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Who will Save the Poorest from the Planet Savers?

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By Walter Donway

September 8, 2017

 

A gun is pointed between your eyes. If the gunman pulls the trigger, you die. What do you say to the gunman? Do you say: “If you pull the trigger, you will hurt the poor?”

A gun is pointed between your eyes. If the gunman pulls the trigger, you die. What do you say to the gunman? Do you say: “If you pull the trigger, you will hurt the poor. The work I do gives them jobs, schools, medical care, and an opportunity to create their own businesses.”?

Your right to your own life? You imply that you have none. Your right to exist rests on service to the poor. I have not researched how individuals with a gun to their head argue, but businesses and their allies routinely must do so. And the argument from ‘hurting the poor’ is almost a reflex.

The case of Tahoe Resources, a Canadian-based mining company that specializes in extraction of silver and gold, came before the Constitutional Court of Guatemala on August 28. Back in 2010, Tahoe purchased the Escobal silver mine near Rafael las Flores, Guatemala. Since then, Tahoe has invested more than $1.0 billion in the mine’s infrastructure. The mine accesses one of the world’s largest silver discoveries, an extraordinary find in a world long scoured for natural resources, particularly precious metals.

After capital had been raised and invested during the long money-losing, risky, start-up years, Escobal began production. The ounces of silver and gold flowed and the investment started to pay off, at last.

I have deliberately presented this account in terms of investment, production, and use—not justifying the enterprise’s existence by reference to community needs. The world market for silver used for manufacturing, especially precision electronics such as computers, and for investment, is strong. There are thousands of applications for silver in products we use and silver remains scarce. Its price today is about $17.50 an ounce and it has been much higher in times of demand for silver and gold as safe-haven investments.

Then, earlier this year, just as Escobal began to prove itself highly profitable, an organization called Centro de Acción Legal Ambiental y Social de Guatemala (CALAS), a self-identified “anti-mining” group, launched a multi-pronged attack to shut down the entire mining operation. Their tactics are a textbook case of neo-Marxist activism against business—and that is no accident. Their financial and ideological support come from international anti-business environmental organizations.

CALAS sued the mining department of the Guatemalan government for wrongly granting a mining license to Tahoe’s local mining subsidiary without the allegedly required consultation with indigenous tribes. The tribes are located far from the mining site and did not seem to notice it for some six years until it grew profitable. The mining department asserts that it followed the law in granting the mining license. Meanwhile CALAS obtained a court order shutting down the mining operation pending outcome of the case. Tahoe is challenging that temporary order in Constitutional Court while pursuing the legal question of its right to exist at all.

CALAS incited a protest that literally blocks the road between Escobal [a mine] and any source of food, fuel, or mining supplies. The demonstration has continued for months, blocking all traffic from Escobal. No one has explained why Guatemalan police and military forces have failed to lift the illegal blockade.

At the same time, CALAS incited a protest that literally blocks the road between Escobal and any source of food, fuel, or mining supplies. The demonstration has continued for months, blocking all traffic from Escobal. No one has explained why Guatemalan police and military forces have failed to lift the illegal blockade.

The CALAS court case has nothing to do with water or air pollution or worker health. It is solely based on failure to consult indigenous peoples whose traditional lands may be affected. Tahoe and its Guatemalan operation are not without supporters because powerful environmentalist groups in North America and Europe are trying to shut down natural resource companies throughout Latin America.

It is the defense of Tahoe that I am writing about that should be a warning to businesses everywhere and to defenders of capitalism.

My prime exhibit is one of the best articles I have seen reporting Tahoe’s predicament and analyzing the motives, tactics, international support, and consequences of the environmentalist attack. It appeared on Watts Up with That, an internationally prominent Web site that describes itself as the world’s most visited Web site on climate change. You cannot make the case for genuine, unbiased science on climate change without daily addressing the worldwide activities of Greenpeace and other environmental organizations—and not just on the weather.

The title of the article is “Callous CALAS Activists Against the Poor.” It is an excellent article journalistically, it exposes the characteristic “any tactic is justified by our cause” mentality of the CALAS leadership. All the lowest tactics known to “community organizing” are on display such as “community consultation” polls taken at meetings that exclude any company workers or spokesmen, pressure on Guatemalan banks to stop dealing with Tahoe, violence against those who defend the company, and, of course, use of the “indigenous peoples” as an excuse for the extremist environmental agenda.

But philosophically, the article is a disaster. It concedes the premise and worldview of CALAS, its international funders, and the millions of individuals and corporations whose contributions bankroll them. It concedes the premise that our moral right to exist and achieve our values requires a constant payment of tribute to NEED. Listen to how the article goes on. It argues that earlier environmental activism in Latin America campaigned on worker health and safety issues and demand for more investment in local schools and hospitals. The author emphasizes that Tahoe’s record on all those issues is outstanding and not in dispute:

“Since buying the mine in 2010, owner and operator Canada-based Tahoe Resources has invested more than $1 billion into the mine’s operation and related infrastructures–plus another $10 million upgrading hospitals and schools, planting 32,000 trees, and launching vocational, entrepreneurship, health, nutrition and other programs. More than 1,600 mining jobs and 6,000 indirect jobs brought many millions of dollars in salaries to the region. Locals launched over 100 new businesses. Life was getting better.”

In other words, Tahoe has entirely justified its existence, and its right to its profits, in Guatemala. And the above summary probably understates the efforts made by Tahoe Resources to present a benevolent face of capitalism to its Guatemalan home. On the Tahoe Web site, there is an endlessly repeated emphasis on justifying its existence in Guatemala. Question: Did Tahoe’s high-profile “virtue signaling” of its open-ended obligation to the community attract the attention of CALAS and its international partners?

With the court case and temporary injunction against Escobal operations, Tahoe’s stock price on the New York Stock Exchange plummeted from over $16 per share to about $4 per share. Tahoe has other mining operations in other countries and ample capital resources to survive, but, in Escobal, has a world-class silver discovery supposedly past the risky start-up stage and rapidly expanding production. Escobal’s success coincided with the quadrupling of Tahoe’s stock’s price.

Oxfam America, who built its power on appeals to Americans to head off famine in Africa, long ago ran out of famines. Now, its business includes the “cultural and human rights” of indigenous people. It supports CALAS and organizations worldwide that oppose capitalism (they use misnomers like “corporatism” and “internationalism”) in third-world countries.

Who are the enemies of this enterprise in one of Latin America’s poorest nations (31st out of 33 on the Human Development Index)?  Oxfam America, who built its power on appeals to Americans to head off famine in Africa, long ago ran out of famines. Now, its business includes the “cultural and human rights” of indigenous people. It supports CALAS and organizations worldwide that oppose capitalism (they use misnomers like “corporatism” and “internationalism”) in third-world countries. There is the New York-based Moriah Fund and the Fund for Global Human Rights—all battling for “human rights” by trying to close down Tahoe and other companies. The European Union and the United Nations have given more millions to support the cause, in truth, of no new natural resources companies in Latin America.

For workers and businessmen and their families in Guatemala, Escobal—and capitalism—is the difference between poverty and comfort, sometimes death and life. They are excluded from “community consultations” held by CALAS and intimidated or beaten for open protest.

For workers and businessmen and their families in Guatemala, Escobal—and capitalism—is the difference between poverty and comfort, sometimes death and life. With Escobal closed, their jobs are gone and the businesses their new wealth made possible are failing. They are excluded from “community consultations” held by CALAS and intimidated or beaten for open protest.

And so, Oxfam reports, with stiff indignation at the ruthlessness of international corporations, repeated incidents of motorcycles by night roaring past the homes of CALAS leaders and firing at their cars. Reportedly, some CALAS-connected individuals have been abducted. And, says Oxfam, it is all because we are defending the “dignity” of indigenous peoples. Oxfam publicity to its funders has shifted to “stop the violence.” How? They urge the president of Guatemala to impose a six-year moratorium on all mining.

Here is the actual, local reality of the worldwide “anti-Industrial Revolution” that poses as “environmentalism.” It is not at all environmentalism, but environmentalism is its cover and fundraising calling card. It dare not speak its true philosophical premise, which is that humankind is the freak of the universe, the only species that does not adapt itself to the natural world but uses reason—science, technology, engineering, manufacturing—to adapt the natural world to its needs. Humans must be forced to revert to a way of life that leaves the natural world unchanged. The civilization our species has created is a disaster for the planet. Dr. Patrick Moore, a co-founder of Greenpeace who left the organization and has spent a lifetime exposing the organization’s agenda, says he left when the philosophy of Greenpeace became that mankind is the Earth’s problem.

No appeals to the needs met by capitalism, no appeals to prosperity, no appeals to raising standards of living are relevant to the new primitivists. To them, that is just the language of the exploiters. To them, the workers in the Escobal mine are “exploiters” as much as investors in the company. Who is exploited? The planet.

Of course, a company attacked by the cadres of the new primitivism must mount the defense it believes most effective in the context. Appeals to benefiting the community may move government officials and courts. In the case of Escobal, a $1.0 billion investment by Tahoe stockholders, based upon a license issued by the government of Guatemala, is at stake. The company and its lawyers must decide the best defense.

But for the intellectual allies of capitalism, the position from which to attack the new primitives disguised as “environmentalists” is a matter of life and death. As the greatest philosophical defender of capitalism in our time, Ayn Rand, demonstrated, capitalism cannot be defended by reference to altruism. As a matter of fact, and historical record, capitalism indeed does raise the standard of living of everyone and does benefit most the least able, who are beneficiaries of those who achieve more. A full-time sanitation worker in New York City, who heaves the bags of garbage into the back of the truck, can easily afford a computer, a cell phone, indoor plumbing, and multicultural cuisine, the enjoyment of television, a car, and all of modern medical care. All of that is a matter of fact.

As a matter of morality, of right, capitalism is the freedom of the individual to reason: to think, create, produce, and enjoy the results. The justification of capitalism is that human nature and the nature of reality require that each individual live in freedom pursuing his values. It once was expressed as the “right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” To argue that benefits to the community, the worker, the poor justify an enterprise is a concession to the fatal philosophical idea that life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness rest upon a sacred pedestal called “altruism.” But once altruism, the premise that the moral justification of our existence is sacrifice, is conceded, nothing will be left.

Tahoe Resources is caught up in the surreal world of modern “environmentalism.” Government licensing, investment, achievement, success—and, yes, a huge positive impact on the community—count for nothing.

A significant segment of environmentalists are the new enemies of civilization. Again, not all environmentalists, but the new primitives, most often their leaders, are concealed among them. That gives all of us a crucial obligation to ask: who are we supporting and for what projects?

Tahoe urgently needs the partnership of two groups. One is all of those writers who understand the role of capitalism in human freedom, success, and happiness. The other group is all of us who are bombarded daily by the appeals for funds by “environmental” nonprofits and who may view “the environment” as the pure and uncontroversial cause of our time as an axiomatic proposition.

I have shown you, here, that this proposition is worse than untrue. A significant segment of environmentalists are the new enemies of civilization. Again, not all environmentalists, but the new primitives, most often their leaders, are concealed among them. That gives all of us a crucial obligation to ask: who are we supporting and for what projects?

All that we have earned, and enjoy, and hope to bequeath to our children—our posterity—depends upon our decision.

 

 

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