MAC: Mines and Communities

March 23, 2004: Dignity Day in the Argentine Patagonia

Published by MAC on 2004-03-23

March 23, 2004: Dignity Day in the Argentine Patagonia

Dear friends,

The People's Assembly of Esquel, a broad rainbow coalition of individuals and social organizations in the Argentine Patagonia, is celebrating the first anniversary of a ground-breaking plebiscite by which over 81% of the population said "NO to the (gold) mine" (1). This plebiscite, even if not binding, shook stock markets, CEOs, and officials in Argentina as well as in other parts of the world. It also attracted worldwide media attention (2). Why would this case be so significant? Because it was a simple and powerful message, not simply against the financial appetite of a particular mining company, or to reject it's rather bizarre, if not sinister, digging methods. It was a public refusal of the state's mining policy. We stroke a very sensitive nerve of a system that does not know how to maintain legitimacy and credibility, or how to feed the myths of "grow" based on questionable assumptions and even more questionable consequences.

The people of Esquel made visible what "normally" is hidden to the broad public. It is routinely expected that consumers don't ask about the origin of the merchandise they consume, socially and environmentally speaking, presumably to avoid remorse and reactions against the conditions under which these commodities were obtained, for instance through coercion in places like Esquel and the rest of the Andes. We refuse to accept coercion, and exercise civil disobedience, and that has attracted not only their attention but also of other civil rights organizations and social movements. Yet, there are still real threats of devastating mining projects in many places of our country. The ambitions of that sector, supported by the sate, are insistent. We won't stop, however, until Meridian Gold and/or any other similar company, national or international, wanting to carry on with that project in Esquel, the region or the Province cease immediately and leave. We do not accept renovated PR strategies, such as changing names, using "national" symbols, or figureheads (testaferros). We don't believe in "bad" Canadian or US cyanide and "good" Argentine cyanide either. "NO" means definitely no, as we've tried to explain several times.

We have far better plans for our economy, the region and people's work and creativity than simply allowing and subsidizing extractive adventures just to make happy some anonymous shareholders. We reject this sort of economy, its objectives, its assumptions, methods and consequences. Mining, as well as other types of massive extractive activities, don't "generate" jobs. In the middle and long run they literally destroy the material base of a vast series of jobs, especially jobs defined by us (the employed or unemployed workers and their organizations, teachers, technicians, researchers, small farmers, tourism operators, and many more), not by them, as valuable. Their statistical "growth" and successful figures of "investment" conceal never-ending "collateral damages" and devastation of mountains, rivers, valleys and fields. The latter are our treasures, and we are determined to protect these for this and future generations. No means no! Although the company that so productively inspired our struggle, Meridian Gold, has been called to a hold by the provincial justice, we also know about their plans to use all sorts of stratagems and pressures to follow their obsessions. Their representatives -sometimes even public officials- obviously declare things like "we won't continue unless we have the support of the community of Esquel", but on the other hand they have continued with prospecting, explorations, and registering for new mines in the region. The people already said NO! They have to leave!, and there is no return from that position. This NO is part of our identity, solidarity and motivation to decide over the course of action and economic activities of the region, bearing in our minds and heart the destiny of future generations. The forum we are organizing will be a great occasion to celebrate actively, honouring the integrity of the people, struggling to unite initiatives, and to invalidate the current regulatory framework of mining and the peculiar mining "treaty" signed without informed consent of the people by officials of Chile and Argentina. This is unacceptable.

The rising and alternative economy we support has nothing to do with the dominant perception of political representation and role of representatives, especially conservative and neo-liberal ones, or state technocracies, accustomed to capriciously use the commons in favour of corporations and a bunch of wealthy people or sectors. This era is over. We have to instruct those representatives how to manage common wealth, through direct democracy, or else kindly but firmly invite them to leave. That won't be easy, we know, especially after centuries of a paternalism that made these parasitic and devastating structures appear not only unavoidable but also "sustainable" through technological innovation and renovated illusions.

Esquel has reached political maturity and is now inviting you to join this common cause, which is not just "local" but national and continental. We thank you all for the support given until now, and count on your commitment in this new stage.

(1) Comparable plebiscites were held in other communities of the region the same day, all of them with over 95% of votes against mining.
(2) Just search keywords such as "Esquel, minería, mining, Gold mine, etc" in the internet to find out

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