MAC: Mines and Communities

Pope Francis's new chalice: A "redemption" for Pan American Silver?

Published by MAC on 2013-04-22
Source: Statement, Bloomberg

Pan American Silver bought the Navidad and Calcatreu projects in 2009.

Commentary by Luis Manuel Claps, MAC's Spanish language editor

The Canadian miner, Pan American Silver Corp, has said it will supply a 1.3-kilogram (2.9-pound) bar of pure silver to make Pope Francis's new chalice.

The metal will come from Pan American's Manantial Espejo mine in the southern province of Santa Cruz, Patagonia, confirmed a March 23 report by the Argentine government news agency Telam (cited by Bloomberg below).

Salesian priest David García in Gan Gan, Chubut, Patagonia
Salesian priest David García in Gan Gan, Chubut, Patagonia.
Source: AICA

In February this year, the Catholic news agency AICA reported that a Salesian priest (photo) in Gan Gan, Chubut province, was intimidated by employees of Minas Argentinas, a subsidiary of Pan American Silver, for his opposition to large scale mining. []

Criticisms of Pan American Silver mining projects by the Catholic Church in Patagonia are not new. The anti-mining stance was first prompted by Fernando Maletti, bishop of Bariloche Diocese, in 2005.

The Calcatreu gold and silver development was rejected by the provincial government that year and the use of cyanide for mineral processing was banned by a provincial law.  [].

But on December 29 2011 the ban was overturned, triggering massive protests []. Despite the resistance - or because of it - the former community relations manager of the Navidad project, anthropologist Gustavo Ferreyra, was appointed Secretary of Mining of the Rio Negro province in February 2012. []

Following Maletti, Virginio Bressanelli, bishop of Chubut, stated in 2009: "We are uncomfortable that anyone can think, or believe, that this kind of business will be the salvation of the people of rural Argentina" (See: "Worries about Open-Pit Mining in Chubut. Statement of the Comodoro Rivadavia Diocese" []).

Pan American Silver bought the Navidad and Calcatreu projects in 2009. Since then, it has been pushing to overturn the law that bans open pit mining in Chubut (passed ten years ago after the Esquel referendum).

The Navidad deposit contains 100 times the silver of Calcatreu and could double the company´s actual global silver production. At the end of 2012, over two thousand protestors marched in Rawson, the capital of Chubut, against the mine's development.

Two days earlier, a similar but much smaller group of protesters were attacked by thugs allegedly encouraged by the Government and Minas Argentinas, the local affiliate of Pan American Silver. See: To mine or not to mine - the burning question for Chubut, Argentina

As the company failed to secure the passing of the new provincial mining legislation, the project was written down US$100 million during the last quarter of 2012.

What about the Pope?

On April 11, 2005, when discussing whethe a Latin American Pope would mean bad news for miners, Mineweb's Dorothy Kosich commented:

"Other names being mentioned as candidates include Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglia [sic], archbishop of Buenos Aires. The Catholic Church has formed Equipo Nacional de Pastoral Aborigen (Endepa), which is fighting for aboriginal peoples to obtain title on their lands and have formed opposition groups to fight proposed gold mining projects". []

A year later, the Argentinean Episcopal Conference published a document entitled "A land for all" [Spanish version -]. Signed by Jorge Bergoglio, then archbishop of Buenos Aires,  pages 44 and 45 stated:

"Mining projects affect the survival of indigenous communities and companies look to gain their support by handouts. The mining operations impact the environment and consume a lot of water. The damage to the landscapes, the dust explosions and acid mine drainage are among mining worst environmental problems".

"Mining projects severely affect the development and survival of indigenous communities. Mining companies seek their support presenting themselves as the solution to their needs and giving handouts and gifts.

"But in almost all the cases, the law is not respected and the right of free, prior and informed consent before the granting of mining concessions and permits is not considered. This reality has been verified in southern Río Negro and the central meseta of Chubut provinces".

Comment by Luis Manuel Claps

Francis to Sip From Made-in-Argentina Chalice, Pan American Says

Rodrigo Orihuela


26 March 2013

Pan American Silver Corp., the Canadian miner that wrote down $100 million on an Argentine project last quarter, will supply silver from the South American country to make Pope Francis's chalice.

A 1.3-kilogram (2.9-pound) bar of 99.9 percent pure silver will be supplied for the chalice, Vancouver-based Pan American spokeswoman Kettina Cordero said in an e-mailed response to questions. The metal will come from Pan American's Triton venture in the southern province of Santa Cruz, she said, confirming a March 23 report by Argentine news agency Telam.

Pan American, the world's second largest primary silver producer, had a $100 million non-cash writedown at the Navidad deposit in Chubut province in the fourth quarter, reducing its book value to $500 million because of the "general deterioration and increased risks of doing business in Argentina," Chief Executive Officer Geoffrey Burns said Feb. 21. The company acquired Navidad in 2010 and has been waiting for the Chubut government to approve an open-pit mining law to develop it since then.

Argentine-born Pope Francis, formerly Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, was elected the first non-European pope on March 13. He has since dismissed certain papal traditions, such as the use of a motorcade and using a white cassock, in line with the image of humility he projected as a cardinal, which included riding the subway in Buenos Aires.


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