25,228 and counting
They owe us a law. The campaign for the discussion and approval of a new bill to prohibit mega-mining in Chubut is advancing steadily. The over 25 thousand signatures of provincial registered voters collected (at the time of writing) are being carefully foliated by tireless hands. Signatures are given and added on daily bases. Although the intention is to present them to the Legislature in Rawson in October, logistical restrictions imposed by the pandemic could delay those plans. The crusade for the Second Initiativewas launched in June 2020 and achieved massive support in all departments, municipalities and rural communities. However, the mining companies banned in Chubut, Yamana Gold, Pan American Silver and Patagonia Gold, are trusted by the current Argentina’s highest legislative authority, whose family has governed the neighbour province of Santa Cruz for the last three decades, in which those same companies operate a piacere.
Chubut province has led the movement against big mining in Argentina since 2003, when the town of Esquel became the first to hold a referendum and pass a resolution rejecting Meridian Gold’s open pit gold-silver project. Right after, the provincial Legislature passed the Law XVII-Nº 68 (former 5001), which prohibits open-pit mining and the use of cyanide in mineral processing. This successful action marked the beginning of the commodities supercycle and was mirrored by similar movements in other regions. In the following years Rio Negro, Tierra del Fuego, Córdoba, San Luis, Tucuman, La Rioja and La Pampa passed similar laws(two of them later overturned, La Rioja in 2008 and Rio Negro in 2011). Mining promoters have challenged legal restrictions in the courts, but its constitutionality has been confirmed by the national Supreme Court of Justice in Chubut and by the highest provincial courts in Cordoba and Mendoza.
Mining companies never left Chubut. In 2014, the citizen assemblies introduced the first Popular Initiative through the mechanism provided by the provincial constitution. Backed by 13,000 signatures, the proposal was tougher than the law 5001 and included explicit negative aspects of mining and specific dangerous minerals, such as uranium. However, in a controversial session that undermined the bill a provincial legislator was photographed as he read a text message from the then-director of Yamana Gold, Meridian successor, who was instructing him on how to modify an article. The provincial legislature ended up passing an ineffective and diluted law that was then repealed by the governor. They owe us a law and the assemblies are determined.
Esquel residents have been marching in defense of water, life and in opposition to large scale gold mining on the 4th day of every month for the last twenty years. They don’t even allow Yamana Gold to have a commercial office in the town. The monthly march is now replicated in the capital Rawson and the towns of Trelew, Puerto Madryn, Dolavon and Comodoro Rivadavia, as well as the rural communities Chacay Oeste, Laguna Fría, Gan Gan or Paso del Sapo. Amid the pandemic, Yamana announced in April that it had agreed to let a privately held real estate and investment company acquire up to 40% its stake in the Suyai gold project near Esquel. Under the agreement, the company owned by Argentine businessmen Eduardo Elsztain “is in charge of obtaining permits and all environmental, social, and governance issues”. The price of gold continues to edge higher, reaching a record of US$2000/toz. Gold is a great vehicle for laundering money.
Meanwhile, Pan American Silver´s subsidiary Minera Argenta just applied for a water permit for industrial purposes to be used in the Navidad de facto mining camp. The Provincial Water Institute published the request in the official bulletin last week. The water permit, open for public comment for one month, is aimed at facilitating the extraction of thousands of tons of lead, to be transported more than 300 km and shipped in Port Madryn. Lead is a poison of little economic value. According to UNICEF, around 1 in 3 children – up to 800 million globally – has dangerous blood lead levels. A painful example is lead mining inheritance in Patagonia. A Community Multisectoral Commission fights against all odds to remedy the contamination inflicted in San Antonio Oeste (260 Km north from Madryn) and its magnificent bay, a history of negligence, pollution and loss.
A few days earlier, the former British now Canadian Patagonia Gold “secured ownership of Mina Angela”, the main antecedent of metal mining in the central plateau of Chubut. The final payment must be made “thirty (30) days from the lifting of the Chubut Province mining ban”. The mineral deposit is located approximately 50 km east-southeast of Patagonia’s Calcatreu gold project in Rio Negro. The communities affected by this project forced the government to ban the use of cyanide in gold mining back in 2004, but the restriction was derogated in 2012. The project was acquired by Pan American in 2009. Pan American Silver let Calcatreu sit there for years, until it traded it to Patagonia Gold in 2017. By its part, Patagonia Gold ceded the Joaquín and COSE deposits, adjacent to the Manantial Espejo mine that Pan American Silver operates in Santa Cruz. The Navidad silver and base metals deposit is located 45 km further to the south-southeast of Mina Angela. The Cerro Castillo company, owned by UK Lonmin and the Argentine group Garovaglio & Zorraquín, brought Mina Angela into production under the last military dictatorship in 1978. While the exploitation was exhausted twenty years later, it will continue to pour cadmium into the Maquinchao stream indefinitely.