MAC/20: Mines and Communities

The Tribunal That Made History Convicts Barrick Gold

Published by MAC on 2006-12-15

The Tribunal That Made History Convicts Barrick Gold

by Javier Rodríguez Pardo, Santiago de Chile

December 2006

The trial against Barrick Gold Corporation took place on November 2006, in the crowded halls of the School of Architecture of Santiago de Chile, a trial that also impacted those who followed it on radio Tierra AM 1300. No one left their seats and all the doors of the amphitheater remained open, reflecting an attentive and participative audience. Photographers and videographers abounded, recording the trial as if it were a never-to-be-repeated event. In the upper reaches of the amphitheatre, half a dozen documentary filmmakers were gathered, their teams mixing with the public.

I played the role of Prosecutor in the trial against mining company Barrick Gold, and I acted as though this really was my job. To me, this was not acting on a stage, it was a sort of catharsis. From the first articles that I had written, "The Macabre Barrick of Bush" and "Barrick Lies," this trial permitted me a sort of personal therapeutic relief. At the trial's conclusion, I felt the intensity of the moment while in my memory another reality was being reviewed. A parade of the mentors of this corporation had marched across the stage: George Bush, leader of a genocidal Empire. Adan Khashoggi, the arms dealer who provided funds for the incorporation of Barrick Gold. I imagined seeing Peter Munk on the stand, accompanied by Prince Philip and other members of the Island Club -- the same stage as in 1982 when they posed together in the Toronto Stock Exchange.

These images, in fleeting sequence, were reproduced for me in the moment when the transnational demanded space to refute me in the newspaper La Septima of San Juan, Argentina. In their response (in which they threatened to take legal action against me, which never materialized), they themselves provided the necessary proof: George Bush is one of the major shareholders of Barrick Gold (the company did not deny this) and company lawyers were worried only about protecting the ex-president from any responsibility for his role in the purchase of the Goldstrike Mine in Nevada (in which George Bush had given a ten billion dollar mine as a gift to Barrick Gold, through influence trafficking and political pressures, the usual custom). Then, as now, the same. Barrick is now present in five continents and in every case, its form of operating is just as shadowy as it is sinister. It has soaked African soil with the blood of three million dead in the Congo, with paramilitary forces and civil conflicts, in its search for critical and strategic minerals: gold, coltan, niobium, uranium, cobalt, petroleum. (* see below)

The same destiny is hovering over Australia where the Wiradjuri people are fighting a Barrick open-pit mine on the shores of Lake Cowal, while newly-acquired Place Dome is devastating the Philippines, accused of economic and environmental damages on the island of Marinduque. And in Indonesia, Placer Dome is violating the rights of the Dayak people and destroying extensive tracts of native forests; Placer Dome (or Barrick Gold) influences politics, and when necessary, war.

This is how Barrick Gold operates

As Prosecutor, I presented the case, recalling how Esquel, a town of barely 30,000 residents in Argentina's Patagonia, managed to expel Canadian mining firm Meridian Gold. In that occasion, we warned that the mining invaders did not come only for the gold, but rather for everything. These early struggles and the investigations later undertaken led us to warn people about the lethal extractive method which permits the plunder of common, nonrenewable goods carried out by these agents of globalization, grinding up and irrigating entire mountains with a toxic chemical soup in open pits.

This plunder comes about and is made possible by a national legal code appropriated and transformed by complicit government officials. Once again I explained how and why this system of extraction was developed, the consumerism of the North and the scarcity of minerals, with mineral deposits in the North of an increasingly lower grade. I consider this message to be essential to really understand the rules that guide the plunderers.

The Defense

The task of defending the company was handed to Jaime Gallardo. He undertook the task in a professional manner, as if he had been contracted by Barrick Gold. In some moments he earned jeers in his intent to demonstrate that his client practices "Responsible Mining." In other moments, the audience responded with sharp remarks to his attempts to explain the benefits that the company will provide to the country.

"How much do they pay you!", "You are as corrupt as them!" were some of the barbs launched from the upper seats of the amphitheater where the tribunal took place. They were voices of both women and men, perhaps from unsuspecting citizens who believed they were witnessing the official trial which we would have wanted, and for the moment, forgot that this trial was non-binding.

The defense attorney Gallardo acted in this role because the mining company, through means of a fax, declined the invitation to the tribunal, explaining that its president could not be present. Jaime Gallardo relied therefore upon the Web page of Barrick. The arguments which he utilized in the company's defense were the same which the transnational publishes on the Internet and disseminates through press outlets.

Testimonies From Peru and Argentina

Victor Rodríguez and Juan Navarro, community leaders from the Negra and Blanca Mountains Range of Huaraz, Peru, explained the case of the Pierina mines. With an emotional testimony they showed how the Pierina mine is affecting the communities of the region of Ancash. The region has a dozen villages inhabited by some 15,000 residents, although there are many more who depend upon the sixty-four sources of water which emerge from the mountain Condorwain. Demonstrations are being carried out against Barrick Gold, which is still trying to extend its mining operations with the projects Condorwain and Conito. "The scarcity of water due to over consumption and mining activities," said the witnesses, "puts our agriculture and livestock in jeopardy. We Peruvians demand that Barrick Misquichilca pay reparations for damages and injuries, and that they cease their activities and expansion.

We also denounce the murders of two of our neighbors and the serious injuries of another twenty due to the violent repression taken out against the hundreds of mine workers who spoke out for better salaries and dignity in their work conditions."

The miners had blocked the access route to the plant and gathered in Huallapampa. They were met with fierce repression by some 30 police agents employed directly by the mining firm. These are the same repressive forces that were created and utilized by dictator Fujimori and Montesinos, unabashed supporters of Barrick and of mining projects such as Tambogrande, also where social leaders were murdered. The Peruvian witnesses detailed cases of illnesses caused by the mining activities and large numbers of persons with high levels of lead in their blood. In Peru the deaths are announced with resigned detachment, as though they were a routine daily occurrence.

Ana Gloria González, of Chilecito, and Héctor Artuzzo, of Pituil, a small village at the feet of the Famatina mountain range in the province of La Rioja, Argentina, spoke about their assemblies and demonstrations against Barrick Gold, which is currently trying to reopen the century-old mine La Mejicana in the upper reaches of the Famatina range. The one sole water source provides an average of 760 litres of water per second, while the mining firm will need to consume at least 1,000 liters per second. This equation is an axe hanging over the villages of campesinos, farmers and small ranchers; added to the scarcity of water should be the contamination which will inevitably be caused by the mining project.

Today there is a basin located at 4,500 meters suffering from excessive acidity (pH of 2), caused by the former mining operations in La Mejicana, recognized even by the Environmental Impact Report prepared by Barrick in its exploratory stage of operations. González and Artuzzo say that "the residents of Chilecito and Famatina are prepared to protect the resources and environment, the mountains and landscapes, cultural and archeological heritage with their lives." They add, "We will defend our water, our lives and the lives of future generations as well, because these are our constitutional rights and we must defend them."

The Witnesses

The Prosecutor then called upon Lucio Cuenca, of the Latin American Observatory of Environmental Conflicts (OLCA), who based his presentation on the environmental and social impacts produced by mining activity of the Pascua Lama project. "(These impacts) are not only in the future, but the present, because during this stage of exploration, thousands of meters of shafts have been drilled, and roads have been cut through a great number of glaciers and ice fields, and their destruction is minimized and hidden by the company."

The OLCA environmentalist described the continuous negligence and abuses caused by Barrick in relation to the presentations of re-written and doctored environmental impact reports. At first, the existence of the glaciers was denied by the company, then later the firm announced that they would be 'transferred.' A management plan for ice and glacial resources was omitted, incomplete plans were presented, and members of the water board were bribed: These are the most frequent methods of doing business. According to Lucio Cuenca, "those who are permitting all of this are criminally responsible, and I hope that this trial will hand the company a harsh sentence." Cuenca provided an exhaustive description of the numerous environmental damages and presented an uncertain destiny for the Huasco Valley should the Pascua Lama project be carried out.

Mario Mautz and Javier Campillay are farmers worried about the scarcity of water. The field work and the corporate reality shook the silence of the packed hall. Mautz emotionally referred to the glaciers and water course, reflecting on the negative impacts already caused by the mining practices. "Who are they to throw us out of the valley, who gave them the authority to install themselves here and tell lies to us with the story that everything is OK?" Campillay continued along the same line: "I regret not having been able to dedicate more time to the struggle against Pascua Lama. Barrick knows it, they speculate with time and with our dedication towards our work, but just recently we have begun to feel that this fight is vital. It is them or us."

Verónica Araya explained the activity of the Ayni Network, a group created to resolve any needs of jobs and work in the region. Before questions of the defense attorney, she stated that with artisans, small businesses and imagination, "we could replace the jobs offered by Barrick, without risk of pulmonary edema and psychological damage from the rigorous work some four and five thousand meters above sea level. We are already doing it." Her testimony abounded with examples: It is the response of a sector of the population opting for genuine and permanent occupations.

It was then the turn of Julián Alcayaga. I asked the economist if he was capable of synthesizing the conclusions of his book "The Exile of the Condor" in fifteen minutes. The book tells of the economic damage which Chile has suffered with the privatization of the copper industry. Chile produces more mineral than ever and earns less and less income, with fewer and fewer jobs, while natural resources are rapidly depleting. This is the paradigm of neoliberal development. "Billions of dollars," said Alcayaga, "escaping overseas through falsified declarations. The companies swear that they are not making profits, and Barrick's El Indio mine is one of them."

It is the same on the other side of the Andes, a dozen laws and twenty codes are giving away the Argentine heritage for free. A ridiculous Mining Code, water for which they do not pay, subsidized energy, and legal and tax stability for thirty years form a framework of this cruel plunder. Alcayaga, and this Prosecutor, "denounce the unconstitutionality of the Bi-national Treaty of Mining Implementation between Argentina and Chile, which creates a third country for the transnationals and through the law gives away the peaks of the Andes: this is the key to the plunder."

The technical aberrations of this type of mining were exposed by Hugo González, mining engineer from San Juan, Argentina. He was able to retort the claims of the defense regarding "responsible mining, scientific seriousness and high standards of controls." González told of one document which proves the environmental harm that Barrick is committing. An internal (and private) memo of the auditing company contracted by the transcontinental firm urges Barrick Gold to proceed swiftly to prevent the "constant breakage of the membrane which is supposed to make the tailings reservoir of Veladero impermeable," located only meters from the project Pascua Lama.

The complaint proves the claims of negligence and imprudence regarding the techniques used on this occasion. (We submitted yet another report where the company was urged to solder the membrane every twenty meters, "although this is not the appropriate solution.") The mining engineer González alluded later to another document, (all were submitted to the Tribunal), over corporate structure and financing, and the impossibility to act legally against the transnational, and the legal roots of the subsidiary mining firms of Barrick with their headquarters in island tax havens. Hugo González then spoke of the impact of the method of open pit mining, of the explosions and particles suspended in the atmosphere which generally are omitted from the environmental impact reports, and of acid mine drainage. These are aspects barely mentioned by Barrick.

The focus returned to the glaciers with the presence of the Councilman of Alto del Carmen, Chile, Luis Faura. He has accompanied us, over the past two years, on visits throughout much of the Huasco Valley, and we knew that his activism and work has permitted him to know well the interrelations of government and mining officials. Faura spoke about this, speaking of bribes, handouts and trafficking of influences. He emphasized the rock glaciers, or layers of permafrost, upon which the water users of the valley depend. He spoke of the opinions of glaciologists regarding the complexity of the Andean ecosystem at 4,500 meters of altitude, and the destruction of the water-production capacities and then he spoke of the efforts made by Barrick to hide the ice masses which feed the water sources and basins. "Without the glaciers, these Andean valleys will disappear. In the Huasco locality, seventy thousand residents, principally agricultural families, are contemplating a virtual exodus. The go-ahead of the Pascua Lama project," according to Faura, "will destroy one of the most fertile valleys in the region of Coquimbo."

The crystalline voice of Adriana Campillay followed immediately, and shook with the applauses of five straight hours of testimony against Barrick. The mining operations are showing no mercy to the indigenous peoples who are being displaced from their territories, for now they have a diabolical method to extract the disseminated minerals of the mountains. The Huascoaltina community elder, with a resounding vitality, spoke of an ancestral culture, sullied and unprotected. She strongly called for "justice for all of the forgotten populations" and her words moved ever close the verdict against Barrick Gold.

Our argument

I first directed the attention of the tribunal (and the audience) to the Technical Report of the Pascua Lama Project, headed by the agronomist Claudia A. Cantoni, dated October 6th of this year, in the province of San Juan, Argentina. Claudia Cantoni is a member of the Interdisciplinary Commission of Mining Environmental Evaluation for the Pascua Lama Project. I believed it opportune and essential that people on both sides of the Andes know that this project is being delayed by this and other critical reports. But without too many hopes. Only delayed.

The mining firm first omitted the existence of the glaciers, and only after complaints of the Huasco Valley water board did they admit that there are glaciers. Only three: Toro I, Toro II and Esperanza. They consider these three glaciers to be small and irrelevant, but the complaints began to rain down from all sides. The transnational then modified its Environmental Impact Report with a glacier management plan that couldn't hold up under the smallest questioning: "The glaciers will be transferred to another location, they will be moved to a fourth glacier nearby, called Guanaco."

"How?" The water board asked.

"With steam shovels," Barrick answered.

This is what was known. But first COREMA and then CONAMA authorized the injustice by accepting the final word of the company, that the glaciers would not be affected nor moved. The reality is that the company, in its desire for approval of its Declaration of Environmental Impact, will agree to whatever is necessary.

On the Argentine side, the tall tales continued to grow. Barrick offered a report which included a map without a single glacier. The same report, submitted to Chile however, included a map that showed the glaciers. This fact became part of a lawsuit, which is now winding its way through the halls of justice in the province of San Juan.

But we return to the 31-page technical report of Cantoni, which goes much further, saying that "it can be stated that the basins of the rivers Canito, Arroyo Turbio and Turbio are a glacial regimen. There are interstitial ice bodies found at 4,800 meters of altitude, which have been cut by the roads leading to the glacier Guanaco. These ice fields indicate the presence of discontinuous permafrost (glaciers of rock). The report observes that the meteorological wind data were taken in Chile and were not studied on the Argentine side. The particulate matter will affect the rates of melting of the glaciers and speed up their disappearance. Barrick analyzed the particulate matter in locations nearby the mining camp but omitted the rest of the ecosystem where it will actually operate the open-pit extractive process. That through more than nine points a negative impact was evaluated and serious technical shortfalls were found in the Declaration.

What should have been investigated was not - for example there are no studies regarding the glaciers' behaviour, some of which are more than 160 meters deep. At the same time the technical report warns of an apparent crime regarding the way that the site of the mining operation was detached from the rest of the Biosphere Reserve of San Guillermo. The meticulous technical report, in which specialists from diverse disciplines participated, concludes that: "For what is shown," signed Claudia A. Cantoni, "I do not approve the Declaration of Environmental Impact by mining firm Barrick regarding the Pascua Lama Project."

Such is our allegation

Barrick presented an Environmental Impact Report for Veladero where it identified the principal supplies utilized in its operations as sodium cyanide and lime. The company did not consider the water that it will use (over 1,000 liters per second), nor the energy consumed. The reality is that the company does not pay for the water. If it did, it could be charged the amount that the US Department of the Interior fixed, which in 1976 was ten cents per cubic meter (U$0.10 per 1,000 liters). The energy used is subsidized. The company was ordered to pay a fine of 240,000 Argentine pesos for dumping diesel and oil in the peaks of Veladero and Pascua Lama because it is more economical for them to use this fuel than the special recommended additives. The general opinion in San Juan is that Barrick never actually paid the fine. The Governor of the province and his brother, currently a national senator, are the owners of Santa Gema Bentonita, which provides mining materials to the Barrick Gold Corporation.

This is responsible mining, the same company which burned and buried the remnants of the mining camp of Pascua Lama at the end of its prospecting activity. Which caused the deaths of birds and local fauna by poisoning rodents which had come to feed in the camp refuse dumps. Which chopped the glacier Conconta to bits in order to widen the access route to the plant; which replaced the high desert oasis springs of Veladero with a tailings reservoir. This is the type of mining which bribes and corrupts, which decides just as quickly to get rid of workers as to eliminate any opposition, with money or with the brute force of its mercenaries. This is the road to Veladero, controlled by New Zealanders and thugs, the murderers of the Pierina mine, those of the Congo, of Tanzania, of Papua New Guinea. The mines of the global empire.

This is our unfinished allegation. Yes, unfinished. Only a minuscule exposition of the allegations, which itself is enough for this tribunal to convict Barrick Gold Corporation and sentence it to abandon the territories of Latin America. We demand its immediate expulsion. But furthermore, this Prosecutor requests that this Tribunal convene another similar trial, to be carried out during the year 2007, against the politicians and public servants who signed, permitted and accepted this environmental, economic, social and cultural damage.

Javier Rodríguez Pardo,
Prosecuting Attorney of the Barrick Gold Trial
Tribunal of the Social Forum of Chile
November 25, 2006
Santiago de Chile

Part of the sentence, which consisted of three pages:

That as a consequence, this Tribunal proposes that in the coming year, there be convened a tribunal of ethics of this same nature, against the politicians and public officials who have legitimated and made these environmental, economic, social and cultural crimes possible.

and

That with respect to this, the Tribunal, by absolute majority of its members sustains the request of the Prosecutor and sentences the defendant to expulsion from the territories of said peoples, as well as condemning equally all of the transnational mining companies which are operating in the same manner in said territories. It shall be noted that the judge Eduardo Saavedra Díaz, representative of Amnesty International Chile, is not in agreement with the majority vote regarding the expulsion of the accused company, but is in agreement with the totality of the rest of the contents of the present ruling.

Panel of Judges

Miguel Palacín Quispe - Andean Coordinator Andina of Pueblos Indígenas
Juan Carlos Cardenas - Ecoceanos Center
Eduardo Saavedra Díaz - Amnesty Internacional - Chile
Sister Cristina Hoar - Department of Peace, Justice and Ecology, CONFERRE

* Editorial Note. MAC wishes to point out that, while Barrick can certainly be accused of several censorious activities in Africa and association with highly dubious partners, we know of no evidence that the company has been directly responsible for human rights violations such as described. Nor, to our knowledge has the company any major involvement in coltan, niobium, uranium, cobalt or petroleum.

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