On May 9-11, Latin American and Canadian social and environmental activists, economists, and academics came together at York University in Toronto to set out a series of challenges for the mining industry and governments alike on the eve of a major industry conference.
"We wanted to provide an opportunity to examine the activities of Canadian mining companies in Latin America, and Canadian government policy, in the context of economic globalisation and the revindication of community rights in a changing world context," said Viviana Patroni, Director of CERLAC.
CERLAC, the Centre for Research on Latin America and the Caribbean at York University, together with MiningWatch Canada, organised the conference "Canadian Mining Companies in Latin America: Community Rights and Corporate Responsibility" at York University to coincide with the mining industry's "Resourcing the Future" conference in Toronto. The conference was supported by several departments and centres at York University as well as the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), the Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA), and the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW).
Key issues included the role of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in privatising resources and creating favourable conditions for transnational mining companies, at the expense of national sovereignty as well as labour and environmental protection, and the involvement of the Canadian government (including the Canadian International Development Agency, CIDA) in supporting these efforts. Speakers discussed the economic, social, and environmental costs of large-scale mines, and challenged the industry to deal fairly and honestly with the communities affected by their proposals and activities.The fundamental right of communities to decide their own course of development - to say "no" to mining if that is their decision - was a central theme.
One of the strongest presentations was that of Francisco Ojeda Riofrío, of the Front for the Defence of Tambogrande. The municipality of Tambogrande was in the process of setting up a plebescite for people to decide whether they wanted mining or agriculture to be the future of their region. In the June 2 vote, 97% of the population voted for agriculture and against mining, with a 70% turnout. Manhattan Minerals, who wants to mine under the village of Tambogrande and the Peruvian Minister of Mines have so far refused to accept the validity of the vote.
The "Resourcing the Future" conference was aimed at setting an industry-driven agenda for the United Nations' World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg at the end of August, and was originally to include the presentation of the results of a one-year research project entitled "Mines, Minerals, and Sustainable Development (MMSD)."
See our analysis of the industry's attempts to set the agenda for the Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) conference in Newsletter #8.
Following the conference, visitors from Chile, Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, and Mexico took advantage of the opportunity to travel to Ottawa to meet with non-governmental organisations as well as IDRC, the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, and Export Development Canada™.