Argentina: anti-mining activists assaulted in Chubut

According to Argentine environmentalist groups, dozens of opponents of large-scale mining projects were injured when hundreds of construction workers attacked them at the provincial legislature building in Rawson, the administrative capital of the southern province of Chubut, on the late afternoon of Nov. 27. At a press conference held the next day in the offices of the Chubut Education Workers Association (ATECH), local activists charged that the attack had been carried out by members of the Workers Union of Construction of the Argentine Republic Union (UOCRA) contracted by Chubut governor Martín Buzzi, of the Justicialist Party (PJ, Peronist), and federal legislative deputy Carlos Eliceche. UOCRA general secretary Gerardo Martínez is said to have worked as a secret agent at the Campo de Mayo military base during the 1976-1983 dictatorship.

Local activists had been attending sessions of the provincial Chamber of Deputies twice a week for more than three months to protest against Gov. Buzzi’s effort to circumvent the province’s Law 5001 (PDF), which bans open-pit mines and the use of cyanide in mining operations in Chubut. The activists, organized in a community assembly, have called for a referendum on the issue. When they arrived for the session on Nov. 27, they were confronted by construction workers armed with clubs and chains who had come to Rawson in 30 UOCRA minivans; some witnesses said mining company vehicles were also present. The most seriously injured in the attack included a boy of 15, a young woman and an older woman.

“The mining companies have taken the law into their own hands, and the government has allowed it,” local deputy Roberto Risso said, “and the officials are going to have to answer for this.” Anti-mining assemblies from other provinces sent statements of support for the Chubut activists. (Adital, Brazil, Nov. 28, from Unión de Asambleas de la Patagonia; Bariloche Opina, Argentina, Nov. 28)

The federal government and the provincial governments get significant funding from deals with international mining corporations, and the movement against large-scale mining that has developed over the past year in areas near the Andes has sometimes been met with government repression. An encampment by local environment activists in the northwestern province of Catarmarca was attacked by soldiers, police and supposed “pro-mining activists” on July 20.

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Dec. 2.