THE BLOG
04/29/2014 05:15 EDT | Updated 06/29/2014 05:59 EDT

Mining Trumps Merengue For Vancouver Cultural Group

Latincouver is, in reality, a business interest put forward under the guise of cultural exchange. While portraying itself as a centre for strengthening cultural ties, many local Latin Americans have criticized the group over their latest business conference, Expoplaza Latina. The event is focused more on mining and resource extraction than merengue and multiculturalism.

Facebook

Vancouver's Latino community has grown by leaps and bounds since the first Chilean refugees found asylum from the tyrannic Pinochet regime in the 1970s and '80s.

It's grown so much that we're now getting noticed. The summer salsa dancing of Latincouver's Carnaval del Sol is now a fixture on the Granville Mall. And it's an arrival that should be celebrated.

But before you grab your partner and hit the dance floor, there are a few things you should know.

The local Latin American community is calling Latincouver's use of cultural cache to build a social base to do business una farza.

Latincouver is, in reality, a business interest put forward under the guise of cultural exchange. While portraying itself as a centre for strengthening cultural ties, many local Latin Americans have criticized the organization over their latest business conference, Expoplaza Latina. The April 30 event at the Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue is focused more on mining and resource extraction than merengue and multiculturalism.

Moreover, just as many B.C. communities have opposed projects like the Northern Gateway pipeline, Latin American people from north to south have opposed the expansion of mining industries in their own communities.

El Salvador's government recently refused a permit for Canadian mining company Pacific Rim over "well-founded risks that it will poison the local communities' environment as well as the country's most important river and source of water."

Guatemala's government is moving to put a moratorium on metallic mineral mining due to "social conflict" as expressed by President Otto Pérez Molina, whereby local thugs harass farmers who refuse to sell their land to mining companies.

Expoplaza will draw big speakers like B.C. Minister of International Trade Teresa Wat, and Alan Minz, regional director for Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada, adding local credit to their roster of movers and shakers at the conference.

Expoplaza also claims to capitalize on the Pacific Alliance -- a trading block initiative including countries like Colombia, Peru and Chile -- claiming it is "the real deal", but the Colombian Supreme Court earlier this month turned down a bill that would ratify Colombia's involvement in the trade agreement, stating that the bill was incomplete and did not fit Colombia's legislative framework even while Colombia is the current president of the Pacific Alliance.

In spite of Latincouver's large dancing events which initially built its base and appear to be inclusive and promoting of Latin American culture, the organization has failed to include critical local Latin American artists.

In 2011, Latincouver contacted Vancouver-based Colombian and Guatemalan muralist Melanie Schambach to facilitate a "sustainability themed event." But when Schambach offered to bring a community mural painted by 60 young adults from San Miguel Ixtahuacan [Guatemala] and nearby towns that "speak up about how Canadian mining has impacted their lives," Latincouver said they couldn't support such a project.

Though its street carnival events are free to the general public, conference passes to Expoplaza reach $200 and exhibitor fees $800, making it inaccessible to the average Latin American immigrant. The choice to host Expoplaza's and Latincouver's English-only website also raises the question, who Latincouver is really trying to serve?

Former Latincouver community engagement co-ordinator Paola Quiroz decided to distance herself from the group, claiming that Latincouver's former vision to promote culture and art from Latin America through ethical and sustainability initiatives is now "clearly focused on generating business circles including those of extractive industries." She adding that it is "irresponsible to not listen to the voices of the communities and ecosystems affected by these monstrous industries."

Quiroz is now one of the many people organizing and voicing their disapproval of Expoplaza. A protest is set for the day of the event. As well, an open letter voicing ethical concerns, as well as inviting people to an assembly in the fall to discuss issues concerning the Latin American communities of B.C., has reached over 200 signatures and gathered support from 30 community organizations.

ALSO ON HUFFPOST:

Photo gallery Why Latin Americans Really Come To The U.S. See Gallery