MAC: Mines and Communities

Argentina: Mapuche family resists uranium

Published by MAC on 2009-05-11
Source: La Nación

The Limonao family demands that the provincial government stop mining activity and recognize their title to the land

Argentina's government is currently building the Atucha II nuclear plant and planning to build a fourth. It is also reactivating the Pilcaniyeu uranium enrichment plant in the province of Rio Negro. Since uranium mining in Sierra Pintada has been banned, new uranium exploration sites are being developed by the government-owned nuclear agency and pressure applied to surrounding communities.


Mapuche Family Resists Uranium Exploration in Their Land
The Limonao family demands that the provincial government stop mining activity and recognize their title to the land; the state-owned company Fomicruz and the CNEA have been working in Sirven Lake for two years.
By Mariela Arias, Santa Cruz Correspondent, La Nación Newspaper
4th May 2009

Las Heras, Santa Cruz - Jose Ricardo Limonao is illiterate, speaks little, and lives alone in a small house in the middle of a reserve. As cacique of a Mapuche family, he signed with his thumb print an agreement with the state mining company Fomicruz that allows mining activity in his lands. When he signed it he didn't know they were looking for uranium.

Today the family is resisting the continued exploration and urges the Santa Cruz government to recognize their title to their ancestral lands. The Limonao Mapuche family's decision stopped the work the state mining company Fomento Minero de Santa Cruz (Fomicruz) was doing in this area. The Limonaos refused to receive the 42,900 pesos agreed upon for use of the land until the government gives them a title to their lands.

The Limonao family's demand and the coincidental announcement by national Planning Minister Julio De Vido regarding upcoming uranium mining in Sirven Lake - located 60 kilometers west of Las Heras - shed light on a project that until March 12 was unknown in the province. However, the state mining company, together with the National Atomic Energy Commission (CNEA), has been working on the project since 2007.

For the Limonaos, the town council members, and most of the inhabitants of Las Heras and Santa Cruz Province, the news is a bucket of cold water in the face. Just mentioning the word uranium creates bitterness here. Initially, the Mapuche family denounced that the state company was searching for uranium without paying them to do so. Fomicruz made clear that cacique Jose Limonao had received some 34 thousand pesos in three years.

Now the Limonaos refuse to sign a new agreement and they flatly reject the 42,900 pesos that the state company offers them, at least until they confirm the title to the land and a 1986 law is put into effect that creates a "Limonao Cacique Plan" that establishes an area of 54,000 acres for the family and definitive permission to occupy the land, a plan for giving sheep and seeds to each family and a plan of aid and technical assistance. The law, in its own terms, was never carried out. The conflict has also exposed another company interested in uranium prospecting in the area, which has solicited exploration permits from the provincial Mining Office: Mercets Inc., which belongs to the family of local businessman Eduardo Costa, current Radical Civic Union (UCR) national congressional candidate.

The area in which the exploration is being carried out consists of 37,000 acres known as Sirven Lake and includes three ranches: Gordon, Guadal and Sirven. Part of cacique Jose Limonao's family lives in Sirven Ranch. Company representatives assured that Fomicruz and the CNEA will not enter Sirven Lake until the situation with the Limonaos is cleared up.

However, this does not stop them from continuing their activity in neighboring lands. The state company intends to move forward with exploration and mining of uranium in the area, together with the CNEA.

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