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The Critical Knowledge Collective hosts Grahame Russel

Saturday, October 8, 2011

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Written by Janet Errygers

On Tuesday, October 4th, the Critical Knowledge Collective hosted Grahame Russel for an informative and, at times, shocking presentation.

Russel is a University of Guelph alumni, former professor at the University of Northern British Columbia, and a non-practising lawyer. In 1985, Russel co-founded the organization Rights Action and has lived and worked in both Mexico and Central America. Rights Action works with non-governmental and grassroots organizations to fight environmental, development and human rights issues. It also aims to raise funds from private investors to donate to such grassroots organizations.

Much of Russel's work has been in Guatemala and Honduras, where both Canadian and American mining companies have come under fire for their often illegitimate practices. Both Guatemala and Honduras are resource-rich, but these resources are under the control of international investors and the international economy; thus, are two of the poorest countries in the Americas. They are characterized by deep levels of poverty, an exploitative economic model, and high instances of violence and repression.

In Guatemala and Honduras, poverty is a form of repression. The majority of citizens affected are of indigenous descent, whereas the wealthy elite have European ancestors. Thus, racism is rampant and uncontrolled. The guise of “democracy” is present, but many (if not all) elections are rigged or flawed in some way. There have been many instances of politically motivated crime, and violations of human rights are not dealt with promptly, if at all.

The mining laws of these two countries are a sellout to the mining industry. The second largest mining company in the world, Goldcorp (a Canadian company), has begun to garner critical attention because of their unjust and unsustainable practices. Widespread deforestation, explosive methods of extraction, and water contamination and depletion are all a result of the mining industry. In fact, over 30% of Honduras is concessioned out to Canadian mining companies with little regulation of the land's use.

These aggressive approaches to mining have had impacts on both the Earth and the population of Guatemala and Honduras. The release of heavy metals and cyanide (used to process the extracted material) into the groundwater system has caused widespread health problems for a population that already fragile and prone to drought. These people live at a subsistence level and depend on the access to clean water for their survival. However, the mining industry has free, unlimited access to the water supply, and have easily marginalized the activist groups who stand in their way.
Despite the obvious environmental and health concerns for those living in and around mining communities, corporations deny any wrong-doing. Russel says that knowledge is power in this case, and keeping yourself informed about what is happening elsewhere in the world will make you aware of the atrocities hidden from our veiled view.

To find out more about Grahame Russel and Rights Action, please visit: http://www.rightsaction.org/

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