Canadian company shuts down Paraguay gold operations
Smallscale miners accused of "invading property"
A Canadian mining company has temporarily closed down a gold testing plant, alleging that local gold miners and "thieves" have "invaded and damaged the property", thus jeopardising its security.
The artisanal miners and surface owners claim the mining concession could lead to an expropriation of their surface properties.
Previous MAC post: Paraguay: Conflict erupts over gold mining
Canadian company shutting down gold operation in Paraguay over security concerns
The Associated Press (The Canadian Press)
1 February 2012
ASUNCION, Paraguay - A Canadian-run gold mine operation is shutting down in Paraguay because local gold-diggers and thieves invading and damaging the property have made it too dangerous to continue, the company said Wednesday.
Rather than help protect the mine, local authorities have encouraged these renegade efforts, the subsidiary of Toronto-based Latin American Minerals Inc. said in a statement.
Latin American Minerals Paraguay SA, known as LAMPA, said it is closing its minerals processing plant in the town of Paso Yobai until further notice, along with the Independence mine, an open-pit operation granted a 25-year concession in 2006 to mine for gold on a 6,000-hectare property in the northern department of Guaira.
Complaints will be filed with Paraguay's courts, government and congress, along with the Canadian Embassy and other organizations, the company said.
"The citizens' rights have been violated by local authorities who encourage the actions of uncontrolled bandits that run wild in the area sowing fear and insecurity," it added.
Paraguayan Deputy Elvis Balbuena, a ruling party congressman, accused LAMPA of failing to compensate owners of private stakes within the concession.
A minor gold rush struck the area several years before the Canadian company arrived. Renegade diggers had been using toxic mercury to separate the precious metal, contaminating the soil and water and causing health problems among the poor populations nearby.
LAMPA proposed pulverizing the rock with water instead and brought in millions of dollars worth of technology to do the work, promising jobs for the locals and payments negotiated directly with each owner of property within the concession area.
In turn, Paraguay's congress agreed to collect rock-bottom royalties of 2.5 per cent on the gold produced.
"It's hardly very much, but at least the company, through its investment, generates local jobs," said Mining and Energy Vice-Minister Mercedes Canese. "Also, it doesn't use mercury like the informal miners do."
Canese urged officials of the company and community "to meet and find a solution to their clash of interests."
But Deputy Luis Sarubbi, an opposition congressman, accused the company of acting in bad faith. He said LAMPA hired locals only temporarily and they in turn accused the company of removing thousands of kilograms of undeclared gold even before the mine formally opened.
Meanwhile, diggers who had staked claims within the concession have periodically cut off access to the mine, seeking leverage in their negotiations and insisting on their right to keep extracting gold on their own, with shovels and toxic chemicals. A water tank was ruined by gunfire recently, and heavy equipment was burned.
"We're open to dialogue with the villagers, but without lies, without bad intentions, without violence," LAMPA president Juan Carlos Benitez told The Associated Press in a phone interview.
Benitez also denied that the company had extracted any undeclared gold, despite having invested $5 million in the site, with plans to invest $7 million more.
"Until now we have not taken, officially, the metal. Yes, there have been studies to prove its existence and we will continue paying all the taxes established by law and we will also pay the property owners and the royalties," he said.
"Our company is traded on the Toronto Stock Exchange," he added. "Everything is transparent."
Despite violent demonstrations and a cancelled inauguration ceremony, Latin American Minerals starts operations in Paraguay
By Cecilia Jamasmie
3 February 2012
It has all the elements of a potentially most watched Latin soap opera: a foreign company looking for gold, artisanal miners fearing expropriation of their lots located within the newcomer's concession, last-minute studies documenting mercury contamination in close by streams, demonstrations, threats and, finally, a last-minute cancelled inauguration ceremony.
However, this story has - at least for now- a happy ending. Latin American Minerals Inc. announced that it has successfully begun operations at its Pilot Plant facility, located at the Paso Yobai gold project in Paraguay.
After two weeks of trial operation in January, the company suspended on Wednesday the inauguration ceremony of what was set to become Paraguay's first modern gold mine.
Latin American said that they were also withdrawing its technical and exploration teams from the project for a cautionary stand-down period to avoid likely violent confrontations with demonstrating illegal miners. This stand-down will briefly interrupt drilling, which began on the company's new trend concessions on January 5.
The company has constructed a 100 tonne per day gravitational concentrator plant at the fully permitted Minera Guairá Mining concession, a portion of the Paso Yobai exploration project.
Gold was discovered in the Paso Yobai regions more than a decade ago. Several local businesses established mineral claims and exploration activity. As a result of the discovery and delineation of the first gold trend, some local surface owners and mill owners began conducting unauthorized, artisanal mining on eleven surface lots located within the limits of the Minera Guairá mining permit.
The Toronto-based miner lacked authority to prevent this work, which is limited to a small fraction of the concession. Approximately 11 surface owners, plus local workers and other entrepreneurs derive their livelihoods from these surface workings.
Recent Paraguayan government studies have documented mercury contamination in some streams draining the illegal operations. The Paraguayan environmental authority and the regional judiciary closed several of the diggings and mills responsible for this damage.
According to CNBC, Latin American proposed mining without chemicals instead (pulverizing the rock with water) "and brought in millions of dollars worth of technology to do the work, promising jobs for the locals and payments negotiated directly with each owner of property within the concession area."
In turn, Paraguay's congress agreed to collect rock-bottom royalties of 2.5 percent on the gold produced.
"It's hardly very much, but at least the company, through its investment, generates local jobs," said Mining and Energy Vice Minister Mercedes Canese. "Also, it doesn't use mercury like the informal miners do."
The local illegal miners/surface owners protested the Paraguayan government's action by organizing demonstrations around Paso Yobai and outside of Latin American's test plant site, to coincide with the planned attendance of mining officials and politicians at the company-hosted event.
In a statement by a local spokesman, the artisanal miners expressed concern that the law awarding the mining concession to the Company could lead to the expropriation of their surface lots located within the concession. Though the group has sought public attention to make a variety of claims, their objectives do not appear to be related to any past or current activities of the company.
Although no injuries were threatened or sustained on either side, following sharp words and rocks thrown at company vehicles, and also at those of reporters and bystanders, Latin American decided to defuse the situation by cancelling its opening ceremony.
Since the company's exploration and plant activity involve the daily movement of staff on the local roads, these activities have also been temporarily suspended until the Canadian miner's public relations office in the town of Paso Yobai can indicate that the mood has returned to normal and amicable conditions.