MAC: Mines and Communities

Chile's 'Mining Capital' Calls For Government Support

Published by MAC on 2011-07-11
Source: Santiago Times

One of country's poorest regions is also one of Chile's largest copper source

Located in northern Antofagasta Region, Calama is considered Chile's "mining capital. It is home to the Chuquicamata open pit mine, one of the biggest in the world. Twenty-two percent of all copper extracted in Chile comes from Calama (about 6% of the world output).

But as the price of copper rises to a maximum, nearly 20,000 citizens marched in the streets of Calama (one of Chile's poorest cities) demanding government aid and attention.


Chile's 'Mining Capital' Calls For Government Support

By Ivan Ebergenyi

The Santiago Times

30 June 2011

Nearly 20,000 citizens marched on Wednesday in Calama, one of Chile's poorest cities, demanding government aid and attention.

"We are out today marching with dignity," said Jose Mardones, head of the El Loa chapter of the Workers' United Center of Chile, in an interview with The Santiago Times. "For over 40 years, the government has neglected communities such as ours, which give the country so much."

Chanting the slogan "We produce copper, but we are still poor," members of the community walked alongside civil society groups, demanding assistance from the government.

Located in Chile's far north Antofagasta Region, Calama is considered Chile's "mining capital." The city is home to the Chuquicamata open pit mine, the second deepest in the world after the Bingham Canyon Mine in Utah.

Twenty-two percent of all copper extracted in Chile comes from the operations based in Calama, and 40 percent of copper in Calama is extracted by the state-owned copper company Codelco. Codelco's copper sales revenue totalled US$3.58 billion for the first quarter of 2011, and rising world copper prices have helped ensure that mining industry profits remain high.

With a population of over 138,000, Calama is a city undergoing constant growth, mostly reflecting its proximity to the mining community. But as the city grows and the mining industry strengthens, locals are not reaping massive profits drawn from the local mines.

"It used to be the case that copper-producing areas would receive 5 percent of everything that was extracted within the community's limits," Yedry Velis, national director of the Confederation of Copper Workers, told The Santiago Times. "That law was struck down after the 1973 coup."

Funding for Calama's basic services, or lack thereof, was a common theme at Wednesday's march.

Though the hard data are difficult to come by, Velis indicated that the city experiences major traffic congestion due to poor urban planning and limited finances necessary to make important urban improvements.

The city's public health system has also suffered from the coupling of Calama's high growth rate with underfunding. A report in early July from the Chilean news program 24 Horas highlighted the current challenges the Hospital de Calama faces as it struggles with limited resources to care for a burgeoning population.

"We're stretched to the limit," said Calama mayor, Esteban Velasquez, on Wednesday to Chilean daily La Tercera. "We don't have the parks, the infrastructure, the health and education we want. Yet we generate the resources that could pay for it on a daily basis."

One of the driest cities on earth, Calama is also the gateway city to the popular desert tourist destination of San Pedro de Atacama. Though tourists frequently fly into Calama's airport, the city lacks basic tourism infrastructure, including tour operators and accommodations, necessary in order to benefit from the inflow of money to the region.

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