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Mining: they take everything and leave us contaminated

Mining: they take everything and leave us contaminated

By Pedro Resels

The Andes mountain range in almost its entire extension has minerals of great value. Open pit mining is expanding from Patagonia to the Puna of Jujuy, despite opposition from the nearby population that companies have taken care to make invisible.


During the decade of the 90s, the firm consolidation of neoliberalism enunciated in the Washington Consensus, in addition to dismantling state-owned companies and alienating all State assets at a low price, especially non-renewable natural resources such as oil and gas, and to favor with all the resources of power the introduction of genetically modified soybeans, the main laws were enacted that culminated this last week with the launch, final? of the binational mining enterprise of Pascua Lama.

Argentina had never been a mining country. The Mining Code, law 1919, was issued in 1886 and for more than 100 years it remained almost unchanged, especially for category 1 mines, that is, those of gold, silver, nickel, uranium, etc. The Code established then that all the mines in this category were owned by the State - national or provincial - but that they could not exploit it and for its economic use they could only give it in concession.

Custom mining laws

It was only during Menem's administration that a series of regulations began to be approved that modify the aforementioned code and prepare the legal path for the exploitation of gold and silver mining in our territory.

By law 24196 (April 1993) that establishes the investment regime in mining activity, excluding hydrocarbons, cement, ceramics and sand and pebbles, which grants all kinds of tax advantages to the rest of the concessionaires: " fiscal stability ”for 30 years,“ stability of the exchange and tariff regime ”, special double deductions and special amortization regime in income tax, total exemption from tax on stamps and assets. And as if this were not enough, it adds the total exemption of import and statistical duties for all the goods that it imports for the mine. So much gift is not enough and in its art. 22 establishes that the State will only be able to receive for royalties a percentage not exceeding 3% on the value of the extracted mineral.

Then the law 24224 (June 1993) is issued where for 1st category mines such as gold and silver a mining canon of $ 80 per year per membership is set, a value that has remained fixed until today, while the amount is increased of land that a person can receive to explore for minerals: now the permit can reach 100,000 hectares per person.

Seventeen months later, Law 24402 (November 1994) is approved, which establishes special and unique franchises to apply to the VAT that they must pay when they buy goods including tax payments, at the expense of the state itself!

With these and other regulations, mining companies can exploit our gold and silver, take it back by paying us 3% of the extracted value, an amount that will be much less than the one they omit to pay for tax-free imports, assuring you now and for 30 years that they will not suffer higher tax charges. The only obligation that the concession company assumes is to earn money: they are not even obliged to liquidate the dollars for the metals they export.

This is the moment that large companies, associated with the WGC (World Gold Council), consider it appropriate to exploit our minerals, especially considering that, as they recognize, the world supply of such elements has been reducing due to the depletion of mines. in operation. It should be added to this that the price of minerals has reached a historical maximum with gold at $ 1,000 an ounce - in 2003 it did not reach $ 400 - while the cost of exploitation has been reduced to the half in this last decade.

The miners arrived

The Andes mountain range in almost all its extension has minerals of great value. Open pit mining is expanding from Patagonia to the Puna of Jujuy, despite opposition from the nearby population that companies have taken care to make invisible.

From the southern Campana Mahuida, in Neuquén, with the struggle of the original inhabitants and teachers of that province, to the teacher from Jujuy who with her lead-contaminated students has managed to close the mine, even at the cost of her having to being admitted to intensive care due to their deplorable state of health are examples of resistance and it is enough to observe the different popular and scientific groups that denounce the damages of these farms throughout the country.

He faces an enemy who is very clear about his objectives: for this reason they use repression in Catamarca, threats to Neuquén teachers who denounce pollution, subsidies to universities to “focus” their research and associations with political power. For example, in San Juan, the Gioja family, whose three brothers are governor, deputy and national senator, are owners of the company “Emprendimientos Mineros de Santa Gema”, a historical supplier to Barrick Gold mining company.


The damages of mining activity

We have pointed out that mining does not produce economic benefits for the country, since they only pay a mining fee of up to 3% and are exempt from almost all taxes, including the benefit of importing without paying any type of tariff.

But if it causes serious damage to the country, its inhabitants, its environment and future generations, of which we will detail some:

a) It expels labor: one of the arguments used by mining corporations and their defenders is that mines generate work, occupy labor, but international experience indicates that mining activity is capital intensive and labor-reduced and that the personnel who are expelled from the original economic activity due to the introduction of mining is superior to those who go to work in the mines. The largest mine to be installed, Pascua Lama, promises 1,500 jobs, most of which are not native to the place;

b) violates the National Constitution, especially subsection 17 of Article 75, which recognizes the possession and community property of the original populations; Environmental pollution is extremely high, as a result of the intensive use of mercury and cyanide, low degradation toxins that ruin water courses and groundwater, together with the so-called acid mine drainage caused by the sulfur in the rocks that, transformed into sulfuric acid, ends up polluting the environment causing irreparable damage. And the deposit of pollutants and toxic waste does not offer any security because we are in an area with great seismic activity that would cause disasters if it destroys the toxic containers. (This last week there was an earthquake of medium intensity in the area of ​​Pascua Lama) As the Diocese of Bariloche says (document of 08-18-2004) "where there was a mine a source of toxic diffusion is created that will last for centuries" ;

c) water use: the mining system requires the use of a spectacular amount of fresh water. Only for the Pascua Lama mine it is estimated that between 200 and 600 meters per second will be required, a liquid that will be contaminated by mercury, cyanide and sulfuric acid. The discussion about the intensive use of water takes place in an arid area like San Juan, where only the eternal snows and the waters that come from the thaw allow the development of life. It is interesting to observe that the Bajo La Lumbrera mine in Catamarca pollutes even the waters of the province of Tucumán, according to the study carried out by the National University of Tucumán, coincidentally the only one that does not receive gifts from the mining company Yacimientos Mineros Aguas del Dionisio;

d) the dust in suspension expands throughout the territory related to the mine causing bronchopulmonary diseases as has been historically demonstrated.

Of course, none of this appears in the environmental impact studies carried out by the mining companies and approved by the governments of the moment, but when society can intervene in these reports, they are questioned and even rejected by the courts, as in the cases of the justice from Tucumán and Neuquén, although the powerful arm of the mining companies will never be lacking to redress their approval.

And now comes the big one

In the Menem decade, the framework for the exploitation of the largest mine in this part of the continent begins: Pascua Lama, located in the mountain range at 4500 meters above sea level, straddling Chile and our country. Thinking about it, the Mining Integration and Complementation Treaty (December 1997), the Complementary Protocol (August 1999) approved by Law 25243 (March 2000), already under the Alliance government, is signed between these countries. With these rules, the Canadian mining company appears as the only candidate to exploit it. Barrick Gold, whose president at that time was imprisoned in the United States for arms trafficking, while George Bush (father) participates in its International Advisory Committee as a qualified member who came on an unofficial visit to our country when Barrick was hired. .

While patiently awaiting the approval of all the documents for this unprecedented exploitation - there is no binational mining exploitation in the world - Barrick had bitter experiences in our southern Patagonia and its development in the province of Los Gioja with the Veladero mine, located at only 10 km from the future farm.

Barrick said months ago that it should start operating in September 2009 and pushed hard in this regard. Meetings at the end of last year, which had no journalistic repercussion except by alternative or regional media, were polishing the details, until in mid-April 2009 President Cristina Fernández, the San Juan governor Gioja, the president of Barrick, Peter Punk, the same one who paid the bail for the crimes of the previous president of the company, and his representative in Pascua Lama, Aaron Regent. A meeting of these characteristics was repeated in Santiago de Chile. And on April 29, 2009 the last agreement between the two countries was signed: the agreement on taxation, also called the assurance that Barrick will not be bothered with taxes and other trifles such as contraband of things or people.

Now the president of the mining company can say that he will begin work in September 2009 although, as the devil always puts his tail in, the parliamentary ratification of this latest tax pact should still be awaited.

None of the above surprises us, since we have already witnessed the presidential veto of the Glaciares law, which had been unanimously approved by both chambers of parliament. Nothing surprises us knowing that in the Pascua Lama mining project there are at least three glaciers - eternal ice - that must be destroyed to extract the gold and silver they have inside.

In case there are any future difficulties, Barrick has just appointed the former (?) CIA spy, Frank Holder, for “market studies, lobbying and social reaction”, according to Clarín (May 3, 2009).

Pedro Resels


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