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CHILE: PASCUA LAMA OPPOSITION REVIVES DURING SATURDAY MARCH

March Organizers: “We Have To Inform The Public Because The Mass Media Will Not”

by Trey Pollard Santiago Times
October 29th, 2007

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 complaints.

“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 2005.

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 agriculture.” 

 

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