Is mining up for change in Argentina?Published by MAC on 2016-02-24
Background of new key mining officials alarms environmental defenders
The following is an exclusive English language article, with the Spanish posted at http://noalamina.org/
Previous article on MAC: Argentina: Esquel Assembly rejects removal of mining windfall tax
Big mining in Argentina: Let's change?
Promoting cyanide, claims of unconstitutionality to lower environmental standards, taking over a municipality and strategic litigation against public participation, and newly appointed key mining officials. Assemblies reject the elimination of mining windfall tax and demand the prohibition of mega-mining nationwide.
Luis Manuel Claps
22 February 2016
The new ruling party in Argentina, Cambiemos (Let's change), is aiming to restore the mining sector by eliminating restrictions on the entry and exit of foreign currency; devaluing the peso and unifying the foreign exchange market; eliminating taxes on the export of gold and silver and other minerals; lifting restrictions to the importing of materials and equipment; and reaching an agreement with the 'vulture funds' who are pursuing debts.
Geologist Daniel Meilan, has been appointed the new Mining Minister by incoming President Mauricio Macri. He previously held the post of Secretary of Mining in 1993 and the Ministry of Mines from 1995 to 1999.
Under his watch, the Argentina and Chile Mining Integration Treaty was signed, and Bajo La Alumbrera, the largest and most profitable opencast mine in the country, began operations.
The designated official said in April 8, 1996 - when referring to the communities living near a mine in Catamarca province, which is still today one of the poorest in the country - "The butchers there (Andalgala and Belen) now are filling up with gold. But when the mines start producing and working, I do not know where they will get enough cows to feed so many people."
Additionally, a renewed Federal Mining Pact would guarantee the same mining rules in all provinces. This means eliminating laws that restrict the activity in jurisdictions such as Mendoza, Cordoba and Chubut, where opposition to mining has broad social and legal support.
Winners and losers
Two mining company managers who lost to environmental assemblies in Rio Negro and Mendoza are now important figures in the mining sector at the national level.
Geologist Carlos Cuburu, representative of the Calcatreu project in Rio Negro with Canadian Aquiline Resources in the early 2000s, has been appointed to the Scientific and Technological Executive Secretariat of the Argentine Geological Mining Service (SEGEMAR), a national government agency responsible for the production of environmental, geological and mining knowledge.
The proposed open pit gold mine promoted by Cuburu generated intense social opposition throughout the Linea sur region and the provincial legislature banned the use of cyanide in 2005, as demanded by environmental assemblies, indigenous people’s organizations, the Catholic Church and other institutions.
The day when the legislature passed the anti-cyanide law in 2005, Aquiline workers took over Ingeniero Jacobacci municipality and Mayor Gabriela Buyayisqui had to enter the building under police custody. In those hectic days, Cuburu publicly named the local environmental defenders as "prophets of evil".
The ban on the use of cyanide in Rio Negro was repealed on December 29, 2011.
Another official appointed by the government is lawyer Fabian Gregorio, President of Minera San Jorge (owned until recently by Canadian Coro Mining), who will join the cabinet of the National Ministry of Mining.
The San Jorge project, located near the town of Uspallata, was rejected by the legislature of the province in 2011 after a massive public hearing in which more than 2,000 people demonstrated against the copper mine.
Gregorio's company launched a legal challange against Law 7722, which restricts mining, declaring it unconstitional. The law was secured by the mass mobilization of environmental groups in 2007. In December 2015, after eight years of public debate and judicial battle, the Supreme Court of Mendoza confirmed the constitutionality of the ban on the use of pollutants in mining activities.
Minera San Jorge sued for libel against leading environmental organization Oikos, for the publication of an "Open Letter to provincial legislators" in 2012. The aim of the legal action, devised by Gregorio, was to restrict public participation, a strategy often used by mining companies to silence their critics.
Assemblies do not change
The Esquel Assembly has issued a statement, complaining that "the [new] government ignores the social struggles that the communities have maintained for years".
The Assembly condemned the elimination of a mining windfall tax, and demanded a nationwide ban on mega-mining. They assert that Macri's policies "deepen the process of looting and pollution initiated in 1993 and supported by the Mining Investment Law of the Menem government, with subsequent regulations approved during the Kirchner government, which simply and solely favours mining corporations and concentrated economic powers"
Barrick Gold lobbyist
Another new mining sector official is Mario Capello, appointed Undersecretary of Mining Development to the cabinet of Energy Minister Juan Jose Aranguren, himself a former Shell CEO in Argentina.
According to an article by Dario Aranda in Pagina 12, the engineer and former national deputy for San Juan said that mining produces "zero pollution" and accuses those who question the activity of "political ignorance" and "stateless ideologies".
In a statement, organisations including the Inti Chuteh Association, the Federation of Winemakers and the National Ecological Action Network (Renace) have labelled Capello "Barrick Gold's most conspicuous lobbyist" and lamented the rise to power of "a provocative person, disrespectful of the communities who chose a different way of life".
Adding their names
Last week, one of the owners of the San José mine in Santa Cruz, Canadian Rob McEwen, welcomed the return of Daniel Meilan in an interview with the Northern Miner. "I see Argentina as the mining story of 2016," the wealthy former president of Goldcorp stated.
Another who came out applauding was Joseph Grosso. The 2005 "Argentine Miner of the Year" published an article in Resource World Magazine which highlights the "change of philosophy of mining in Argentina".