By Arturo M. Lozza
Truckloads of cyanide began to ply the Argentine routes from the port to the Cordillera to supply the open-pit mines of the transnationals. Leaching is a strange word to the inexperienced, but it is good that we are getting to know it because that is the name of the method that is being used in open-pit mining despite the fact that it poisons the earth, the springs and man.
It is the process by which, by means of a liquid solvent, the desired matter is separated from the body that contains it. For example, sugar is isolated from beets by leaching with hot water, and vegetable oils are recovered by leaching with organic solvents. But the fact is that gold, or silver, or other related minerals, are also separated from the rock by leaching, with the difference that the dissolving liquid used is not hot water or organic material, but sodium cyanide. Yes, the same withering poison that the Borgia used in Renaissance times to get rid of their enemies, and that today large mining companies use it to recover metals from the rest of the removed material. After having fulfilled its function, this cyanide is spilled into rivers and streams, which will contaminate landscapes and populations in their wake.
According to the Gold Institute (Gold Institute, 1993), gold production by the cyanide leaching process increased from 468,284 ounces in 1979 to 9.4 million ounces in 1991. To reach the 1991 production level, More than 683 million tons of ore were treated with cyanide. We do not have the current figures, but imagine them.
Without a doubt, no industrial activity is as devastating as open pit mining. Because cyanide leaching is compounded by other destructive factors of vast proportions. Let's see.
Landscapes that will not be
Open pit mines are those whose extraction process is carried out on the surface and with large machines that tear the earth in wide perimeters. This is the mining that prevails, that other, that of our grandparents, that of the mines with the worker stuck in tunnels with picks and shovels, is dying out, especially when it comes to the extraction of minerals such as gold, silver, tin, copper, iron and others.
In the open pit, large amounts of soil and subsoil are removed, but the mineral may be present in very low concentrations in relation to the amount of material removed. For this reason, the deposits cover large areas, gigantic craters are dug that reach 150 hectares in extension and up to 200 meters deep.
To get an idea of the devastation that is inflicted on huge dimensions of land, let's say that to extract just 0.01 ounces of gold, mining companies need to remove and destroy a ton of soil. It does not matter that they are forests, mountain slopes, hydrographic basins, agricultural soils or that peoples and cultures of native populations develop in those areas. The extracted metal is priced in dollars or euros, the landscapes and cultures to be destroyed are not.
In the exploitation, in addition to cyanide, enormous amounts of other chemical and toxic materials are used that are deposited in the surroundings together with crushed rocks and torn earth turned into polluting mud.
Machines pass and mountains are transformed into embankments. Streams of crystalline waters dry up after millions of hectoliters have been extracted, that water will be dumped into other springs, but carrying cyanide and toxins. Once the mineral has been extracted, the crater left by the excavations will become a lake, the landscapes will have changed and the heights will have transformed into desolate plateaus. Local economies will have collapsed and populations displaced.
The case was dealt with with abundance of elements in the National Congress, when last year the glacier protection law was approved to prevent devastation, but the law was vetoed by the Executive at the request of the political power of the provinces of San Juan, La Rioja and Catamarca where bribes and purchases of wills by mining transnationals are commonplace in Argentina, and not only in Argentina.
Transnational companies invest a lot of money in this sector. Along with hydrocarbons and pharmaceuticals, mining is perhaps one of the industrial activities that is leaving the most revenues.
According to data from the Ministry of Mining, between 2003 and 2007, the total accumulated investments multiplied by more than eight, going from 660 million to 5.600 million dollars. But only Barrick Gold, the largest multinational in the gold business, with shareholders of the stature of George W. Bush, has planned $ 3.6 billion from 2009 to exploit the Pascua Lama deposits, on the border with Chile. at 5,500 meters high.
These investments have benefited from a scandalous legal framework created during the menemato, the Mining Investment Law (National Law 24,196), by which the State is prohibited from exploiting mining resources: only capitalists are allowed to do so. Incredible, but true: it is perhaps the only law that specifically prevents a government from intervening on the wealth of its own territory, except in exploration and research for the benefit of those interests that are put to extract the mineral.
Catamarca was in charge of starting the first megaproject for gold and copper extraction: Bajo La Alumbrera, of the transnational companies Xstrata Plc, from Switzerland, Goldcorp and Yamana Gold, both from Canada. The activity began in 1997 and today it is the largest mine in the country. Since then, complaints about contamination have been happening: toxicity in surface and groundwater, affectation of soils, impact on flora and fauna, changes in the microclimate, scenic impact on the Cordillera after exploitation, spills from the mineraloduct that it travels 316 kilometers between Catamarca and Tucumán, discharging liquid effluents from its filtration plant to the DP2 channel, etc.
Today, the populations look at themselves in the mirror of La Alumbrera to make sure of the future that awaits them.
No to mines
But it was in Chubut Esquel where mega-mining found its first major stumbling block. There, after forming a multisectoral assembly, the population called for a popular consultation that in March 2003 threw a resounding “no” to transnational polluters and led to the first provincial law prohibiting this type of mining. Since then, there are multisectoral mobilizations, assemblies, actions promoted by the CTA and other strong expressions in rejection of the mining of environmental destruction.
Between 2003 and 2008, thanks to the articulation of regional resistance, seven provinces were added that passed laws prohibiting this type of mining. Today there are some 70 self-convened neighborhood assemblies and more and more informed communities are becoming aware of what the installation of an open-pit mining project means.
Last May 11, more than 1,500 people, with flags, homemade posters and moods of indignation, marched from Juella to Tilcara, Jujuy, calling for the closure of the open-pit uranium mining companies and reaffirming their will to defend the land, the water. and the air of the Quebrada de Humahuaca. The decision was to resist "with the strength that the defense of what is ours and ours, our health and the future of our children, our ways of life, our culture and our Mother Earth gives us."
The fight is just beginning. The current struggle of the natives in the Peruvian Amazon to prevent transnational corporations from taking over the mining and oil exploitation of 45 million hectares of their territory is a historic step.
Anyway, in Argentina there are numerous projects to install new ventures, among them, Agua Rica, which would soon come into operation in Catamarca (three times larger than La Alumbrera), Famatina, in La Rioja, and Pascua Lama in San Juan. .
Meanwhile, after Esquel, no other popular consultation was allowed. Furthermore, the governments of San Juan and La Rioja exercise censorship to prevent the irreversible damages of open-pit mining and the economic interests that unite their governors with transnational companies from becoming known.
Under that cloak of concealment and surrender legality, open-air exploitation advances silently and vertiginously as one of the most ruthless expressions of capitalism.
The destruction of Pascua Lama
The Canadian company Barrick Gold confirmed that it will begin work on the questioned Pascua Lama project approved by the governments of Chile and Argentina. The works will finish towards the end of 2012 or the beginning of 2013, if the reactions of the people do not stop it. In the event that the plans materialize, this will mean the destruction of mountains and the Pascua Lama glacier in order to extract 750,000 to 800,000 ounces of gold annually, plus 35 million ounces of silver once it is fully operational.
The mining operation is located in the Andes Mountains, in a wide area that covers Argentine and Chilean territory, which makes it the first binational mining project in the world and one of the largest gold operations on the planet.
Barrick Gold will take the gold and silver, Argentina and Chile will be left with the polluted lands and waters, with the flattened Cordillera, without the Pascua Lama and without the rich landscapes and flora and fauna of the area.
According to the data provided by Barrick Gold to the province of San Juan, the operation of Pascua Lama will require in three years:
* Rock removed with explosives: 1,806 million tons (82% will be sterile mineral), that is, 4 tons of rock every 1 gram of gold.
* Water: 135 million m3 (135,000 million liters).
* Sodium cyanide: 379,428 tons (transported in 29,946 truckloads the hundreds of kilometers from the port to the mine).
* Explosives: 493,500 tons.
* Diesel: 943 million liters.
* Naphtha: 19 million liters.
* Lubricants: 57 million liters.
* Electricity: 110 MW of average power from the 3rd year.