The newest and largest gold mine of the century is in Argentine Patagonia, and Vancouver-based Meridian Gold wants it badly. The local population, however, is largely opposed to the project, and will be taking it to a plebiscite on March 29th.
The open pit mine will be located only 7 kilometres from the beautiful city of Esquel, between the hills and slopes that form an impressive natural amphitheatre set off by the Valdiviana forest in the southern province of Chubut.
Esquel's 31,000 inhabitants say they want to enjoy their region and preserve it for their grandchildren. Travellers, too, are struck by the unusual beauty of the area. Despite this, Meridian Gold is vying to start mining only 7 kilometres upriver. The company plans to dynamite 42,000 tons of rock every day, of which 3,000 tons would be ground to dust and then treated with sodium cyanide dissolved in water. The result: depletion and contamination of the rivers, lagoons and the wonderful springs of Esquel. Tourism in the region, internationally renowned for its pristine nature, would also be irreversibly affected.
Taking advantage of privileges granted by the Argentine government, the Canadian-owned Meridian Gold would profit by about one billion dollars in exchange for some dozens of jobs, according to the Argentine National Network of Ecologist Action (RENACE).
Citizens opposed to the extensive damage to the Los Alerces National Park, with its thousand-year-old trees, are calling for a plebiscite and a general meeting of the city council this coming March 29th. They recently marched in the streets of beautiful Esquel on three different occasions. On February 6th, city council passed three bylaws prohibiting the use, transport and disposal of cyanide in the area.
According to the World Rainforest Movement "the worst social and ecological impacts of the past fifteen years can be ascribed to some of [Canada's] biggest enterprises, backed by their most respected private, financial and governmental institutions."