Barrick Gold shames Canada in Argentina

I just happened across this video (in Spanish) today. It was so shocking that I had to view it twice to be sure I had heard everything correctly:

This is Part I of the report, called “Glaciers: The First Veto”. It’s from an Argentine news show called “Telenoche Investigates”, which aired on December 17. In it, we see how vital the Andean glaciers are to Argentina, and how fragile they are in turn, thanks to global warming. These glaciers are not just a pretty white patch of ice on top of mountains; they’re a source of water to lands that would otherwise be desert. Thanks to these glaciers, the western regions of Argentina can be irrigated and farmed. The wines of Mendoza, in particular, depend on the glaciers; without them, no grapes would grow. Local people depend heavily on these glaciers for their well-being. And because of the variability of snowfalls–heavy some years, light in others–Argentine climatologists, agronomists and geophysicists all monitor the glaciers very closely. Whatever happens to the glaciers affects everybody and everything for hundreds of miles downstream. For some, it is literally the difference between survival and death.

For this reason, the Argentine parliament unanimously voted to protect the glaciers in 2008. Both houses passed a radical bill that would declare the glaciers and nearby mountain areas off limits to mining. Yet the bill was vetoed at the highest level by President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. What happened?

A powerful mining firm, based out of Toronto, is responsible for the veto. Barrick Gold, one of the largest gold miners in the world, pressured President Fernández to veto the anti-mining law. They saw two regions near the Chile-Argentina border, Veladero and Pascua-Lama, which were simply too full of gold and silver to resist. Never mind that local citizen power had previously forced Barrick to abandon a planned Argentine mine project in La Rioja province. Never mind that these regions are ecologically sensitive, being located near the Guanaco Glacier (and several other, smaller ones). Never mind that several regional governors protested the high risk of water pollution and glacier depletion. Barrick wanted to mine, and Barrick got its way. It overrode the Argentine senate and house of deputies, not to mention the will of an entire people, and essentially stuck the president in its vest pocket. And to make sure that no pesky ministers tripped them up, they sent out thugs to threaten a former minister of the environment. Romina Picolotti, who was expelled from the government, tells how she received death threats, and threats against her children. Whom does she blame for these mysterious menaces? Who else but Barrick. The threats followed hot on the heels of her denunciations of Barrick’s polluting activities in the Argentine parliament!

But Picolotti has addressed another parliament as well, one with the power to leash Barrick if it wanted to. The Canadian government has been receiving wave after wave of complaints, and not just from Argentina. Canadians are well aware of what Barrick is doing, and are indignant that it is being allowed to continue using our money to fund these projects which not only endanger the very existence of sensitive Andean glaciers, but also to pollute important watersheds with cyanide solution (the waste products of gold extraction; you can read more about that process here.) Canadians know that this probably wouldn’t have been allowed here (for obvious reasons), so why in Argentina? And why would one company’s bottom line be more important than the well-being of the citizens not only of Argentina, but in the case of the Pascua-Lama project, neighboring Chile as well?

Barrick would no doubt argue that its projects generate jobs and income, and while that may be true for a few, the majority of those adversely affected by its operations see no benefit whatsoever from the gold mines. To be frank, Barrick just does does not have the power that the glaciers do to sustain people’s lives. The majority get nothing from Barrick’s presence in the region. They receive no jobs, no housing, no income and no social programs. Barrick doesn’t feed, clothe or house them, nor does it provide them doctors, nor does it send their children (the same whom they threatened, in the case of former environment minister Picolotti) to school. They probably wouldn’t receive any compensation if worse came to worst, either, and one of the dams holding the cyanide pools were to rupture, spilling its highly toxic contents into local rivers and groundwater aquifers. Most likely, the Barrick projects in Argentina would enjoy the same impunity as Union Carbide did in Bhopal, India during the 1980s.

After all, they know how to corrupt a government and bend it to their will.

The second installment of this program will appear here tomorrow.

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2 Responses to Barrick Gold shames Canada in Argentina

  1. Jim Hadstate says:

    What is it with Canada and gold mining companies. I am working on a piece for my blog about a bastard company called Pacific Rim. I see where Harpo (y’know, it almost seems a shame to call him that. Poor Harpo Marx is probably turning back flips in his grave) decided democracy was getting too inconvenient again and shut down Parliament. Hopefully soon the other Canucks will get their heads on straight and vote in a majority so big that he can’t do anything about it.

  2. Well, we’d sure like to, and if the Coalition were still alive, we’d have one now. Harpo has just prorogued Parliament for the second time in twelve months, and this time he didn’t even ask the Governor-General; he just flat fucking TOLD her he was gonna, and she didn’t say boo.
    What we have to vote for isn’t terribly inspiring, either. Iggy basically killed the Coalition, but he still rules the Liberals, even though he wasn’t elected to the post. And he’s very nearly as bad as Harpo on everything.
    No, I don’t understand it either.

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