MAC: Mines and Communities

Pascua Lama Conflict Reaches a Climax

Published by MAC on 2005-11-12

Pascua Lama Conflict Reaches a Climax

By Daniela Estrada, Interpress Service

12th November 2005

As Barrick Gold applies pressure to get its trans-border Pascua Lama mine
on stream, local organisations accuse it of "bribing" some
key players, of funding a pseudo-scientific report in favour of its goals; and the Chilean government of active complicy with the company

Conflict Over Andean Glaciers Heats Up

SANTIAGO, Nov 11 (IPS) - Environmentalists and the police clashed violently Friday in the centre of the Chilean capital when activists presented the government with a petition containing 18,000 signatures to protest a planned mining project on the Argentine border which could destroy three glaciers in the Andes mountains.

The Carabineros (militarised police) charged the activists when they tried to place chunks of ice in the Plaza de la Constitución, in front of the La Moneda government palace. The ice represented the glaciers that might be destroyed by the Canadian mining giant, Barrick Gold Corporation.

The Anti Pascua Lama Front, made up of several environmental groups, accused the police of insulting and shoving them,while Marcel Claude, director of the Oceana Foundation, said the police aggression was "one more proof that in Chile the much-touted democracy that President (Ricardo Lagos) talks about doesn't exist, and that what we have is an authoritarian and repressive model that does not listen to the citizens."

Speaking with IPS, the environmentalists also cast doubt on the credibility of a report that the Canadian corporation announced to the press Friday, which included modifications of the Pascua Lama mining project.

In the report, the company says it scrapped its plans to move three glaciers in order to gain access to the rich gold, silver and copper deposits underneath. The original plan involved "transplanting" the three to another glacier, with which they were to bond.

The signatures were delivered by a group of activists, led by Senator Nelson Ávila of the co-governing Radical Social Democratic Party, who complained about Barrick Gold's attempts to cover up the environmental impact that would be caused by mining the rich mineral deposits in the border area located 660 km north of Santiago.

Pascua Lama is a bi-national open pit mining project with an estimated total investment of 1.5 billion dollars. The deposits, which would have an expected mine life of 17 years, straddle the Chilean-Argentine border high up in the Andes mountains, with 75 percent of the deposits in Chile and 25 percent in Argentina.

The proposed mine is located 150 km southwest of the Chilean city of Vallenar, in the province of Huasco, and 300 km northeast of the Argentine city of San Juan, the capital of the western province of that same name.

Environmentalists say that moving the glaciers would hurt the water supplies for 70,000 small farmers in the Huasco Valley. They also complain that Barrick Gold provided "social assistance" to the local community and nearby towns to help persuade them to approve of the initiative.

Fernando González, chairman of the council of Huasco Valley farmers, backs the changes proposed by Barrick, including the decision not to move the glaciers, and the construction of a dam that would make more water available for irrigation, the Santiago newspaper La Tercera reported Friday.

Environmentalists say the biggest consumers of irrigation water in the Huasco Valley, who were initially opposed to the project, are now working closely with Barrick, and that if Pascua Lama is given the green light, they will receive 60 million dollars from the company for infrastructure works.

Oceana spokesman Diego Valderrama told IPS that it is unclear as to how feasible the company's modified project is, and that the press reports fail to clarify what will happen to the Toro 1, Toro 2 and Esperanza glaciers. "We are wary of this supposed change. A mining project that does not consider the exploitation of underground deposits is very strange," he said.

Barrick allegedly handed in the report just before the Friday deadline set by CONAMA, the national environment authority, for the company to respond to observations and questions on the project's environmental impact.

But when asked by the Anti Pascua Lama Front, CONAMA did not confirm that it had received the report which was based on "a supposed scientific investigation that they were unfamiliar with as well," said Valderrama.

The local environmental group Sustainable Chile Programme denounced last week that Barrick Gold had manipulated scientific reports to indicate that the Toro 1, Toro 2 and Esperanza were not glaciers but merely masses of ice that could be destroyed - contradicting what the company itself had stated just two months earlier.

And Diaguita indigenous communities in the area accuse Barrick of illegally acquiring part of the land needed to carry out the mining project, which, they say, historical documents prove forms part of their ancestral territory.

The non-governmental Latin American Observatory of Environmental Conflicts (OLCA) noted that Barrick has been working on the project since 1996, pushing for a border treaty between Chile and Argentina that would make the project legally and economically feasible.

In December 1997, the two countries signed the "mining integration and complementation treaty", and in 1999 they signed a "complementary protocol" to that agreement.

Three years later, Minera Nevada, Barrick's local subsidiary in Chile, presented the first environmental impact study, which neglected to mention the three glaciers standing in the way of the projected open pit mine.

It was the farmers of Huasco Valley, along with church groups, who warned the environmental authorities of the environmental and social risks posed by the project. The warnings were backed by residents of Argentine towns like Calingasta and Iglesia, as well as the wine producers in the province of San Juan.

In 2001, COREMA, the regional environment authority, approved the company's environmental impact study on the condition that it would submit a glacier management plan. In December 2004, Barrick presented a proposal for the expansion of the project, which would involve "relocating" the glaciers.

In February, CONAMA issued its observations, which the firm responded to in April. The following month, the government agency set forth new observations.

Barrick operates 12 gold mines on four continents, which produced approximately five million ounces of gold last year. It is also involved in prospecting activities in 16 countries. According to company data, South America has reserves of 42.1 million ounces of gold, or 47 percent of the company's proven and probable reserves.

Indonesian missionary, Cristina Hoar, belonging to the Servants of the Holy Spirit, is one of the driving forces behind the movement to defend Huasco Valley from the mining project.

"When I was living in the area, I saw how the company provided funds to the community to get them to change their mind about the project," the missionary, who now lives in Santiago, told IPS.

Hoar found out about Barrick's plan in 2000, with the release of the first environmental impact study, which she immediately had doubts about. She began to work on the issue along with local residents, and discovered that the company was not providing reliable information.

That prompted her to go public with the case in Santiago, which drew activists as well as a greater number of local residents.

OLCA director, Lucio Cuenca, said that in Chile, as in the rest of Latin America, there is an unequal distribution of natural resources and of the environmental and social costs of their exploitation, and poor rural communities and indigenous people are hurt the most in projects of this kind.

"In Chile, the worst cases of social and environmental injustice are seen in the commodity export sectors, like forestry, mining and agriculture," he added.

To illustrate his point, Cuenca cited the two highest-profile recent cases: the disaster in the Río Cruces nature reserve in southern Chile, where hundreds of black-necked swans died as a result of the pollution caused by a pulp mill, and the current conflict over Pascua Lama.

According to Cuenca, the large number of environmental conflicts reflect the weakness of Chile's environmental policy.

"During the military dictatorship (1973-1990), companies got used to excessive profit margins, which makes it difficult to introduce improvements in the country's laws and regulations. The companies do not want to assume the costs that they are currently transferring to the environment and society," Cuenca told IPS.

The activist said the protests triggered by these and other conflicts are giving rise to a new social awareness on the need to preserve the environment.

"The government has been incapable of channeling or incorporating citizen participation," he said, recalling the case of the demonstrators who were arrested in October for interrupting a speech by President Lagos in the southern city of Valdivia, when they protested against the pulp mill accused of killing the swans.

Cuenca called for structural changes that would ensure that business initiatives are environmentally, economically and socially sustainable, and said that if such changes did not occur, conflicts like the one over Pascua Lama would continue to flare up. (END/2005)

Ecologists Denounce Manipulation of Information over Mining Company Glaciers

By Romina Fumey Abarzua

November 1, 2005

Various ecological organizations in Chile have denounced Canadian mining company Barrick Gold for carrying out a manipulative public information campaign, with the participation of "scientists who call themselves independent" in order to gain environmental approval of the mining project Pascua Lama.

The Sustainable Chile Program accused Barrick Gold today of "interfering with the Environmental Impact process, through carrying out parallel negotiations with landowners of Huasco for $60 million dollars, now they are trying to confuse citizens and authorities through the manipulation of scientific parameters with regards to the glaciers Toro I, Toro II, and Esperanza"

Sara Larrian, director of Sustainable Chile, declared that it is "unacceptable how Barrick Gold is presenting information through a 'study' that nobody recognizes, made by glacier 'experts' whose names and experience are obscured, it goes so far as Alejandro Aron, an academic of the Catholic University of the North, under contract of Barrick Gold, saying that the glaciers Toro I, Toro II and Esperanza don't qualify as being classified as glaciers, and therefore should be destroyed."

The ecologist concludes that "In Chile, in the case of Pascua Lama, we have arrived at the limit of the unacceptable, where information of a legal and scientific nature has been manipulated in order to gain approval of the two projects." Furthermore she said that "the people will not acceptthat Barrick is offering money to try and buy support of landowners, authorities and scientists.

Letter to the President of Chile with 18,000 Signatures Against Pascua Lama

President of the Republic Ricardo Lagos Escobar:

These 18,000 signatures represent the fears -- and why not say it, the anger -- of thousands of Chileans over the Pascua Lama mining project located in Region III, on the Argentina border directly above the Huasco Valley.

As you probably know, throughout the approval process, this project has benefitted from the many weaknesses of our institutions, through a series of irregularities and loopholes, many of which are located in our very systems of justice.

Public officials of the Region III, some appointed by you and others being members of the coalition that you head, have taken the liberty to communicate to the country that your government is totally committed to carrying out the mining project. If this project is carried out, your administration will go down in history as that which opened the doors to one of the most unsustainable projects, from the point of view of the development of our country, that we have ever seen.

If you are also including the development of the country in your consideration, Pascua Lama should not be approved, for the following reasons:

Economics: With an investment of around $1.5 billion dollars Barrick Gold estimates that it will obtain 17 million ounces of gold in their 20 years of appropriating natural resources that belong to the Chilean people. On their part, however, Barrick Gold will not pay taxes, just as they have not with their mine, El Indio, for the past twenty years. Furthermore, of the estimated thousand jobs created in the project, only a handful will be from the region. However, the operation of the mine will put into jeopardy the livelihood of the over eight thousand people in the zone who live by agriculture, because of the effects on the natural freshwater watercourses. Finally, it must be considered that in Region III, mining provides only 0.1% of the jobs, whereas agriculture supports 18% of the population.

Ecological: One should consider the 48 thousand tones of earth to be removed daily, the particulate pollution emitted by the constant transit of trucks, and the daily transit of 16,000 tons of sodium cyanide -- an issue on which the company has a history of accidents in Australia. Furthermore the company will dispose of waste ore above the sources of our rivers, and will contaminate the rivers and the waterways of the region with acid drainage, including arsenic.

Ethical and Political: Pascua Lama is a telling example of how the Government of Concertation has chosen to approach the issue of the environment, where officials of COREMA and CONAMA represent political and economic corporate interests. In fact, this system has made possible the illegitimate collusion between Barrick Gold and the Board of Oversight (Junta de Vigilancia) of the region, producing a flawed Environmental Impact Report based on cooperation which has been bought and paid for. Doubtlessly interests have prevailed in Pascua Lama which are very far removed from the care and protection of the environment.

It is time to stop this project. If not, national and international opinion will correctly assume that you are the politician responsible for the consequences of Pascua Lama.

Sincerely, the organizations and citizens of the Anti-Pascua Lama Front, represented by:

Consejo de Defensa del Valle del Huasco (Board of Defense of the Huasco Valley)
Comunidad Diaguita de los Huascoaltinos (Diaguita Community of the Huascoaltinos)
Olca (Observatorio Latinoamericano de Conflictos Ambientales)
Senador Nelson Avila
Ocac (Organización de Coordinación de Asistencia Campesina)
Colectivo Re-Existencia
Agrupación Defendamos la Ciudad
Centro Ecocéanos
Colectivo Ciudadano Esopo
Pro- Homine
CEDEM (Centro de Estudios para el Desarrollo de la Mujer)
Colegio de Profesores

Barrick hands in revised Pascua Lama report - Argentina, Chile

10th November 2005

Canadian miner Barrick Gold has delivered a revised response to Chile's regional environmental commission Corema on the Pascua Lama gold project, Barrick said in a statement.

The document is a response to Corema's observations on the Pascua Lama environmental impact study.

Barrick's response contains a series of improvements in areas such as water management, acid drainage treatment, relocation of ice, dust emissions, personnel transport, hazardous material plus flora and fauna, Barrick said in a statement late-Thursday.

Pascua-Lama would occupy a high-altitude zone in Chile's Region III and stretch across border into Argentina.

Barrick submitted the environmental impact study for Pascua Lama to the respective Chilean and Argentine environmental authorities at the end of 2004 with the idea of receiving approval in 2005 for construction startup in early 2006.

But the study has been subject to heavy criticism from environmental groups and farmers in Chile's Huasco valley concerned about the project's impact on water sources and relocating glaciers to make way for the open pit.


Glaciers Which Appear and Disappear (At the Whims of Those Who Make the Studies)
By OLCA - Latin American Observation Center of Environmental Conflicts
November 2, 2005

The report recently released by professionals working for the Oversight Committee of Huasco River and the Barrick Gold Corporation states that the three glaciers Barrick intends to destroy for its Pascua Lama gold mine, aren't really glaciers. This has come as a suprise to the residents of the Huasco Valley, to farmers and to all those who have their sights on the conservation of rare and vulnerable ecosystems.

The first thing that comes to mind is the report made by engineer Fernando Escobar, of the Department of Hydrology in the Department of Waters, which speaks of the recent shrinking of the glaciers, and which places the blame on mining companies which have been active in the glacial zone over the past twenty years.

The second is the report prepared by the Center for Scientific Studies of Valdivia, after a visit to the zone by glacier experts, amoung them the prestigious scientist Andrés Rivera. The report speaks of the necessity of carrying out long and costly studies which would permit the evaluation of the condition of the glaciers and the possible effects of mining activity in the region.

These two reports undoubtedly present the disturbing impression that mining activity could make the glaciers in question disappear quickly, while irreversibly damaging other glaciers in the region.

Let's not forget that we are talking about glaciers located in the most arid desert in the world!

The rhythm of the melting of glaciers makes their disappearance possible within the next 15, 30 or 60 years. But this is no reason to turn them into water immediately. Futhermore, the global changes responsible for the melting of the glaciers are unpredictable and we don't have scientific models for the zone, based on historical processes, in order to make accurate predictions for the future. For this purpose it would be necessary to carry out long=term studies to ensure the conservation and function of the ecosystems of the zone.

For the sake of the national interest it is absolutely unacceptable that professionals, under contract by Barrick Gold, make extremely brief and cheap studies to conclude exactly what Barrick needs in order to carry out its Pascua Lama project. They have made the glaciers disappear through a conceptual trick.

The studies carried out by the Board of Irrigation, paid for by Barrick, are flawed, and do not give minimal guarantees of independence. We should not forget the offer of $60 million which Barrick has promised the Board upon completion of the project, because at least then it shouldn't seem strange that the results of their studies are in line with the interests of the mining company.

With the goal of protecting national interests, it is imperative to carry out serious and independent studies; to extend the time-frame necessary for studies as suggested by Rivera; to determine in what manner we should actually approach this fragile ecosystem, conserve the hydrological balance of the basin, the quality of water, and all the means necessary to ensure a healthy future for the residents of the Huasco Valley.

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