Blog Entry

Open Letter to Chilean President Ricardo Lagos Opposing Approval of Pascua Lama Project

Jamie Kneen

National Program Co-Lead

Mr. President
Ricardo Lagos E.
La Moneda,
Santiago, Chile.

Your Excellency,

The hereafter signatory organisations write to inform you of their total support for the content of the letter sent last year by diverse Chilean organisations, including 18,000 signatures which endorsed the great preoccupation raised by the possibility of your government’s approval of the Pascua Lama mining project. Its eventual approval - in spite of the growing opposition to this project in Chile and worldwide, is still worrying us today.

The Pascua Lama conflict puts on one side the interests of a great mining transnational corporation, and on the other the immediate interests of the inhabitants of the whole Huasco river system and those of Chile as a sovereign nation. Direct threats to basic needs of the affected population are such as their traditional access to a natural resource - water - that is locally very scarce, and it would affect the available water flow and its quality. Another threat is the possibility of writing-off an outstanding ownership dispute involving an autochthonous Diaguita community with a third party which sold their contested rights to the mining transnational. According to all the affected parties the mining company has not, as yet, provided any factual and convincing explanations to their complaints. In contrast, governmental organisations that are mandated to safeguard local and national interests, have acted condescendingly when confronted with complaints against the mining investors. It is a major concern that this conflict never prompted a national debate on this issue, and that what might be interpreted as government service’s indifference and lack of conviction might quickly generate similar requests from transnational corporations.

Little comfort comes from the fact that the nation still does not have detailed information concerning the expected benefits from gold mine operations in the region of Coquimbo (“El Indio” gold mine), that lasted for more than 10 years and were also exploited by Barrick Gold. What was the social, economic and environmental outcome shown in balance sheets for this mining project? And what political lessons were learnt to ensure good mining practices in future leases of national resources? Publication of full reports - including at least the former above mentioned details - should be compulsory for all foreign companies whose leases come to an end.

Chileans are conscious of their complex and pernicious recent historical past, which during the dictatorship allowed the privatisation of the large and vital state owned sector of the economy. This was an infamous plunder of national resources only made possible thanks to lack of institutional controls and on account of a vicious regime in power, wielding brutal repression that excluded citizen consultation. It is to be hoped that sooner rather than later in-depth studies should be initiated in order to reveal all the irregularities that allowed an expedient privatisation. Their results should identify both the instigators and the plunderers, and effective measures should also be proposed to repair the damages inflicted upon the nation.

Democratic governments cannot but practice the "Never Again" motto and abide with the national aspiration that demand political transparency and consistency with civic behaviour during negotiations of projects that concern the nation’s future. Nevertheless numerous legal initiatives have been proposed and approved without adequate consultation in spite of their deep social repercussion. Mention can be made here of some such initiatives related to the Pascua-Lama project: the mining Treaty Argentina - Chile, the mining code, the water code, the tributary reform that favour foreign mining corporations interests, among others. These legal instruments are impregnated by an unscrupulous social vision, where the interests of the common citizen and the small businessman are left defenceless, where the necessary environmental protection as far as rational use of national resource is abdicated, but where maximum of guarantees are conceded to large capital owners and to foreign interests. These instruments, even though some may claim them to be legal, this does not stop them from being illegitimate. In line with our best efforts to repeal the perverse legacy left by the dictatorship, it becomes a must to recognise and to correct all our errors and omissions that have been committed since 1990, because this is the only possible way to forge the new democratic Chile whose government will stand for the benefit of us all.

If we are to look towards the future, especially now that our second centenary as a nation is close at hand, we must insist that our future projects should forge a new society that is centred in our people’s needs and feelings, a society filled with human values that include solidarity and provides ample opportunity to participate. The economic growth of a country must be one of its means to fulfil such aspirations, and as far as possible in ample collaboration with neighbouring nations and friendly countries who share these goals with us. But people cannot be considered as a mere factor that is at the service of the economy; the opposite is true, it is the economy that must always at the service of the community.

And this brings us to ponder about the problem of foreign investments. The usual predicament of people in government is to insist on the great need to welcome foreign investment, even to accept sacrifices in order to retain them or to increase them. There is little doubt that to a certain extent such investment might be necessary, but that does not imply that governments should resign their role to supervise these concessions and to enforce the essential protection of the citizens’ interests. The State must not only supervise these concessions but must also have all the elements at their disposal to evaluate the expected benefits that such investments should leave, as well as to assess possible damages that these activities might cause and seek just compensation. Without a clear and strict policy concerning these undertakings, and adequate means to enforce it, we run the risk to fall victim of the voracity of the great corporations.

Mr. President, consequent with the set of arguments stated above we support the request to reject the Pascua Lama project as it stands at present. It is essential to undertake immediately an exhaustive study of all mechanisms and negotiations that allowed this project request to reach up to this decisive negotiation stage without adequate consultation of the affected community. Our position does not exclude that this mine deposit could be exploited in the future, but only if the community is provided access to results of adequate and impartial studies which are made public. And, furthermore, that such studies demonstrate that this project will be a benefit for the nation, will cause no damage for the local producers and inhabitants, and that it will respect ecological regulations set by Chile to protect its environment and its people.

Trusting in your commitment with all Chileans and your proficiency as a statesman, the organisations thank you for the consideration you may offer to their request to reject this project, and sign accordingly.

Yours truly

Gerardo Aiquel (Grupo de Trabajo –Campaña Oposición al Proyecto Pascua Lama) e-mail: [email protected]
15, Rue de Castelnau O, Montréal, Québec H2R 2W3, Canada


Canadian organisations

  • Association Québécoise des organismes de solidarité internationale (AQOCI)
  • Centre de femmes d’Ici et d’Ailleurs (Montréal)
  • Consejo central de Montréal métropolitano (CCMM-CSN)
  • Fédération des femmes du Québec
  • Fundación Bolivariana de Canada (FBC) Daniel Araujo
  • L’Entraide missionnaire (Montréal)
  • MiningWatch Canada
  • NGO-VIDAU ; Vida autonóma, Cooperación y Desarrollo
  • Québec Solidaire
  • Sindicato CSN construcción (Montréal)
  • Social Justice Committee (Montréal)
  • SUCO (Montréal)

Chilean-canadian organisations

  • Asociación Cultural Araucaria (Montréal)
  • Asociación de chilenos de Montréal (Montréal)
  • Casa Salvador Allende (Toronto)
  • Centro Cultural Pablo Neruda (Québec)
  • Comité Chileno por los Derechos Humanos de Montréal
  • Comité de Solidaridad Internacional (Montréal)
  • Grupo de Trabajo –Campaña Oposición al Proyecto Pascua Lama
  • Profesionales, técnicos y artistas chilenos (PROTACH) Montréal
  • Proyecto Cultural Sur (Montréal