Mining, territory, identity. Resistance to transnational mining from the BePe experience

Mining, territory, identity. Resistance to transnational mining from the BePe experience

By Horacio Machado Aráoz

The ‘mining model’ - as an extreme case of primary-exporter extractivism in general - condenses a multiplicity of neocolonial expropriations: first, the ‘ecological’ expropriation of territory, soil and water as indispensable sources of life; economic expropriation, that is, that of livelihoods and forms of work historically linked to local economies that are threatened and displaced by the new ‘global activity’; finally, cultural and political expropriation, linked both to the imposition of a new 'identity' manufactured from the managerial needs of the 'administrators of power', as well as to the denial and subjugation of the most elementary rights of the populations, the formally consecrated by the Constitution, and the basic right to decide on their own ways of life.

"Big Mining does not mean anything other than a plan for the total and unrestricted delivery of our mineral resources, our lands, and the impact and contamination of our fresh water reserves and ecosystems (...)

This activity is only possible in the country because it is legitimized and encouraged by a colonialist legal framework, which enshrines a brutal regime of benefits and tax exemptions for mining companies ...

These ventures are imposed behind the backs of the population:

a) the public information that the State is obliged to provide is not provided;
b) the true consequences caused by mining enterprises are manipulated and falsified;
c) the participation of citizens in decision-making is prevented ”. (Extract from the Declaration of Andalgalá, III Meeting of Communities Affected by Mining in Argentina, August 14, 2005).

“The first violated right is the right to self-determination, what do we want to do as a community. Unfortunately, we have been labeled the mining community. We are not a mining community… We are a quince, oil and sweet community. (…) At first they classified us as ‘los loquitos’. Later we were the seditious, terrorists, fundamentalists, those who did not want progress ... But then the people began to wake up ... People began to see, to listen, to become aware. The community says: 'ALREADY ENOUGH!' ”. (Dito Salas, Autoconvocados de Andalgalá, 2005).

“For us, the territory is the most important right we have as a people, because no other right makes sense if the territory is not respected. The territory is everything that gives rise to our identity and our entire reason for being: I myself at the moment am a piece of my territory that is speaking here. Because the territory is our language, it is our music, it is our cultural resources associated with the environment… ”(Marcos Pastrana, Diaguita Calchaquí leader, 2007).

The consolidation of the neoliberal ‘wave’ in the 1990s has meant in Latin America the deepening of a strong process of commodification and exploitation of ‘nature’. The ‘structural reforms’ involved the opening of a new cycle of an ‘old strategy’, primary-exporter extractivism.

Hand in hand with the expansion of export monocultures, the growing establishment of so-called 'dirty industries', the privatization and transnationalization of oil and mining reserves, as well as drinking water, gas and electricity services, and a long Etcetera, new forms of appropriation, control and disposition of the territories and their environmental goods and services were put into play in the region, affecting growing portions of our populations.

Within this framework, the boom in large transnational metal mining verified in the region from the early 1990s to the present day, with the establishment of the most important transnational mining corporations and the accelerated expansion of territorial areas granted to large exploration projects. and mining exploitation, constitutes one of the most ecologically and politically burdensome chapters of this process.

In our country, the initial landing of transnational mining took place in the province of Catamarca, with the installation of Minera Alumbrera Ltd. in 1995. Little was known then what this type of exploitation was about. Chronic poverty and structural unemployment in the region completed the appropriate ‘breeding ground’ for the launch of this first mega open-pit chemical mining undertaking to be ‘successful’. The promises of development and of numerous jobs, rather than resistance, generated euphoria and raised hope among our populations. However, after a short while, the ‘developmental illusions’ were transformed into growing frustrations and the expectations of progress were fading in the face of growing evidence of the socio-environmental impacts of this mega-exploitation.

From 1997 to date, the conflicts that have arisen around large-scale mining have not ceased to flow, producing a long history of resistance with different stages in which the motives, demands and actors have changed and spread. From claims for 'unfulfilled promises of development' (jobs, infrastructure works, improvement of basic services, etc.) to complaints for environmental damage (death of domestic animals, loss of flora and fauna, drying up of plains and wetlands, decrease of the flows of rivers and water tables, etc.) and of these, the absolute rejection of this type of exploitation. The original ‘La Voz del Pueblo’ movement that emerged in Bethlehem in 1997, mostly made up of the unemployed, spread and expanded to other sectors and social groups, giving rise to various groups mobilized to denounce the ‘mining operations’. Between 2001 and 2003, organizations in Belén, Santa María and Andalgalá gained strength in the complaints of environmental damage and successive ruptures of the mineraloduct. The testimony of Andalgalenses residents would then be decisive in the Esquel plebiscite (March 2003) and in the extension of a struggle to a regional and national stage, with the formation of the Red C.A.M.A. (Communities Affected by Mining in Argentina) first, the experiences of the Environmental Plenaries of Noa, then, and the subsequent formation and articulation of local assemblies in the U.A.C. (Union of Citizen Assemblies).

In this context, the decision of Be.Pe. To support and get directly involved in this struggle is born precisely from the conviction that it is not merely an 'environmental claim' (at least in the superficial sense that is usually given to the issue), but rather a strategic cultural and political confrontation for the present and future conditions of self-determination, justice and sustainability. The 'mining model' - as an extreme case of primary-exporter extractivism in general - condenses, in our opinion, a multiplicity of neocolonial expropriations: firstly, the 'ecological' expropriation of territory, soil and water as indispensable sources of lifetime; economic expropriation, that is, that of livelihoods and forms of work historically linked to local economies that are threatened and displaced by the new ‘global activity’; finally, cultural and political expropriation, linked both to the imposition of a new 'identity' manufactured from the managerial needs of the 'administrators of power', as well as to the denial and subjugation of the most elementary rights of the populations, the formally consecrated by the Constitution, and the basic right to decide on their own ways of life.

This institutional option led us to take on new challenges and learnings, participating institutionally in the spaces of struggle that were being constituted in the process of social resistance to large-scale mining in our region. Integrating first the Catamarca Socio-environmental Assembly (2007-2008), then the Sumaj Kawsay Collective (2009-2010), participating since 2007 as members of the U.A.C. and as promoters of the NOA Socio-environmental Assembly (AsaNoa), and currently integrating the recently formed Interprovincial Coordinator in Defense of the Territory and Common Goods, our participation in these collective spaces has been oriented towards two central objectives. On the one hand, inspired by our vision-vocation of Popular Education, we have sought to strengthen the processes of political articulation and inter-learning within the movement, understanding it as a key aspect in this process of struggle. On the other hand, it has sought to expand awareness networks towards the rest of society and to participate in direct measures of resistance and rejection of the advance of the 'mining model'.

Many are the politically relevant 'milestones' that emerge from this long and intense open struggle. In this space we could not justly account for all of them. However, just to somehow reflect the path traced in and from the popular resistance, it is worth mentioning some very significant 'milestones' for us.

At the level of the construction of inter-learning spaces and the generation of political-pedagogical training processes, we highlight the holding of Meetings that were key to strengthening the struggle: the Environmental Forums of Noa, co-organized by the Movida Environmental Termas and Pro-Eco (Termas de Río Hondo, April 2007; Santa María, May 2007) and the Meetings of Socio-environmental Assemblies of Noa (Catamarca, April 2008; Tucumán, February 2008; Metán, March 2008 ; Andalgalá, June 2008).

Also on this level, we believe that the Conference “Development Patterns and Socio-Environmental Conflicts” co-organized between Be.Pe. and the Tramas de Estudios Políticos Regionales Laboratory (Doctorate in Human Sciences, UNCa.) between 2007 and 2008 and the training seminars for popular educators, held together with the Popular Education Team Pañuelos en Rebeldía between 2008 and 2009. The organization and holding of the VII Meeting of the UAC In Catamarca, in August 2008, it was undoubtedly a historic milestone that marked the growth of local assemblies in organizational capacity and political awareness, with more than 500 assembly members gathered to discuss the different effects and impacts of the extractive model in the country gathered in the capital of our province under the motto "Catamarca: Echo of the Cry of the Earth".

Regarding the main public actions and protest measures developed in recent years, it is worth mentioning, from the participation in the Dialogue Table convened by the Bishopric of Catamarca (2007-2008) to the accompaniment of the roadblocks developed in the town from Aconquija, in protest of some pools built in a popular neighborhood to collect spills from the Alumbrera mineraloduct (September – October 2007); the awareness-raising talks on the impacts of uranium mining held together with Javier Rodríguez Pardo (Movimiento Antinuclear de Chubut; U.AC.), the subsequent formation of assemblies in Fiambalá and Tinogasta and the paralysis of uranium prospecting achieved through of massive marches between November and December 2007; numerous roadblocks made in Belén, Tinogasta, Santa María, Andalgalá and also in different localities of the Calchaquíes Valleys in Salta and Tucuman territory, denouncing the impacts of Minera Alumbrera and expressing opposition to the new Agua Rica project. Along with these measures, the reporting, information and awareness campaigns carried out at popular festivities, public events and marches, with different media and resources (artistic events, talks, video-debate cycles, preparation and distribution of gazettes and newsletters, etc. .), already marked an undeniable popular resistance to this type of undertaking.

On the other hand, the protest measures fueled, in some cases, public-private patronage, already through the distribution of 'subsidies' from the government, and through 'donations' and 'corporate social responsibility' programs from mining companies, with the express objective of silencing complaints and encouraging social division in the communities. In other cases, social resistance gave rise to strong repressions and a dangerous path of criminalization and prosecution that had its most critical moments during the day of February 15 last in Andalgalá, with a hundred neighbors injured with pellets and batons delivered. by the province's 'security' forces.

In short, the arrival of large transnational mining drastically changed both the ecological and the socio-cultural and political landscapes of our region. The degradation of the ecological conditions of our territories was followed by the serious deterioration of the institutional framework and democratic sociability in our communities. To the drying up of natural water sources and the loss of agricultural and livestock areas, the exponential increase in respiratory and skin diseases, the chronic rationing of drinking water and electricity, we must also add a desolate 'social landscape': divided communities ; Entire villages "assisted" with the gifts of the mining companies; corruption and endemic patronage fueled by spurious financial flows from an ‘enclave-activity’ with large volumes of profits; and a democratic institutionality ‘upside down’ as Galeano says: with judges and politicians who provide ‘legal security’ to companies, legalizing looting and criminalizing populations that resist it; with banning of plebiscites "in the name of the constitution"; with the imposition of the mining model even at the cost of the majority rejection of our populations.

Ultimately, we are facing a bleak outlook. Despite the evidence of the failure of the ‘developmental fantasy’ that the mining model promises, its representatives are determined to impose it ‘by blood and fire’, with changing doses of ‘welfare,’ and ‘criminalization’. On this side of the struggle, however, new expressions of citizenship have emerged. From the experience-of-resistance, the formation of new political subjectivities, expressions of other sensitivities and sociabilities, has been forging, not only seeking the placebos of consumerism offered by the system, but rather trying to move towards new ways of living-producing and living the territory ... Our 'NO' to mining, in short, the denunciation of the civilizational crisis of the West-colonial that seeks to open gaps towards new forms of coexistence, new forms of connection with nature and the management of Life- en-Común… It is about the re-appropriation of our territories, our water and our soil, but also our Identity and our Rights. More than a return to an ‘idyllic past’ we believe that in this struggle we are going to build an essential ‘future’ possible. For all and for all. A socio-biodiverse world in egalitarian coexistence. It may sound utopian, in the worst sense of the word; but we can also make it sound in its best and noblest sense.

Its construction started in 1995 and it was exploited in 1997, Minera Alumbrera Ltd. is a business holding company led by the Swiss company Xstratta Cooper dedicated to the exploitation of a deposit of disseminated polymetallic. Annually it extracts 650,000 tons of concentrates with 180,000 tons of copper and 600,000 troy ounces of gold. In its extractive process it consumes approximately 100 million liters of water per day, which it extracts from a fossil water reserve (Campo del Arenal) in an arid region, with a rainfall regime of between 150 to 300 mm per year. Its annual energy consumption is greater than 760,000 MW (the electricity consumption of the entire province of Catamarca is less than 470,000 MW), to which must be added around 35 million liters of fuel and 40 thousand tons of explosives. All the minerals extracted are exported through a mega-infrastructure that crosses four provinces and includes a 220 km mineraloduct, its own 800 km railroad and its own port facilities.

Horacio Machado Aráoz (Asoc. Civil Be.Pe., Collective Sumaj Kawsay - AsaNoa Catamarca)

Be.Pe., Blessed are the Poor, is a Development Promotion organization radically committed to the option for the poor and overcoming poverty. Historically, it began its activities on January 6, 1984 as the decision of a group of people gathered around reflection and commitment to the option for the poor proclaimed by the Latin American Catholic Church. In these 25 years, and due to this process, we have progressively advanced in the implementation of work projects based on the principles and methodological and conceptual criteria of sustainable agriculture, solidarity economy, popular education oriented to the construction of citizenship and the search for equity in gender relations, approaches from which we promote our Mission:

1. Promote with poor families, the development of economically viable and ecologically sustainable life alternatives.
2. Strengthen the social political leadership of the popular sectors.
3. Promote the construction of social values ​​that ensure respect for the diversity and dignity of human life.

Since 1984, our organization has defined the provinces of northwestern Argentina, mainly Catamarca and Santiago del Estero, as an area of ​​action. We strengthen and enhance our actions within the framework of integration of networks: Agroforestry Network of the Argentine Chaco, Latin American Agroecological Movement, Network of Social Economy, Cooperation and Work, the Sumaj Causay Collective, the UAC -Unión de Asambleas Ciudadanas- and more recently our integration into Argentine Chapter of the Inter-American Platform for Human Rights Democracy and Development.

As an organization, we feel increasingly challenged in our intervention practice by the advancement of a 'productive model', eminently extractive, installed in our country and in our region, focused on the intensive exploitation of the common heritage of environmental goods and services, to supply fundamentally the demand of international markets.

For this reason, in 2006, as from the definition of the new Strategic Objectives, institutional efforts were reoriented and a process of support and accompaniment to the communities affected by open-pit mining operations, in particular, and to the communities of the region affected by socio-environmental conflicts in general.

Thus arises within the organization the "Support and training program for grassroots organizations and communities in northwestern Argentina mobilized in defense of their territories and livelihoods."

Within the framework of the development of the aforementioned program, an intense plan of insertion and interaction activities with communities and groups mobilized in defense of their territories has been carried out in recent years, also developing support activities for mobilizations and organized collective actions by the organizations of populations affected by mining, as well as other activities related to training, generation of meeting spaces for the exchange of experiences and dissemination and awareness of the problem at the level of society in general.

FOCO - OET Newsletter - Observatory of Transnational Companies -

Video: how to calculate equivalent resistance for series and parallel in mine ventilation? (August 2021).