MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Latin American Update

Published by MAC on 2006-11-04


Latin American Update

4th November 2006

Following passage of Chubut (Law 5001, 2003) and Río Negro (Anti-cyanide Law 3981, 2004), another Argentinian province - Mendoza - is close to banning metal mining projects, after solid campaigning by the Autoconvocados de San Carlos, Multisectorial de Sur, and others.

The world's third largest mining company (CVRD-Inco) is more than piqued at last week's takeover of some of its facilities by Xikrin tribespeople, claiming the company had reneged on its vow to make regularly payments to their communities. It's now cancelled its existing payments and threatened to take the people to court to reclaim the losses it says its sustained over the past fortnight.

But what about the irreparable losses sustained by the indigenous peoples of the Grand Carajas region as they were bulldozed out of their forests and away from their rivers - to carve out the biggest extractive "reserve" on the planet? Mineweb pointed out last week that CVRD originally agreed to protect 1.2 million hectares of land and the indigenous people on them in exchange for the right to mine 412,000 hectares at Carajas in the eastern Amazon jungle. What isn't widely known is that - whatever CVRD's claim not to currently encroach on Indigenous territory - the project as a whole absorbed no less than 90 million hectares of land, dislodging and disempowering an estimated 13,000 Amerindians.

A recent Canadian report (*) points out that nearly half (45%) of Brazil's Indigenous territory has still not been demarcated or registered for the country's original peoples. Although in 1988 the government appeared to grant for the first time entitlement to make land claims, on the basis that they had "pre-existing rights [as] Indigenous Peoples", less than a decade later a new decree allowed individual land owners/ occupiers to challenge those rights. Since then eight traditional territories have been "de-listed" - and the process continues.

What's also disturbing about this news is that CVRD claims its financial support for the Xikrin has always been "voluntary" - it can be withdrawn at corporate whim.

This hardly presages well for the agreement recently reached between mining companies and the Garcia government in Peru, which substitutes equitable royalties for similar voluntary "social" agreements to uplift the people.

Driven by record prices, and the (arguably highly-misguided) perception that nuclear power is cleaner than coal, oil and gas, uranium exploration is taking off all around the world. After Argentina and Brazil is Colombia next in line? In fact much of Latin America was explored for uranium in the 1960s and through to the eighties. Now, as pointed out by our Latin American editor, Luis Claps, Canadian companies are going where state agencies used to go, and very often buying studies now being sold by current administrations.

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