MAC/20: Mines and Communities

MAC's Spanish editor gives this firsthand account of the First Congress in Defense of Natural Resou

Published by MAC on 2004-10-20


MAC's Spanish editor gives this firsthand account of the First Congress in Defense of Natural Resources, which took place in the city of Jáchal (San Juan, Argentina) on the 9th and 10th of October.

The congress was attended by outstanding speakers and guests, who presented the case for regarding Barrick Gold's mega-projects Veladero and Pascua-Lama as unviable. The following are the conclusions reached by the Congress and a petition to governor José Luis Gioja, signed by all the participants.

Para acceder a una versión en español de este artículo, siga el siguiente link

Jáchal holds its First Congress in Defense of Natural Resources

20th October 2004

Photos credit: Antonio Santos (Autoconvocados de San Juan)

The First Congress in Defense of Natural Resources took place in the city of Jáchal (San Juan, Argentina) on the 9th and 10th of October. It was summoned by Madres Jachaleras Autoconvocadas (the Organized Jachaleros Mothers), with the support of the Chubut Antinuclear Movement (MACH), the National Network for Ecological Action (RENACE), the Organized Neighbours of Esquel, and San Juan Unionist Group,, to make a critical analysis of the present mining regulation, the environmental and social impacts of strip mining, and formulat4 alternative proposals for sustainable development in the region. The congress was attended by outstanding speakers and guests, presenting the case for non-viability of the mega mining projects Veladero, Pascua-Lama and Pachón, which multinational mining companies, abetted by province and national governments, have decided to develop in the San Juan mountain range.

Protest at JachalActivities began on Saturday morning October 9th in the cultural hall Dalmira Rivas de Suizer,. The congress presentation was broadcast in the square, thus allowing the whole city to participate in this event. Alfonso Castro, an agriculturalist, gave participants a warm welcome: "We have met today, on this jachalero ground, to evoke the cultural legacy of our ancestors. Let's not allow fear and indifference to ostracize our town dwellers and turn them into simple spectators. Let's speak up and feel ourselves to be protagonists of our own future."

Panels of eperts promoted the debate, and work-commissions were formed by the participants according on the subject of: Exploitation of Renewable and non Renewable Resources, Regulations, Sustainable Development and Environmental Impacts, and Voices from People Affected by Mining. The Town Council was unanimous in approving the gathering and the declaration of departmental interest in the event.

"Foolish Acts"

Biologist Raúl Montenegro, who will be awarded the Right Livelihood Award (well-known as the "alternative Nobel prize") by the Swedish Parliament, declared that the company's environmental impact study, for development of the Veladero project "never should have been approved by the provincial government of San Juan" and that the mining complex "is an environmental nightmare for the province". He added that the government of Jose Luis Gioja "allows these foolish acts based on the supposition that it is possible to control the mine, which is nonsense". He also said that "a gold mine like the one proposed is a gigantic polluting factory". More than 4,000 tons of cyanide will be used annually, for the exploitation of the Veladero Project alone.

Several jachalleros asked Montenegro, as a professor and researcher at Córdoba National University, the Buenos Aires University, Mar del Plata University, San Luis University, and as president of the Environmental Defense Foundation (FUNAM), if he would agree to represent them in a debate with the provincial government and company experts. Montenegro accepted and congratulated the Jachal and San Juan Organized groups for "showing Argentina - as the Esquel community has already done- - that people and sustained development are more important than foreign mining companies, and that at present, the government of San Juan is much more concerned about the economic welfare of a multinational mining company than the health and the environment of its own province".

Javier Rodriguez Pardo, the untiring leader of the Chubut Antinuclear Movement (MACH), asked a number of questions on the mining mega-projects that were proposed along the Andes mountain range. "Close to the Veladero mine is the proposed Pascua-Lama extractive complex, owned by the same multinational. A tunnel of about 5,600 meters will allow them to take minerals across Chile and towards the Pacific, with final destination in the first world. They will be able bring in machines, chemicals ... and whatever they wish. Nowadays this is the real situation which cannot be hidden. In order to have access to the area where the mine is located, we must cross through a military station placed at the bottom of the mountain range, 156km from Veladero and at a height of 2,000 m. This military station prevents neighbours, guides and tourists from crossing, but any employee from Barrick Gold provided with a magnetic card, may do so freely."

The representative of MACH and RENACE condemned the stripping of natural resources, an extractive system that fuses chemistry to mining with a high degree of contamination; and also made reference to hordes of miners that destroy fertile valleys and glaciers, divert rivers and streams, dry-up water resources and grind down mountains with dynamite. Barrick Gold´s promiscuous exploration was also referred to, along with the burning of waste and surplus from the camps at Veladero and Lama (4,500m high) and the use of poison to exterminate rodents - thus causing death of species fas condors, eagles and foxes.

Lino Pizzolón, a professor and researcher fromt Patagonia National University, criticized professionals who forget their ethical obligations towards communities. He also pointed out the effects that strip mining causes on hydraulic resources, warning participants against the loss of quality and volume of water inevitably caused by mining operations on high peaks, where local rivers are born. In Pizzolón´s view, "the mine will bring to an end viable forms of production, which have been carried on for ages".

San Guillermo Biosphere Reserve

The Madres Jachaleras Autoconvocadas (Organized Jachaleros' Mothers), other Organised groups from San Juan and FUNAM are to denounce the provincial government before UNESCO, stating that it does not protect the San Guillermo Biosphere Reserve, and that its passive attitude towards extractive projects "jeopardises the future of Jáchal and other communities in San Juan". Local people and rganizations are to contribute documents, videos and other "evidence so that UNESCO knows the truth".

The protected area of San Guillermo is within Iglesia Department. At 860,000 hectares in size, it is an example of the highest quality of the puneño and altoandino (high plateau) environment. In 1972, San Juan province created the Provincial Reserve and, because of the outstanding features of the area, thw site was proposed as Biosphere Reserve within the UNESCO "Man and Biosphere Programme" (MAB) . Thanks to the protection given as part of this project the populations of vicuñas and guanacos inhabiting the area have been restored. In 1998, a section in the reserve was declared a National Park.

Esquel keeps mining-companies on edge

A banner carried by the Esquel Organised Neighbours Assembly gave the mining-companies in San Juan a critical greeting. "Not only does Veladero share the same operational methods as the ones proposed to be carried out in Esquel, but also the fateful future consequences", said Alejandro Corbeletto. "Whatever is not good for Esquel, it is neither good for San Juan", added Chuni Botto. Tomás Montenegro, Valeria Lombardelli and other members of the Esquel Organised Neighbours Assembly shared their experience with jachaleros in working-commissions.

Barrick Gold "best practices"

On September 27, representatives from Barrick Gold went to Jáchal to approach the community, but a noisy group of demonstrators carrying placards asked them to go away. The group stayed on the streets, declaring that Jáchal town "does not accept this kind of mining exploitation, nor the surrender of our heritage". On October 14th, the jachalero journalist Jorge Luis Codorniú, referred to threats made against him by telephone so that "he stops speaking about the mine". In his program "Weekly Present", broadcast on the local channel, Codorniú had interviewed several Congress participants.

Petition to governor Gioja

On Tuesday 12 of October, a delegation of jachaleros travelled to the capital city of the province. About 500 demonstrators gathered together at 25 de Mayo Square. Their objective was to present the governor of San Juan, José Luis Gioja, with the conclusions of the Congress and a petition signed by all the participants.

"NO A LA MINA" Rock festival

At night, activities came to an end with a "NO A LA MINA" Rock Festival. Different rallying cries could be heard coming from the stage, set on the General Acha street: "Water is Worth more than Gold", "Against our heritage surrender", or a more daring one against "Barrick". Groups such as "Murga la Colifata", "Mokaña", "Huaykil", "Monofloro", together with hundreds of young people, gathered at the square to bring to an end the latest chapter in the fight for defense of their natural resources which has been undertaken by the jachaleros and sanjuaninos.

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