MAC/20: Mines and Communities

A Portrait of those who say no in Jacobacci

Published by MAC on 2005-05-08
Source: Río Negro newspaper

To a foreign mining company wanting to operate an open-pit cyanide gold mine.

A Portrait of those who say "no" in Jacobacci

By Adrián Arden, Río Negro newspaper

May 8, 2005

They are opposed to what they consider a grave threat to both the environment and their future: A foreign mining company wanting to operate an open-pit cyanide process gold mine. The project, called Calcatreu, was announced in 1998. It is located 82 km from the town of Ingeniero Jacobacci in the province of Rio Negro, Patagonia, Argentina. Canadian company Aquiline Resources is staking its hopes on "Vein 49." It is expected to yield five grams of gold per metric ton of ore extracted.

But local residents have organized in a group which represents a majority of the region. They have researched from books and via specialists on the Internet, and have drawn from voices from all over the country. They have chosen a name to identify themselves: "The Pyrite," for the illusory golden mineral known as "Fool's Gold."

Claudia Huircan is a strong woman, one of the first to make her voice heard outside of her living room. "Apart from the question of cyanide, what we really want is to decide how to use our own natural resources. This model of pseudo-development which they are forcing on us flies directly against the work we have been doing for years. We're talking about ranching, forestry for the region, promoting "Ecological Patagonia" and (the mining project) is totally incompatible with that. Just like Esquel said "NO" to protect their tourism, we say "NO" for our ranching resources."

She is 25 years old, and her voice on the radio is recognized by everyone in the town. She speaks strongly and clearly, even when talking in the streets, as she wants to be sure to be understood. In Jacobacci many people have decided to oppose the mining company without pronouncing the name of the company, Aqueline. "We have been warned that one of the mining company strategies is to initiate court cases against everyone who speaks up, in order to silence us. Imagine who will win if we try to confront them on their terms!"

The stillness of the afternoon is only interrupted by the roar of the mining trucks which have converted the impoverished Rio Negro south into a 4x4 paradise. There are so many now that practically nobody notices them anymore. Not even Juan Chuburu who bursts out laughing when asked about their relation with the land. "And... they look at us like we were born from sheep!" he laughs, and only later identifies himself as the president of the Association of Goat Ranchers of Rio Negro. He speaks quietly and measuredly. "It is simply incompatible with ranching activity. In this region, water is very scarce. An operation like that will take all the water away, such as has already happened with Mina Angela (Chubut). The ranchers all say 'No to mining.' They have to hear us. To approve this project is to declare the death of ranching in this region," he says, and he knows he is not alone. Last year, the Rural Societies of the Sierra Colorada, Bariloche, Los Menucos, San Antonio and Maquinchao declared that "the top priority for Rural Societies, who represent the rural labor which for years has been the base of the regional economy, is to conserve the natural capital and the environment of our region in order to pass it on healthy to our children and future generations. We can only guarantee the peace of our people by clearing up the unease that we all feel with regards to the impact of these projects on the quality of life and the health of the inhabitants of this region."

It's not worth it to take such a risk!

Gabriela Buyayisqui, mayor of Jacobacci, took her time to arrive at a decsion to say "NO." She states that she never felt pressure from her consitutuents to rush to a decision, to the contrary, "they told me to take my time." She has a serene voice, and speaks with deep conviction: "I am opposed to this project because it is highly risky. I am not going to make decisions which put future generations at risk. And what is clear is that my decision goes much further than just thinking of gold. What is at risk is a vital, fragile and scarce resource here: Water," she says, and adds, "I am against this because there has never been a serious study of the watershed. The mining operations require a huge amount of water and we live through ranching. This is a region with great potential, but we always have and always will preserve the environment. This is one of the most pristine places on earth, and we need to take protect it."

Buyayisqui explains that with the Calcatreu project, the community needed to inform themselves, and that is why she took her time to formulate her position. "I think that we have to take charge of the current laws which favor the mining companies, but above all, we have to take control of our own destiny. I repeat: The issue isn't gold. The issue is water. With this project we are gambling with this resource. It just isn't worth the risk for a project which will not benefit the region like they say. They are trying to tell us that the mines will generate employment, but this isn't the kind of operation that generates much work. They're talking about 130 jobs, but it turns out half of the jobs will go to foreigners. And further, this is a short-lived activity. Fifteen years will pass in the blink of an eye."

 

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