Provincial legislature of Chubut, Argentina votes to allow open-pit mining after two-decades of broad community opposition
On December 15, the Chubut provincial legislature, in a surprise session and ignoring citizen demands, voted to allow open-pit mining to take place in the Patagonian region of Argentina.
Pushed through amidst concerns about corruption and Canadian mining lobbying, the legislature voted 14 to 11 in favour of a mine zoning bill (bill 128/20) that allows open-pit mining in the plateau of the province, in the departments of Telsen and Gastre. Communities immediately marched peacefully and have since faced police repression, including multiple arrests and the firing of rubber bullets.
For years, the Indigenous Mapuche-Tehuelche people and popular assemblies around the province with the support of the scientific community of Chubut have organized to protect their lands and waters from open-pit mining, succeeding in 2003 in getting the practice banned in the entire province. But that hasn’t stopped Canadian companies like Pan American Silver and Yamana Gold from acquiring projects in the province and lobbying for a change to the very popular law.
The mining lobby has been highly active throughout the pandemic, motivating the Mapuche-Tehuelche to file an amparo in May against the mine zoning bill 128/20 for doing so in violation of their self-determination and without their free, prior and informed consent. This right is enshrined in Convention 169 of the International Labour Organization, which Argentina has ratified. The same month, 30,000 residents of Chubut – more than double the number required by law – signed a petition demanding the legislature approve a “Popular Initiative” that would expand and complement environmental protections banning open-pit mining, by prohibiting all large-scale metalliferous mining activity at every stage of the process, including prospection and exploration.
This initiative could have had significant consequences for Pan American Silver, who acquired the Navidad silver project in 2010 knowing that unless local mining law was overturned, the mine would never be built. Suggesting that the company would play an active role toward this end, founder Ross Beaty said of the project in 2020, “The deposit is perfect for us and at some point, they’re going to change the law and allow open-pit mining.”
According to the Revista Cítrica, Pan American Silver spent $30 million in the province of Chubut between 2013 and 2019 – a time when mining activity was banned. “What did the company spend it on?” the independent local media asks. “The answer lies in yesterday’s vote in the Chubut legislature.”
As could be anticipated, the law’s passage to impose industry interests in the province has led to social unrest that the state is responding to with police repression. This has included night raids and arbitrary arrests. Local media have so far reported 7 arrests and more than 30 people injured.
Last year, when there was a similar threat that the province might pass the rezoning bill to allow for open-pit mining, several international organizations signed an open letter to the communities and organizations of Chubut to express solidarity and denounce the lobbying efforts of Canadian companies.
One year later, we, the undersigned organizations, express our solidarity with the communities of Chubut once again.
We continue to lift up the calls of the Union of Assemblies of the Communities of Chubut, the Indigenous Mapuche-Tehuelche communities, and others organized in the province, to respect the people’s will in their fight to protect land, water and life from mega mining. They are not Sacrifice Zones.
We demand the immediate repeal of the mine zoning law and respect for the rights to self-determination for the Mapuche-Tehuelche people and the citizens of Chubut.
We condemn the police repression of the legitimate protests of the people of Chubut against this unwanted law that is a clear outcome of the lobbying of Pan American Silver and Yamana Gold and of the actions of a handful of legislators willing to impose their interests on the people of Chubut.
We denounce Pan American Silver for using its economic and political influence to overturn the hard fought for mining ban which is leading to unrest and repression.
We call on the Canadian government and the Embassy in Argentina to end its silence with regard to the massive protests and to make a public statement on social media condemning the disproportionate use of force in Trelew and Rawson by the provincial government of Chubut, which are a direct outcome of the greedy behaviour of Canadian mining companies such as Pan AMerican Silver to lobby for such a legislative change in the province.
Statements by community members:
Statement from Iván Paillalaf of the Mapuche – Tehuelche community of Laguna Fría Chacay Oeste and the Union of Community Assemblies of Chubut, Argentina
Statement from Cristina Aguero of No A La Mina Esquel
- Acción Colectiva Socioambiental, A.C., Mexico
- Alyansa Tigil Mina (ATM), Philippines
- Atlantic Regional Solidarity Network (ARSN), Canada
- Asociación por la Protección de la Tierra y el Bienestar de Epazoyucan (APTyBE), Mexico
- Bios Iguana A.C, México
- CoDevelopment Canada (CoDev)
- Comité pour les droits humains en Amérique latine (CDHAL)
- Coromandel Watchdog of Hauraki Aotearoa New Zealand
- Defensa y Conservación Ecológica de Intag (DECOIN) – Ecuador
- Earthworks – United States
- Federación de Organizaciones Indígenas y campesinas del Azuay / FOA- Ecuador
- Frente Popular en Defensa del Soconusco, Chiapas, México.
- Geocomunes, Mexico
- Grandmothers Advocacy Network (GRAN), Canada
- Institute for Policy Studies – Global Economy Program – United States
- Labor Network for Sustainability – Voices for a Sustainable Future – United States
- Maritimes-Guatemala Breaking the Silence Network (BTS) – Canada
- Mexican Network of Mining Affected People / Red Mexicana de Afectadas/os por la Minería (REMA)
- Mining Injustice Solidarity Network (MISN) – Canada
- Mining Justice Alliance (Vancouver – Unceded Coast Salish Territories) – Canada
- MiningWatch Canada
- Mining Justice Action Committee (MJAC) – Victoria, Canada
- Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala (NISGUA) – United States
- Observatorio Plurinacional de Salares Andinos (OPSAL) – Chile
- Projet Accompagnement Québec – Guatemala (PAQG) – Canada
- Salva la Selva/ Rettet den Regenwald / Rainforest Rescue
- Sisters of Mercy of the Americas – Justice Team, Washington, D.C – United States
- Somos Abya Yala
- Somos Agua- Ecuador
- TerraJusta – Bolivia
- Putaendo Resiste – Chile
- Red Muqui – Perú