Argentina ex-minister: "Mining companies threatened me"Published by MAC on 2009-11-30
Source: Toronto Star (2009-11-25)
Romina Picolotti, former environment minister of Argentina, has claimed she was forced to resign, after her family was threatened over her attempts to get Canadian mining companies complying with proper environmental standards.
She made her allegations on 24 November, during hearings by the Canadian House of Commons foreign affairs committee - singling out Toronto-based Barrick Gold Corp.
Barrick has called Ms Picolotti's charges "mind boggling" and "inconceivable".
The company operates the Veladero gold mine, and the Pascua Lama gold-silver project, both in San Juan province. It also has interests in La Rioja's Famatina mountain range. Last year, Argentina's president vetoed a law protecting the country's glaciers that would have restricted mining, specifically at Pascua Lama. See: http://www.minesandcommunities.org//article.php?a=8914
That veto, which has been condemned by social and environmental organizations, was known as "the Barrick veto," according to Ms. Picolotti.
Mining companies threatened me: Ex-Argentine minister
Former environment minister says she was forced to resign after her family was threatened following her intervention in mining activities.
Les Whittington, Brett Popplewell
Staff reporters, Toronto Star
24 November 2009
OTTAWA-A former Argentine environment minister told Members of Parliament today that she had been personally threatened and rendered ineffective as a result of the aggressive activities of foreign mining companies who objected to the government's efforts to clean up mining operations in that country.
Testifying by video hook-up at hearings of the House of Commons foreign affairs committee, Romina Picolotti said foreign mining companies stood out from other business sectors in their resistance to Argentina's bid to tighten up control over the environmental consequences of large-scale mining projects.
"I found, over and over again, that foreign mining interests in Argentina were extremely adept at leveraging their interests within the local political institutions, many times co-opting government officials and ministries to get their way on sensitive environmental and social issues that typically arise from large-scale mining investments," she said.
Picolotti, now president of the Centre for Human Rights and Environment in her country, was environment minister in Argentina from 2006-08.
While other business sectors understood the need to respect environmental and human rights standards, she testified, the mining sector was different.
"They were more stand-offish, more resistant, more aggressive and more dangerous," Picolotti told MPs. "I and my closest staff were personally and physically threatened following our mining intervention. My children were threatened."
As a result of threats and political pressure, her efforts to tighten up environmental standards at mines in Argentina were undercut and she was forced to resign, she said.
Canadian mining companies working abroad have consistently rejected such accusations, saying they operate in accordance with all applicable laws and regulations and adhere to high standards of ethical behaviour. Mining representatives say the companies view corporate social responsibility and environmental stewardship as fundamental to their business operations overseas and have made extensive efforts to uphold those standards.
Picolotti was testifying at Commons committee hearings into a private members' bill intended to strengthen Ottawa's control of Canadian multinationals running mines in developing countries.
If passed, Liberal MP John McKay's legislation (Bill C-300) would give the federal government the power to investigate complaints that Canadian mining operations overseas were not in compliance with international human rights and environmental standards. A company found not to be living up to those standards would be denied federal financial support by the Export Development Corp.
Hearings into the bill continue on Thursday. A final vote on the legislation in the Commons could take place early next year.
Miner accused of 'aggressive' tactics
Toronto-based firm calls charges by ex-minister in Argentina 'false'
Les Whittington, Brett Popplewell
25 November 2009
OTTAWA–A former Argentine environment minister told MPs Tuesday that she had been personally threatened and forced to resign as a result of the aggressive activities of Canadian and other foreign companies that objected to her ministry's efforts to clean up mining operations in her country.
Testifying by video hookup at hearings of the House of Commons foreign affairs committee, Romina Picolotti singled out Toronto-based Barrick Gold Corp. as one of the multinationals that used political and economic clout to block government intervention in the firm's mining ventures in Argentina.
Barrick, the world's biggest gold producer, was so successful in convincing the Argentine government to block legislation affecting one of its operations that the cancellation became known as "the Barrick veto," Picolotti said. She was referring to Argentine President Cristina Fernandez's decision last year to veto glacier-protection legislation that might have affected Barrick's Pascua Lama project in the Andes.
Picolotti told MPs examining proposed mining legislation that foreign mining companies stood out from other business sectors in their resistance to Argentina's bid to tighten up environmental controls.
"They were more standoffish, more resistant, more aggressive and more dangerous," Picolotti said. "I and my closest staff were personally and physically threatened following our mining intervention. My children were threatened. My offices were wiretapped. My staff was bought and the public officials that once controlled Barrick for me became paid employees of Barrick Gold," she told MPs.
"Ultimately, I was forced to resign due to insurmountable pressures from companies like Barrick Gold, who ultimately get their way when our institutions fail to control their performance and compliance."
Vincent Borg, spokesman for Barrick Gold, called Picolotti's allegations "mind-boggling" and "inconceivable."
"It's a sad day when activists parade before a committee of our Parliament making such false and damaging allegations," he said.
"If there was any truth to that, I would assume that she would have reported such nonsense to be investigated by police authorities in Argentina. To my knowledge that has not been the case. It should have been investigated. It was her responsibility to bring that to the attention of the authorities if in fact anything of that sort had occurred."
Picolotti, environment minister from 2006-08, was testifying at hearings into legislation meant to respond to years of allegations that Canadian mining giants were involved in human rights violations and environmental degradation in their overseas operations.
Liberal MP John McKay's legislation (Bill C-300) would give the federal government the power to investigate complaints that Canadian mining operations overseas were not in compliance with international human rights and environmental standards. A company found not to be living up to those standards would be denied access to Canadian taxpayer support.