Two years has gone by since the popular survey of March 23, 2003Published by MAC on 2003-03-23
Two years has gone by since the popular survey of March 23, 2003
By Assembly of Self-convened Residents in Esquel Against the Mine
March 23, 2005
Esquel, Argentina - No to the mine. So says a banner supported day after day by the residents of Esquel. Nowadays, Meridian Gold's Project is on standby thanks to all the popular actions taken and a court case seeking the protection of violated constitutional rights (with regard to the environment). However government representatives have done nothing to respect the will of the people.
Townsfolk are in control
The inhabitants of Esquel, no matter what their social standing, have engaged in a variety of actions since the rumors started that the Canadian company Meridian Gold Inc. intended to develop an open-cast gold mine. People started inform themselves about the proposed mining project and the possible consequences of large scale mining activities. A self-education programme rapidly created informed opinions that have resulted in ongoing actions against the proposed programme.
Discovering that everything is a lie
Esquel's inhabitants began to feel that the little information they received about the project from the provincial and municipal government representatives, and from the company itself, was minimizing the negative aspects and strongly highlighting other positive aspects. The residents investigated the matter themselves, so that they could form an independent opinion. Various groups offered valuable help by organizing workshops and information campaigns and by printing informative brochures. Apart from that, teachers and professors from the local "Universidad Nacional de la Patagonia" developed extra-curricular activities that included lectures given in schools.
Assemblies for informing, learning and fighting
Once those initial actions were already taking place, Esquel's people started to meet at public assemblies. From that moment on, the popular reaction against the mine became widespread, as all the population used the meetings to effectively participate, discuss, learn and take action. It was in these assemblies that the residents voted unanimously NO TO THE MINE.
However, the parties in favour of the mine were very powerful and they would not surrender the project so easily. From the very first meetings anonymous threats and other violations of human rights occurred, such as beating the people opposed to the mine and threatening them with firearms.
"I march to throw Meridian out, I march for dignity"
The most outstanding action of the opposition was the organisation of public demonstrations of those opposed to the mine. The first one took place on November 24, 2002. Popular pressure made the town hall representatives authorize mayor Williams to carry out a plebiscite, even hough it would not be binding on the authorities. All the inhabitants got involved in the campaign that was organised for the plebiscite. Since its arrival in Esquel, Meridian Gold has been improving a close relationship with the institutional political heads and local party leaders. It is through that alliance that it has developed a pro-mining campaign.
The 81% that decides on the future
The result of the plebiscite on March 23, 2003 was an 81% rejection of the mine project. The authorities were shocked as thousands of residents celebrated marching along the streets, and the Meridian's shares sank on the New York sotck exchange. Due to this massive popular vote, and to the overwhelming results against mining in the public surveys organized by the residents of Trevelin, Epuyen and Lago Puelo, th ewhole country took notice.
Court case referring to the protection of our natural resources
In December, 2002, a young woman residing in Esquel, supported by two local lawyers, filed a constitutional court case to stop the project, referring to the potential damage to the environment. In February, 2003 Judge Petris decided the case in favour of the woman, which was later confirmed by the provincial Superior Court of Justice.
Residents give alerts and resist...
At the same time, Esquel's residents gave information to various communities and encourage dthem to gather together and stop other mining projects. In different places of the country (Río Negro, San Juan, Mendoza, Tucumán and Catamarca) the inhabitants and workers demonstrated against mining projects, accuding local governments of complicity with the companies and rejecting pro-mining laws.
...the government negotiating
The current provincial administration, headed by Mario Das Neves, has not taken any measure yet in respect to the decision expressed by Esquel's residents on March 23, 2003. Up to now, Meridian Gold continues to have provincial backing for its mining lease, situated in Esquel's mountains, as well as other areas that are either completely owned by the company or that it shares with Patagonia Gold company.
Under pressure from multi-national mining companies, government representatives have announced that the mine in Esquel will not be developed, but they accept open-cast mining and the intensive use of toxic materials in large regions of Chubut province. Today, the proposed mining project has been stopped because of actions taken by Esquel's population and because of the court case for the protection of violated constitutional rights. Government representatives have done nothing to respect the popular decision made in the plebiscite.