Features

Bangladesh

by David L. Wilson, MR Zine

On April 24, 2013, some 1,134 people died in the collapse of the Rana Plaza complex outside Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh. The building housed factories where low-wage workers, largely women, stitched garments for the U.S. and European markets.

For several years before the disaster a number of U.S. opinion makers—notably New York Times columnists Thomas Friedman and Nicholas Kristof—had been arguing that assembly plants like those at Rana Plaza were crucial to the development of economies in the Global South and therefore a boon to the world's most impoverished. The media's efforts to promote sweatshops suddenly slowed down after the collapse in Bangladesh, but they seem to be reviving now, just as we approach the third anniversary of the disaster.

The occasion for the new pro-sweatshop campaign is Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders' opposition to trade pacts like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Senator Sanders has made criticism of the trade deals a key part of his bid for the Democratic nomination.

Mining Companies Sue Colombia for 'Right' to Pollute

paramó

by Pete Dolack, Systemic Disorder

Yet another standoff between clean drinking water and mining profits has taken shape in Colombia, where two corporations insist their right to pollute trumps human health and the environment. As is customary in these cases, it is clean water that is the underdog here.

Two million people are dependent on water from a high-altitude wetland, which is also a refuge for endangered species, that a Canadian mining company, Eco Oro Minerals Corporation, wants to use for a gold mine. The wetlands, the Santurbán páramo in the Andes, has been declared off-limits for mining by Colombia's highest court due to the area’s environmental sensitivity. Eco Oro is suing the Colombian government because of this under the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement.

The dispute will likely be heard by a secret tribunal that is an arm of the World Bank, even though the World Bank has provided investment capital for Eco Oro to develop the mine.

Chinese State Censorship Reaches Manhattan's Lower East Side

Firewall

by Bill Weinberg, The Villager

Manhattan-based artist Joyce Yu-Jean Lee never guessed she was in for a bit of international intrigue and even global headlines when she launched a show and accompanying discussion panels in February at a couple of alternative venues on the Lower East Side.

The installation, which lasted a month, was a pop-up Internet cafe dubbed "Firewall." This is a reference to the "Great Firewall of China" (officially the "Golden Shield") that filters the Internet in the People's Republic.

At Firewall Cafe, visitors got to input search terms of their choice into computers attached to split-screen monitors set up to display simultaneously the results from Google and Baidu—the state-approved Chinese alternative, operating from within the Great Firewall. The installation was hosted by a gallery with the appropriate name of Chinatown Soup. (Although it is actually on lower Orchard St., just where Chinatown is now starting to expand into the old Lower East Side).

Ecuador's Aggressive Amazonian Oil Push

Amazon

by Kevin Koenig, Amazon Watch

Last week, the Ecuadorian government announced that it had begun constructing the first of a planned 276 wells, ten drilling platforms, and multiple related pipelines and production facilities in the ITT (Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputini) oil field, known as Block 43, which overlaps Yasuní National Park in Ecuador's Amazon rainforest. Coupled with the recent signing of two new oil concessions on the southern border of Yasuní and plans to launch another oil lease auction for additional blocks in the country's southern Amazon in late 2016, the slated drilling frenzy is part of a larger, aggressive move for new oil exploration as the country faces daunting oil-backed loan payments to China, its largest creditor.

Yasuní National Park is widely considered one of the most biodiverse places on the planet. It has more species per hectare of trees, shrubs, insects, birds, amphibians, and mammals than anywhere else in the world. It was designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1989, and it is home to the Tagaeri-Taromenane, Ecuador's last indigenous people living in voluntary isolation.

The controversial drilling plans were met with protest at the Quito headquarters of state-run Petroamazonas, the company charged with developing the field. Ecuador averaged a spill per week between 2000 and 2010, which doesn't bode well for drilling in a national park.

Zambesi River

by Anabela Lemos, Toward Freedom

This article was drawn from an interview with Anabela Lemos, and conducted, edited, and condensed by Simone Adler for Toward FreedomAnabela Lemos is co-founder, campaign coordinator and board member of Justiça Ambiental, the Mozambique branch of Friends of the Earth.

To corporations, the forest is only business. To communities, the forest is everything: trees, medicine, culture, spirituality. Land-grabbing and the removal of communities from forests and land breaks the community, displaces access to food and water, and uproots the connection to nature and [local] knowledge. If the community structure is broken, if the land—the means of food production—is lost, we lose everything.

Land That Can Only Grow Stones
In Mozambique, where 80% of the population is campesinos—traditional, family farmers—companies are taking the best, most fertile land and moving people to land that can’t grow anything. For example, the coal mining project in the Tete province relocated people from the fertile soil by the Zambezi River, with the promise of houses and two hectares of land per family. They were moved to an arid place with land that can only grow stones, as they say, losing access to the land and river their lives depended on.

How Syrians are Struggling to Find an Exit

Syria refugees map

by Eleonora Vio, IRIN

Over the last five years, close to 4.8 million Syrians have fled the conflict in their country by crossing into Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. But as the war drags on, neighbors are sealing their borders. Forced from their homes by air-strikes and fighting on multiple fronts, the vast majority of Syrian asylum seekers now have no legal escape route.

Earlier this week, EU leaders reached a hard-won deal with Turkey aimed at ending a migration crisis that has been building since last year, and that in recent weeks has seen tens of thousands of migrants and refugees stranded in Greece. But the agreement turns a blind eye to the fact that even larger numbers of asylum seekers are stranded back in Syria, unable to reach safety.

Syrians hoping to apply for asylum in Europe first have to physically get there. EU member states closed their embassies in Syria at the start of the conflict, and even embassies and consulates in neighboring countries have been reluctant to process visa and asylum applications.

When Syria’s war erupted in March 2011, it was initially relatively easy for most refugees to leave the country. Those without the means to fly poured out in waves of tens of thousands across land borders into Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey. But one by one, these exits have been restricted or closed off entirely.

Lessons from Flint

Flint River

by Ryan Stoa, Jurist

When I teach Water Resources Law to my students, I often start each semester by juxtaposing two competing conceptualizations: water as a private commodity vs. water as a human right. The contrast demonstrates the diversity in approaches to water management, while foreshadowing the public-private tensions that permeate contemporary water law debates. Some students are attracted by the promises of privatization, including capital investments to upgrade infrastructure and the efficiencies of allowing market forces to allocate water where it is most valued. Other students push back, noting the fundamental human need for water as a justification for holding water resources in common, while citing the negative externalities that frustrate attempts to monetize water accurately.

Both viewpoints are playing out in the wake of the Flint, Michigan, water crisis. Last month I wrote about the rhetoric following the crisis, noting that many critics were echoing the human right to water perspective. One Michigan state representative even proposed a bill that would declare water to be a human right. To many observers, the crisis was caused by water managers holding financial considerations above public health and environmental justice. Indeed, Flint's decision to switch from water provided by the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department to water provided by the Karegnondi Water Authority was largely a financial one, as the move was projected to save the city $19 million over eight years. When the Flint city council voted to return to Detroit water, the city's emergency manager opposed the move on financial grounds. To many, water cannot be managed with such financial tunnel-vision, and a human right to water might rebalance water managers' priorities.

But in the last several weeks, another view has (re)emerged. Some have called for further privatization of water resources. To these critics, the Flint water crisis is a crisis of public governance, one that may have been avoided had a private utility been in charge. A private utility would still have received government oversight, while avoiding the messy political battles necessary to receive infrastructural investments. A private utility, furthermore, would not have enjoyed sovereign immunity, providing an incentive to avoid litigation arising from water contamination.

Kabylia flag

by Bill Weinberg, The Villager

All Saints Ukrainian Church on East 11th Street, with its colorful mosaic facade, was the unlikely venue on Saturday Jan. 16 for the metro area Berber community's celebration of their traditional new year holiday, Yennayer. On the wall of the church's downstairs meeting space, paintings of orthodox saints formed a backdrop to the flag of Kabylia—the increasingly restive Berber region of Algeria's northern mountains. By an interesting chance, it has the same blue and yellow colors as the Ukrainian flag. It was still a little odd to hear strains of North African music and eat delicious couscous in a Ukrainian church.

The Berbers were in North Africa for thousands of years before the arrival of the Arabs in the seventh century. 2016 is 2966 in their calendar, which starts counting from the founding of a Berber dynasty in Egypt under Pharaoh Sheshonq I in 950 BC. Back then, the Berbers were known to the Greeks as the Libyans. They were later known to the Romans as the Numidians. They became known as the Berbers due to their association with the "barbarian" Vandals who passed through North Africa on their way to sacking Rome. But they have always called themselves the Amazigh—free people. (The plural is Imazighen.)

Yennayer has taken on a special significance in the current Amazigh cultural renaissance—especially for the inhabitants of Kabylia and their worldwide diaspora. The highlight of the celebration at All Saints Church was an exposition by Sadi Melbouci, an Amazigh businessman and political leader who flew in from his home in Denver for the affair, entitled "Kabylia's Path to Freedom." Tired of what they see as second-class citizenship under a regime officially committed to Arab nationalism, more and more Kabyles (as the indigenous Amazigh of the region are called) view themselves as a colonized people, and are calling for independence from Algeria.