The unfinished Pascua Lama gold and silver mine high in the Andes on the Chilean-Argentine border continues to bring problems for Toronto-based Barrick Gold Corp. The multinational has announced a loss of $8.56 billion for the second quarter of this year, largely because of a $5.1 billion write-down of the mine's value. The $8.5 billion project is stalled because of environmental concerns and legal actions in Chile. Suspension of construction at the mine coincided with a record 23% drop in international gold prices from April through June.
On Aug. 13 Argentine federal judge Carlos Ochoa reopened a criminal case charging former president Carlos Saúl Menem (1989-1999) with responsibility in the Nov. 3, 1995 explosion of a military arms factory in Río Tercero in the central province of Córdoba. Prosecutors and Río Tercero residents have long held that the daylong series of explosions was set off deliberately to destroy evidence that the Menem government was selling arms illegally to Ecuador and Croatia, but the case was shut down by federal judges in 2008. It has been reopened following Menem's conviction on March 8 this year of involvement in the arms smuggling. Seven people were killed in the explosions, which also left 300 people injured and destroyed a number of private homes. Even If convicted, the 83-year-old Menem will probably not face prison time; he currently enjoys immunity as a senator for La Rioja province. (Página 12, Argentina, Aug. 13; Clarín, Argentina, Aug. 14)
Chilean judge Mario Carroza on Aug. 5 rejected a request by human rights lawyer Eduardo Contreras to prosecute former general Fernando Matthei for murder. Matthei oversaw the military facility where Gen. Alberto Bachelet was tortured to death in 1973 after Bachelet refused to support the military coup lead by Augusto Pinochet. Contreras has attempted to bring charges against Matthei before and argued that new evidence has come to light which shows that Matthei was aware of Banchelet's death. However, Carroza ruled that there were insufficient grounds to prosecute. Contreras frequently represents families who were victimized during Pinochet's regime and has stated his intention to appeal the decision. Both of the generals' daughters, Evelyn Matthei and Michelle Bachelet, are opponents in the upcoming Chilean presidential election.
The UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism on July 29 urged Chilean authorities to refrain from applying anti-terrorism legislation that directly impacts the Mapuche indigenous people. Special Rapporteur Ben Emmerson made his first official visit to Chile, finding that "the anti-terrorism legislation has been disproportionately and unfairly applied against Mapuche defendants, and has been implemented without a coherent policy for distinguishing those cases that meet the threshold test for an act of terrorism and those that do not." Referring to Chile's 1984 anti-terrorism law, Emmerson addressed the impact that the law has on indigenous land protests. His statement stressed the need for an end to impunity for the crimes committed during violent land protests, adding that the victims of such violence should also have their rights adequately protected.
Some 1,500 to 2,000 protesters demonstrated against the Rio de Janeiro state government and militarized police the evening of July 22, the first day of Pope Francis' weeklong visit to Brazil. The protest, reportedly called by the anarchist groups Anonymous Rio and Anonymous Brazil, started as Francis, on his first international trip since he took office in March, was meeting with Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff and Rio state governor Sérgio Cabral in the Guanabara Palace, the state's main administrative building, in the city of Rio de Janeiro. Shortly after the pope left the meeting, someone hurled a molotov bomb at line of police agents, who responded with tear gas and water cannons. Two agents were injured by the bomb, and other people were hurt in the melee that followed, including a photographer from the Agence France-Presse wire service.
Indigenous communities in Arauco province in Chile's central Biobío region have announced plans for a march on Aug. 2 to protest a proposal before the National Congress to extend Forestry Decree 701 for another 20 years. Community residents, who belong to the Mapuche group, Chile's largest ethnicity, say the forestry laws have allowed timber companies to take over traditional Mapuche lands starting in 1974 under the 1973-1990 dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet. The most important of these companies are Arauco (Celulosa Arauco y Constitución), largely owned by the Angelini family, and Forestal Mininco, controlled by the Matte family. According to Mapuche activists, there is little chance that the forestry proposal will be defeated, since many of the congressional candidates from Mapuche areas in the upcoming Nov. 17 elections are being financed by these two powerful families. (El Cuidadano, Chile, July 27)
Indigenous Mapuche occupied four oil wells in the Vaca Muerta region in the southwestern Argentine province of Neuquén on July 16 to protest a $1 billion agreement between the state-controlled Yacimientos Petrolíferos Fiscales (YPF) oil company and the California-based Chevron Corporation to drill for oil in the area's shale deposits. (In an earlier item we wrote erroneously that the drilling was for natural gas.) The Mapuche say that the drilling, which uses the controversial method known as hydrofracking, will damage the local environment, and that the agreement was made without the required prior consultation with the indigenous communities. The protesters were also expressing solidarity with indigenous Ecuadorians who won a $19 billion judgment in 2011 against Chevron for environmental damage. The company refuses to pay.
On July 14 the three-member Appeals Court of Copiapó province in Chile's northern Atacama region unanimously upheld its April 10 order suspending work at Toronto-based Barrick Gold Corporation's Pascua Lama mine until the company has adopted measures to repair current damage to the environment and to prevent further damage in the future. The court found that in its responses to the previous order the company "repeatedly" displayed "an obstinate attitude" and that it "doesn't provide information on time and in proper form." Pascua Lama is an open-pit gold, silver and copper mine under construction in the Andes on both sides of the border between Argentina and Chile. Five indigenous Diaguita communities had filed a complaint against the mine, charging that the construction had damaged glaciers near the site that provide water for area residents. The mine is also subject to a May 24 suspension ordered by Chile's environmental regulator, Juan Carlos Monckeberg. (Associated Press, July 15, via Terra, Peru)