The unfinished Pascua Lama gold and silver mine high in the Andes on the Chilean-Argentine border continues to bring problems for Toronto-based Barrick Gold Corp. The multinational has announced a loss of $8.56 billion for the second quarter of this year, largely because of a $5.1 billion write-down of the mine's value. The $8.5 billion project is stalled because of environmental concerns and legal actions in Chile. Suspension of construction at the mine coincided with a record 23% drop in international gold prices from April through June.
Chilean judge Mario Carroza on Aug. 5 rejected a request by human rights lawyer Eduardo Contreras to prosecute former general Fernando Matthei for murder. Matthei oversaw the military facility where Gen. Alberto Bachelet was tortured to death in 1973 after Bachelet refused to support the military coup lead by Augusto Pinochet. Contreras has attempted to bring charges against Matthei before and argued that new evidence has come to light which shows that Matthei was aware of Banchelet's death. However, Carroza ruled that there were insufficient grounds to prosecute. Contreras frequently represents families who were victimized during Pinochet's regime and has stated his intention to appeal the decision. Both of the generals' daughters, Evelyn Matthei and Michelle Bachelet, are opponents in the upcoming Chilean presidential election.
The UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism on July 29 urged Chilean authorities to refrain from applying anti-terrorism legislation that directly impacts the Mapuche indigenous people. Special Rapporteur Ben Emmerson made his first official visit to Chile, finding that "the anti-terrorism legislation has been disproportionately and unfairly applied against Mapuche defendants, and has been implemented without a coherent policy for distinguishing those cases that meet the threshold test for an act of terrorism and those that do not." Referring to Chile's 1984 anti-terrorism law, Emmerson addressed the impact that the law has on indigenous land protests. His statement stressed the need for an end to impunity for the crimes committed during violent land protests, adding that the victims of such violence should also have their rights adequately protected.
Indigenous communities in Arauco province in Chile's central Biobío region have announced plans for a march on Aug. 2 to protest a proposal before the National Congress to extend Forestry Decree 701 for another 20 years. Community residents, who belong to the Mapuche group, Chile's largest ethnicity, say the forestry laws have allowed timber companies to take over traditional Mapuche lands starting in 1974 under the 1973-1990 dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet. The most important of these companies are Arauco (Celulosa Arauco y Constitución), largely owned by the Angelini family, and Forestal Mininco, controlled by the Matte family. According to Mapuche activists, there is little chance that the forestry proposal will be defeated, since many of the congressional candidates from Mapuche areas in the upcoming Nov. 17 elections are being financed by these two powerful families. (El Cuidadano, Chile, July 27)
July 22 was declared a Global Day of Action Against Mega-Mining, with protests held throughout the Andean nations under the banner "No to mining, yes to life." Among the most significant actions was a mobilization by local campesinos on the site of the Conga gold mining project in Peru's Cajamarca region, which was occupied by protesters carrying their giant green-woven Mother Earth flag. In Argentina, protests were reported from the mining-impacted regions of Chubut, Catamarca and Mendoza, with a solidarity march in Buenos Aires. (La Republica, Lima, Terra, Argentina, July 22) In the far south of Chile, the local Austral Defense Front marched in Punta Arenas to protest open-pit coal mining on nearby Riesco Island. (Radio Popular, Punta Arenas, July 22) In Maipú, on the outskirts of Santiago, residents marched to demand closure of the open-pit mine at Quebrada de la Plata they say is contaminating local drinking water. (Diario UChile, July 24)
On July 14 the three-member Appeals Court of Copiapó province in Chile's northern Atacama region unanimously upheld its April 10 order suspending work at Toronto-based Barrick Gold Corporation's Pascua Lama mine until the company has adopted measures to repair current damage to the environment and to prevent further damage in the future. The court found that in its responses to the previous order the company "repeatedly" displayed "an obstinate attitude" and that it "doesn't provide information on time and in proper form." Pascua Lama is an open-pit gold, silver and copper mine under construction in the Andes on both sides of the border between Argentina and Chile. Five indigenous Diaguita communities had filed a complaint against the mine, charging that the construction had damaged glaciers near the site that provide water for area residents. The mine is also subject to a May 24 suspension ordered by Chile's environmental regulator, Juan Carlos Monckeberg. (Associated Press, July 15, via Terra, Peru)
More than 100,000 Chileans marched in Santiago on June 26 in the latest massive demonstration for a system of free secondary and higher education to replace the heavily privatized system created under the 1973-1990 military dictatorship. There were similar protests in cities throughout the country, along with walkouts by port workers in support of the students' demands. In addition to high school and university students, the march drew port workers, teachers, copper miners and municipal health workers.
On May 24 Chile's environmental regulator, Juan Carlos Monckeberg, ordered a suspension of construction at the Toronto-based Barrick Gold Corporation's giant Pascua Lama mine because of violations of environmental laws. He also fined the company $16 million, the largest penalty Chile has ever imposed for an environmental violation. Monckeberg told the Reuters wire service on May 30 that the company would probably require one to two years to make the repairs that would allow it to resume construction.