MAC: Mines and Communities

Farmers Protest Mining Project in Chile's Region III

Published by MAC on 2005-03-31

Farmers Protest Mining Project in Chile's Region III

Canadian Company To Move Three Glaciers To Open Gold Mine

The Santiago Times, Chile - By Jade Frank

March 31, 2005

View of area proposed miningCanadian international mining company Barrick Gold has plans to relocate three glaciers in the mountain range between Argentina and Chile to gain access to 17.6 million oz. of rich gold and silver deposits.

Chilean farmers and residents of the surrounding Huasco Valley are strongly opposed to the proposal of transferring the ice masses. The glaciers' tributaries are used for irrigation by the farmers, and their removal would threaten the ecological balance and agricultural production of the fertile river valley.

Barrick hopes to transfer 300,000 cubic meters of ice with a 20-hectare surface area from the glaciers that surround the deposits. To mitigate ecological impact and prevent ice from melting, Barrick hopes to transfer the three glaciers, Toro I, Toro II and Esperanza, to an area with similar surface characteristics and elevation by merging the three into a larger glacier, Guanaco, located several kilometers south with a surface area of over 200 hectares.

The company's detailed plan to move the glaciers will be presented to the Regional Environmental Commission (COREMA) in the coming months, according to Rodrigo Rivas, Barrick's communications manager.

The proposal is part of the "Pascua Lama" mining treaty, signed by Chile and Argentina in August 2004 after four years of discussion.

Citizens of the Huasco Valley and Region III are taking a stand against the multibillion-dollar foreign company. Last week an environmental group, Valley Defense, organized a demonstration against the project, where close to 200 farmers, community leaders and neighbors marched in protest.

"We don't want to live in an area contaminated by the fault of foreign economic interests," they said.

Raúl Montenegro, Argentine biologist and Alternative Nobel Prize (formally Right Livelihood Award) winner agrees with the farmers.

"The issue is serious in that the project would put pressure on two important river basins which serve as the principle water supply for communities within a semi-arid environment," Montenegro said.

In a letter earlier this year to President Ricardo Lagos, agricultural and community associations of the Huasco Valley voiced their concerns about the mining initiative, insisting that it threatens the ecosystem, agriculture and water quality of the valley, which not only sacrifices agricultural exports and trade agreements, but human health as well.

"If almost 24 hectares of glacier have been exploited solely for the project 's experiments, imagine how much could be destroyed in the end," said Fransisco Bou, leader for the Huasco Valley agriculturists.

In response to the community opposition, Rivas said environmental worries were unfounded.

"We understand that the majority of the people are in favor of the project and if they still have legitimate concerns about what they read and hear, our responsibility is to generate all the proper mechanisms necessary to dissuade their fears," he said.

In a recent national meeting of regional governors, Rodrigo Rojas, Region III governor and head of the Regional Environment Commission, said it was important that the citizens confide in the institution.

"We have always supported the importance of projects in the region that generate investment and employment, but which have to be in accordance with the environment and the people," he said.

President Lagos, also present at the meeting, commented that he was "following the issue closely" and had "many concerns."

Concerns, too, have been expressed by Greenpeace Chile, which is holding an information meeting open to the public Tuesday, April 5, at 6:30 p.m. at the Museo Benjamín Vicuña (Avenida Vicuña Mackenna 94, Providencia).

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