Chile: court rejects new Pascua Lama appeal

The Toronto-based Barrick Gold Corporation, the world's largest gold producer, faced another setback to its mammoth Pascua Lama gold and silver mine in late December when Chile's Supreme Court rejected its appeal of a lower court's decision on environmental fines. Barrick's Chilean subsidiary, Compañía Minera Nevada SPA, was disputing an environmental court's March 2013 ruling that a fine the government's Environmental Bureau had imposed on Barrick was inadequate. In a decision announced on Dec. 30, a Supreme Court panel rejected the appeal on a technicality: the justices held that Minera Nevada wasn't a party to the original case and therefore couldn't appeal the environmental court's ruling.

Situated high in the Andes on both sides of the border between Argentina and Chile, the Pascua Lama project, planned as one of the world's largest gold and silver mines, has been met with numerous challenges from environmentalists and local communities, especially over the risks it is said to represent for Andean glaciers. The challenges have been especially effective in Chile, where Barrick is currently facing fines of more than $16 million for violations by the project. The company suspended construction in November 2013 but has indicated that it hopes to restart construction of the mine.

In a statement dated Dec. 31, a group of 10 local and environmental organizations opposing the mine said the Supreme Court decision was "an important step and once again ratifies our objectives, which are the revocation of the environmental permit [for the construction] and the definitive closing of the Pascua Lama project…. Irreparable damage has been done in our mountain range; we will not accept any monetary fine; this doesn't bring any solution to the constantly irresponsible and criminal attitude of the Barrick mining company in our territory." (El Mostrador Mercados, Chile, Dec. 31; Wall Street Journal, Dec. 31; Piensa Chile, Jan. 3)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, January 4.