MAC: Mines and Communities

Latin American Update

Published by MAC on 2006-12-20

Latin America update

20th December 2006


UN investigates treatment of Ecuadoran anti-mine activist

Kelly Patterson, Ottawa Citizen

19 December 2006

The United Nations' high commissioner for human rights is investigating allegations that pro-mining factions framed a prominent critic of a Canadian mining venture in Ecuador in order to stifle opposition, CanWest News Service has learned.

Carlos Zorrilla, a member of the Ecuadoran environmental group DECOIN, was accused of assaulting and robbing an American woman at a July 13 demonstration in Quito against plans by Ascendant Copper Corp. to mount an exploration venture in the Intag region, a nature preserve in northern Ecuador.

Leslie Brooke Chaplin, of Arizona, claimed Zorrilla stole her camera as well as $500 and told demonstrators to rough her up during the march.

The accusation led to an arrest warrant for Zorrilla, who went into hiding minutes before almost 20 policemen, some in ski masks, stormed his home on Oct. 17.

``The police tore my room apart and pointed their guns at my wife and kid,''said Zorrilla by e-mail from Ecuador, adding that they ``then proceeded to plant a gun and a bag of drugs in my house.''

The warrant was lifted after supporters pointed out irregularities in the case, in which Zorrilla was not given a chance to rebut the charges before the warrant was issued, as is the normal practice in Ecuador. However, the original charges still stand.

Video footage of the demonstration shows Chaplin was distributing pro-mining pamphlets during the demonstration, and that she left the crowd unharmed, say DECOIN and the Ottawa-based advocacy group MiningWatch Canada.

MiningWatch has posted the video on its website.

Ascendant CEO Gary Davis said he knew little about the incident, but that Chaplin was ``not working for Ascendant.''

Asked why she would be distributing pamphlets for the company, he said, ``A lot of people are pro-mining in Ecuador.''

Contacted at her home in Sun City, Ariz., Chaplin refused to comment.

In a November statement, the Vancouver firm said it had nothing to do with the incident, and that the case was supported by the testimony of four witnesses and a doctor.

A spokesman for the UN special rapporteur on human-rights defenders, which investigates cases where rights activists are targeted for persecution, confirmed this week that the office is ``reviewing information''on the case.

On Dec. 1, Amnesty International wrote to Ecuador's attorney general, saying it is ``extremely concerned that these actions would seem to be intended to intimidate and tarnish the legitimacy of the campaign and demands by the villagers of Intag.''

Last year, Zorrilla received death threats related to his lobbying against the proposed copper project, Amnesty noted.

Davis says anti-mining activists have also resorted to threats and violence, pointing out that last year a medical clinic provided by the firm was torched by about 300 residents.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights recently published a report raising concerns that activists in South America are often targeted by ``smear campaigns and criminal prosecutions.''


Governor Vetoes Mining Ban in Argentina's Mendoza Province

By Jon A. Nones,

20 December 2006

ST. LOUIS -- The Governor of Mendoza Province has vetoed legislation passed by the Mendoza Provincial Congress on December 13, 2006 to suspend new exploration and mining permits pending a new environmental law.

According to a press release by Exeter Resource, currently exploring in the province and developing the La Cabeza project, the Governor determined it to be unconstitutional because "the older provincial legislation upon which it was based was inconsistent with, and had been superseded by, more recent comprehensive Federal environmental and mining legislation."

The Department of Environment in Mendoza is still proceeding to finalize a new environmental management plan, designed to protect the interests of the province and various land users. The plan will include a land use map setting out priorities in Mendoza Province for parks, nature reserves, agriculture and mining.

Exeter said that government officials have assured the company that its La Cabeza project will fall in an appropriate mining area, and the project has the full support of the Malargüe Departmento for exploration and mining.

La Cabeza reports Indicated Resources of 6.2 million tonnes at an average grade of 2.0 g/t Au for 390,000 ounces of gold. Estimates of Inferred Resources hit 500,000 ounces of gold from 12.1 million tonnes at a grade of 1.3 g/t Au with a cut-off grade of 0.5 g/t.

Currently, the company has five drills in operation with a new resource calculation to begin in early 2007, followed by an update of scoping studies and a final feasibility study expected during the second quarter of 2007.

Yale Simpson, Chairman of Exeter, previously told RI that mining is new to the area and the province is just setting up "necessary guidelines."

Exeter stock is up 5% so far today at $2.05 on AMEX. But shares in the company were hit hard after the initial announcement, dropping 23% from $2.32 on Monday.

The company commented on the market activity, saying the share selloff was "exacerbated by third party speculation" that the new legislation could result in a suspension of all current mining activity in Mendoza.

Exeter said that even if the Governor did not veto the legislation, the proposed suspension would only have applied to the grant of new licences and not La Cabeza.


Peru miner blames fall in gold output on conflicts

by Rebecca Howard , DOW JONES NEWSWIRES

19 December 2006

LIMA (MarketWatch) -- A sharp fall in Peru's recent gold production can be tied in part to social problems in this Andean nation, Compania de Minas Buenaventura SAA's (BVN) chief executive Roque Benavides said Tuesday.

Peru's gold production fell 27% in October from the same month a year earlier, the government's statistics agency has said.

Gold production at Minera Yanacocha SRL "has fallen around 33% this year and will fall another 33% or more next year. This is a product of social problems," Benavides told Dow Jones Newswires on the sidelines of a ceremony.

Buenaventura holds a 43.65% share in Yanacocha, one of the biggest gold mines in the world. The mine is operated by Newmont Mining Corp., (NEM) with a 51.35% stake, while the International Finance Corp holds a 5.0% stake.

According to Benavides, Yanacocha will produce 2.6 million ounces of gold this year and 1.6 million ounces of gold in 2007.

In 2005 the mine produced 3,333,088 ounces of gold.

"The fall has nothing to do with the mineral grade but it is the fact that we cannot go into a series of zones and every time we try to develop new projects anti-mining groups appear and make it increasingly difficult," he said.

Mine Object Of Protests

Yanacocha has been the object of a series of social protests in recent years.

In 2004, for example, it was forced to shelve exploration plans in the nearby area known as Cerro Quilish, estimated to contain 3.7 million ounces of gold, after violent protests by farmers who believed the project threatened water supplies.

According to Benavides, the mining sector as a whole is at risk.

"We have begun to notice serious symptoms. The number of mining claims has declined over the past year," he said.

He pointed to the fact that in October's gross domestic product number, the mining sector declined by 9.69% over the same month a year before.

"It was affected by gold but later it will be affected by other minerals," he said. Benavides did laud efforts made by the current government to stave off social protests. "We must emphasize that this government and principally Prime Minister Jorge del Castillo has made the effort to confront the problems," he said.

Del Castillo has been instrumental in negotiating solutions to several conflicts in the mining and hydrocarbons sectors.

Among other things his office has created a high level commission to prevent social conflicts before they escalate into protests.

Buenaventura also runs a number of other mines in Peru, mining mainly gold and silver.


Gobernador argentino veta ley que suspendía actividad minera

Martes 19 de Diciembre, 2006

BUENOS AIRES, dic 19 (Reuters) - El gobernador de la provincia argentina de Mendoza Julio Cobos vetó una ley que suspendía la minería a cielo abierto afirmando que la legislación era anticonstitucional, dijo el martes el gobierno mendocino.

Los legisladores de la provincia andina habían aprobado la semana pasada la suspensión indefinida de la extracción de metales en minas a cielo abierto y el otorgamiento de nuevos permisos para esta actividad debido a preocupaciones por sus efectos en el ecosistema.

La medida inmediatamente generó fuertes críticas entre representantes del sector minero.

Sin embargo, el gobierno provincial anunció que el gobernador Cobos vetó la ley porque entraba en conflicto con la legislación nacional.

"Es anticonstitucional (...) la provincia puede legislar en materia ambiental pero eso no significa que puede establecer restriciones a los derechos mineros", dijo a Reuters Alejandro Rodríguez, subsecretario de Hidrocarburos, Minería y Energía de la provincia de Mendoza.

La ley vetada ya fue devuelta al Senado provincial, donde la decisión de Cobos puede ser rechazada.

La minería no es una actividad ampliamente desarrollada en Mendoza. La provincia es más reconocida por sus vinos, su producción de aceite de oliva y el turismo. La oposición a los proyectos de minería han sido liderados por productores agropecuarios y sectores ambientalistas.

A su vez, los miembros del sector minero dijeron que la ley redactada por el parlamento provincial podría significar la pérdida de inversiones en exploración por parte de empresas extranjeras en Mendoza.

"Se trata de buscar una armonía entre la actividad minera y el resto de las actividades económicas, porque creemos que la actividad minera es importante", dijo Rodríguez.

El gobierno mendocino quiere encontrar un equilibrio entre el ecosistema y los intereses económicos, agregó el funcionario.

La gobernación dijo en un comunicado que el gobernador presentó un proyecto de ley que reglamente el procedimiento de evaluación del impacto ambiental de la actividad minera.

Aunque Argentina no es reconocido mundialmente como un país minero, las inversiones en el sector se incrementaron fuertemente en los últimos años, impulsadas por la subida de los precios internacionales de los metales y por menores costos tras la devaluación del peso argentino en 2002.


Mineros de Perú acusan caída en la producción por los conflictos

Por Rebecca Howard, DOW JONES NEWSWIRES (traducido por Cesar Padilla)

19 Dic. 2006

LIMA -- UNA importante caída en la producción de oro de Perú puede relacionarse en parte a los problemas sociales en esta nación andina, afirmó el martes Roque Benavides, ejecutivo principal de la Compañía minera Buenaventura SAA (BVN).

Perú acusó una caída en la producción de oro de 27% en octubre respecto del mismo mes del año pasado, según la agencia estadística del gobierno.

La producción de oro de Minera Yanacocha SRL "ha caído alrededor de 33% este año y caerá otro 33% o más el próximo año. Esto es producto de problemas sociales," le dijo Benavides a Dow Jones Newswires en los pasillos de una ceremonia.

Buenaventura mantiene un 43.65% en la propiedad de Yanacocha, una de las minas de oro más grandes en el mundo. La mina es operada por Newmont S.A. (NEM) con una participación de 51.35% mientras la Corporación Financiera Internacional del Banco Mundial tiene una participación de 5%.

Según Benavides, Yanacocha producirá 2.6 millones de onzas de oro este año y 1.6 millones de onzas de oro en 2007. En 2005 la mina produjo 3,333,088 onzas de oro.

"La caída no tiene nada que ver con la calidad mineral sino con el hecho que no podemos ingresar en una serie de zonas y cada vez que intentamos desarrollar los nuevas áreas, grupos anti-mineros aparecen y lo hacen extremadamente difícil," agregó.

El motivo de las protestas

Yanacocha ha sido el objeto de una serie de protestas sociales en los recientes años.

En 2004, por ejemplo, fue obligado archivar los planes de exploración en el área conocida como Cerro Quilish, cercana a la mina, y que se estima contiene 3.7 millones de onzas de oro, después de las violentas protestas de campesinos que pensaban que el proyecto amenazaba los suministros de agua.

Según Benavides, el conjunto del sector minero está actualmente en riesgo. "Nosotros hemos empezado a notar serios síntomas. El número de solicitudes mineras ha decrecido durante el último año" afirmó.

Él apuntó al hecho que en el producto interno bruto de octubre, el sector minero disminuyó en 9.69% respecto al mismo mes del año anterior.

"Ha sido afectado por la producción de oro pero después será afectado por otros minerales" dijo. Benavides elogió los esfuerzos realizados por el gobierno actual de poner límite a las protestas sociales.

"Debemos poner énfasis en que este gobierno y principalmente el primer ministro, de Jorge Castillo ha realizado esfuerzos para enfrentar los problemas," mencionó.

Del Castillo ha jugado un rol instrumental negociando las soluciones a varios conflictos en la minería y sectores de los hidrocarburos.

Entre otras cosas su oficina ha creado una comisión de alto nivel para prevenir los conflictos sociales antes de que escalen en protestas. Buenaventura también ejecuta varios otros proyectos mineros en Perú, principalmente oro y plata.

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