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Indigenous communities in state of alert over corporate mining in Chubut, Argentina

Indigenous communities in state of alert over corporate mining in Chubut, Argentina

Mapuche-Tehuelche communities in Southern Argentina met in an urgent Trawn (assembly) on December 8. A legislative bill seeks to impose a large-scale mining zone in their territories, omitting rights to consultation and participation provided by both the National and Provincial Constitutions.

Photo: An elder from the Lefimi Community holds a banner against large scale mining at a local trawn. Source: Pascual Curillán.

Trelew, December 12, 2020. The urgent assembly took place in the territory of the aboriginal community Mallín de los Cual, in the vicinity of Gan Gan, with the presence of its local authorities, lonko, inan lonko and werken, taking the necessary precautions and social distancing due to covid pandemic. The Mapuche Tehuelche communities Mallín de los Cual, Los Pinos, Chacay Oeste and Laguna Fría, Taquetrén, Lagunita Salada, Cerro Bayo and Gorro Frigio, Yala Laubat and Lefimi were present at the meeting.

“The zoning envisaged by the Executive through this bill, currently in the Legislature, would directly affect the ancestral territories of the indigenous communities,” they expressed. In a document addressed to the Legislature of Chubut on November 30, the aboriginal communities demanded the Chamber to refrain from advancing the mining zoning, since “it was drafted from Buenos Aires and in violation of the rights of Indigenous Peoples”.

Since it purchased the Navidad project from Aquiline Resources in 2012, Canadian miner Pan American Silver has been a backstage lobbying company aimed at conditioning the Chubut Legislature in this matter. The Navidad silver-lead-zinc mine project is located in the central region, inhabited by dispersed Mapuche-Tehuelche communities.

Just months ago Patagonia Gold “secured ownership of Mina Angela”, a closed mid-size mine exploited in the Gastre Department up to 1990 is proposed to be reopened on a large scale. Amid the pandemic, Yamana Gold announced in Aprilthat it had agreed to let a privately held real estate and investment company acquire a 40% stake in the Suyai gold project in the area of Esquel.

Despite strong pressure from the mining lobby, led by Canadian multinationals Pan American Silver, Patagonia Gold and Yamana Gold, people know that the zoning bill is just another disguise for unsustainable and dirty mining practices. The zoning bill failed to pass a commission vote last week.

Street marches and declarations of rejection, together with claims of corruption and taking advantage of the restrictions imposed by the covid pandemic to push for legislation on non-renewable resources, are showing that there is a social consensus towards clean and environmentally friendly investments in Chubut province.

Photo: March against large scale mining and in support of the Second Initiative held in Trelew on December 4. Source: Aníbal Aguaisol.

Second Popular Initiative

In 2014, the Union of Assemblies of Communities of Chubut (UACCh) introduced the first Popular Initiative through the mechanism of direct democracy 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 minerals, such as uranium. However, the bill was later repealed by the then governor.

Again in October this year, the assemblies together with the indigenous communities, presented the Second Legislative Initiative bill at the Electoral Court of the capital of the province, Rawson, aimed at establishing parameters of environmental sustainability in mining operations and reinforcing the ban on open-pit mining passed in 2003.

The proposed Bill No. 129/20 Second Popular Initiative achieved parliamentary status on November 23rd with the support of more than 30,000 signatures. The legislative initiative also has the support of the Deliberative Councils of Madryn, Pirámides, Rawson, Esquel, Trevelin, Lago Puelo, Epuyén, El Hoyo, Río Pico and José de San Martín. In a set up staged for counterfeiting, the government presented the mining zoining bill to the Legislature that same day.

The Second Initiative seeks to reinforce a moratorium on uranium exploration and mining, like the ones established in British Columbia (2008), Québec (2013) and Nova Scotia (1982) in Canada; or Western Australia (2017), New South Wales (1986) and Victoria (1983) in Australia. It also secures protection of the Chubut river, the only superficial course of water that crosses the vast territory from West to East year-round.

Photo: March against large scale mining and in support of the Second Initiative held in Esquel on November 16, 2020. Source: Diario Jornada.

 A statement released by the Esquel Assembly called on provincial legislators to approve the Bill No. 129/20. See short video of the march in Esquel on December 4 [EQS Notas]:

Marches in support of Bill No. 129/20 took the streets in Trelew and other towns and localities in the Cordillera, mesetas and coast of Chubut.

Video of the December 4 march in support of Bill No. 129/20 Second Popular Initiative carried out in Trelew [Radio 3]:           

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