Something smells bad in the province of Chubut: the economic and social outlook is bleak. And the federal country, the real one, would do well to attend to it.
“Chubut is shielded from the media, especially with regard to mega-mining and the fight for water in which we are engaged, note that the only large river that remains is in danger of contamination due to the ambition of a few”, report colleagues who request anonymity . “Not a week goes by without there being mobilizations, threats and acts of violence, because there are very strong interests oppressing the population and, on top of that, active and retired public employees are owed two months’ salary and a half June bonus, and now they are adds a third month and a half December Christmas bonus. It’s maddening and the country doesn’t even know about it. ”
There are also complaints of police procedures against leaders and militants opposed to the attempt to validate the mega-mining promoted by Governor Mariano Arcioni. “In the face of which we are very alone, fighting against powerful mining companies and an increasingly authoritarian provincial government.”
Of course, what happens in Chubut is not different from what happens in other provinces. If only three or four decades ago the traditional Andean folklore spoke of the beauty of the landscapes, the pure air and the crystal clear waters, today all that no longer exists. In Catamarca everything is contaminated by Aguas de Dionisio, the mega-company that through Glencore (the same one that is a partner of the Bajo la Alumbrera mine through Agua Rica, and is also the main partner of Renova, a company that in turn participates in Vicentin, and is one of the main exporters of soybean oil in the world) exploits that gold and copper extracting megamine that, according to economists and geologists from the National University of Tucumán -– which was the one who discovered the deposit–- nobody knows how much They earn because they extract their extractions by affidavit, so you never know how much they extract or how much they actually export.
But it is known what the 10 mines that extract gold from Argentine territory by foreign trade declare, according to the Indec Report of the Exporting Complexes: about 62 tons of pure gold per year. That is, 62,000 kilos of gold. And among them is also Veladero, in the province of San Juan, a Canadian-Australian-Chinese mega-company that is considered one of the 10 largest gold mines in the world.
Nobody really knows how much they extract or how much they sell. All are operated by foreign companies, although in some cases provincial governments participate. Thanks to the constitutional reform of 1994, which gave the subsoil management to the provinces, they do what they want. They do not control anything, they accept the affidavits of what is said to be sold, there is no inspection or contamination is controlled. Thus, in the case of Catamarca it has been said that there are 39 hyper-powerful families. Very rich, but in an increasingly poor province.
If there is political will, the paraphernalia of norms and decrees that are functional to these realities should be reviewed. Starting by not allowing exports to be declared by affidavit, but with true and exhaustive Customs control.
In the province of San Juan is Veladero, another of the 10 largest mines in the world and whose owners are the Canadian Barrick Gold Corp and the Chinese Shandong Gold in equal parts. And they also wanted to do mega-mining in Famatina, but the people of La Rioja did not allow it. Water consumption in Andalgalá, which has 15,000 inhabitants, is one and a half million liters of water per day. Furthermore, this activity produces irreversible destruction of ecosystems; contamination of water sources, dangerous inputs and effluents, affectation of flora, fauna, habitat, landscape, loss of biodiversity, degradation of minimal socio-environmental conditions for life in general. It was Menem’s mining law that removed the National State from control of the subsoil. And he handed over that wealth to the weak negotiating capacity of impoverished provinces and easily corrupted leaderships.
The province of Chubut is currently exposed to similar pressures, although its case is more paradoxical because in the 1980s, and until 1996, there was what was known as “Gastre’s Antinuclear Epic”, arising from a project of The CNEA, which promoted the installation of a nuclear garbage dump in Gastre, a small town in the central plateau of Chubut. The idea was to bury the radioactive waste from the two nuclear power plants that Argentina had at that time (Embalse from Cordoba and Atucha from Buenos Aires) , a matter that was discussed arduously. Until the unspeakable government of Carlos Menem It was also proposed to import nuclear waste from European nuclear power plants, hyper-contaminated waste that would cross the Atlantic and be deposited in the heart of Patagonia.
The popular reaction was so extraordinarily massive that it ended up stopping that delusional idea, and from then on the environmental awareness of the Chubut people was strengthened. That they had to fight another fight in 2002, when in the eastern province of Esquel the community of Esquel restrained with great determination the exploitation of gold and silver in the mountainous area, as the Minera el Desquite (of the Canadian multinational Meridian Gold) intended. Although they had been exploring for three years, neighbors and academics from the National University of Patagonia became aware of the malicious information from the company and the provincial government. Large neighborhood assemblies unanimously pronounced NO TO THE MINE. And so in Chubut Law 5001 was enacted in 2003, which prohibited all open-pit metal mining activity, as well as the use of cyanide.
But since the devil always puts his tail in, as they say, starting in 2016 when macrismo enabled the indebtedness of the provinces with foreign creditors, the then governor Mario Das Neves issued a bond for 650 million dollars to “order the provincial accounts and invest in public works “. Which did not happen, and since 2018 and as the salary and social crisis worsened, the new and current governor, Mariano Arcioni, once defender of Law 5001, changed his posture. And last November 20 he presented in the Provincial Legislature a project of “Metal Mining Industrial Development”, that under the pretext of “rezoning“ will allow “exceptions “to prohibition of that law. Of course, for the benefit of exploitation in the Chubut plateau, where it is common knowledge that the transnational Panamerican Silver is already operating, which extracts silver, lead and copper in the open pit.
From Chubut union tables, and teaching unions, it is already reasonably demanded “to stop the payment of the external debt taken by the Das Neves government in 2016, and to carry out an audit, because it is not known where the money went”.
At some point, the National Congress will have to pass a law of absolute prohibition of Mega-mining, Fracking and activities that waste water and also pollute. Hopefully with all urgency.