Chile: Catholic charity rejects Barrick Gold donation

The Chilean Catholic foundation Sisters of the Good Samaritan announced on July 6 that it was turning down an offer from the Toronto-based Barrick Gold Corporation to donate 800 million pesos (about US$1.64 million) to build a shelter for the sick and disabled in Vallenar, capital of the northern province of Huasco. The charitable group based its refusal on the social and environmental conflicts the Canadian mining giant had created in the region.

The source of the conflicts has been Pascua Lama, an open-pit gold, silver and copper mine located partly in Argentina’s San Juan province and partly in Chile’s Huasco province. Opponents say the mine, which is scheduled to open in 2013, will deplete scarce water resources and contaminate the region through the use of toxic materials such as cyanide. Barrick, the world’s largest gold mining company, has generated some support in the province by promising job creation and, according to opponents, by making donations to local groups.

On July 17 some 55 Chilean organizations issued a declaration praising the “bravery and moral quality” of the Sisters of the Good Samaritan and calling on the Chilean government to provide the resources needed to build the shelter. Andrea Cisternas, the director of the Huasco Valley Social-Environmental Movement, expressed hope that other organizations would follow the charity’s example. Cisternas remarked that “in the end, Barrick is doing these things under the table [and] is doing them badly. Now everyone knows it, because this buying of consciences maybe isn’t just about consciences—life is also what’s being sold.” (Radio Universidad de Chile, July 13; Adital, Brazil, July 18)

Barrick has also received a setback in its Argentine operations. On July 3 the Argentine Supreme Court of Justice quashed preliminary injunctions the mining company had won from lower courts blocking parts of a law intended to protect glaciers. Environmental groups such as Greenpeace have charged that mining at Pascua Lama and at Veladero, an open-pit mine already in operation in the northwestern province of San Juan, is causing the shrinkage of glaciers, which are a key source of water in the region.

Barrick had won the injunctions by claiming the law was unconstitutional since it gave the national government power over mining operations, which had previously been under the control of the provinces. The Supreme Court didn’t rule on the legislation’s constitutionality but said “the law must be applied [until] its constitutional validity is resolved.” (AP, July 3, viaBusinessweek)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, July 22.

See our last post on Chile and regional struggles over minerals and water.