anga Atalu, the Secretary for the Porgera Landowners Association in Papua New Guinea, remarked that he found it funny that Barrick specifically mentioned building schools for local communities, "the only school for our community was buried by mine waste 6 years ago," he said.

These ironic twists of rhetoric were common when confronting Barrick. Looking through the "Barrick Responsibility Report" that was handed to each shareholder, Sergio Campusano, the President of the Diaguita Huascoaltino Indigenous and agricultural community in Chile, pointed to the headline "The Diaguita Community." The paragraph that followed suggested that Barrick was "working in partnership with the Diaguita community of the Huasco Alto near our Pascua-Lama project, developing programs that contribute to the strengthening of their culture and traditions."

Currently, Diaguita living adjacent to Barrick's proposed mine site (Pascua Lama) live in homes built into the ground. Photo: Sergio Campusano

Apparently, Barrick had aligned itself with a Diaguita cultural center unrepresentative of the living Diaguita culture adjacent to the Pascua Lama project. Barrick had recognized Campusano as the legitimate leader of the Diaguita Huascoaltinos until he asked Barrick to leave the area. Barrick then funded his opponent in the community's election last year. But, despite the imbalance of resources in the electoral battle, Sergio was elected last year to another term. Now, the corporation is promoting Diaguita from other areas as legitimate leaders who can provide consent to the project.

“Barrick Gold says that they want to help the poor, but we don't want their helping hand, we want their hands off our mountains,” said Sergio Campusano of the stance of his community. "Barrick asked us what we wanted, and we told them that we only wanted one thing, that they leave."

If a legitimate resistance exists, but the press does not report it...

The webcast of the shareholder meeting conveniently censored the entire Q&A session, which included other shareholder's presenting a resolution involving the environmental impacts of the Pascua Lama project. The Canadian press also chose to ignore the presence of the community leaders, as not one article about the meeting even mentioned complaints were voiced within the meeting. This happened despite the fact that they had personally given press packets to the Reuters, Bloomberg, and the Toronto Sun and contacted the Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star by phone and e-mail. The Barrick shareholder meeting was even held within the same building that houses the CBC. Yet, instead of acknowledging the presence of these legitimate complaints, the CBC chose to air a flattering interview with Munk that Friday, musing over his business career and philanthropy.

Engaging reporters outside the shareholder's meeting at 250 Front Street West, Toronto. photo: Allan Cedillo Lissner

The experience drove home the challenge that lay before the community leaders and their international solidarity hosts. The fight to hold Canadian corporations abroad accountable for violations in human rights included the struggle to hold the Canadian media itself responsible for reporting on Canadian companies abroad. Canada is home to 60 per cent of the world's mining corporations, and yet no laws exist in Canada to ensure these corporations respect human rights. The issues here highlighted with Barrick Gold are just an intersection of a mass of problems that exist with Canadian mining companies around the world and even within Canada.

Barrick delegation visits the home of Ardoch Algonquin Chief, Harold Perry.
from left to right: Paul York (U of T student), Natalie Lowery (Friends of the Earth Australia), Jack LaPoint (Ardoch Alogonquin), Sky Lovelace (Ardoch Alogonquin), Ellie Gilbert (Lake Cowal Supporter), Harold Perry (Ardoch Algonquin chief), Mireille LaPoint (Ardoch Algonquin), Neville "Chappy" Williams (Wiradjuri elder), and Sergio Campusano (Diaguita Huascoaltinos). photo; Allan Cedillo Lissner

Near the end of the "Indigenous Resistance to Barrick" tour, the communities fighting Barrick teamed up with groups from Honduras and Guatemala who had also come to Canada to attend Goldcorp's annual meeting and express their complaints about Goldcorp's operations on their lands. With joint public speaking events and a protest outside of the shareholders meeting, the delegations sent a clear message to the several hundred passing by that day that these problems are not a case of one bad apple, but are symptomatic of a system within which these abuses are inevitable.

Barrick's board of directors includes former Canadian PM Brain Mulroney. Barrick gold's adjusted net income in 2007 totaled $1,733,000,000.

Goldcorp protest, May 20, 2008. Far right, Sergio Campusano, president of the Diaguita Huascoaltinos Indigenous and Agricultural community. Sergio joined Rights Action ( for speaking events alongside Carlos Amador (Honduras) and Fausto Valiente (Guatemala), who came to Toronto to speak out against Goldcorp at their AGM.

After the AGM in Toronto, the delegation headed off to Ottawa for meetings with members of Parliament. Meeting with Liberal MP Alan Tonks (not pictured: Sergio Campusano, Catherine Coumans (Mining Watch Canada), Neville "Chappy" Williams, Ellie Gilbert, Sakura Saunders, Natalie Lowery). Photo: Allan Cedillo Lissner.

Sakura Saunders is an editor for

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