On June 22, the Union of the Assemblies of the Communities of Chubut, Argentina (UACCH) officially launched its second “Popular Initiative” campaign, #NosDebenUnaLey (“they owe us a law”) to collect signatures from residents of the province to present a law which would protect water and the environment from the devastating impacts of industrial mining. This campaign marks over 17 years of organized resistance to protect water and the environment in the southern province.
The launch, which involved coordinated actions across the province, was felt in towns and communities, as well as internationally, as many assemblies posted emotional videos of their respective launches and actions on social media.
The draft bill notes its central objective as “guaranteeing that the mining industry is compliant with preventative environmental principles that are also precautionary, sustainable and equitably intergenerational,” to:
- guarantee the rational and sustainable use of national resources;
- protect hydrological resources;
- maintain the equilibrium and dynamics of ecological systems;
- ensure biological conservation;
- prevent harmful or dangerous impacts that anthropogenic activities create in the environment;
- facilitate sustainable, economic and social development;
- minimize environmental risk;
- prevent the possibility of environmental emergencies; and
- remediate the environmental impact that has been caused to date.
Three Canadian mining companies are called out in the statement for their clientelist relationships with members of the communities affected by their mining projects who, despite years of trying to ensure legislative change to permit the further development, “have not been successful in overturning the rejection of the mining projects and the constant increase of communities who are conscious that this is not a pathway towards provincial growth.”
Pan American Silver (PAS) and Yamana Gold were criticized in 2019 for pressuring members of the provincial legislative assembly to modify Law 5001, which currently bans open-pit mining and the use of toxic substances like cyanide in mineral processing.
Law 5001 was in effect when PAS took over the Navidad project in Chubut from Aquiline Resources in 2009. It makes any further development of the project illegal and has meant that further development of the project has been stalled since 2012, when the company wrote down the asset. The company has continued to pump money into community relations efforts in the hope of modifying or overturning legislation.
The translated English version of the statement is below.
THE SECOND POPULAR INITIATIVE IN CHUBUT
Because they still owe us a law
The province of Chubut has a law which protects it from the havoc that large-scale mining produces. This law, sanctioned in 2003 as Law 5001 and now denominated XVII-Nº 68, prohibits open-pit mining and the use of cyanide for the extraction of minerals.
For this reason, in 2012, the neighbourhood assemblies of the communities in Chubut opposed to mining (UACCH in Spanish) proposed a push for legislation which would amplify the environmental protections of Law 5001. We decided to use a semi-direct democratic mechanism established in the provincial constitution, called the Popular Initiative.
Thanks to the arduous work of the assemblies that make up the UACCH, we were able to present a draft bill to the provincial legislature in May, 2014, to establish sustainable environmental parameters for mineral exploitation, accompanied by 13,007 signatures. The legislative deputies stalled the process until its last possible day of debate, and on November 25th, 2014, they committed “legislative fraud”, twisting the will of the people and approving a transformed Mining Law, with 15 votes in favour – a law that they had developed during the legislative session.
We were indignant, and requested that the session be nullified by a judicial review. The appeal was grounded in the fact that the essence of the bill was not respected, and that it was publicly known that the legislators had been influenced by the mining companies. The latter was made evident by a series of photographs that revealed text messages being exchanged between Deputy Muñiz and Gastón Berardi, Yamana Gold’s manager, during a legislative sitting.
The justice system did not nullify the session, and the legislature considered the bill to have been dealt with. Nevertheless, the new law, which dishonoured the role of our representatives in the face of this public scandal, was never applied, and was eventually repealed a year later. In this way we were robbed of our democratic participation in the first-ever application of the Popular Initiative.
The members of the UACCH have never given up, and we have continued to claim that they still owe us a law: a law based on environmental principles that are preventative, precautionary, and intergenerationally sustainable and equitable – principles that will guarantee the present and the future, that will prevent the collapse of natural systems, and that will change the anthropogenic orientation of human activity and place us in balance with all the other beings that inhabit the planet.
Human stupidity has brought on the pandemic that we are facing, stupidity that is rooted in the endless ambition of the powerful. They should instead be reflecting on how their conduct is quickly leading us to more voracious extractivism. Argentina has suspended all activities in the name of coronavirus prevention, but has given free rein to deforestation, fracking, and large-scale mining.
We are the people, those from the territory that is suffering and exhausted, those who are crushed by political-economic power that is leaving us without access to the most vital of elements: water. We are struggling for a law that guarantees water for all people in Chubut, but also to demonstrate to those in power and to business interests that metal mining in Chubut does not have social licence.
The social licence to operate is an indispensable prerequisite for the development of resource projects and is conditional on the approval and acceptance of the communities. Companies will find it useless to utilise mechanisms of social participation in projects of a type known worldwide for the ravages it produces and that do not have real guarantees of sustainability.
For their part, companies have been using corporate social responsibility as a tool to buy goodwill and garner a sort of clientelism. This mechanism, used by Meridian Gold, Yamana Gold, and Pan American Silver, has not been successful in overturning the public’s rejection of mining projects and the constant increase of communities who are conscious that this is not a pathway towards provincial growth. Moreover, these communities understand their surroundings and are placing their bets on economic alternatives that are much more friendly to them.
Because we believe in ourselves and in the dignity which characterizes us, and with the strength of the people and our convictions that we are on the road of life, and because they owe us a law, today we can say YES to this second Popular Initiative.
Union of the Assemblies of the Communities of Chubut
July 22, 2020, Chubut, Argentina