Mining For Copper In The Streets Of ArgentinaPublished by MAC on 2006-05-21
Mining for Copper in the Streets of Argentina
By Rolando Barbano and Leonardo de Corso
21st May 2006
It is a crime that, before the devaluation of the Argentine peso and the economic crisis of 2001, never existed. The stealing of copper cables has exploded, due to a rise in the dollars payable to looters as well as a rise in persons willing to steal. Now the theft of copper cables is in full swing, due to the world-wide high prices of coppers and a mafia-like organization of the business in this country.
Millions are affected: In only the first few months of the year, 604,944 telephone users went without service because of 3,439 cases of cable theft. The electric companies are experiencing a similar phenomena, although in a different way: In this quarter, Edesur was robbed of 20 kilometers of cable. Train passengers also suffer. The former train lines of Sarmiento and Mitre, for example, had to suspend services because of the theft of the cables used in their signage systems.
It is a national problem. To halt it, at the beginning of April, the Ministry of Economy of Argentina decided to prohibit for 180 days the exportation of copper and aluminum, which has reached $10,000,000 anually. At the same time, the Ministry of Security of Buenos Aires created the Roundtable for the Prevention of Cable Theft, where the police and representatives of television, telephone, electric and railway companies are meeting.
"This is white collar crime and very well organized," said the subsecretary of Information for the Prevention of Crime, Roberto Vázquez. "On one extreme, there are some hundreds of poor people who work stealing cables, two meters here, a hundred there. They sell them to scrap dealers. The third level is the metal foundries, where there are huge smelters of over 1,200 degrees to melt them," he added. "We have found people electrocuted because they tried to cut power lines of 132,000 volts," said sources in electric company Edenor, from whom over 860 kilometers of cable have been robbed since 2002. The scrap dealers -- in Buenos Aires alone there are over 200 -- offer an average of $5 pesos a kilo for copper.
"We carry out a raid every day, but there is a empty legal space to regulate them," says Vázques. From there, the copper is exported, or sent to foundries, some legal, some illegal, who offer the copper at prices 25 percent cheaper than that which comes from Chile or Brazil.