Gathering On Environmental Justice And Mining In Latin AmericaPublished by MAC on 2007-03-15
Oruro, Gathering on Environmental Justice and Mining in Latin America
9-11 March 2007
This past March 9-11, representatives from civil society organizations and churches throughout Latin America met to share and discuss the situation of environmental injustice which communities and organizations are confronting as a result of the activities of transnational mining corporations.
Over 40 people from Argentina, Bolivia, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, the United States, Perú, and Guatemala discussed the realities of mining in Latin America, focusing on the conflicts which are evidence of the unsustainability of mining activity in the region.
The host organization, the Centre for Ecology and Andean Peoples (CEPA), of Oruro, opened the event to the public by organizing a roundtable discussion on the night of March 9, with four representatives from different parts of Latin America. The issues discussed related to the strategies that mining companies are utilizing in the face of community opposition and resistance, and the responses of communities to these corporate strategies.
Common elements that stand out in mining conflicts are the violations in the rights of local communities and the lies and frauds disseminated by mining companies in order to achieve the support of the population and the criminalization of those opposed to mining.
A second period of growth in mining investments in the region threatens to become an extended concentration of conflicts between mining companies and affected communities. The location of orebodies in the headwaters of river systems and the pressure on water resources is generating a strong rejection on the part of communities and human settlements.
In all of the countries of the region where mining companies have appeared, there is opposition and conflict. It is the reality today in Latin America and there is no apparent way out of this problem as long as the mining companies consider themselves to have the right to carry out mining operations anywhere that minerals are located, without consideration of the threat to water, the forced displacement of communities, and the opposition of persons affected by the risks to ecosystems and public health.
It is becoming more and more difficult for the mining companies to sell the benefits of their activities as local communities and support organizations become more and more informed about the negative impacts of mining.
Adding to this are the scant or non-existent contributions from taxes and royalties, the undermining of already-weak national institutions, and the creation and use of political and social corruption and illegitimate pressures which weaken the democracies of the region even further.
In the face of community opposition, the response is co-optation, threats, militarization, and the use of force. Projects such as Pascua Lama on the Chile-Argentina border are being forcefully questioned from technical, environmental, economic and ethical points of views. The smelter in La Oroya, Peru, has turned the town into one of the most contaminated places on the planet - evidence of the difficulty of living alongside mining.
Observatory of Mining Conflicts in Latin America
In this context, the participating organizations have agreed to formalize the Latin American Observatory of Mining Conflicts and to strengthen the relationships between those fighting for environmental justice, the rights of communities, and the defence of ecosystems affected by mining in the region.
The participants from the Churches - priests, clerics and lay persons - demonstrated their commitment to the rights of the poorest victims of the mining companies in different countries of the region, and their desire to join with the struggle of communities and organizations in defence of their rights, their ecosystems, and the integrity of Creation.
The Observatory has a web site which is making information available on mining conflicts in the region, campaigns underway, and solidarity actions in the face of the aggression of mining companies and their allies against community leaders and experts opposed to mining (www.conflictosmineros.net).
Solidarity With Those Threatened
The participants, representatives of churches and organizations of the region, agreed to join together in solidarity with those who are being threatened for their activities criticizing mining.
This the case of the priest from Limón, Ecuador, Juan de la Cruz Rivadeneira, facing baseless accusations of violent acts against a hydroelectric company, and the priest Marco Arana, who has been subject to harassment, threats and surveillance over his environmental and social defence work in Cajamarca, Peru, where the largest gold mine in the continent, Yanacocha, operates.
The paramilitary actions and intelligence operations carried out by mining companies, with the silent complicity of governments, have become generalized strategies of intimidation in a great majority of the mining conflicts in the region.
Every day there are new reports of harassment, persecution, unjustified legal harassment, and threats of all kinds against leaders who are denounce the unsustainability of mining.
This reality demands a wide range of solidarity actions to protect the safety of those who are exercising their right to oppose mining, and in defence of affected communities and damaged or threatened ecosystems.
This Gathering enabled us to reaffirm our desire to strengthen the work of our organizations and to better link local initiatives and struggles, giving them a regional character which will permit us to deal with the conflicts between communities, organizations, and mining companies in the best manner possible.
Latin American Observatory of Environmental Conflict