MAC: Mines and Communities

A Hollywood Trial

Published by MAC on 2007-02-17

A Hollywood Trial

17th February 2007

The lawsuit lodged by Canadian multinational Meridian Gold against six members of the No to the Mine Assembly of Esquel is a confession of sorts.

For the first time, methods used by a multinational company to manipulate public opinion have been revealed. The trial has provided an irrefutable proof of how the mining companies lie and who constructs these lies. The public relations firm for Argentina's president Kirchner, Braga Menéndez; former Argentina's president Carlos Menem's spokesperson, Jorge Azcarate and the cousin of the Argentine ambassador in New York, Raúl Timerman are revealed in this lawsuit as the authors of a plan designed to "find the breaking point" between community activists who have organized to resist the installation of a mine which will contaminate the region. For the first time as well one can hear their "proposals," identified by their voices.

As the mining firm details in their judicial presentation, "between the months of April and July of 2003, a foreign nongovernmental organization, Businesses for Social Responsibility" (BSR) was hired. In their goal of establishing the causes and solutions of the conflict, they were to carry out a field study in the city of Esquel, obtaining opinions, knowledge, the state of social moods, and the interests of the population. According to Meridian's lawsuit, "persons authorized to participate in the meetings" at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Buenos Aires were the following:

For Meridian Gold Holdings: Edward Colt (Executive Vice-President), Darcy Edward Marud (Chief of Exploration) and Guillermo Mendoza (Chief of Press).

For the Consultant BSR: Jim Rader, Matt Jeschke and Christina Sabater.

For the Public Relations firm Braga Menéndez and Associates: Raúl Timerman and Juan Carlos Malagoli.

The final name on the list: Mr. Jorge Azcárate, also convened by Braga Menéndez.

We will now see who are these city slickers who played with local folks and what they said.

Who Is Who

Braga Menéndez and Associates is a public relations firm who carries the name of its mentor: Fernando Braga Menéndez. As he himself will tell, he "discovered" Néstor Kirchner when nobody knew a thing about the then-governor of the Argentine province of Santa Cruz. Braga Menéndez decided to work in his presidential campaign, an election in which Kirchner became president with only 22% of the popular vote, when his opponent, Carlos Menem dropped out of the race. The public announcement of Menem's withdrawal was made by Jorge Azcárate, the extra participant in the meetings of Meridian Gold organized by Braga Menéndez, who is currently found working on public relations in the campaign of Cristina Kirchner, Argentine senator and wife of the President.

Jorge Azcárate is in charge of the consulting group Bonaparte 48, Inc. In addition to the already-mentioned participation in the electoral campaign of Menem, he was the Sub secretary of Media Affairs for Mauricio Macri in 2002, and was the spokesperson for Grupo Dolphin, who control Transener and Edenor, among other companies. He is also currently the editorial assessor of the magazine Debates, whose most recent issue flooded the city with the image of Cristina Kirchner.

In their web page, Bonaparte 48 presents an example of an institutional campaign – which they had produced for Greenpeace - with ample graphics and video. In the graphic one can see the face of Mario Pergolini in the first shot, wearing a respirator with the slogan "Indifference smells like pollution."

There is more; in the audio tapes of the meeting in Crowne Plaza Raúl Timerman, member of the Braga Menéndez agency, is heard saying that the envisioned plan of action for the agency is designed to "counterbalance the action of Greenpeace" in Esquel. How? By contracting the services of other NGOs. "Those we have identified are Fundación Vida Silvestre (Wildlife Foundation of Argentina, a member of WWF), Cambio Democrático (whom they mention as having had a meeting with Graciela Tapia, member of the board of directors), Poder Ciudadano (Citizen's Power, whom they mention as having met with their director, Carlos March, although they did not specify about what) and FARN."

To the meeting at the Hotel Crowne Plaza held in 2003, Braga Menéndez sent its Director of Media, Juan Carlos Malagoli. He was in charge of speaking clearly:

"The issue today is the problem with the community. Some 70% of the people today in Esquel think that the company is going to continue advancing in it's operations. And the obvious things are obvious, for even as we tell them that we have halted operations, 70% of the people of Esquel know that the project is going to continue advancing. They already know."

Malagoli is then the one who explains the agency's plan. In the first place they need to carry out a diagnosis to find what they call "the breaking point between those who give more importance to ecology even if folks die of hunger and those who are more concerned with money, as a bit absurd and exaggerated axis. That is to say, how many of these are in Esquel." The form envisioned to carry out this diagnosis is a poll that, taking advantage of a provincial election, which would help mask the true intentions of the poll. The agency talked of who they believed to be the ideal consultant to head this task: Catterberg and Associates, who routinely run polls for Radical Party boss and former Chubut Governor Carlos Maestro. "We chose this consultant because of their links with Maestro and with the Radical Party of the province... These folks are good friends with Maestro, and if we all agree that we are going to do the polls, these folks will talk with Maestro first. We will have to have an OK from their part before."

How to Get to President Kirchner

Raúl Timerman is the cousin of the Argentine Ambassador in New York, Héctor Timerman, and nephew of the legenary Jacobo Timerman. He presents himself as an expert in marketing, has a degree in chemical sciences and also has a program on Radio El Mundo whose title perhaps strikes as a bit of a forewarning: "Without Asking Permission."

Tineman was in charge of presenting, in the meeting of the Hotel Crown Plaza, a powerpoint presentation entitled "How To Generate Confidence." The first mechanism expressed by the plan envisioned by the Braga Menéndez agency was the following:

"There is a list of the members of the national government who are going to receive information that we are going to prepare: The Minister of Planning Julio de Vido; the Secretary of Mining Jorge Mayoral; the head of the Cabinet Alberto Fernández; Presidential spokesperson Miguel Núñez; the General Secretary of the presidency Oscar Parilli and the Private Secretary of the Nation Pepe Salvini. This, read: Néstor Kirchner. That is, the inner group of Néstor Kirchner, whom we want to maintain informed to assure us that every person in his circle that he may consult, has the information."

David vs. Goliath

One of the members of the Assembly accused in the lawsuit managed to arrive to Buenos Aires: The lawyer, Gustavo Macayo. In a dialogue with Lavaca, he synthesized the situation:

- I believe that this lawsuit is not going to succeed, the mining firm has made a mistake. What is more, they have made a gross error, because they have permitted us to come to Buenos Aires to spread the word of the situation. They are either crazy for what they are doing, or they are desperate.

- It is a paradox that they are carrying out a public lawsuit to try and punish those who want to diffuse information about their secret plan to manipulate the Assembly.

- It is not only the Assembly, rather the entire population of Esquel. If one only hears the recordings, you notice that they not only want to influence the public but also all of the relevant public figures: Congresspersons, Senators, political party bosses, officials close to the Governor and the President, those who are the lines most close to the provincial and national executive branch. They speak of "keeping them informed" of the company plans, but what we see is that the whole knows that the company is going keep going ahead with their project."

- How is it that the mining project could carry forward in Esquel after the referendum?

- Well the referendum just got away from them, they just couldn't stop it. We carried out many actions: An enforceable legal stop-action, important legal and judicial administrative actions, but even those alone were not enough. Evidently we are in a very unequal struggle, against a company which is throwing about millions of dollars and political influence at all levels. It is a company which has a lot of money to hold out for years of spending, because they are trying to outspend us and we are trying to spend them down. But we are working from nothing, without resources, as one could say... We are working based on a utopia, that is, to see if we can stop them. It is a work that is not financed nor has a structure and it is very difficult, because other struggles and conflicts are constantly arising, such as the hydroelectric firm that wants to operate in Corcovado, or the continuing advance of other mining firms in Patagonia. There are a mountain of mining concessions being awarded, and the struggle is becoming more and more complex for just one single community to continue resisting. And they continue advancing, in any way that they can.

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