MAC: Mines and Communities

Argentina: Assembly demands Supreme Court decision over Agua Rica

Published by MAC on 2016-02-15
Source: Pagina 12

Agua Rica is a large-scale copper and gold deposit located approximately 35 kilometres from Alumbrera mine in Catamarca province, north-west Argentina.

On February 2010, the project was halted by a court order after clashes between protesters and the police erupted in Andalgala, the nearest town (See: Judge Suspends Yamana's Agua Rica Project After Clashes in Andalgala, Argentina).

In 2011 Yamana signed a deal with Glencore-Xstrata and GoldCorp to develop Agua Rica, supposedly Alumbrera's expansion plan, but the agreement ended in July 2014.

Then Alumbrera opted to develop the much smaller El Durazno deposit, located only 4 kilometres from Alumbrera.

After the takeover of Meridian Gold in 2007, Yamana Gold is also owner of the Esquel project in Chubut, one of Argentina's provinces which suspended mining after a public referendum held in 2003.

The Supreme Court has backed opposition to mining at Esquel in a 2007 decision, as explained by environmental lawyer Jose Esain in this article.

Assembly demands Supreme Court decision over Agua Rica

Residents from Catamarca province camped in front of federal courts in Buenos Aires demanding attention to their case. Documents would prove the existence of glaciers in the project area.

Darío Aranda

10 February 2016

A group of residents from the town of Andalgala is camping since last week in Lavalle Square, next to the National Supreme Court building in Buenos Aires. They claim the top court should suspend the Agua Rica mining project, in order to protect the town´s population and water sources.

Neighbours accuse the Court of "hindering" the case against Canada's Yamana Gold, a company fully supported by the provincial government.

The lawsuit, filed in 2010, requested the protection of the health of the citizens and their sources of water, by the imposition of a mining ban.

Minera Alumbrera, the first experience of mega-mining in Argentina and currently the most productive mine in the country, was installed near Andalgala twenty years ago. Over the years, the mine has been denounced for environmental contamination and tax fraud.

As Alumbrera runs out, the provincial government is promoting a new project, Agua Rica, owned by Yamana Gold, larger than Alumbrera and located just 17 kilometres from Andalgala city center, where the water sources that supply the city are located.

In 2010, social and environmental assemblies blocked the trucks that were carrying supplies for the Agua Rica project. A fierce police repression dispersed the blockade, with many injured and arrested. The response was a massive mobilization in the city main square.

That day, the "Asamblea El Algarrobo" (Assembly of the Carob Tree) was born. Every Saturday, they march through the city centre against the mining project and carry out information campaigns at local and national levels.

In January 2010, they presented an environmental protection legal action that claimed the right to a healthy environment and requested the suspension of the mining project.

Among the arguments were that the company EIA has thirty observations pending and that a public hearing was never held, as established by the General Law on the Environment.

The law suit was kept "on hold" for three years under Catamarca Judicial System. In July 2013 it landed in the Attorney General's Office, the previous step to finally reach the Supreme Court.

In November 2014, the El Algarrobo Assembly encamped in front of the National Supreme Court in Buenos Aires for the first time, protesting against judicial delay. The prosecutor Alejandra Gils Carbo received them and promised a prompt ruling.

In December 2014, Gils Carbo finally sent the case to the Supreme Court because the defendants (Yamana Gold and the provincial government) "may carry out operations or actions that might be likely to cause damage to the environment and the public health that, due to its magnitude, would be irreversible."

The court case went through all the Court judges, but no ruling was ever made public. On February 1, 2016, Andalgala neighbours and their supporters reinstalled the encampment in Lavalle Square.

Mariana Katz, lawyer of the Peace and Justice Service (SERPAJ) and accompanying Andalgala neighbours, said that just last year the judge of Mines, Raul Guillermo Cerda, granted an extension of land of 16,000 hectares to the mining company Yamana Gold.

Neighbours submitted documents that would prove the existence of glaciers in the Nevado del Aconquija mountain. "We are asking the Court to resolve the complaint by emitting a resolution determining that the project is in violation of the National Mining Code and the General Law of the Environment," Katz said.

The "El Algarrobo" Assembly denounced that the Agua Rica project will mean the "disappearance of Andalgala" and is determined to maintain the encampment in Buenos Aires until the Supreme Court takes a decision.

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