Latin America Is No Longer the Unregulated “Paradise” for the Mining Companies: World Bank Economist
* There are 120 disputes in the region; rejection because of the environmental impact
Lima, February 13, 2012
The mining boom that Latin America is living in due to increased demand and prices on the international market is resisted through regional strikes, demonstrations and marches by the affected populations that have come out in defense of the environment and water.
“There is an increase in the number and in the intensity of the mining conflicts because of the water, the extension of mining concessions, the contamination of the rivers, the displacement of activities and the population,” explained the economist José de Echave, Peru’s former Vice Minister of Environment. “But they are, above all, because of the water,” he added.
From Mexico to Patagonia several mega-projects have been stopped and even suspended by the inflexible opposition of citizens to sacrificing the environment despite environmental impact studies that the companies present and the messages of progress with social inclusion (job creation) with which the authorities justify their approval.
The problem is that to extract gold, silver, copper, zinc or iron, many times one must move entire peoples from the place, cut down forests with the native plants and animals or even dry up lakes and empty them.
Environmental organizations criticize that the companies use millions of liters of water to extract minerals and also resort to the use of highly contaminating cyanide, as in the case of the open sky mines, for separating gold from the rock.
One clear example is Panama, where the conflict between the indigenous Ngöbe-Buglé and the government because of a copper deposit with 17 million tons has left two dead this week.
According to Raisa Banfield, director of the Sustainable Panama Foundation, the project contemplates “cutting down five thousand hectares of forest. There will be a loss of biodiversity and habitat for native species and contamination of soil, of underground water and rivers,” she explained.
In Northeast Peru, after weeks of disturbances that led President Ollanta Humala to decree the state of emergency, the 4 billion 800 million dollar Conga project, was suspended while waiting for three foreign experts to evaluate the environmental impact study presented by the Yanacocha Company.
In Argentina, some 20 people were detained on Wednesday, February 1 in the eviction of a highway blockage that sought to impede the exploitation of Bajo La Alumbrera, the largest gold and copper deposit in the country’s northwest.
Here, the locality of Famatina (1300 kilometers to the northwest of Buenos Aires) had already become emblematic, which in the last few years achieved suspending two gold projects.
There are also projects paralyzed in other countries, like Costa Rica and Colombia. According to data from the Observatory of Mining Conflicts in Latin America, there are more than 120 disputes in the region.
“It is certain that hay a new environmental conscience in the residents. But the people are also realizing the extra-normal profits that mining leaves and they want part of those profits to stay in their region,” explained Juan Carlos Belausteguigoitia, a World Bank environmental economist for Latin America and the Caribbean del Banco Mundial.
According to the international financial institution, 30 percent of the investment in exploration of new deposits is in Latin America. In countries like Chile, Peru or Colombia, the mining sector can reach 20 percent of the GNP.
In Brazil, mining production reached an estimated 11 billion dollars in 2011, 20 percent more than the previous year, while Ecuador foresees for 2012 an increase of 5.35 percent of the GNP, thanks to the exploitation of gold and silver.
Despite the opportunities that it offers, Latin America is no longer the unregulated “paradise” for the big mining companies.
“It has advanced a lot as far as environmental regulation, although there is still more to do. Until a little while ago, the Ministries of Environment were the little brothers in the cabinets,” Belausteguigoitia explains.
“Now, inasmuch as the corporations are larger, they have to be more accountable and they have greater probabilities of improving their environmental performance,” he adds, without forgetting that legal vacuums still exist as to prevention of the long-term environmental impact after the mine closes.
Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada
Tuesday, February 14, 2012
English Translation: Chiapas Support Committee
Para leer en español: