Developmental Genocide

A 2002 paper entitled “An Account of the Theory of Genocide” attempts to identify types of genocide, and to fill holes in the U.N.’s Genocide Convention of 1948. The most notable omission by the convention was “politicide”–the killing of human groups because of political affiliation. In order to come up with a more comprehensive description of genocide, the paper describes five major types of genocide: Progressive (towards the ‘classless’ society), Reactionary (towards the ‘racially pure’ state or ‘common marketisation’ of the world), Developmental (eliminating ‘backward’ peoples and their economies), Retributive (taking revenge), and hegemonic (seizing and holding power.)

Developmental genocide has become an increasing threat in recent decades as the growing demands of the industrial countries for raw materials has led to an ever increasing exploitation of resources in developing countries–often on indigenous lands.

Resource Rebels, by Al Gedicks, documents the destruction of indigenous peoples, their habitats, and livelihoods by mining and oil companies.

From the Brazilian rain forests to the Australian outback, mining and drilling operations have brought with them military occupation, systematic human rights abuses, mass killings, arbitrary executions, and destruction of food supply. Between 1900 and 1957, Brazil alone lost more than 80 tribes. Total native population dropped from a million to less than 200,000. Anthropologist John Bodley lays the blame on resource exploitation;

The disappearance of tribal cultures over much of the world in the past 150 years can be seen as the direct result of government policies designed to facilitate the exploitation of tribal resources for the health of industrial civilization.

Gedicks describes the process of developmental genocide;

It involves a dehumanization of those who stand in the way of the economic exploitation of valuable resources. The basic element of this process involves a degradation of the victim, implying their inferiority or worthlessness. Native communities who occupy lands containing untapped resources are frequently described as “primitive,” “savages” or “obstacles.” From the perspective of the “members of the culture of consumption,” it follows that if another culture’s resources appear to be underexploited, this is all the justification needed to take those resources.

An illustrative case study published by MiningWatch Canada details the mining operations of the Canadian company, Goldcorp. Through a series of mergers and acquisitions, Goldorp has become the third largest gold producer in North America, with mines in Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico and the United States.

In its worldwide operations, Goldcorp has run up a record of union busting, disregard of native votes against the mines, toxic waste spills, depletion of local water sources, evasion of taxes, and violent repression of dissent. Goldcorp prides itself on being a “low cost” producer, but low production costs have come with a high human cost.

Goldcorp’s Alumberra mine in Argentina, one of the world’s largest and lowest cost gold, silver, and copper operations, has drained local rivers, forcing people to abandon their farmlands. Numerous environmental problems have been documented, including the spillage of 21,000 kg of ammonium nitrate, clouds of powder from mine blasts, containing heavy metal pollutants that afflict populated areas, and leaks containing high levels of arsenic, cadmium, copper, mercury, selenium and strontium. Mine operations have caused desertification, sickness, and the destruction of the local social and economic fabric.

At the Amapari mine in Brazil, Goldcorp received a ten year tax holiday from the government, while using its partner, Peak Gold Inc., as a “loss leader” company, allowing Goldcorp to declare an operating loss at the mine.

More serious has been the crackdown on small scale, indigenous miners, garimpeiros, who mine to make their own living. In 2000, there were an estimated 700,000 garimpeiros in Brazil. Goldcorp has come into conflict with the garimpeiros in the Amapari mine. Goldcorp has not revealed what methods it has used to deal with the garimpeiros.

In Guatemala, Golldcorp’s Marlin mine ran into serious opposition from the indigenous population in the region. Protests against the mine resulted in two deaths and numerous injuries. The residents of indigenous villages in Sipicapa organized a referendum using the International Labor Organization’s Convention 169, which affirms the right of indigenous communities to be consulted before industrial activities take place on their land. The referendum resulted in an overwhelming rejection of the mine. Unwilling to accept the will of the people, the company filed an unconstitutionality suit as well as an appeal against the referendum. In May, 2007, the Guatemalan Constitutional Court ruled that the referendum was unconstitutional, although observers suggested that the ruling was influenced by political, economic and commercial interests.

Goldcorp’s San Martin mine in Honduras has been criticized by natives as being so exploitative they have likened it to a new form of colonialism. Local environmental activists accuse the mine of drying up water resources needed for crops and villages. The mine’s heap leeching techniques, in which diluted cyanide is sprayed over huge piles of quarried rock to separate the microscopic flecks of gold has resulted in the poisoning of streams and groundwater with toxic heavy metals. Since mining began nearby villages have experienced skin problems, hair loss, increasing numbers of miscarriages, and birth defects. Independent testing has confirmed the presence of dangerous levels of heavy metals in the local population, but the Honduran government has so far refused to officially release the results of the tests. The District Attorney for the Environment issued warrants against the company, claiming that the mine was a threat to the health of local inhabitants, only to have them ignored.

Although Goldcorp denies that pollution from the mine has caused these illnesses, environmental studies of Goldcorp’s Marigold mine in the U.S. cast serious doubt over these claims. In November, 2006, Great Basin Mine Watch and Earthworks reported that Goldcorp’s predecessor, Glamis Gold, had been caught seriously under-reporting mercury pollution from the mine. The company was forced to revise it’s report of mercury releases upward by eight thousand percent for 2003 and six thousand percent for 2002.

In northern Canada, the costs of cleaning pollution from abandoned mines are expected to run over half a billion dollars, dwarfing the $150 million in royalties collected by the government.

Worse are the human rights problems that result from mining projects in developing nations. A 2005 Canadian Parliamentary Committee studied well documented cases of death threats, assassinations, toxic accidents and destruction of protected areas that mining companies have been implicated in. Although the committee recommended new laws that would hold companies accountable for these abuses, the government has yet to act.

Abuses such as these are a chronic problem around the world. Mining expert Roger Moody claims that the root cause of this intensified assault against native peoples has been a “radical shift” away from financing mining projects backed by shareholders and state enterprises toward those bankrolled by multilateral development agencies and regional banks. In 1997 alone, the World Bank Group lent $987 million for mining projects. Resistance to these projects results in increasing repression by the national governments involved. The result is a viscous circle; half of the debts in Third World states come from the purchase of weapons which are used in part to crush resistance to multinational development projects. The foreign corporations extract the wealth, leaving the local governments with little except debt and devastated environments.

Peace activists must stand firmly with the indigenous peoples of the world against the oppression that multinational mining companies bring down upon them.

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