Romanian parliamentary committee says no to Rosia Montana lawPublished by MAC on 2013-11-13
Source: Revolution is Eternal, Mining.com. Al Jazeera (2013-11-12)
Prevous article on MAC: Romania: A final victory over the unangelic Gabriel?
Parliamentary committee rejects Rosia Montana law
Revolution is Eternal blog
12 November 2013
In a surprise move, the Romanian parliamentary committee convened to decide the fate of the Rosia Montana mining project has rejected draft legislation that would allow the controversial project to go ahead. The bill would have seen the Rosia Montana mine declared a special national interest and accelerated project development.
The bill passed to parliament for debate in September, before proceedings were halted and a special committee was hastily convened to carry out consultation with a range of stakeholders. The proposed law was written specifically to allow the Rosia Montana project to proceed, following more than a decade of bureaucratic gridlock.
Rosia Montana, located in the Apuseni mountains in north-western Romania, would be the biggest gold mine in Europe if given a green light. The project is run by the Rosia Montana Gold Corporation, a Romanian entity jointly owned by Canadian-based Gabriel Resources (with an 81% share) and a Romanian state-owned company called Minvest S.A. (with a 19% share).
Opposition to the Rosia Montana mining project has been fierce, in what has been characterised as the largest protest movement in Romania since the fall of communism in 1989. Opponents of the mine are concerned about potential environmental damage that could affect alternative forms of employment in the area, such as tourism and agricultural work.
Based on an examination of documents, the parliamentary committee also found that the Romanian state would not be liable to pay compensation if the project is shelved. This will help assuage concerns following a comment by Gabriel Resources CEO Jonathan Henry in September - "If the lower house [of parliament] does reject the project, we will go ahead with formal notification to commence litigation for multiple breaches of international investment treaties for up to $4-billion."
However, the rejection of the draft law does not signal the death of the Rosia Montana mine. News outlet Romania Libera reports "the Committee believes that the Rosia Montana mining project can bring economic benefits to the Romanian state and may be relevant for the revival of the mining industry in Romania." According to the Romanian publication, the Committee recommends that parliament should develop a legislative framework "to stimulate the implementation of mining projects of this magnitude."
Catalin Hosu, the Regional Communications Manager for the Rosia Montana Gold Corporation, wrote in a recent blog, "... the Commission concluded that the wording of the Draft Law was inadequate. Instead, they recommended that a new legislative framework be put in place for the implementation of large scale mining projects across Romania."
This means that locals who oppose mining at Rosia Montana may get a reprieve in the short term, but the Committee's recommendations on the future of mining in Romania extend far beyond the Apuseni mountainside.
Display of global solidarity
Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta visited the London Stock Exchange today. He was greeted by activists from the Save Rosia Montana UK campaign. Mining opponents gave the dignitary a tongue-in-cheek award "for unexpected results in awakening, mobilising and uniting the Romanian people at home and abroad."
A reasonably well-connected movement has formed around the issue of mining at Rosia Montana, with weekly protests organised in countries across Europe and beyond. It remains to be seen how protesters will respond to these latest developments, but it seems unlikely that they will now rest on their laurels.
The Parliamentary Report speaks for 16 years of constant failures for Gabriel Resources
Alburnus Maior statement
12 November 2013
The joint Parliamentary Commission for Rosia Montana yesterday rejected the draft bill submitted by the Government for the approval of the Rosia Montana project. 17 members voted for the rejection and 2 abstained. After a two months mandate, the Commission, contested by the hundred thousand protesters who took the streets all over the world, made full proof of its political function: to delay the vote in the plenary and to create a setting of negotiation between Romanian political leaders. Far from being a well grounded, technical and scientific report containing all constitutional flaws inherent to the Government's draft bill - such as the envisaged expropriation of citizens from Rosia Montana - the result is a comprisal of transcripts and calls for future negotiations.
Not surprisingly, the commission chose to ignore substantial problems posed by the mining project at Rosia Montana such as the infringements of the private property regime or on the authority of court rulings. The report extensively lists some mere organizational flaws occurred in the past, otherwise signaled at that time by civil society, but makes no reference to grave violations of the country's Constitution inherent to the Government's draft bill. As such the disutility of this commission, denounced from the very beginning by the Save Rosia Montana campaign, has been reconfirmed by the commission's report. It fails to treat arguments raised by legal experts and expressed by thousands of people who protested in the streets ever since the draft bill was registered.
At the end of its mandate, the Commission in charge of highlighting the benefits the Romanian state would gain from the mining project proved incapable of bringing pertinent arguments that would justify the destruction of archeological patrimony or the expropriation of citizens in favor of a private mining company. It took two months, many deals and negotiations carried even on the Parliament's halls until the Commission and especially the ruling coalition (Social-Liberal Union) to accept the most evident reality: the largest public protests in the post-communist Romania will not vanish and can't be manipulated to become violent. 11 weeks of perseverant street protests made proof of a powerful, creative and intelligent civil society that is immovable in its decision to oppose a political class liable to corruption acts and completely detached from the citizens' real concerns and interests.
'This moment is extraordinary but also emblematic for our society, when civic vigilance forced feudalistic interests of the political class to realign and to face their inability to approve an illegal and destructive mining project. The prime-minister Ponta insists in promoting this catastrophic project for Romania, now talking about a new law that would create a general framework for mining activities in Romania. Such validation of the use of cyanide now endangers other communities such as Certej or Baia Mare. A new legal framework for cyanide mining in Romania is a new strategy to foster the interests of mining companies and to overcome the present legal barriers posed by norms in the field of private property protection, environmental protection or the regime of archeological heritage', declared Eugen David.
The recent report is also evidence for the blatant failure of a draft bill that tried to "go around" all current laws in favor of a mining company. Pressured by civil society, politicians withdrew their noisy support for this despicable and blazing tactic to favor a mining company to the detriment of public interests.
"We can already anticipate that the lobbying made by the Prime-minister for the mining industry will turn to new tactics, no less harmful for the entire region of the Apuseni Mountains. Our protests continue and we will insist to ask the resignation of all those who initiated the draft bill. Recent declarations from the political leaders show clear intentions to find new means to deceive the public opinion. Their new ideas are even more graceless and dangerous, but I rest assured that people who took the streets over the last months will throw down any of their plans, because they are much more intelligent and skilful than any of the cyanide addicts in the Government", declared Eugen David.
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Canadian miner still fighting for Rosia Montana despite parliamentary rejection
12 November 2013
Gabriel Resources is on damage control after the parliamentary commission shot down its proposed massive gold mine in Rosia Montana, Romania.
The company's share price dropped by 11% after the announcement on Monday, but has regained those losses almost entirely after reassuring share holders that all is not lost.
In a statement issued Tuesday, Gabriel said that the parliamentary commission tasked with reviewing the project did not reject the plans. Rather, the commission found that existing mining laws are not broad enough to make decisions on gold and silver mines.
Quoting the commission's report, Gabriel highlighted the finding that "existing mining law is not sufficient to legislate for the scale and complexity of the Project."
The commission proposed the rejection the draft law which would have enabled the mine, and instead recommended the creation of a "new legal framework applicable to gold and silver mining projects."
Gabriel says that it "welcomes any initiative that accelerates the development of an enhanced mining law" and legislation that would allow for a "strong mining industry in Romania."
"The report of the Special Committee is a first step in defining the next phase of developing Rosia Montana," CEO Jonathan Henry said in a statement. "Gabriel will now assess the impact of the Report and we look forward to participating in the creation of a modern mining industry in Romania. Our goal remains to bring the Project through to a reality that will significantly benefit Romania and the people of Rosia Montana."
The company has also threatened to sue the Romanian government. In September, Henry said they had a "very robust case" for up to $4 billion in claims.
But even in the absence of a flat-out rejection, the Rosia Montana gold mine is far from production. According to the Globe and Mail, Gabriel has spent more than half a billion dollars on the project over the past 14 years, and the commission's rejection will delay approval by several months at best.
Meanwhile, the CEO of Rosia Montana Gold Corporation - Gabriel's 80%-owned Romanian subsidiary - told AFP reporters that the suggested new legal framework would help the project move forward and "start production in the first half of 2014."
Romania says no to Europe's largest gold project
11 November 2013
After months of street protests across Romania against Canada's Gabriel Resources proposed gold mine at Rosia Montana, the parliamentary commission appointed to rework the project rejected it.
Toronto-listed Gabriel was trading nearly 11% lower in early afternoon trade on Monday on the news, although Romania Insider reports "this is not the end for the gold mining project, as the Parliament is expected to draft a new law."
The $311 million counter is down 65% this year as plans to develop an open-cast mine which once in production will be Europe's largest producing 500,000oz/year, face increasing opposition from environmental and community groups.
"We have a very, very robust case, and we believe we have claims up to $4 billion that we can send to the Romanian state," Gabriel Resources Chief Executive Officer, Jonathan Henry, said in an interview in September. "We will go ahead and do that if the vote is against."
The controversial mine has cost Gabriel Resources more than $580 million under no fewer than seven different CEOs, since the Canadian firm first obtained the concession in 1999.
Gabriel owns 80% of local operating subsidiary Rosia Montana Gold Corporation with the Romanian government the remainder.
Rosia Montana is believed the be one of the richest deposits in Europe with 314 tonnes of gold and 1,500 tonnes of silver and where mining activity dates back to the 1st Century.
Romania accused of shady moves to please Canadian mining firm
10 November 2013
Bucharest - Romanian authorities have covered up crucial documents and sacked whistleblowing academics to please a Canadian company planning to open a huge gold mine in the heart of Transylvania, rights groups say.
The company, Gabriel Resources, hopes to extract 300 tonnes of gold from four mountains surrounding the picturesque village of Rosia Montana, in what is expected to become Europe's biggest open-cast mine.
With lawmakers expected to vote soon on a bill clearing the way for the mine, experts said the company and the government were striving to hide key data.
The Canadian company, which holds an 80-percent stake in the Rosia Montana Gold Corporation (RMGC), plans to use large amounts of cyanide to separate gold from hundreds of millions of tonnes of rock.
The waste, containing heavy metals and cyanide, is to be stored in an artificial lake in the Corna Valley covering 360 hectares (900 acres) and contained by a 180-metre-high (590-foot) dam.
But geologists have warned that the site is underlain by fault-lines which will allow toxic substances to leak into the ground, and accused the company of using maps from which the faults had mysteriously vanished.
Displaying maps dating back to 1979 which clearly show faults in the Corna Valley, the sacked director of the Romanian Geological Institute (IGR), Stefan Marincea, told AFP: "The area is extremely permeable and the risk of groundwater contamination very high."
Marincea was dismissed by the government a few days after making the same argument before a parliamentary committee tasked with analysing the company's plans.
"I see no reason for my dismissal other than my insistence on telling the truth, which may anger some people today but will still be valid 20 years from now," he said.
Asked to comment on Marincea's allegations, the company said it had "never falsified any documents".
"The RMGC has used in good faith a map bought from the IGR which shows no major fault likely to affect the stability of the tailings lake and the dam," it said in a press release.
But geologist Costin Andrei told AFP that 19 open faults had been detected in the Corna area, with at least one of them undercrossing the dam.
Marincea also accused his predecessor at the IGR of altering the conclusions submitted by a team of experts after a 2011 visit to Rosia Montana.
The former director ignored their opinions and assured the environment ministry the site was safe for storing toxic substances, Marincea said.
"When I heard about this last summer, I nearly fainted... and I thought that one day I could be arrested" for not going public over the "falsified" report, he said.
'Return to the Inquisition'
Another key document, a study emphasising the value of Rosia Montana's cultural heritage and unique Roman-era mining galleries, was never released by the authorities.
AFP recently obtained a copy, whose authenticity was confirmed by the authors -- archaeology experts Andrew Wilson of Oxford University, David Mattingly of Leicester University and Michael Dawson of British consulting firm CgMs.
Stressing the "unique contribution of the area to world culture," the authors described the seven kilometres (four miles) of ancient galleries as "the most extensive and most important underground Roman gold mine known anywhere."
They also emphasised the value of Mount Carnic, which the RMGC plans to blow up if it gets the necessary permits.
"The Romanian government and the RMGC will be vulnerable to accusations of cultural vandalism if the mining project goes ahead," they said.
Kelemen Hunor, the culture minister who commissioned the study in 2009, said the document was meant to help him make a decision on the mine project but that he had "no duty" to release it.
He said that after reading it he decided against taking Mount Carnic off the list of protected historical monuments. But the national archeology commission ruled otherwise and gave its green light to the mine.
The current culture minister, Daniel Barbu, has said he does not see the area's heritage as an impediment to the RMGC's plans, prompting dozens of archeologists, historians and architects to call for his resignation.
Four of them, members of national committees that report to the culture ministry, were immediately sacked.
Several rights groups have accused Barbu of ignoring the British study to please the Canadian company.
"The stand taken by several Romanian officials is the same as the company's," Mircea Toma, president of Active Watch rights group, told AFP.
"The president, the prime minister, the culture and environment ministers have never made remarks that could displease the RMGC."
Active Watch battled for two years to get a copy of an agreement between the RMGC and the National Heritage Institute.
It received a copy only after a local court ruling and a bailiff's intervention.
Under the deal, the RMGC pledged to spend 70 million euros ($95 million) for restoration projects -- provided it obtained permits to start digging.
The Soros Foundation Romania, part of US billionaire George Soros's philanthropy network, also condemned the sacking of experts "simply because their opinions run counter to the authorities' interests".
It said it was unacceptable to "ask public servants to choose between their professional integrity and the security of their job."
"Telling academics what they can say and what they cannot looks to me like a return to the Inquisition," said Marincea.
"Will the next step be to burn us at the stake?"
Romania split over Europe's biggest gold mine
3 November 2013
Critics claim project will shaft the town of Rosia Montana, but defenders say it's a golden opportunity.
Rosia Montana, Romania - Andrei Gruber lights a cigarette and points through his kitchen window to where a Canadian mining firm wants to set up Europe's biggest open cast gold mine and change the face of this sleepy Romanian town forever.
The 28-year-old knows mining well. Gruber's ancestors came to Rosia Montana hundreds of years ago to scour the hills for precious metals. But a scheme by Gabriel Resources is bigger and more destructive than anything this community has seen before.
"Mining is what created Rosia Montana, but that doesn't mean mining should also destroy it," Gruber told Al Jazeera. "They cannot start the project while I'm still here. They can't build a pit over my head. I'd rather be killed at my doorstep."
The plan has raised tensions in Rosia Montana, pitting neighbour against neighbour, as some residents take mining jobs while others oppose the multi-billion-dollar scheme that could boost the size of Romania's economy by one percent.
What began as a local row has snowballed into nation-wide protests, with anti-mine rallies that attract 15,000 people in the capital, Bucharest - giving a Romanian flavour to street action that has rocked Egypt, Turkey, Brazil and other countries this year.
A fractious debate has seen environmentalists, archaeologists and constitutionalists united against a foreign mining consortium, which they say will plunder Romania and pollute the Transylvanian countryside with cyanide.
The biggest benefit is providing jobs in an area of extremely high unemployment. It's the largest investment on the table for Romania.
- Dragos Tanase, manager
Mine supporters laud a much-needed boost to Romania's coffers. They hint at meddling from Moscow and the Hungarian-American tycoon George Soros who, they say, want Romania to remain an economic backwater.
Magdalena Suciu, a Rosia Montana resident for 30 years, says Canadian investment is a "great opportunity" for an area that has suffered from high unemployment since the state-owned gold mine stopped digging ore in 2006. She has held several jobs at Rosia Montana Gold Corporation, an entity that is 80 percent owned by Gabriel Resources and 20 percent Romanian-owned.
Suciu says she will open a restaurant to cater to tourists who will come when mining money starts flowing. "There are tensions here, but the people in opposition are very few."
Gold hunters have flocked to the Apuseni Mountains as far back as Roman times, when miners followed veins of rich ore by digging deep into the hills around Rosia Montana, which means "Red Mountain".
The corporation wants to mine the estimated 314 remaining tons of gold and 1,480 tons of silver by extending Rosia Montana's existing two pits and digging two new ones - ultimately blasting four mountain peaks into rubble.
A processing plant will use cyanide to extract precious metals, and the remaining sludge will be dumped behind a 184-metre-high trailing dam in the nearby Corna Valley during the project's 20-year lifespan.
The company has acquired 60 percent of the required land from 80 percent of owners, says manager Dragos Tanase, adding it will employ 900 staff, drum up new business, and earn Romania's government $5bn.
"The biggest benefit is providing jobs in an area of extremely high unemployment. It's the largest investment on the table for Romania, and could be the start of a new mining industry and an engine for growth for Romania's future," Tanase says.
He describes the mining project as a key decision for this country of 22 million people, which saw the overthrow and execution of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu in 1989 but has not yet attracted major foreign investment, despite joining NATO in 2004 and the European Union in 2007.
Gabriel Resources has been in talks about the mine for 14 years now. The shareholders are frustrated and could sue Romania's government if there is no progress, Tanase adds. "Investors are looking at us. As soon as Rosia Montana starts, many other investors will come to Romania."
But environmentalists say the costs are too high. They warn of toxic chemicals and highlight the Baia Mare spill in 2000, when cyanide from a Romanian gold mine leaked into the Danube River, killing fish in the polluted waters of Hungary and Serbia.
"The people of Rosia Montana earn an income from tourism, making honey and collecting forest fruits like blueberries and cranberries," said Tudor Bradatan, an activist with Mining Watch Romania. "But nobody's going to buy anything from an area with the biggest cyanide lake in Europe."
Cultural watchdogs have also joined the protests. Mining tunnels in the area were originally dug by engineers from the Roman-era and are an archaeological treasure - but many of them will be buried if new mining operations go ahead.
Anti-mine protests have gathered momentum this year, since the government of Prime Minister Victor Ponta proposed a bill to speed up the approval process. A commission is set to report on the controversial bill on November 10.
Anti-mine protesters have now been joined by nationalists who warn against a foreign company that uses an aggressive television advertisement campaign to convince Romanians, and those who see Ponta's parliamentary bill as unconstitutional.
"A potentially profitable mining project was undermined by the government's haste, incompetence and lack of guts to make a decision on an unpopular subject," says Sorin Ionita, an analyst for Expert Forum, a think-tank. "This is how the cycle of protests started: blaming the government's opacity and, allegedly, corruption in the Rosia Montana gold mining case."
The company has abandoned its original plans, which would have involved the bulldozing of Rosia Montana. It now presents the project as a sustainable scheme involved in preservation and the clean-up of past mining activity.
It is conserving some of the Roman mines and developed plans for cleaning nearby streams, which run red with old mining chemicals. Once the gold has been mined, the corporation says it will carpet the open pits with rolling fields of grass.
Struan Stevenson, a Scottish member of the European Parliament and president of the body's group on Climate Change, Biodiversity and Sustainable Development, described an "eco-friendly project that ticks all of the biodiversity boxes".
But many Romanians remain unconvinced.
"No matter how good it might have been, the project has zero credibility and should start from scratch," says Ana Otilia Nutu, an Expert Forum analyst. "There is too little information about the cost, benefits and risks, and whether the company can pay for any potential environmental disaster."
Back in Rosia Montana, Gruber, who runs a hostel decorated with the mining helmets and lamps of his forefathers, says he will fight to the end. Now that this issue has tapped into a broader sense of anger among Romanians, he says he can win.
"Rosia Montana was the spark," he says. "It's not just about the gold mine anymore. It's about how filthy the politicians are and how disgustingly they've been treating this country for too long."
Follow James Reinl on Twitter: @jamesreinl
Romania: How Multinationals Gain Support
25 October 2013
Over the past week Romanian government officials, mining industry figures, and several other parties championing the planned Rosia Montana gold mine project have been quoting an 'independent' report written by a man named Dr. Patrick Basham.
The report titled "Balkan Tiger or Balkan Backwater: Today's threat to Romania's economic plan" was carried out by Washington-based think-tank, Democracy Institute, of which Dr. Basham is the founding director.
The 38-page document was published a few days before Romania's Prime Minister Victor Ponta was due at a meeting in Washington.
The report was quoted in the Wall Street Journal, and Basham was given airtime on Canadian Radio and BBC 5 Live as a talking head on the subject of Romania's future. Basham, an American, ended his conversation with the BBC, saying: "what we have to do, although we can't make these things happen, what we have to hope and encourage is that the changes [in Romania] are in a direction that's in our strategic self-interest."
How can Basham make such comments and write an objective and 'independent' report on Romania's future whilst bearing in mind the interest of America?
There are a few notable points about the report and its author.
The Democracy Institute has links to various right-wing groups such as American Enterprise Institute, which according to Right Wing Watch, has a reputation for climate change denial, downplaying the effects of pesticides, and has been successful in placing its key figures in influential government positions - especially in the Bush Administration.
Basham is also a contributor to a publication called Spiked, which has been known to receive payments from mobile phone companies to spark debates on the impacts of mobile phone health and the environment, in favour of the said industries.
In 2010 Basham received heavy criticism from Cancer Research UK for producing a dubious non-peer reviewed paper on the 'crippling effects' plain packaged cigarettes would have on tobacco companies - an industry he apparently has a long-standing interest with.
His report on Romania carried a 'case-study' on the Rosia Montana mining project, whilst making note of Romania's rich shale gas reserves which Chevron, an American multinational, own a license to frack - also a project being met with fierce public opposition. Basham states: "Romania faces a choice between two policy paths: one leads to a prosperous, market-driven tiger economy built upon environmentally sustainable foundations; and the other leads to a Romania with the status and circumstance of a Balkan backwater, a corrupt political establishment 'leading' an economically impoverished populace."
The prosperous 'tiger economy' Basham speaks of is a Romania selling off its rich mineral and energy reserves to multinationals - and yet this path the country is trying to lead is swamped with political corruption and controversy over the environmental damage it will cause.
Basham also stated: "In economic and environmental terms, the mining project is clearly a win-win scenario" - which makes one question whether he read anything at all about the planned quantity of cyanide usage over the 16-year exploitation period in Rosia Montana, or the series of earthquakes Romania has been experiencing as a possible result of fracking.
Also noteworthy is Basham's role as 'adjunct scholar' with CATO Institute, another right wing think tank. Their website lists its sponsors and among the illustrious pack of names is none other than energy conglomerate Chevron - who have recently been cast off the land in Romania's rural village Pungesti by protestors and farmers opposing the controversial gas extraction. Basham preempted the threat of Rosia Montana's protestors collectivising in a movement against Chevron.
The cover of the Report states, "The Democracy Institute does not accept project-specific funding and, therefore, has not received any financial support for this piece of work from any of the governments, industries, individuals, or organizations described or discussed in this paper" - then we must question Basham's motivation for writing the report, and his previous work in favour of various multinationals - it seems strikingly similar to lobbying.
Romania was badly affected by the 2008 economic downturn, and was bailed out 20 billion Euros in 2010 by the International Monetary Fund. The predicament the Romanian government is currently facing is encouraging investment whilst protecting the country from being exploited by careless multinationals - whose interests lie above the environment and whose voice is louder than the Romanian public.
Follow Stephen McGrath on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Gingerfoot1
Romania on fire: The Romanian Autumn expands
By Raluca Besliu
21 October 2013
For the 8th Sunday in a row, tens of thousands of Romanians have taken to the streets of cities in Romania and abroad to protest against their government's support for a cyanide-based open-pit mining project as well as hydraulic fracturing. Initially, the protests were mostly made up of young, educated, urban Romanian youth. Now, they have extended to comprise an increasingly diverse part of the population, including an important group, which had not demonstrated in Romania's post-communist history, the farmers. The protesters' increasing diversity and their relentless determination to success should concern the Romanian political leadership, which has been ostentatiously unresponsive to and defiant of their demands, because it is a clear sign of a new democratic era in Romania.
The Romanians are currently leading one of the largest environmental protest movements in the world. Over 200,000 Romanians have taken to the streets in cities across Romania and the world to protest against the government's recent approval of draft legislation for an open-pit cyanide-based mining project at Rosia Montana. According to Gabriel Resources Ltd., the Canadian company behind the scheme, the plan for the project is to dig up an estimated 314 tons of gold squirreled away in Rosia Montana, using 40 tons of cyanide per day. As many journalists and legal experts have argued, the draft law goes against the Romanian Constitution, for reasons which I have explored in previous articles.
Initially, the protesters were focused exclusively on stopping the government's draft bill on the Rosia Montana project, by pursuing several specific goals, which included withdrawing the bill and banning cyanide mining in Romania. Nevertheless, the protesters had repeatedly expressed their support for the anti-fracking movement, which has been on-going since Chevron announced its intention to explore for shale gas in Romania in 2012, with multiple protests taking place since last year. The solidarity between the two movements was solidified when, on October 16, peasants in the village of Pungesti, Vaslui fell under the imminent threat of shale gas exploration, as Chevron trucks arrived with installation equipment on a field nearby. Hundreds of protesters came to defend their land by forming a human chain and non-violently resisting throughout the day, eventually forcing Chevron to withdraw its trucks. Since then, more surrounding villages have joined Pungesti in defending their land, demanding that Chevron leave and that the local authorities and the government respect their will.
While the Romanian protesters have maintained their global movement's momentum, Romanian politicians have opted to defy their demands. The most recent act of defiance comes from the Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta, who has left on a trip to the United States to engage with Vice-President Joe Biden as well as the leaders of several companies, including Chevron and Exxon.
Leaving the country for an international visit, while the general public is boiling with manifestly expressed discontent, is something that Romania's former dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu, also did days before his overthrow. Ponta is walking on thin ice. He has become one of the key targeted political figures, as he has radically changed his views from opponent of the fracking and the Rosia Montana project, while in opposition, to staunch supporter, after gaining power. Moreover, Ponta has repeatedly offended the protesters and marginalized the importance of their opinion within the wider Romanian society. His visit to the US is already negatively perceived by the demonstrators as a subservient gesture of compliance to foreign interests.
Ponta is however not the only politician to insult the protesters, who, among other outlandish things, have been labeled as ‘hipsters,' ‘eco-anarchists' and ‘neo-fascists.' The only link tying these significantly different offenses together is the political determination to discredit them at all costs.
In a country with a well-established democracy, the will of over 200,000 people, continuously and peacefully demonstrating with clear demands, would have been enough to revoke the draft Rosia Montana law and place an instant moratorium on fracking. For the Romanian politicians, this was clearly not enough, partly because they considered young Romanian protesters an insignificant voice in deciding their political future. They were somewhat justified in their assumptions. The Romanian youth, as a large number of their European peers, have been disenchanted with the political system and have disengaged from political and civic activities, including voting. An important part of the Romanian electorate is made up of rural, aging, largely illiterate voters, regarded by a large portion of politicians as a malleable and reliable electorate.
This might be about to change, as farmers, seeing their lands directly and imminently threatened by fracking and cyanide, are taking action and emulating the peaceful methods employed by their urban counterparts. As more rural communities join in the protests, the Romanian politicians can kiss their obedient electorate goodbye.
At the same time, thinking that the young protesters' views don't matter, because they haven't voted in the past is simply wrong. Not only can they vote in future elections, but they can influence the direction in which their entire families do so as well.
The probability that Ponta and his government will stay in power is slim. They have started their current mandate with the Romanian people on a platform of hypocrisy, promising to end both cyanide mining and fracking, and proceeded to do the exact opposite. Now, they are defying hundreds of thousands of Romanians, who have called them out on their practices.
The current protests should come as a lesson to all future leadership. The Romanian people, from both urban and rural areas, have started a fundamental change: they will no longer willing to allow their politicians to silence, marginalize them and trample upon their rights. They want a respectful and compliant political leadership that acknowledges and fulfills their demands and they will not stop until they get it!
Rosia Montana and Dirty Politics
Stephen McGrath - http://stmcgrath.com/2013/10/19/rosia-montana-and-dirty-politics/
19 October 2013
ROSIA MONTANA is an ancient Romanian village sitting on Europe's largest gold deposit: 315 tonnes of a metal that currently fetches around $1,200 per ounce on the stock market. This area is also home to some of the world's most significant Roman artifacts: 7km of ancient mine galleries weaving through the Apuseni Mountains - and they are under threat of demolition due to a controversial cyanide mine run by foreign investors.
Advisory bodies are calling for the area to be granted UNESCO World Heritage status; while Gabriel Resources, a Canadian firm listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange, is intent on digging gold, unearthing a myriad of murky politics in this one time communist state.
On August 27, after 14 drawn-out years of Gabriel Resources' investment with legal barriers and opposition stalling the project, the Romanian government passed a draft bill granting the company the rights to mine the area of Rosia Montana for its metals. The planned 16-year extraction is poised to flatten 4 mountain tops, expropriate hundreds of families, put tens-of-thousands of local jobs at risk, and deposit 215 million cubic metres of water, visible from the moon, in a lake contaminated with poisonous cyanide.
In 2010 a report was commissioned by the Romanian Ministry of Culture, but paid for by NGO Pro Patromonio to evaluate Rosia Montana's archeological heritage. The evaluation was carried out by UK private consultancy, CgMs, whose job is to "balance the often conflicting demand to deliver profitable development whilst addressing conservation, sustainability and the many other issues which impinge on the development process." The report was submitted in 2010 - for minister Daniel Barbu to then claim for the past three years that no such document existed. Reasons for this are open to speculation.
Pro Patromonio then took the Ministry of Culture to court to request the document, and after a long and speculative wait - they won. The report appeared publicly yesterday. Andrew Wilson, Professor of Archaeology of the Roman Empire, from Oxford University, one of three British specialists sent to Rosia Montana by CgMs to evaluate the site, says: "The purpose of the report was to produce a statement of the archeological significance of Rosia Montana in an international context,"
Prof. Wilson continued: "Rosia Montana is the largest underground Roman mining complex known from the Roman world. It is also the place where over 33 writing tablets were found in different mine galleries at various points in the 19th century. It's therefore of exceptional interest because it has produced things like labour contracts and mining agreements from the early to mid 2nd Century. The report is a very big part of the Rosia Montana narrative. I feel it's important that the report is made public, I think it is a clear and important contribution to the current debate." With the turn up of the report Minister Daniel Barbu now claims the report was supposed to exempt Mount Carnic from evaluation - Carnic happens to be the largest mountain with the majority of gold.
Claudia Apostol, who works in Rosia Montana for NGO Architecture Restoration Archaeology, says: "This remarkable heritage already attracts thousands and thousands of tourists, although the local authorities, the government and the companies involved are doing their best to prevent it, or even deny it."
While the politicians and mining companies shouted job creation, a global movement started shouting cyanide - and for good reason. In year 2000 Romania added to its resume the worst environmental disaster in Europe since Chernobyl went nuclear in 1986 - when a dam in Baia Mare cracked due to heavy rains and snow melt. The dam failure spewed 100,000 cubic metres of water contaminated with cyanide into 2000km of the River Danube tributaries killing every living species in its path - further polluting waters in Hungary, Serbia, and finally the Black Sea. Hungary fined Romania $100m in damages while huge numbers of dead fish rose to the surface throughout the three countries.
The proposed waste deposit at Rosia Montana is set to be 130 times larger than that of Baia Mare, so selling this ecological, social, and cultural bomb to the Romanian public was always going to be tricky for the investors who are set to profit billions from the project. The big play has been on the 900 local jobs the project will create in the depressed area, while failing to mention the 20,000 or more jobs put at risk in the surrounding towns and villages.
What politicians also diplomatically omit, is that in 2002 the local County Council deemed Rosia Montana a "mono-industrial zone" - curiously stipulating no other commercial activity other than mining can operate in the village. This law was overruled in the court of law but was labeled "mono-industrial" immediately after. The new draft bill states that the government can re-issue any authorization within 30 days.
Then in March 2013 the multinational financial firm that specialises in insurance initiated a risk assessment procedure for the mining project, to determined whether they will insure it. Michael Diekmann, CEO of Allianz, said: "As a result of what we found, Allianz will not do business with Gabriel Resources and will not insure the proposed project." Gabriel Resources market capitalisation is a mere CAD $303.44m, which is curiously small for such a huge mining project from a company with no prior mining experience. I wrote to Gabriel Resources asking if they had an insurer for the project - I didn't receive a response.
Through aggressive PR and media campaigns the parties set to profit are doing all they can to pacify, oppress, and deceive opposition to the mine. In 2010 Rosia Montana Gold Corporation (RMGC), the 80 percent stakeholder in the project paid 20 influential Romanian media managers and journalists to visit a goldmine in New Zealand - spending a reported 10,000 Euros per head on the trip. The mining company has purchased big advertising contracts with all of the state's mainstream media; and until more recently the coverage of the global movement against the mine has been curiously sparse.
Eugen David, a subsistence farmer from Rosia Montana, who has become the figurehead of the global community opposing the mine, and who heads NGO Alburnus Major, says: "the press is held on a leash by the company's big advertising contracts. Either online or by publishing our own newspaper and spreading it around all of Romania, we somehow need the people to hear a different opinion, not just the same fabricated story the company's PR is telling us through the media."
This raises an eyebrow on the subject of impartiality and buying editorial sympathy. Romania's state TV channels have broadcast concerts in Bucharest as headline news while 25,000 protesters were marching the capital's streets chanting "united we save Rosia Montana, the revolution of our generation!." The PR Company working for Gabriel Resources have also been quick to contact foreign journalists when protests are published in a respected foreign title; after publishing a report in a British national newspaper that was shared over 13,000 times, they duly contacted me.
The email informed me that cyanide is found in varying concentrations in spinach, apricots, coffee and table salt and that the "depressed area" of Rosia Montana will become prosperous. It mentioned nothing of the Baia Mare catastrophe, the tens-of-thousands of jobs at risk in surrounding areas, the demolition of churches, or the Roman mine heritage. They also suggested it best if all information is straightened out by them "before any articles are published" regarding Rosia Montana.
What the Romanian government have found difficult to deal with or comprehend, throughout this saga is an educated youth with the internet at its fingertips. There seems to have been a latent dissent with the populace who are tired of their second-rate democracy. Like every movement of our day, protests and information have been rapid and reactionary. Where printers could once be easily turned off - the internet can't.
"Alburnus Major has annulled every important legal notice given by the authorities in the favour of the project, in court. The mining project is illegal from so many points of view. Now they have proposed a bill so that their entire activity would be able to bypass legal channels and they, a foreign investor, would be able to expropriate us." Says Eugen.
"The EU politicians say that they can only intervene if the project is eventually approved. But even there we see how parliament's resolution to the banning of cyanide mining stays blocked with the committee on the basis that it does not appeal to the mining companies. Well who writes the law in the EU? The companies or the people? The committee is filled with lobbyists, and to us lobby stands for official corruption."
Eugen also claims that some tactics at play by the mining companies are better suited to the bygone communist era, "The mining company pays for the protests in favour of the mine here at Rosia Montana, they bus people in whenever politicians or the press appear. Rosia Montana has 3000 inhabitants, and as few as 250-300 people come to the protests organised by the mining company, many of which come from far away."
Then we have the curious figures of Stefan Marincea, Director of the Geological Institute who has accused RMGC of falsifying geological maps. Where RMGC claimed the soil of the waste lake was impermeable - it turned out to be highly permeable. On October 16 the government fired Marincea via fax shortly after he made a statement against the interest of Chevron's fracking rights - another controversial issue that is starting to further rouse the nation. Meanwhile, former Military Prosecutor Gheorgie Oancea, was interviewed by the Special Committee (set up especially for Rosia Montana) to whom he declared that during his mandate he witnessed abuse and corruption surrounding the Rosia Montana mining project, but was unable to pursue his claims due to pressure - and said he was made to bury files by the then Prime Minister Emil Boc.
Grey matter and high profile bickering has swamped the Rosia Montana debate, making it difficult for a foreign audience to process a clear narrative from Romania's labyrinth politics.
Some hope was drawn though on October 15 when the National Council for Audio Visual (CNA), whose job it is to ensure that Romania's TV and radio stations operate in an environment of free speech, responsibility and competitiveness made the decision to terminate adverts by RMCG from all media channels, deeming the companies adverts unlawful. Loran Turos, a member on the board of CNA, said: "what is the purpose of this campaign? There is no product or service being sold...why is this company paying so much money? To promote what? My opinion is that this company has a very well established interest to gain a positive vote in parliament - therefore it is promoting a political interest. This is already a political problem. It requires a political decision."
This was a progressive move that finally gave democracy and law in Romania a voice. But even this move was a reaction spurred on by Eugenia Voda, a respected Romanian TV presenter (rather than any government official) who wrote an open letter to CNA calling for "immediate and complete termination of related RMGC commercials that has invaded Romanian broadcasting."
Since September 1 all media channels have barraged the nation with adverts carrying the slogan "Say yes to mining! It is good for Romania!". Voda likened the nature of the adverts to a "private referendum, a state within a state". She went on to highlight the use of the internet, "everything you click on, anything you search for - a film, an actor, a plane ticket, a cooking recipe, anything, they put it in front of you, bang! "Say yes to mining!" CNA followed suit to Voda's request, which scored the mining company an own-goal and publically displayed the murky nature of tactics at play.
The big play in favour of the mine has been that local residents at Rosia Montana need work, which is true, but much of this is owed to the mono-industrial zone label imposed on the area, and so poverty and modern cars created a cheap cocktail for persuasion, but it is shortsighted. Sixteen years of work isn't nearly enough work for one generation for the untold risks at stake.
On October 16 RMGC sent the Special Committee a list of officials who profited financially from the company. The President of the Committee, Darius Valcov, insisted that law could not allow him to make the list public. Valcov told website pesurse.ro, "I can't publicise the list - I'd be breaking the law'. The government also refuses to publish the contract they signed with Gabriel Resources. Monica Macovei, a former Minister of Justice, publically declared her belief that the license had expired. The Rosia Montana story seems littered with curious figures, missing documents, back patting, and murky politics - and Romanians have become fed up with it.
There's not much consideration given to post mining when Gabriel Resources have left with the valuable metals, and deposited a hideous lunar landscape with enormous craters and a huge toxic lake. Over the past couple of months the Romanian media have pacified protestors and George Maior, the Chief of Romanian Intelligence, has labeled them ‘eco-anarchists' - seemingly to create a flimsy image of protesters and disregard for this global movement.
It seems more like a knee-jerk reaction to undermine a mass movement the controllers lack ideas on how to control. This is the story of the small village that has triggered Romania's biggest uprising since the demise of communism in 1989 - with protesters out on the streets in 75 cities worldwide: from Bucharest to London, New York to Shanghai. The interesting steps in this Rosia Montana narrative are yet to come, and the government can sense it. Romania's democracy is frail and immature, and commentators have coined this mass movement the "Romanian Autumn", but it looks set to see the snow fall.