Thousands of residents in the northwestern La Rioja province protested for more than a month, blocking the main roadway to the Famatina glacier to demand that Canadian company Osisko Mining back down from plans to explore and drill for gold in there.
Some 60,000 people live near the potential mine. Osisko issued a statement on Jan. 30, as a result of the protests, informing investors and the public that the project was for exploration only, and that “the development of a mine is still highly hypothetical, since very little is known about the amount, quality and location of the mineral resources that may exist in the properties within the Famatina Project.”
The dispute began in October, when environmental organizations, including the local Environment and Natural Resources Foundation, Greenpeace and Los Verdes, said Minera El Portal, or MEP, a subsidiary of the Canadian company, and the Rioja province’s State Energy and Mines Company, or EMSE, the body that administrates natural resources and energy projects, had reached an agreement for an open-pit mining project.
Local residents complained that the agreement has not been released, they were not consulted and that the project was given a green light before it conducted any environmental studies as are required by law.
Rioja Gov. Luis Beder Herrera defended the project, saying it will provided much-needed revenue to the region.
“The Riojanos don’t have any other possibilities,” he said. “It’s not for tomorrow or the day after, it’s for the future of our people.”
He added, however, that the project would not move forward unless local residents are in agreement and that they are informed “that mining is a safe activity.”
Osisko said that its subsidiary had prepared an informational campaign and that residents will be consulted before any exploration begins.
“If there is no social license for exploration and development around the Famatina project area, no work will be conducted by MEP,” it said.
Environmental watchdog group ComAmbiental warned that neither the government nor the company have any intentions of cancelling or suspending the project, but rather, they “recognize that the project is stalled by the protesters from the ‘Don’t Touch Famatina’ movement.”
It is not the first protest in the region. In 2007, protesters blocked a similar project by Canadian mining giant Barrick Gold.