MAC: Mines and Communities

The Scheme of Plunder

Published by MAC on 2005-12-10

The Scheme of Plunder

10th December 2005

On November 19, 2005, in the city of Gen. Roca/Fiske Menuco (Río Negro, Argentina), the Patagonia Coordinating Assembly - "For Life and Territory, Against Plunder and Pollution" - took place, uniting diverse social organizations of the Patagonia region. After public discussion, debate and interchange, the following statement was made public:

The Scheme of Plunder

[Document of the Patagonia Coordinating Assembly - For Life and Territory, Against Plunder and Pollution - City of Gen. Roca/Fiske Menuco (Río Negro, Argentina) 19 November, 2005]

Domination has always been carried out against the people, using at least two - combined or alternating - methods: brute force and negotiation, along with all imaginable sorts of in-between strategies. In the past 500 years, these forms of social control have been used to justify and maintain plunder, large-scale devastation and human exploitation. The European colonial system (and its followers, especially the USA), aggregated technical, scientific and psycho-social knowledge to these hegemonic methods. Colonialism has always paid special attention to collaboration, consent and complicity. For this, aside from using the armed forces, the system employs (and often prefers) political and cultural means, applied directly and indirectly.

However, the huge amount of expenditure in such areas proves that success is not always achieved. Broader strategies as well as language (technical, political, PR) need to be constantly adjusted, while State and private consultants compete with each other in their vain promises to wring water from stones.

In the present stage of capitalism known as "neo-liberalism", capitalist leaders in their striving for a scheme that works for their interests, announced "the end of history", and are now trying to transform the political life into a private matter. In an effort to take advantage of social disenchantment with the representative democratic system, the ruling classes, which have already found it convenient to both harass and, on the other hand, require privileged regulations from the state since the nineteenth century liberalism (later used for instance by Milton Friedman's apprentice and minister of Argentina's dictatorship, Martínez de Hoz, who used the slogan "Shrinking the State enlarges the Nation") are now trying to control rising social conflicts and contradictions by hiring experts in "social engineering", communications and PR-strategies for their funding agencies and NGOs (currently also called "civil society organizations").

In the 1990s, in concert with the privatization of key sectors of the economy all over the continent, this type of NGO boomed. This was not accidental, and this is why legitimate organizations, practices, discourses and international solidarity, should be distinguished from those which facilitate plunder, and further ruin people's life, thus intensifying well known financial debt traps.

The network of plunder spreads as it strives to co-opt, by merging with them, those organizations that have been created by society itself in order to face the various consequences created, precisely, by the capitalist system. But no matter how hard the plunder, NGOs try to camouflage themselves, or use pleasant-sounding words or flaunt noble causes as a window display, there are deeply grounded differences between the two types of NGOs. The above is just a general conclusion not aimed at criticizing any grass root project, nor offending their staff or intentions.

La Asamblea Coordinadora Patagónica - Por la vida y el territorio, contra el saqueo y la contaminación (Patagonia Coordinating Assembly -- For Life and Territory, Against Plunder and Pollution) stands for economic, cultural, social, human rights in general, and principles which are defined and debated in totally different ways.

It does not question what corporate foundations do with the money, but rather the mechanisms allowing them to get it in the first place. It also questions the way such corporate foundations grant themselves (or are granted by the State) a privileged position to intervene in communities at their whim, applying corporate management methods to control neighbourhoods, rural areas, the school system, the national science and technology structures, the justice system, the media, the institutions of a State that were previously - and even deliberately- disjointed for this purpose.

The Coordinating Assembly questions the State that is conceding a minuscule bunch of corporations free access to (and the exploitation of) common goods (telecommunication, energy, territories, watersheds and fields, the sea, minerals, biodiversity, transport, education, health).

Apart from the huge profits or - even worse - the speculative use of future profits hoped to be obtained through this sort of policies, the corporate environment even dares to demand social approval for these kinds of schemes, diverting public attention by means of "solidarity" tactics of remediation in irrelevant and minor amounts.

Among the many consequences of such kind of "private management" there is the formation of a "social market" in which its participants tend to compete with each other, even ferociously, in the production, accumulation and trade of political capital as a commodity.

We don't blame "evil people from abroad" who are "oppressing" us, but rather focus on the full circuit of material, cultural and political plunder, including all its objective and subjective components.

To analyze what is behind the advertised promises and intentions, therefore, does not mean to create "divisions" but to make things clear.

Ultra-conservative and murky in their strategic cores and "progressive-critical" in their advertised outer edges, foundations and NGOs linked to corporations, subsidized with private access to common property (read: plunder), are easy to identify because they generally promote, either by inclusion or by their silence, one or more of the following aims:

* The notion of "sustainable development," which negates debate about the real consequences and contradictions of this expression and, together with it, the myth of unlimited, compulsory growth (we believe, on the contrary, that a different system is possible);

* The "legality" and legal warranty for the plunder policies, such as mining and oil, fishing, or telecommunications, including the regulatory frames backing the profits of privatized companies in general, by means of mechanisms such as the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA) the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), or other fake agreements. Their aim is to convince or force people, pushing them by means of reward-and-punishment, to adjust to laws that have been implemented by the representative democratic system, characterized by the precarious and dubious conditions, lobby pressures and congressional corruption which are publicly known, with no chance to question their legitimacy;

* The privatization of Nature (biodiversity, water, territories, seeds), and of the economy and culture in general;

* The faith in corporately-chosen technologies and criteria regarding what "environmental impact" really means, implying the disqualification of popular wisdom, alternative visions, opposed systems of values, unless these merely pay lip service to alternative ideas, eventually placing these views within the rules of the market;

* The concealment of evidence about the immense environmental and social consequences of their activities, the "externalities" which make possible their flimsy "success" in the stock markets, including the devastation caused by wars and by the environmental, human and cultural plunder that has been running for centuries;

* The trivialization of people's movements (the flip side of criminalization of dissent) and the confinement of people's movements to conveniently limited birdcages using fabrications such as the "third sector", in which the "opponents" can give vent to their frustrations without putting at risk current power relations. The corporate/State agenda is to let NGOs save their necks and squander their scarce energies, taking care of the multiple socio-environmental consequences of plunder, although never the deeper and multiple causes, and remaining as non-political small-scale actors ("stakeholders"), in order to have strategic decisions made somewhere else;

* The "articulation" of harmonic relations between companies, government and civil society, a catch-phrase that actually describes what is presented as a necessary condition of profit-guided governance, but is intended to harness the local political scene, therefore masking the concrete power relations;

* The image that "Man" [sic] (or mankind in general) pollutes the earth, so that we all feel guilty and nobody (especially not the ideology, rules and activities of the capitalist system) is held responsible;

* The short-sighted vision that problems arise only because, while most companies pursue and promise "socially and environmentally responsible" performance, others don't. The point is, however, that the catastrophic current conditions are caused by a system (in a structural and ideological sense), not just by the isolated behaviour of a specific company or a corrupted government official or government, conveniently selected as scapegoats.

This list is a summary of observations and experiences from the past few years of struggle against mining plunder in Argentina. It is necessarily incomplete: we thus invite every person or organization to complete and add facts and details based on your own experiences and collective analysis.

Additional Text:

"Coordinating Business? Declaration Regarding the Political and Business Interventions of the Avina Foundation in Patagonia"

In the face of the initiation of various actions by the AVINA Foundation in Patagonia, the Coordination Assembly of Patagonia - For Life and Territory and Against Plunder and Pollution - declares:

1) Based on the experiences of organization and action in the towns of Esquel (Chubut) and Jacobacci (Río Negro), we reject "the coordination between business, the State and civil society" which AVINA promotes ( in the region. Far from actually being coordinated or negotiable, the interests of foreign or "national" mining companies which operate in Patagonia are incompatible with the collective desires to live in a healthy environment, or to develop an economy which is sustainable and controlled by and for its people.

2) We reject self-regulation strategies, also known as "Social Responsibility" such as the "business codes of conduct" and the Global Compact (, ardently promoted by AVINA in Patagonia. For almost two centuries this has meant laissez-faire, laissez passer, or "Mind your own business, buddy." Far from being "socially responsible" our actual experiences tell us that the mining companies, eager to get rich extracting minerals in Patagonia, lie to us, buy support, extort and force the government in order to control our own territory.

3) We are watching with unease the media reports about the participation of Stephan Schmidheiny, founder of AVINA, and the Bemberg-Miguens group, one of the major mining firms in Patagonia (45% owner of the company Patagonia Gold), with the financial backing of the newspaper "La Nacíon". An association between AVINA and Bemberg-Miguens is a worst-case scenario for our region, and we cannot be optimistic about this at all.

Because of this:

-We reject the presence of AVINA in Patagonia

-We alert all social organizations in the region about this situation

-We invite all persons and organizations allied with AVINA, especially those who receive funding from them, to review their principles, reformulate their programs, and reconsider their sources of funding.

We are against this series of projects based on the extraction of common goods and resources, which will transform forever the economy, the landscape and culture of our region, causing environmental damages which could last for many years after the interested companies leave. We seek solidarity and friendship of the social organizations of Patagonia, in order to create more effective tools and approaches.

This assembly of citizens and neighbours calls on the above mentioned organizations to sign on to this declaration, and we await information and ideas which will contribute to a deeper understanding and analysis of the situation

(Thanks to Luis Claps and Andrés Dimitriu for the English version of this statement)

An eternity of misdeeds

Stephan Schmidheiny is, along with brother Thomas, the most prominent member of the Swiss eponymous family that founded (through their grandfather Ernst) the cement- asbestos company Eternit and later Holcim – the world’s third biggest cement producer. Holcim was controlled up until 2003 by Thomas Schmidheiny. Though giving up the chairmanship that year, he continues to hold onto a directorship and a considerable number of Holcim shares.

Stephan is best known as a “philanthropist”. The term has covered any number of deeds and misdeeds since the age of the “robber barons” in nineteenth century USA. It was Stephan who founded the Business (later World) Council for Sustainable Development, during the first United Nations World Summit on Sustainable Development held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. According to some, this was a strategy – designed with the assistance of Canada’s Maurice Strong – to dislodge the United Nations Center on Transnational Corporations in its move towards an enforceable rules governing the operations of multinational corporations..

At around that time Schmidheiny also set up AVINA, the charitable foundation which, by 2004, had disbursed some US$291 million for “sustainable development” partnerships. (Earlier this year Stephan’s personal fortune was estimated by Forbes magazine to be US$2.8 billion - sunk in various “investments” - thus making him the 210th richest person in the world). True to his newly-found form as a doyen of “sustainability”, in 2000 Schmidheiny also established the Batelle initiative to “green” the cement industry.

Ironically AVINA’s largest single tranche of funding goes to projects in Brazil (75 out of a total of 269 in 2004). The irony rests in the fact that, in 2004, a court in Sao Paulo found Eternit (ie. the Schmidheinys’) guilty of causing massive damage to the health of workers at its asbestos operations, awarding the aggrieved and their dependants not only compensation but the right to sufficient medical care. The final settlement could equal what AVINA has already paid out in “good works”in Brazil.

Eternit’s operations cover many decades, with an historic liability that stretches around the world (in Europe and South Africa as well as Latin America). Six months ago, eight of its former executives were sentenced to a total of more than 23 years imprisonment for putting former employees at risk in Sicily. One of the indicted was Leo Mittleholzer, in charge of the Eternit plant between 1984-1986 when the duty of care and corporate responsibility went straight to the Schmidheiny’s comfortable door. Until this year, according to the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat, Mittelholzer was Managing Director of Siam City Cement, Thailand's second largest cement company - and itself a subsidiary of Holcim.

.In September 2005, Holcim was recognised as a “leader of industry” by the Dow Jones Sustainable Development index, primarily for its efforts at mitigating adverse climate change, caused by its cement manufacturing. Of course the award delighted Holcim and surely also Stephan Schmidheiny and his family as the architects of the company. One assumes that the thousands profoundly affected by Eternit, who are only now getting some redress, may think otherwise.

Sources: Schmidheiny and the WBCSD: www.minesandcommunities./org/Charter/rio+10.htm; Schmidheiny’s personal fortune: Forbes magazine, 10/3/2005; Schmidheiny and the Batelle initiative:; Schmidheiny and asbestos claims in South Africa: ;
Dow Jones “award” to Holcim: Holcim press release, 13/9/2005

[Nostromo Research, London December 9 2005]

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