MAC: Mines and Communities

Latin American Update

Published by MAC on 2006-09-21

Latin American Update

21st September 2006

In the past few weeks community-led direct action has halted two mineral operations in Peru. A blockade of the railway line to Southern Copper Corporation's smelter began last week in protest at the damage caused to peoples' health. The regional president says he is seeking US$400 million from the company for health and agricultural projects; for its part SCC claims it's not transgressing emission standards.

A six-day blockade of Newmont's Yanacocha operations, after the killing in August of a local protestor, has ended. Although an 11-point agreement was signed promising improved water monitoring and quality, long-standing community leader Marco Arana says:"The conflict has not ended, and will never end if the problem continues to be dealt with in a superficial manner."

Mayan families affected by Skye Resources operations in Guatemala have occupied the Candian company's property, demanding land for subsistence farming.

The governor of Argentina's La Rioja province is implicated in signing a secret contract with Yamiri SA, partnered by Barrick Gold at the Famatima project, as well as owning a substantial proportion of the Argentinian company.


Residents block SCC smelter in Peru

21st September 2006

Source: Reuters

LIMA, Peru, Sept 20 (Reuters) - Residents in southern Peru blocked the railway supplying a Southern Copper Corp. smelter on Wednesday, demanding $400 million in compensation for environmental harm, but the company said production was unaffected. "The people are angry and have agreed to block the rail line, demanding that Southern show more social responsibility and higher standards to compensate for so much harm," the president of the Moquegua region, Cristala Constantinides, told Reuters via telephone.

Southern Copper (SCC), one of the world's top producers of the red metal, said in a statement that concentrates from the Toquepala and Cuajone mines could not be sent to its smelter due to the protest. But an official told Reuters earlier in the day that stocks could sustain output for several weeks.

"They have occupied a rail line and because of that violent act, other authorities must participate to establish who is responsible for any physical damage that could occur," Energy and Mines Minister Juan Valdivia told local television. Valdivia said government officials would mediate to try to resolve the conflict.

This was the latest protest by Peruvians demanding that big, mostly foreign-owned mines invest more money in surrounding areas. Many peasant farmers fear the mines contaminate their water and threaten their livelihoods.

Peru's new president, Alan Garcia, won a pledge by miners last month to make a $774 million payment to improve the lives of the half of Peruvians who live on $1 a day or less -- on top of a record $800 million that mining regions will receive this year from royalties and mine income tax.

But more specific demands persist.

Constantinides said the $400 million being sought from SCC "would be invested in several projects to compensate for problems in people's health, agriculture and the fishing industry."

But SCC responded that "the concentrate-processing plant complies with current legislation and industrial emissions are within the allowed limits." It attributed the blockade to political motives ahead of regional elections in November.

SCC, which is 75-percent owned by Mexico City-based Grupo Mexico, has mines in Peru and Mexico. The company reported a 41 percent rise in second-quarter earnings to $439.3 million, driven by high copper prices.

Southern Copper's stock price fell 2.6 percent to $87.63 in Lima and ended 3 percent lower at $87.31 a share in New York.

PERU: Leaching Out the Water with the Gold

By Milagros Salazar - Special to IPS

COMBAYO, Cajamarca, Peru, Sep 20 (IPS) - The conflict that brought operations at Yanacocha, Latin America's largest gold mine, to a halt just a month after President Alan García took office in Peru was merely the latest illustration of the tensions between mining companies and local communities in the northern province of Cajamarca.

It takes two hours to reach the small town of Combayo from Cajamarca, the provincial capital, along a narrow bumpy, dusty track.

"That water is barely good enough for horses and cows!" shouts María Santos at an emergency meeting held by her community, Bellavista Alta de Combayo. She is referring to the water from the rivers and streams that local peasant farmers must drink now that their wells have run dry, as a result of the mining activity at Yanacocha.

Yanacocha is owned by Newmont Mining, based in the U.S. state of Colorado, and the Peruvian firm Buenaventura. The community is angry with the managers of the mine, who argue that Peruvian authorities have not raised objections against the company regarding quantity or quality of water in the area.

However, the official studies only focused on international standards for water supplies for livestock, not human beings.

"Our struggle used to be for land; now it is for water," says Félix Llanos, the top local authority in Bellavista Alta and one of the participants in the Aug. 2 protests against the expansion of the company's Carachugo pit, which ended in clashes with the police and the Yanacocha security guards.

Local campesino (peasant farmer) Isidro Llanos was shot and killed during the protest. It has not yet been clarified who fired the shots. IPS was present at the exhumation of the body in late August, carried out to determine the kind of gun that was used.

Between Aug. 28 and 31, local residents blocked the roads leading to Yanacocha, preventing the company's trucks from getting in or out, to demand the clarification of Llanos' death, measures to protect local water supplies, and social investment programmes.

The company said the six-day blockade, which briefly shut down the mine, caused 1.8 million dollars a day in losses, while the state lost 615,000 dollars a day in taxes.

Only then did the administration of García, who took office on Jul. 28, send a high-level commission to broker talks between the community and the company.

The result was an 11-point agreement signed by the representatives of Combayo, the government, and the mining company, which includes a promise to build water purification plants, as well as a commitment to carry out studies of the local water supply.

Llanos was shot and killed at the Chaquicocha river, one of Combayo's main sources of water and the site chosen by the company for the expansion of the Carachugo mine.

Yanacocha mines for gold in an area of around 100 square km in Cajamarca, under a concession granted by the state in 1993. The mining activity takes place in three large river basins: the Jequetepeque, Cajamarquino and Llaucano rivers, which are surrounded by 120 communities in a region of the Andes mountains that is home to several thousand people.

"The conflict has not ended, and will never end if the problem continues to be dealt with in a superficial manner," Catholic priest Marco Arana told IPS.

Arana is the founder of GRUFIDES -- a Cajamarca-based environmental, sustainable development and social justice organisation that is an Oxfam partner -- and has mediated in the conflict between the campesinos of Combayo, the mine and the government.

Arana said there are at least six other simmering conflicts in Cajamarca -- a region governed by the ruling Aprista Party -- all of which involve mining companies.

Some date back years. The causes of the tension include the depletion and pollution of local water supplies, the right to use communally owned lands, and the death of a campesino in 2004.

In every case, Yanacocha -- whose net earnings climbed 225 percent from 2002 to 2006, due to the rise in gold prices -- or its main shareholders, Newmont and Buenaventura, sit at one side of the table, and local residents on the other.

In the region of Cajamarca, nearly 75 percent of the population is poor. Combayo, a town of 5,000, is no exception. There is no electricity here, and just one health clinic, open from 8:00 AM to 1:00 PM, to serve the entire community. Adobe houses line the unpaved streets.

Combayo was founded in 1988 on what was once one of the biggest haciendas or landed estates in northern Peru, which declined in the 1970s after land reform efforts sought to redistribute rural property from large landowners to small farmers.

A metallurgical plant operated on the estate, processing the metals that the landowner, Eloy Santolalla, brought in from a nearby mine.

Today, the people of Combayo are mainly small-scale ranchers and farmers who depend on the water from the surrounding mountains for their livelihood.

In 1993, Yanacocha began operations in the Carachugo gold pit, on the hills near the town.

The local campesinos began to protest last year, when the company won approval of the environmental impact study for the second stage of the project.

"The water is murky in the morning and after noon it starts to clear up," says Reina Llanos, who adds that the flow of water in the streams has diminished, leading to a 50 percent drop in milk production among her cattle.

According to a 2004-2005 annual monitoring report prepared for the compliance advisor/ombudsman (CAO) of the International Finance Corporation (IFC) -- the World Bank's private financial arm -- water in the Chonta basin, which gives rise to the rivers that supply Combayo with water, was found to have concentrations of aluminum, arsenic and lead that exceeded international guidelines for livestock.

And in one of its monthly reports, the CAO-Cajamarca Roundtable for Dialogue and Consensus, set up in 2001 on the initiative of civil society, with the participation of the IFC ombudsman, stated that arsenic concentrations exceeding international guidelines were also found in the Azufre Atunconga canal last July.

Yanacocha environment manager Luis Campos told IPS that the finding of arsenic was an isolated incident. "There is no record of a permanent presence of that metal because we have taken the necessary precautions," he said.

Colorado-based Stratus Consulting, an independent consulting firm, also carried out a hydrologic study in 2003, at the request of the IFC's CAO. The study warns that in streams in Chaquicocha, water flows could be reduced by 50 percent, as a result of the expansion of the Carachugo pit.

Campos admitted that mining activity interrupts the water cycle, because groundwater is extracted, but he said the company takes the necessary measures to return treated water to the rivers.

A study soon to be published by GRUFIDES underlines the crucial role that water plays in the mining industry.

In its open-pit gold mines, Yanacocha uses the cyanide heap leaching process, in which crushed low-grade ore is piled on huge leach pads, and saturated with a weak water-based cyanide solution to dissolve and separate the gold.

As the volume of gold increases, so does the consumption of water. The environmental impact study for the first stage of the Carachugo project, presented in 1992, forecast that 11.6 litres per second, or 1,000 cubic metres of water a day, would be needed for Yanacocha's metallurgical operations alone, to process 5,000 tons of gold a day.

Between 1993 and 2004, 624.8 million tons of gold were processed, using approximately 125 million cubic metres of water, according to the company.

That volume of water would supply a city of 6.5 million people with 50 litres per person for one day, states the GRUFIDES report.

This year, the company is seeking to expand its operations to over 20,000 hectares.

But GRUFIDES says the government must study the conflicts surrounding water rights, and take a more active stance, guided by the principles of the collective good and public interest.

Minister of Energy and Mines Juan Valdivia told IPS that the government would take steps to ensure that these rights are respected, although he pointed to the lack of funds for setting up an autonomous oversight body. (END/2006)


Mayans occupy Guatemalan nickel mine property


18th September 2006

Hundreds of Mayan Indian families have invaded land owned by a Canadian nickel mining firm in Guatemala, setting up makeshift camps and demanding the company cede land for subsistence farming.

Skye Resources Inc. plans to reopen a long-dormant nickel project near Guatemala's Lake Izabal and begin producing 11,000 tonnes of ferro-nickel late in 2008.

But environmental concerns and disputes over land rights prompted more than 1,000 Mayan Indians living near the site to occupy two different areas within the company's concession over the weekend, said activists working in El Estor, the town closest to the mine.

"People are building houses and it looks like they are not planning on leaving anytime soon," said Daniel Vogt, who represents local Mayan development group Aepdi.

The company said it is open to negotiation but that the townspeople refused to enter into discussions to resolve the dispute.

"Right now they are just near the roads to the mineral deposits, and the landing strip," mine official Omar Dieguez told Reuters. "We would like to resolve this or else there could be conflicts once we start operations."

Skye's shares rose last week after news that mining giants Companhia Vale do Rio Doce, BHP Billiton and Xstrata Plc were all considering bids for the Vancouver-based company.


La Rioja Governor Angel Maza Linked to Gold Mining Company Operating in his Province

By Francisco Jueguen,

13th September 2006

It's common knowlege in La Rioja, Argentina: While current Governor Ángel Maza travels around the world promoting mining investment, sources here affirm that in reality, the Province of La Rioja isn't the only one making money on mining. The former geologist and ex-Menemista turned devout Kirchnerista is also a major stockholder in Yamiri, S.A., a mining firm that holds the stakes for the mines of Famatina, the largest gold mining project in La Rioja.

"Maza is part owner of the mine," revealed a provincial government official who prefers to remain anonymous. "I know that he is, or was, a stakeholder. Now I don't know if he has sold them," the source who confirmed the story that is all over the province. Supporting this some days earlier, a member of Vecinos Autoconvocados (Self-Organized Residents) of Famatina and Chilecito told, "We are sure that Maza owns a full 41% of stocks in Yamiri S.A." However, none of the sources could provide documentation that proves the connection between the governor and the former state comany Yamiri S.A.

To understand where this story begins, it is necessary to look in the rear-view mirror and return to the first government of ex-President Carlos Menem. With the consolidation of a legal framework based on the plunder of nonrenewable natural resources, the story begins with a pact that involved the multinational and national mining companies closely related to public officials. Yacimiento Mineros of La Rioja (Yamiri) was the publicly-owned company with which the Province ran, since 1987, mining operations for non-renewable resources such as gold, uranium and silver until 1993. That is when the current Governor Maza, President Menem and Minister of Economy Domingo Cavallo created the Law of Mining Investment 24.196.

In order to stimulate private mining investments, the law stipulates that no publicly-held company could mine these natural resources. "Between 1993 and 1997, the firm Yamiri began its transformation into a private corporation. In the middle of this mutation, it became a phantom company, until it recently emerged as a new private company," said the source within the Vecinos Autoconvocados of Famatina, who added, "This is when the word began to spread that Maza was owner of 41% of the company stock."

In 1997, the firm returned, now as Yamiri S.A., a subsidiary of Yamiri Gold and Energy Inc., a company with headquarters in Vancouver, Canada, home of the largest gold mining company in the world, Barrick Gold, who would later turn into their principal partner. Although Yamiri had transformed into a corporation, the State maintained part of the shares (20.4%), which helped the company avoid any possible appearance of conflict of interest between public officials in charge of mining activity in the province. Geologist Carlos Medina has been President of Yamiri, S.A., since 1992. He worked through the ranks of the publically-owned Yamiri, and was General Director of Mining in La Rioja during the last military dictatorship. Geologist Jorge D. Lorefice, today the Vice President of the company, has occupied the post since 1999 when the presidency of Carlos Menem ended.

In 2005 the company bought a Canadian firm called Telcoplus, the only goal in this transaction was to gain capital in the Toronto stock market, the most important market for mining firms. Curiously, in just one year, the company managed to raise funds of about 2.5 million dollars.

"This is robbery, plunder," proclaimed the source very close to the Governor about this issue. But furthermore, he added something even more shocking: According to this official, Maza signed a contract with the Canadian firm Barrick Gold, of which nobody knows the small print. "It is a secret contract," he says. "The Constitution says that the Governor must make public every contract he signs, above all those with foreign companies or groups. And what is more, they are already in exploration and the agreements have not been ratified. They must pass before the legislature," added the source, who believes they will not be approved by legislative body, which only has a block of five lawmakers loyal to Maza.

The business of Barrick Gold

Yamiri S.A. has various other projects in the Province (Helvecia, Mina El Oro, Peñas Negras, Il Potro and Sierras de las Minas) which previously belonged to the public Yamiri. However, the most important is the gold mine of Famatina. There the company has the rights for mining operatins, and it is Canadian firm Barrick Gold that has already begun to work there two years ago with positive results. A month before the agreement between the two, Maza had made a trip to Canada in search of mining investors. More specifically, the Governor was meeting in the offices of the lawyers of the Canadian multinational, supposedly to put in motion a training program for La Rioja lawyers to defend the mining industry.

As if that weren't enough, while the residents of Famatina and Chilecito were struggling to prevent the mining operations which put all other sustainable activities in risk, there have not been anyone in the government who represent them. The director of the Environment, Abel Nonino, was at the same time the Subsecretary of Mining, for which he drew twin incomes from the public administration. With picturesque touches apt for Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, this story is one of a kind. He rose through the ranks of the private sector of mining to be picked by Maza to be Director of the Environment in 2005. Nonino became, while already the chief of Environment, the Subsecretary of Mining. "I don't see it as a contradiction," he told, "Being Subsecretary (of Mining) also means I will protect the environment. I am not going to forget to protect the place where we live just because of my job title," confessed the man who held two jobs for six months.

The La Rioja official was sent to try and conciliate the interests of the residents and environmentalists with those of the mining companies, who, they say, are linked to the governor and the multinational corporations.

What interests will have to be postponed? Before it exploded into a scandal, Nonino resigned two months ago as Director of the Environment in order to dedicate himself fully to promoting mining business.


Pobladores Perú bloquean vía a fundición de Southern

Miércoles 20 de September, 2006

LIMA (Reuters) - Pobladores peruanos bloqueaban el miércoles la vía férrea por la que se traslada el concentrado de cobre a la fundición de Southern Copper en el sur del país por una demanda ambiental, pero la empresa afirmó que la producción no se ha visto afectada. Aunque el bloqueo obstaculiza el suministro de minerales a la planta, una fuente de Southern Copper, una de las 10 mayores productoras de cobre del mundo, afirmó que hay inventarios suficientes para mantener la producción por varias semanas.

Southern Copper, controlada por el Grupo México, opera las minas Toquepala y Cuajone y la fundición de Ilo, en el sur de Perú. "El pueblo se ha indignado y ha acordado bloquear la vía férrea (...), pedirle a Southern que tenga más responsabilidad social y criterio para compensar tanto daño," dijo a Reuters la presidenta de la región Moquegua, Cristala Constantinides.

Los pobladores demandan una indemnización de 400 millones de dólares por parte de la empresa por daños ambientales, precisó la autoridad regional. "El dinero sería invertido en varios proyectos para compensar los problemas en salud, agricultura y actividad pesquera," dijo Constantinides.

A través de un comunicado, Southern Copper afirmó que su fundición cumple con las leyes ambientales vigentes y dijo que la protesta podría tener un fin político debido a la cercanía de las elecciones municipales y regionales de noviembre. "A la fecha se llevan invertidos más de 500 millones de dólares en este proyecto," agregó.

Southern Copper afirmó que la producción no ha sido interrumpida por el bloqueo de la vía férrea, mientras que una fuente de la empresa, que pidió no ser identificada, dijo a Reuters que existe "stock suficiente para varias semanas en la fundición."


El ministro peruano de Energía y Minas, Juan Valdivia, dijo que el gobierno dialogará con la presidenta de la región Moquegua y representantes de Southern Copper para buscar una solución. "Sé que han tomado la línea férrea y por lo tanto acá hay un acto de violencia y también tendrían que participar otras autoridades y establecer la responsibilidad de cualquier daño material o físico que pueda ocurrir," dijo a una televisora local.

El bloqueo en la fundición de Southern forma parte de una ola de protestas contra las mineras por parte de pobladores que reclaman mayor inversión social en la zona donde operan.

Las mineras en Perú, que registran actualmente altas ganancias debido a la escalada de los precios internacionales de los metales, han acordado con el gobierno dar un aporte extraordinario de 774 millones de dólares para financiar proyectos sociales durante los próximos cinco años.

Southern Copper registró en el primer semestre una ganancia de 860,9 millones de dólares, frente a los 610,3 millones de dólares del mismo período del año previo. Las acciones de Southern Copper cayeron un 2,63 por ciento, a 87,63 dólares en la bolsa peruana y un 2,99 por ciento, a 87,31 dólares en Nueva York.


Mayas ocupan minera canadiense en Guatemala

Lunes 18 de September, 2006

CIUDAD DE GUATEMALA (Reuters) - Cientos de indígenas mayas invadieron la propiedad de una compañía minera canadiense en Guatemala, instalando campamentos en áreas para la extracción de níquel y en demanda de que la compañía les ceda terrenos.

Skye Resources Inc. planea reactivar un proyecto para la extracción de níquel cerca del Lago Izabal, de Guatemala, y comenzar a producir 11,000 toneladas de ferroníquel a finales del 2008.

Pero preocupaciones de ambientalistas y disputas sobre la tenencia de la tierra llevaron a más de 1,000 indígenas mayas que vivían cerca del lugar a ocupar dos distintas áreas, dijeron activistas en El Estor, el pueblo más cercano a la mina.

"La gente está construyendo casas y parece que no están pensando en irse pronto," dijo Daniel Vogt, quien representa al grupo Aepdi de los mayas.

La empresa dijo que está abierta a la negociación, pero que los habitantes se negaron a entablar conversaciones.

"Ahora están cerca de los caminos en donde están los depósitos de los minerales y la pista de aterrizaje," dijo Omar Dieguez, un funcionario de la mina. "Ahorita están negociando con ellos porque si no, puede haber conflictos a la hora que estemos operando," agregó.

Las acciones de Skye subieron la semana pasada tras noticias de que los gigante mineros Companhia Vale do Rio Doce, BHP Billiton y Xstrata Plc estaban considerando pujar por la empresa con sede en Vancouver.


Vinculan a Ángel Maza con una empresa minera dedicada a explotar oro en su provincia


Por Francisco Jueguen

Una fuente muy, pero muy cercana al gobernador de La Rioja confirmó a que Maza detentaría parte del paquete accionario de la empresa que tiene los derechos de explotación de una de las más importantes zonas mineras de la provincia. Además: el insólito ministro Abel Nonino, el hombre que al mismo tiempo protege medio ambiente y minería. El viejo truco de estar a ambos lados del mostrador.

En La Rioja es vox populi. Mientras el actual gobernador, Ángel Maza, viaja por el mundo para promocionar las inversiones mineras, las fuentes consultadas afirman que, en realidad, estaría engrosando cuentas que no son las provinciales justamente. Es que el geólogo y ex menemista devenido en profundo kirchnerista sería accionista, en parte, de Yamiri S.A., firma que detenta los derechos para la explotación de las minas de Famatina, el proyecto de oro más importante de La Rioja.

"Maza es dueño de parte de la mina", reveló un encumbradísimo funcionario del gobierno provincial, que prefirió mantener el anonimato por su exclusiva cercanía al actual gobernador. "Yo sé que él tiene o tenía esas acciones. Ahora no sé si las vendió", sostuvo quien confirmó la versión que recorre los mentideros de la provincia norteña.

Apoyando esto último, unos días antes, un integrante de Vecinos Autoconvocados de Famatina y Chilecito, recalcó a "Estamos seguros de que Maza es dueño del 41 % de las acciones de Yamiri S.A.". Sin embargo, ninguna de las fuentes pudo aportar un documento que compruebe la conexión entre el gobernador y la ex empresa estatal Yamiri S.A.

Pero para entender de qué viene esta historia, es necesario mirar por el espejo retrovisor y volver al primer gobierno del ex presidente Carlos Menem. Con la consolidación de un marco legal basado en el saqueo de los recursos naturales no renovables (ver nota aparte) comienza la historia de un pacto que involucra a multinacionales y empresas nacionales cercanas a funcionarios públicos.

Yacimiento Mineros de La Rioja (Yamiri) fue la empresa pública –luego de capitales mixtos, Yamiri SEM- con la que la provincia explotó, desde 1987, sus recursos naturales no renovables (oro, plata y uranio) hasta que en 1993 Maza, Menem y Domingo Cavallo idearon la Ley de Inversiones Mineras ( 24.196). En ese marco se estipuló, para fomentar la actividad privada, que ninguna empresa pública podría explotar los recursos minerales.

"Entre el '93 y el '97, la firma comienza su proceso de mutación hacia una Sociedad Anónima. En el medio, se vuelve una empresa fantasma, hasta que, sin Boletín Oficial de por medio, surge nuevamente como una empresa privada", sostuvo la fuente de Vecinos Autoconvocados de Famatina, y agregó: "Ahí es cuando se comienza a rumorear que Maza se apodera del 41 por ciento de paquete accionario".

En 1997, la firma volvió convertida en Yamiri S.A., dependiente de Yamiri Gold and Energy INC., una compañía con sede en Vancouver, Canadá, lugar de residencia de la empresa minera que más oro produce en el mundo, Barrick Gold, y que más tarde se convertiría en su principal socia. Aunque fue trasformada en Sociedad Anónima, el Estado mantuvo parte del paquete accionario (20,4 por ciento), de manera que la empresa evitaba cualquier confrontación con funcionarios públicos encargados de controlar la actividad en la provincia.

Desde 1992, el geólogo Carlos Medina es el presidente de Yamiri S.A. Un hombre formado en la pública Yamiri, y que fue Director General de Minería de La Rioja durante la última dictadura militar. En tanto, el geólogo Jorge D. Lorefice, vicepresidente hoy de la empresa, ocupó ese cargo en 1999, cuando terminaba la presidencia de Menem.

En 2005, la empresa compró una firma canadiense llamada Telcoplus, con el único fin de poder capitalizarse en la bolsa de Toronto, el mercado más importante para las firmas mineras. Curiosamente, en tan solo un año, en las tierras de Barrick Gold, la empresa logró fondos por alrededor de 2,5 millones de dólares. Claramente, algunos vieron el negocio en La Rioja.

Minas para pocos. Medina confesó a lo que muchos en la provincia critican. "Los proyectos siempre fueron de Yamiri. La empresa tiene los derechos de explotación de Famatina desde que se creó", afirmó el titular de la compañía minera. Y lo que la mayoría reprocha es que los derechos de explotación de los siete proyectos mineros más importantes que hace años pertenecían a la provincia y, por ende, a los riojanos, fueron trasferidos, gratuitamente, a una Sociedad Anónima con capitales mayoritariamente privados.

"Esto es un asalto, un saqueo", sentenció la fuente muy cercana al gobernador sobre este tema. Pero además, agregó algo más escabroso. Según este funcionario, Maza firmó un contrato con la empresa canadiense Barrick Gold, que nadie conoce en su letra más chica. "Es un contrato secreto", sentenció.

"La Constitución dice que el gobernador tiene que dar a conocer todo contrato que firma, sobre todo con potencias o empresas extrajeras. Además, ya están explorando y este convenio no fue ratificado. Debe pasar por la Legislatura", agregó la fuente, que anticipó que no será aprobado por el Poder Legislativo, que sólo tiene un bloque de cinco legisladores leales a Maza.

El negocio de Barrick Gold. Yamiri S.A. tiene otros varios proyectos en la provincia (Helvecia, Mina El Oro, Peñas Negras, El Potro y Sierras de las Minas), que anteriormente pertenecían a la pública Yamiri. Sin embargo, el más importante es la mina de oro de Famatina.

Allí, la empresa tiene los manifiestos para la explotación y es la canadiense Barrick Gold la que ya comenzó a trabajar hace dos años con resultados positivos. Un mes antes del acuerdo entre ambas, Maza había realizado una gira por Canadá en busca de inversiones mineras. Más específicamente, el gobernador estuvo reunido en los estudios de los abogados de la multinacional canadiense, supuestamente, para poner en marcha un programa de capacitación para abogados riojanos que defienden la industria minera.

El joint venture entre las firmas establece un período de 80 meses con una inversión inicial de US$ 10 millones a cargo de la multinacional. En dos años de vigencia, ya desembolsó US$ 2,5 millones, según Medina. En tanto, Yamiri S.A. recibe un pago de US$ 500.000. En caso de comenzar la explotación de la mina, Barrick será la dueña del 70 por ciento (de lo que declare) y sellará una sociedad con Yamiri S.A, que se quedará con el otro 30 por ciento.

Con las leyes vigentes, la provincia sólo recibirá un 3% (tope máximo establecido por ley) del valor boca de mina –mucho menor al valor de exportación-, ya que todavía no se ha implementado la ley provincial de minería, que reduce ese techo a un magro 1,5%.

La contaminación. Actualmente, los vecinos de Famatina luchan por erradicar una actividad que consideran muy contaminante. La minería de baja ley utiliza cianuro de sodio para lixiviar –separar de la piedra- el oro. Por eso, temen por la contaminación de las napas de agua, recurso escaso en la provincia.

Justamente, la minería que utiliza en promedio 1000 litros por segundo, se llevaría la totalidad de los 750 litros que transporta el Río Amarillo por segundo, lo que terminaría con los principales cultivos de la provincia (olivo, vid, nogal, frutales y hortalizas).

¿No hay nadie que los represente?

De la minería al medio ambiente. Esta pregunta conlleva a un escándalo aún mayor. Mientras los vecinos de Famatina y Chilecito luchaban para erradicar la minería, que pone en peligro las demás actividades sustentables, no existía nadie que los representara. Es que el director de Medio Ambiente, Abel Nonino, fue al mismo tiempo el subsecretario de Minería, por lo que cobraba dos sueldos en la administración pública.

Con toques pintorescos que recuerdan a la historia Lewis Carroll, Alicia en el País de las Maravillas, este relato no tiene parangón. Es que un hombre surgido de la actividad privada del sector minero fue elegido por Maza para ser director de Medio Ambiente de la provincia en 2003. Por, si fuera poco, a fines de 2005, Nonino se convirtió, mientras era el hombre fuerte de Medio Ambiente, en el subsecretario de Minería de la provincia.

"Yo no lo veo muy contradictorio", sentenció a "Siendo subsecretario (de Minería) también intento proteger el ambiente. No por cambiar de cargo me voy a olvidar de proteger el lugar donde vivimos", confesó el hombre que tuvo dos cargos por seis meses.

El funcionario riojano fue encomendado a conciliar los intereses de los vecinos y ambientalistas con los de las empresas mineras, según dicen, ligadas al gobernador y las multinacionales. ¿Qué intereses habrá pospuesto? Tras estallar en escándalo, Nonino renunció hace dos meses como director de Medio Ambiente para dedicarse exclusivamente a fomentar los negocios mineros.


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