China’s investments in Latin America come with social, cultural, and environmental violations, the Collective on Chinese Financing and Investment, Human Rights, and Environment (CICDHA), a network of 50 regional civil society organizations, indicated in a recent report.
The report, presented in February as part of a United Nations (U.N.) review of China’s activities and obligations abroad, analyzed 14 projects led by 11 Chinese companies or consortiums financed by six Chinese banks.
“Although Chinese companies have been working in Latin America for some time, we continue to see thousands of violations of all kinds of rights,” Mariel Guerra, a member of Bolivia-based nongovernmental organization (NGO) Potosina Ecological Society (Sociedad Potosina de Ecología), told Diálogo on April 30.
CICDHA denounced “China’s non-compliance with its extraterritorial obligations in the operations of companies and banks under its jurisdiction in the mining, hydroelectric, hydrocarbon, infrastructure, and food sectors, in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru, and Venezuela.”
All the projects are located in fragile ecosystems and have a significant environmental impact, the document states. It also identified serious patterns of violation of the rights of indigenous peoples, health, environment, access to water, food, housing, and labor.
China has been the subject of several reviews by U.N. bodies since 2016. These include a 2019 Universal Periodic Review, a process that involves the review of human rights records, after which Beijing recognized the claims of Latin American groups, research platform Diálogo Chino reported.
Latin America is home to some 60 percent of the world’s known terrestrial species. The Amazon houses 10 percent of the planet’s biodiversity, and around 58 million people belonging to more than 800 indigenous communities live in communion with nature, previously in perfect balance, the study posited.
“Anywhere Chinese companies arrive they create a red light, and we already know how they are going to act,” Guerra said. “They are not going to change until the countries themselves put restrictions also at the global level and apply tough sanctions. They are exploiters.”
In 11 of the projects CICDHA analyzed, there is evidence of forced evictions, housing deprivation, destruction of land and territory belonging to indigenous communities, which negatively affect individual and collective mental health and weaken the community fabric and socio-cultural organization.
The projects block the migratory routes of aquatic fauna, change the seasonal flooding of specific ecosystems, and discharge waste and toxic substances into rivers. The projects also lack environmental impact studies and proper licenses.
Such is the case of the El Mirador and San Carlos Panantza mining projects in Ecuador and Las Bambas in Peru, the Santa Cruz River Hydroelectric Complex in Argentina, the development of the Orinoco Oil Belt in Venezuela, the Mayan Train in Mexico, and the Ivirizu hydroelectric project in Bolivia.
“These abuses fuel a high level of social conflict, resulting from the sustained lack of response and willingness to have a dialogue on the part of Chinese companies or representatives with affected communities or civil society organizations,” CICDHA said.
“In the last decade, people, out of fear or because they have no idea of what is going on, have not been able to assess the impacts of Chinese projects,” Guerra said. “Chinese companies are quite skilled at generating entities parallel to grassroots organizations to get approval for their projects.”
Chinese capital has changed the lifestyle of many communities in terms of their interaction with wildlife, plants, way of life, and has caused the loss of cultures, Guerra added.
According to the CICDHA report, Chinese capital also encourages a repressive response to peaceful protests by the affected communities through the use of private security forces, particularly through excessive and in some cases lethal use of force, physical and judicial harassment, and arbitrary detention.
The Chinese state cannot disengage from its obligation to protect rights outside its territory. Most Chinese companies are state-owned, semi-state-owned, or have the financial support of Chinese state entities, Mongabay, an environmental journalism news site, reported.
CICDHA calls for the creation of international cooperation policies that prohibit Chinese companies and financial institutions from participating in projects that affect fragile ecosystems characterized by their important biodiversity, their role in the stability of natural water systems, and in indigenous territories.
“Expecting these types of companies to stop coming to our countries is a bit utopian,” Guerra said. “But we must demand that they guarantee and protect human and environmental rights under international standards.”