Argentina: demonstrations against mining spread

On Feb. 1 the Montreal-based Osisko Mining Corporation announced that it and the government of the northwestern Argentine province of La Rioja would suspend exploration for a proposed gold mine at the Nevados de Famatina mountain as long as “there is no social license for exploration and development in the area.” The announcement followed weeks of protests against the open-pit mining project by local residents, who selectively blocked access to the area for company employees and officials of the provincial government. Osisko and the provincial government said they were now preparing a “program of information and consultation with the community” to win local support, but assemblies formed by area residents have voted to continue the blockade. “[N]o mega-mining company or project has a social license in our territory,” the assemblies declared. (Página 12, Argentina, Feb. 2)

Residents of the towns of Famatina and Chilecito say open-pit mining on the Andean mountain would threaten their only source of water. The protest began on Jan. 2 with about 400 people, but on Jan. 16, when the company was to begin work, some 4,000 people turned out to block access; the population of Famatina is just 6,400. The local protest won also the backing of national environmental groups like Greenpeace Argentina and celebrities like documentary filmmaker Fernando “Pino” Solanas.

Similar protests have been taking place in the northern provinces of Catamarca and Tucumán, where residents have blocked roads to demand an end to work at the Bajo de la Alumbrera, one of the world’s main gold and copper deposits. The exploration and development there is being carried out by a consortium including the Swiss-British mining company Xstrata PLC and two Canadian companies, Goldcorp Inc. and Yamana Gold Inc. The protests In La Rioja, Catamarca and Tucumán have also reactivated activism against mining projects in RĂ­o Negro, Chubut and Mendoza provinces.

According to the national government’s Mining Secretariat, investments in mining reached a record $2.546 billion in 2011. Official data show some 600 active projects in Argentina.

As has happened in other Latin American countries with center-left governments, the exploitation of natural resources seems to be creating friction between the government and grassroots activists that have formed part of its base. Famatina mayor Ismael Bordagaray, who supports the protesters, is a member of the Front for Victory, President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s left-leaning faction of the Justicialist Party (PJ, Peronist). But La Rioja governor Luis Beder Herrera, also a Front for Victory member, supports the mining project, which includes the province’s state-owned energy and mining company, EnergĂ­a y Minerales Sociedad del Estado (EMSE), as a partner. Jorge Yoma, a federal legislative deputy from the Front, said on Feb. 4 that President Fernández told him that she also supports mining operations. (Directorio Verde, Jan. 20; Inter Press Service, Jan. 25, via Upside Down World; El Tribuno, Salta and Jujuy, Feb. 4; EFE, Feb. 5, via No a la Mina)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Feb. 5.

See our last posts on Argentina and struggles for water and minerals in Latin America.