MAC: Mines and Communities

Alumbrera in distress, Argentina

Published by MAC on 2012-02-20
Source: Merco Press, Buenos Aires Herald, Dow Jones

Peoples' struggles against Minera Alumbrera have become very active this past month in northern Argentina.

The protests are aimed at shutting down the mine, and against the lifting of a judicial order prohibiting any activity in the Agua Rica project area.

Judge Raúl Cerda reverted last week a decision signed by himself suspending the project development after clashes in 2009. Exploration and developing activities in Agua Rica (owned by Minera Alumbrera) can now move forward.

The Alumbrera mine and the Agua Rica project are located in a triangle formed by three towns: Belén, Santa María and Andalgalá.

For many years communities have attempt to set up coordinated road blocks to lock the towns triangle, and impede access of critical supplies to the Bajo La Alumbrera mine.

Now, through so-called "selective blockades" - since they are aimed only the "company" or its contractors -  local people and tourists can circulate freely, often being handed flyers explaining the reasons for the protest.

Over the past twenty days local assemblies have shown they are almost ready to fully cut the mine supplies for a considerable period of time.

The strongest blockade was set up in Alpamicuna, Belén, on national route 40.

On January 27th, 18 protestors were detained by the police at another blockade in Santa María.

On February 1st,  a "caravan for water" took hundreds of vehicles to support the blockade in Belén.

In response, mine truck drivers began blockading the roads themselves, in a move aimed at turning local people and tourist drivers to their side.

Two of these selective blockades were forcibly removed by the police on February 9th.

In Amaicha del Valle, Tucumán province, on route 337, some 30 activists were also removed by the police.

In Tinogasta, dozens of heavily-armed police attacked the blockade established on route 60, leaving at least 24 people injured.

Some days later, groups of mining supporters put up their own roadblocks to stop reporters and more anti mining activists from entering Andalgala.

Late last week, officials ordered both pro- and anti-mining groups to lift the roadblocks, since they were cutting off access to Andalgalá town.

Previous MAC posts:

Judge Suspends Yamana's Agua Rica Project After Clashes in Andalgala, Argentina

Minera Alumbrera Accused of Co-Responsibility in Pollution of Río Hondo Reservoir

Argentina's Mining Foes Flex Muscle As Protests Flare

Dow Jones Newswires

16 February 2012

BUENOS AIRES –  Opposition to mining in Argentina is snowballing as activists step up their protests against several big projects, while backers scramble to rally support for the multibillion-dollar industry.

Riot police at Argentine protest
Police used gas and rubber bullets against protester.
Source: Asamblea El Algarrobo
Argentina is best known for its beef and grain fields. But in recent years its nascent mining industry has started to attract significant investment by companies eager to develop Argentina's largely untapped mineral wealth.

According to the Mining Secretariat, investment in the sector totaled 11.1 billion pesos ($2.55 billion) in 2011.

Mining opponents were heartened last month when the governor of La Rioja Province suspended Montreal-based Osisko Mining Corp.'s gold-mine project in the Famatina region due to stiff resistance from environmental activists and local residents.

The battle lines quickly shifted to neighboring Catamarca Province, where residents of the town of Andalgala threw up roadblocks to Anglo-Swiss miner Xstrata PLC's Alumbrera copper-gold mine and its nearby Agua Rica project.

Police clashed with activists last week when clearing the roads and now groups of mining supporters have put their own roadblocks in place to stop reporters and more activists from entering Andalgala.

Stoking the tension is the two-year anniversary of a series of violent clashes over Agua Rica that led a judge to suspend the project. That suspension was lifted last week.

"There is a tense calm," said Sergio Mendez, the environment secretary for Andagala's new mayor Alejandro Paez.

Mendez was a leader of the local citizens assembly opposing Agua Rica and Paez campaigned on a platform of blocking the project.

Mendez said many local communities oppose big mines due to pollution fears and the large quantities of water used by the industry.

The growing friction between mining supporters and opponents has forced President Cristina Kirchner to wade into the fray.

At the behest of the administration, governors and representatives of 10 mining provinces pledged Wednesday to work with the federal government to support mining. They also agreed to protect the environment and ensure that local communities receive a bigger share of the wealth created by mining.

"Maybe there was bad communication from our part and that's why the people react like this," Jujuy Governor Eduardo Fellner said at a press conference.

On Tuesday, Catamarca's pro-mining Governor Lucia Corpacci said her government will launch a public-awareness campaign to build support for the industry.

"Mining is the most important industry in our province and we recognize that," she said.

"We are optimistic about the future development of the industry in Argentina since the support of the national and provincial governments has been very encouraging," Xstrata spokeswoman Emily Russell said.

But activists are convinced the antimining movement will gain momentum.

"This is not going away, it's self-propagating," said Daniel Taillant, founder of environmental advocacy group Cedha.

In addition to activists, local politicians frequently stoke opposition to mining to garner support.

In 2007, La Rioja Governor Beder Herrera successfully led an impeachment drive against his predecessor, Angel Mazza, amid allegations of corruption related to a contract with Barrick Gold Corp. to develop a mine at Famatina.

Barrick abandoned the project. Herrera later threw his support behind Osisko before bowing to public pressure and suspending the project last month.

About eight provinces have banned open-pit mining and the use of chemicals common in the industry such as cyanide, effectively putting them off limits to large-scale mining projects.

At the same time, a strict federal glacier-protection law threatens to stall a number of projects by limiting economic activity in the areas near glaciers.

Catamarca mining conflict: Officials order protests be lifted

Buenos Aires Herald

18 February 2012

Conflicts between mining companies and environmentalists spurred further protesting in Catamarca province this week. Central roads were being blocked off, cutting off access to Andalgalá town and La Alumbrera mine.

Officials at the head of the current tensions affecting the mining industry in Catamarca province, ordered that both pro-mining and anti-mining protest groups lift the roadblocks that were cutting off access to the town of Andalgalá.

Public prosecutors Martha Nieva and Roberto Mazzucco issued a warning to protestors giving them the period of two hours to evacuate the area in order for transport to access the town.

Last night and throughout Wednesday rallies were taking place across Andalgalá. One of them involved some 2000 environmentalists marching in protest against the Alumbrera mine.

Roads across the town were being blocked off affecting lorry access to the mine, but also general traffic through-flow in Andalgalá, a town with a population of approximately 18,000 residents.

The protesters were also marching in remembrance of the clashes between activists and police in the region of El Algarrobo two years ago which caused many arrests, left many injured and affected local business.

The current protests take place just one week after police clashed with protesters in Tinogasta, which resulted in many injuries and arrests.

On Tuesday, Governor of Catamarca Lucía Corpacci blasted the conflicts and protests saying that Andalgalá residents needed to resolve their issues themselves. "This is a problem of Catamarca province and it must be solved by its people," she stated.

Corpacci also made a point of stating that she was "concerned over the misinformation spread by certain national media outlets," regarding the alleged use cyanide and the contamination of water in Catamarca.

Argentine police beats up environmentalists protesting mining projects: 24 injured

Merco Press

11 February 2012

At least 24 people were injured after Argentine police violently cleared demonstrators blocking a national route to protest Bajo La Alumbrera mine in Catamarca province, northeast of the country. Police used rubber bullets, tear gas, dogs and anti-riot vehicles.

Heavy clashes broke out early Friday when police forces attacked the protestors who were blocking only mining company vehicles, or its contractors.

The Police was issued with a court order to clear the route, in order to allow twelve trucks containing mining supplies to pass through.

Following the incidents Catamarca province Government Secretary, Francisco Gordillo, said the Police was only making effective a court order but also rejected the degree of violence employed which left 24 people injured, half of them hospitalized.

"We receive orders from the Justice branch and make effective court orders. It is part of our responsibilities as government, we are highly distressed with what happened", admitted Gordillo who added he has ordered an administrative investigation into the incidents.

"We had to clear the route, that was the court order, but this in no way justifies what the police have done", added Gordillo.

Last month Canada's Osisko mining corporation suspended a gold mining exploration project in La Rioja after intense protests by locals. The mining operation is now "on hold".

Catamarca mining district in distress: police clash with protesters

Buenos Aires Herald

11 February 2012

Heavy clashes between police and protesters saw a violent start to the day in Catamarca province this morning, where Infantry officers were attempting to clear the demonstration being carried out along route 40, close to Tinogasta, in the province's mining district.

Infantry officials were trying to clear the protest being carried out by demonstrators who were marching in objection to the mining production carried out by La Alumbrera company.

Police were issued with a court order to clear the route way, in order to allow twelve lorries containing mining production-related materials to pass through.

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