MAC: Mines and Communities

Doubts rise over Pascua Lama

Published by MAC on 2006-01-10

Doubts rise over Pascua Lama

10th January 2006

Chile: Presidential Candidates Voice Doubts about Pascua-Lama Project


by Wanda Praamsma (

The future looks uncertain for the controversial Pascua Lama gold mine project in Chile's northern Region III. Environmental advisors to both presidential candidates now vying for office say their new, incoming government will not support the gold mine.

The US$1.5 billion project, which straddles the Chilean/Argentine border, is proposed by Canada's Barrick Gold, one of the world's most important gold mining companies.

In the run-off vote on Sunday, Chileans will choose between the centre-left candidate, Michelle Bachelet of the governing Concertación coalition, and billionaire businessman Sebastián Piñera, the conservative leader of the National Renovation (RN) party. Both candidates have voiced strong reservations about Pascua Lama because of the environmental risks it poses.

The Pascua Lama project contemplates moving three glaciers in order to access vast reserves (17.6 million ounces) of gold and silver deposits. But environmentalists and some community leaders say the project risks contaminating the water supply and livelihoods of the farming communities in the Huasco Valley, directly beneath the proposed mine site,

In December, Bachelet explicitly said her intention is to "protect the glaciers and not approve their removal and/or destruction." In a recent interview with Diario Siete, Bachelet's environmental advisor, Manuel Baquedano, added that, "In Bachelet's administration, this project will be completely reviewed. Therefore, the future for (Pascua Lama) is uncertain. In my view, it will be very difficult for the project to go on as originally planned by the company."

Although less aggressively, Piñera's camp also expressed opposition to the mine, with his environmental advisor saying that the project will only move forward "in the event that the glaciers remain untouched and that contamination of all the water in the Huasco Valley basin is completely avoided."

Advisors in both camps said the project will only be viable if the local ecosystem is taken into account. "In the area of the glaciers where they want to intervene, they will have to make an underground mine" (rather than an open pit mine), said Antonio Horvath, an environmental advisor to Piñera. "They'll have to re-adapt the project and extract the minerals underground." Bachelet's advisor agreed.

The risks associated with Pascua Lama have outraged environmentalists and demonstrations have been held continuously since the project first came to the public's attention in August, 2004. On Jan. 6 dozens of protesters rallied outside the Canadian Embassy in Santiago's upscale Las Condes neighbourhood, holding flags that read "Stop, Arrêt Pascua Lama" and "No a Barrick, No a Pascua Lama."

Marcel Claude, the executive director of Oceana, the environmental NGO which organized the protest, said the protesters wanted Canadian authorities to hear their rage, especially because the mine will produce up to US$10 billion in profits for the Canadian company, and "do nothing for Chile except destroy its environment."

"Pascua Lama will probably not pay much in taxes (in Chile) and its impact in terms of jobs is insignificant," Claude said in a press release. "Therefore, we can say with conviction that (Pascua Lama) will contribute absolutely nothing to Chile's development."

Aside from the political debate, the project has encountered numerous technical roadblocks, and cannot move ahead without the approval of the Regional Environmental Commission (COREMA). Barrick has submitted several versions of an environmental report to COREMA, addressing the risks the mine poses. Each time, however, COREMA has asked for revisions of the report.

Most recently, on Dec. 30, COREMA asked Barrick, for the third time in the past year, to revise its 5,000-page environmental report and explain certain aspects of its plan to move the three glaciers.

In the report, submitted in November, Barrick stated that the company will not move three glaciers to access the mine. Rather, the company asserted that the glaciers are really just "reserves of ice" and that five hectares, instead of the initial 10, will be intercepted by the company. The other five hectares, the company said, will diminish over time through natural melting processes, allowing the company access to the gold reserves (ST, Nov. 14).

The environmental commission only gave Barrick one week to address COREMA's questions, leading the company to seek a five-day extension that ends today, Tuesday [January 10]. COREMA will most likely officially give a "yes" or "no" response to the project in February.

In the whole of this long, drawn-out process, Barrick can only take credit for one success: the acceptance of the mine by the Huasco Valley's "Junta de Vigilancia," a group representing 2,000 of the area's farmers. The Junta agreed to a protocol agreement with Barrick Gold that gives local farmers US$60 million in compensation, to be doled out over the course of 20 years. The money, a fraction of what Barrick stands to make if the mine goes forward, is meant to safeguard farmers' interests in the event that their water supplies are contaminated. Environmentalists called the arrangement a bribe.

Still, COREMA director Plácido Ávila said the agreement between Barrick and the farmers will not have any weight in the evaluation of the project. "In the evaluation, only technical aspects will be taken into account. The agreement with the Junta is not environmental, therefore, it won't be considered."

Barrick Gold Faces Determined Opposition at Pascua Lama and Veladero

21st December 2005

Community groups on both side of the Argentina-Chile border are increasing their opposition to Barrick Gold's proposed Pascua Lama project in Chile, while criticism of its Veladero project already under way on the Argentinean side of the border is also mounting. There have been protests in both countries and even a blockade on the Argentinean side.

Environmental Assessment Delayed Again

On December 5, 2005, the Chilean National Environmental Commission (CONAMA) extended the deadline for review of Barrick's Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Pascua Lama project to February 16, 2006. The regional environmental commission, COREMA, must review additional information filed by Barrick and submit a summary of its findings to CONAMA for a final decision. Barrick submitted the EIS on December 9, 2004, but has repeatedly asked for the 120-working-day deadline to be suspended to allow it time to respond to COREMA's questions. If COREMA has further questions after reviewing Barrick's recently-filed second addendum, the company could ask to suspend the process again. See the actual files at

Long-standing Opposition

The Pascua Lama project has been categorically opposed by a broad cross-section of environmental groups in Chile as well as by many of the 70,000 irrigation farmers and small farmers whose livelihoods depend on the water originating in the glaciers at the mine site.

Barrick had been working on the project since 1996, pushing for a "mining integration and complementation treaty" between Chile and Argentina that would make the project more lucrative by exempting it - and any other mines in the "border zone" sacrifice area along the spine of the Andes - from all tariffs and taxes, streamlining the acquisition of mineral rights, and allowing free transport of goods and material (including ore and wastes) across the border. The treaty was signed in December 1997, and in 1999 a "complementary protocol" was signed setting out the area covered by the treaty and allowing mining companied free access to water resources within the zone. Minera Nevada, Barrick's Chilean subsidiary, submitted the first EIS in 2000, neglecting to mention the three glaciers standing in the way of the projected open pit mine.

The EIS had already been approved before the farmers of Huasco Valley discovered the details of what was being proposed, and they were alarmed by environmental and social risks posed by the project. The project was put on ice for four years due to low gold prices. When the project was resubmitted in 2004, the farmers began to organize against it, supported by church groups and environmental organisations, and backed by affected groups on the Argentinean side of the border - residents of the towns of Calingasta and Iglesia, as well as the wine producers in the province of San Juan.

According to its latest information, Barrick is still planning to build an open pit mine, breaking up and moving the Esperanza and Toro 1 and 2 glaciers (or "ice reserves" as the company calls them to avoid acknowledging that they are glaciers). The only difference is that they will leave the Guanaco glacier, 2 kilometres to the south, alone rather than dumping the pieces of the other "ice reserves" on top of it.

Protesters Attacked by Police

A letter asking for the cancellation of the Pascua Lama project - with over 18,000 signatures - was presented to the President of Chile on November 11, 2005 but was met with police violence. Police charged protesters when they tried to place chunks of ice, representing the glaciers that the project will destroy, in the Plaza de la Constitución in front of the La Moneda government palace (see our web site for the text of the letter in English and Spanish). More demonstrations were held in Vallenar and Santiago on November 12.

"Compensation" Deal Challenged

In July, Barrick signed a "protocol agreement" with the Huasco Valley Monitoring Committee, representing irrigation farmers in the area. The agreement committed the farmers to bring their concerns about environmental issues like acid mine drainage and the effects of relocating glaciers before a technical committee the company would set up, rather than submitting their questions to the environmental assessment process - effectively promising to withdraw from participation in the public process. In return, Barrick agreed to fund projects worth $60 million - $3 million a year over the projected 20-year life of the mine - if the project is actually approved. The money would go to improve water supply, quality, and usage. Committee board member Mauricio Perelló is supported by a large group of Committee members in opposing the agreement, which was approved without ratification by the membership.

The agreement has come under fire from many quarters for putting undue pressure on authorities to approve the project. Its critics included "the head of CONAMA", according to a November 17 report from BNamericas. However, the previous day when MiningWatch Canada's Jamie Kneen asked Paulina Saball, Executive Director of CONAMA, whether the "protocol" undermines the environmental assessment process by removing key stakeholders from it, she replied that it is an agreement between third parties that the government had no power over, but that it would not affect the process. Saball was in Ottawa for a meeting of the Canada-Chile Commission for Environmental Cooperation, established under the Canada-Chile Agreement on Environmental Cooperation (CCAEC).

Diaguitas Claim Indigenous Rights, Ancestral Lands

On July 25, the Chilean Consumers' Organisation filed a complaint with the Organisation of American States (OAS) alleging that the Pascua Lama project poses a grave risk to the subsistence rights of the Diaguita indigenous communities in the area, and that the Chilean government would be breaking its international commitments if it approves the project. Specifically, the United Nations' International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights commit the Chilean government to give the Diaguitas water rights "special protection".

The Diaguita people have been waiting over a year for the bill recognizing their aboriginal status to be passed by the Chilean Senate. The Diaguita also claim that historical documents show that part of the Pascua Lama project is on ancestral Diaguita lands "irregularly" acquired by Barrick. See

Public hearing denounced as farce in Argentina

The government of the province of San Juan announced on November 29th the opening of a new "time line for comments and questions" over the Pascua-Lama mining project now that "Barrick has presented some fundamental technical changes", according to the provincial Subsecretary of Mining. See:

Differing from the process of mining project Veladero, where there was a public hearing only after the official approval of the Environmental Impact Report of the project, the Provincial government decided this time to do a public consultation first. The responses by the public need to be presented in written form to the Provincial government, which will be in charge of approving or rejecting the Pascua-Lama Environmental Impact Report. For mining officials in the region of San Juan, this form of public participation is better than a direct referendum: the government prohibited a nonbinding referendum, open to the entire population, which was to be carried out in Calingasta with the help of the county superintendent. For many activists in Argentina, the Interdisciplinary Evaluation Commission (in charge of evaluating Barrick´s informs) is a farce, and the government is only waiting to see what happens in Chile before making public their own official decision to carry out the project.

Veladero Mine Blockaded

Meanwhile, on the Argentinean side of the border, the inhabitants of Tudcum blocked the road by-pass to the nearby Veladero mine on November 23, 2005. According to local media reports, they were upset that Barrick was not living up to its promises of employment, as over 20 local people had been laid off by a Zlato, a Barrick sub-contractor, with little possibility of further work for Barrick. More important the jobs, according to those reports, were the threats made by the contractor against municipal officials the prepotent arrogance displayed by the company, who had refused to deal with the issue. The local authorities themselves said they are equally concerned by the pollution produced by the mine, and were determined that no more truckloads of cyanide should go to the mine. On November 30 the police arrested Alfredo Díaz, President of the Neighborhood Union of Tudcum, and his sister Carolina, supposedly based on a complaint from a bus company, Autotransportes San Juan-Mar del Plata, who has been prevented from transporting workers to the mine due to the blockade. However, local people was concerned that the complaint and the arrests were spurious since Díaz said that no buses belonging to the company were travelling in the area while the blockade was in effect.

According to local news sources Barrick's site manager, Julio Claudeville, maintains that cyanide is innocuous.

Irrigation Farmers and Small Agriculturists of Pinte, Huasco Valley, Under Pressure

A field team headed by Federico Mieres, representing the Huasco River Monitoring Committee in Alto del Carmen - the area affected by the Pascua Lama project - has been repeatedly pressuring members of the Diaguita/Huasco Altinos Agricultural Community and residents of neighbouring Pinte demanding that they cease supporting the administrative procedure currently underway that would force the General Water Directorate to invalidate the protocol of agreement signed between the Monitoring Committee and Barrick Gold. This protocol endorses the operation of the controversial mining project in exchange for $3 million annually over the 20 years of Barrick's projected operations in the area.

This campaign of threats is a new strategy to weaken, to divide, and to intimidate those who legitimately defend their productive activities, their quality of life, and their ecological security. It is proof of how far Barrick is willing to go in its desperate efforts to develop this unsustainable mining project at any cost.

The Chilean Government has remained a mere observer of an endless number of irregularities, instead of assuring that the social processes around the environmental conflicts are transparent, just, and free of illegitimate pressures.

Sergio F. Campusano Villches, President, Diaguita Huasco Altinos Agricultural Community
Latin American Observatory of Environmental Conflicts OLCA
Village of El Tránsito, December 5, 2005

Barrick says to start building Pascua-Lama in '06

by Hilary Burke

10th January 2006

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (Reuters) - Canada's Barrick Gold Corp. said on Tuesday it expects to begin building its $1.5 billion Pascua-Lama gold mine project on the Chile-Argentina border this year, despite stiff environmental opposition and with government approval still pending.

Barrick spokesman Vince Borg said construction would likely start after the Southern Hemisphere winter, which ends in late September.

"We are counting on September as getting a full construction season in. That would keep us on line for our 2009 production start-up," Borg told Reuters during a telephone interview, adding that 5,500 direct jobs would be created during the construction phase.

Toronto-based Barrick (ABX.TO: Quote), slated after a pending merger to become the world's top gold miner, has been trying to prove for more than a year that the Pascua-Lama project in the Andes mountains is environmentally viable.

A regional environmental commission in Chile asked Barrick to redesign the project and possibly turn part of it into an underground mine to avoid disturbing glaciers that lie over the area that Barrick wants to excavate.

Barrick planned to submit additional information to Chilean environmental authorities before January 10 to further clarify how aspects of the mine plan would respect the environment.

A final decision by authorities is expected by March. But Borg said even if a decision came early in the second quarter, the company would still plan to start building in 2006.

Barrick is confident the ruling will be in its favour.

"We think it's a very worthwhile project that will generate substantial economic benefits to the region and to San Juan (province) in Argentina, and it'll be done in an environmentally responsible fashion," Borg said.

The Pascua-Lama project, which plans to access 17.6 million ounces of gold reserves through an open-pit mine design, has generated controversy in Chile since Barrick opted to revive it over a year ago on a scale larger than a previously approved plan.

Environmentalists fear the effects of moving glaciers and say the project will contaminate water resources in northern Chile. Glaciologists cited by Barrick recently redefined the glaciers as ice reservoirs, but that only intensified opposition.

Barrick recently improved its takeover offer for Placer Dome Inc. (PDG.TO: Quote) to $10.4 billion, winning Placer's approval for a deal that would turn the two Canadian miners into the world's biggest gold producer.

Barrick dice comenzará a construir Pascua-Lama in 2006

Por Hilary BurkeMartes

10 de Enero, 2006

BUENOS AIRES, ene 10 (Reuters) - La canadiense Barrick Gold Corp. dijo el martes que prevé comenzar a construir este año su proyecto Pascua-Lama, en la frontera de Chile y Argentina, pese a la oposición de grupos ambientalistas y a que aún está pendiente la decisión del gobierno.

El portavoz de Barrick, Vince Borg, dijo que la construcción comenzaría luego del invierno del hemisferio sur, que termina en septiembre.

"Empezando en septiembre podríamos tener una temporada de construcción completa. Eso nos mantendría encaminados para empezar con la producción en 2009", dijo Borg a Reuters durante una entrevista telefónica, y agregó que se crearían 5.500 empleos directos durante la etapa de construcción.

El proyecto aurífero Pascua-Lama contiene reservas por 17,6 millones de onzas de oro y su construcción costaría unos 1.500 millones de dólares.

Barrick (ABX.TO: Cotización), que luego de una fusión que aún está pendiente se convertiría en la mayor firma minera del mundo, ha tratado de probar por más de un año que el proyecto Pascua-Lama en Los Andes es viable para el medioambiente.

Una comisión regional de medioambiente en Chile pidió a Barrick que rediseñe el proyecto y que transforme parte de él en una mina subterránea para no afectar a los glaciares que yacen sobre el área que Barrick quiere excavar.

Barrick, con sede en Toronto, planea enviar información adicional a las autoridades medioambientales chilenas antes del 10 de enero para aclarar la forma en que los planes de la mina respetarían el medioambiente.

La decisión final de las autoridades se espera para marzo. Pero Borg dijo que aún si la decisión se tomara en el segundo trimestre, la firma seguiría con sus planes de comenzar la construcción en el 2006.

Barrick confía en que la resolución favorecerá a la firma.

"Consideramos que es un proyecto que vale la pena, que va a generar beneficios económicos sustanciales para la región y para (la provincia) de San Juan, en Argentina, y se va a hacer de manera responsable con respecto al medioambiente", dijo Borg.

Pascua-Lama, que sería una mina a tajo abierto, generó controversias en Chile desde que Barrick decidió reactivar el proyecto hace más de un año a una escala mayor al plan que había sido aprobado previamente.

Los ambientalistas temen por los efectos de mover los glaciares y señalan que el proyecto contaminará el agua del área en el norte de Chile. Los glaciólogos citados por Barrick redefinieron recientemente a los glaciares como reservas de hielo, pero eso sólo logró intensificar la oposición.

Barrick mejoró recientemente su oferta para comprar Placer Dome Inc. (PDG.TO: Cotización) a 10.400 millones de dólares, logrando la aprobación de Placer para la operación, que convertiría a las dos firmas canadienses en el mayor productor mundial de oro.

Corema determina plazo para definir futuro de Pascua Lama

Mireya Ponze


El 23 de febrero será el plazo fatal para que la Comisión Regional del Medio Ambiente (Corema) de la Tercera Región decida si aprueba o rechaza la puesta en marcha del proyecto aurífero Pascua Lama, que proyecta levantar la canadiense Barrick Gold en la frontera cordillerana de Chile y Argentina.

Este proyecto aurífero ha generado un gran revuelo entre grupos ambientalistas, tanto nacionales como extranjeros, por cuanto proyecta desarrollar sus faenas mineras a pocos metros de tres glaciares (en la foto), que son parte fundamental de los recursos hídricos del valle del Huasco.

La fecha límite se estableció por ley, tras la entrega del tercer apéndice por parte de la minera al informe consolidado de la Corema, es decir las respuestas de Barrick Gold a las observaciones que realizaron los servicios que integran la autoridad medioambiental regional al estudio de impacto ambiental presentado para desarrollar este proyecto.

Al respecto, el director adjunto de Barrick Chile, José Antonio Urrutia, dijo que "hemos profundizado y respondido cada una de las preguntas de la autoridad, de modo de dar certeza sobre la sustentabilidad del proyecto Pascua-Lama y de su viabilidad social y ambiental".

De esta forma, el 15 de febrero próximo deberían reunirse los 19 servicios públicos que integran la Corema para comenzar a discutir el futuro de este proyecto.

Oceana protestó ante embajada canadiense por proyecto Pascua Lama

Sábado 7 de Enero de 2006

Oceana protestó ayer frente a la embajada de Canadá, en rechazo al proyecto minero Pascua Lama, que amenaza con la destrucción de tres glaciares, principal fuente de agua del valle del Huasco.

El director ejecutivo de Oceana, Marcel Claude, señaló que el objetivo de la acción era manifestar a las autoridades canadienses nuestra molestia por este proyecto de inversión privado proveniente de su país, el cual llevará a Canadá ganancias por 10 mil millones de dólares desde Chile, dejando a cambio sólo la destrucción de una importante zona agrícola.

El economista agregó que "Pascua La-ma probablemente no pagará impuestos y su impacto en término de empleos es insignificante, por lo tanto, podemos decir de manera fehaciente que no aporta absolutamente nada al desarrollo de Chile".

Unos 50 manifestantes instalaron un muñeco flotante con la leyenda "STOP/ARRÊTE PASCUA LAMA" frente a los ventanales de la embajada, e indicaron que de concretarse el proyecto minero, la imagen de los inversionistas canadienses se verá gravemente deteriorada, tal como ha sucedido antes con los inversionistas españoles que controlan empresas sanitarias y energéticas en nuestro país. Además, recordaron que existe desde 1997 un Acuerdo de Cooperación Ambiental entre Chile y Canadá, cuyo objetivo principal es la protección y el mejoramiento del medioambiente en ambos territorios, situación que claramente no se estaría cumpliendo en el proyecto.

Finalmente, Claude adelantó que esta acción es la primera de varias que se realizarán durante el verano en conjunto con OLCA, la Federación de Estudiantes de la Universidad de Chile y el movimiento Rexistencia, entre otras organizaciones, para "alertar a la opinión pública sobre la posibilidad inminente de que el gobierno de Ricardo Lagos apruebe este proyecto de inversión brutal y depredador".

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