Argentine Communities Take On Mega-Mining

For the past seven years, the residents of Esquel, a verdant, picturesque town in Argentine Patagonia, have fought large-scale mining.

In 2003, residents in the Chubut province town fought off a massive gold mine by Meridian Gold, through protest and a popular consultation, fearing damage to their soils and water sources from the mine.

Esquel´s community groups have now teamed up with similar organizations around the country to defend biodiversity, food sovereignty and quality of life from large-scale industrial projects.

The Citizens´ Assemblies Union, an umbrella group composed of community organizations from around Argentina, met in Esquel March 26-28 to debate and strategize how best to defend their values from a largely extractive economic model.

These meetings, held every three months, were first launched in the central city of Córdoba in 2006, and were focused on fighting large-scale mining, cellulose pulping plants and the production of genetically-modified soy.

But their heralded advances are sometimes clipped by the government.

Since 2003, the provincial governments of seven Argentine provinces – Chubut, Río Negro, Mendoza, Tucumán, La Pampa, San Luis and Córdoba – passed laws against large-scale mining. Several state universities decided to reject funding from mining companies.

But in 2008, President Cristina Fernández vetoed a law protecting the country´s glaciers, a piece of legislation that had been approved unanimously by Congress. She argued that the law “could affect economic growth.” In April 2009, Fernández received Barrick Gold´s founder Peter Munk and its president, Aaron Regent, and days later they signed an agreement opening the door for the massive Pascua Lama project, which straddles the icy Argentine-Chilean border. The company says the mine holds 17.8 million ounces of gold and will begin production in 2013.

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