|Anti-Pascua Lama march in Santiago. Oct 27. 2007|
Opponents of the Pascua Lama gold mine took to the
streets of Santiago on Saturday to raise public awareness about the
US$1.4 billion project that, they claim, will have terrible long-term
effects on Chile's environment. Although environmental authorities have
already approved the project, protesters said their continued
resistance can halt the completion of construction (ST, June 26, 2006).
The noisy and vibrant procession of approximately four hundred
protesters weaved its way through the bustling pedestrian streets of
central Santiago, led by demonstrators hoisting a banner with a simple
message: “No to Pascua Lama.” Puncturing the afternoon calm on one of
the sunniest days of the spring season, the march rumbled through the
heavy weekend traffic of shoppers and passers-by, accompanied by
rumbling drums and chants of “Water, Yes! Gold, No!”
Organizers told the Santiago Times that the purpose of the spectacle
was to let the public know that opposition to Pascua Lama remains, even
as construction continues on the mine.
“This is a march to inform our neighbors that there are still plenty of
obstacles for the completion of the mine,” said Consuelo Infante, head
of the anti-mine group Citizen Movement. “We have to inform the public
because the mass media will not do it, and it is very important that
people know there is organized opposition to the project at this time.”
In addition to banners and songs, marchers distributed thousands of
informational pamphlets to nearby Santiaguinos outlining the case
against Pascua Lama and its owner – Canadian mining group Barrick Gold.
Anti-mine groups said a series of logistical and administrative issues
could still derail construction, including non-compliance with permit
requirements and the refusal of Barrick to respect all aspects of the
agreements that paved the way for the mine's construction.
March organizers claim these shortcomings by Barrick could halt the
project, if only the government is willing to pursue existing legal
“Our case was presented at the beginning of the year and the state has
not responded, so the courts are not accessible for us,” read the
literature given out by marchers. “All of the complaints we have lodged
have been rejected due to problems of form, and not substance.”
Barrick's project at Pascua Lama is no stranger to controversy.
Environmental activists have lambasted the construction since it was
first proposed, claiming the mine will destroy nearby glaciers and
pollute downstream water supplies with waste runoff (VT, June 10).
Barrick’s track record for environmental abuse is apparently
well-known: U.S. Vice-President Al Gore insisted upon removing Barrick
Gold as a sponsor of his May visit to Chile (ST, May 11).
The mine is set to be built in the Andes Mountains, in an area
straddling the border between northern Chile's Region III and
Argentina. This bi-national location has led to several disputes
between the two countries about how to divide tax revenues earned from
the project (ST, Sept. 12). An estimated US$7 billion in tax revenues
will be paid by Barrick during the mine’s projected lifetime, and last
month conflict over the projected revenue split delayed start up
construction again. Construction was originally planned to begin in
Currently, only superficial construction at the mine is completed.
Auxiliary projects that do not cross the border into Argentina should
be finished in the coming months, while bi-national excavation may not
start until 2008.
Meanwhile, Consuelo Infante insisted that resistance to the project
will continue, regardless of whether Barrick is functioning with the
permission of the state or not.
“We want people to know that it does not matter what authorities are
saying, because we are saying we do not want Barrick,” she said during
the protest. “We are saying this huge mine is bad for the country and
we are going to continue defending the area's life water and