Argentina: eight activists arrested in mine protest

The Argentine branch of international environmental organization Greenpeace marked World Environment Day—a UN-sponsored event held each June 5—with a protest highlighting damage that the pro-mining policies of José Luis Gioja, governor of the northwestern province of San Juan, could have on Argentina’s San Guillermo Biosphere Reserve. Eight Greenpeace activists climbed the Civic Center building in the city of San Juan and unfurled a 20-meter banner with a photograph of a puma and a caption reading: “Gioja: no mining in San Guillermo.” The activists were arrested and taken to the central police station.

The Toronto-based Barrick Gold Corporation has two open-pit gold mines in San Juan province: the Veladero mine and the massive Pascua Lama mine, still under construction, which extends from San Juan province into Chile’s Huasco province. San Juan province also hosts part of the large San Guillermo reserve, which includes both swampy lowlands of the Chaco region and Andean highlands. Greenpeace says that Barrick’s mining projects endanger Andean glaciers, a major source of water for the region, and the animals and vegetation in the reserve; the group has launched a “Save the San Guillermo Campaign” and as of June 5 had gathered more than 320,000 signatures from Argentine citizens on an internet petition. Barrick insists that the mines won’t affect the reserve.

On May 24 rightwing Chilean president Sebastián Piñera’s government ordered construction work suspended on the Chilean section of the Pascua Lama mine; the project’s completion may be postponed for years. In Argentina the center-left government of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner continues to back the massive open-pit mining projects that environmental activists refer to as “mega-mining.” Greenpeace’s June 5 demonstration fell on a day when Gov. Gioja, a Fernández ally, and national officials were scheduled to present a “Plan for Management of the San Guillermo Reserve.” Once the plan is approved, San Juan province will receive $7 million from Barrick designated for care of the reserve. (Perfil, Buenos Aires, June 5; Adital, Brazil, June 5)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, June 9.