Eleven Chilean organizations, representing groups living downstream of Barrick Gold's Pascua Lama project, speak out against the recent fine and suspension imposed on the company for not going far enough. Barrick Gold faces a record fine of $16.4 million and must halt operations until it takes measures to prevent water contamination.
Multi-million-dollar fine and temporary suspension: A politically correct, media-friendly and socio-environmentally criminal sentence
The sentence by the Chilean Superintendent of the Environment constitutes a dangerous precedent for communities affected by mega-projects, given its disregard for the history of complaints and sanctions against the Pascua Lama project and the voices of organizations that conscious of the inviability of this binational mining project for more than ten years.
For the communities and organizations of the Huasco Valley, which have been complaining about Barrick Gold’s irresponsible operations in our headwaters for years, the Superintendent’s decision was made to suit the transnational mining company, which during the entire process pressured to ensure that it could keep working. This does not negate the rigour or serious nature with which the authority carried out its duties in technical terms, but rather demonstrates how the will of the Chilean state to fail to consider options for local development, to manipulate public opinion as it wishes, and to impose predatory extractivism that preys upon the sources of water and life of our territories.
We are faced with a sentence that recognizes that the title holder “has deliberately failed to comply with a large number of commitments which, it is worth recalling, it took upon itself in order to benefit from the favourable approval of this project” (Free-Standing Resolution No. 024, February 15, 2006). The four months of investigation, instigated by a complaint filed by the company itself in order to limit the sanctions, revealed that the mining company didn’t adequately construct the North Perimeter Channel, which caused two landslides affecting the water supplies and lowlands. Furthermore, following from the inspection into this disaster, it was determined that there were a series of projects that had been the company had committed to in its Environmental Qualifying Resolution (RCA by its initials in Spanish) related to water management that were not constructed, as well as a considerable number that were illegally constructed. Additionally, problems were found in the management of water quality studies and hiding and omission of information (Decree 37). Aggravating all of this, the authority emited provisional measures that the company criminally decided not to fulfill (Resolution 107), demonstrating the company’s ongoing disinterest in the life and health of downstream communities.
However, all of the above, serious as it is, only refers to events verified between December and February 2013, ignoring the history of abuses to the RCA under which the company has been operating, something which we formally asked to be considered. In other words, this sanction does not include the already confirmed impacts on glaciers, road works that have not been built as promised, poor labour conditions, usurpation of waters that was sanctioned in 2007, discharge of waters contaminated with fecal coliforms into the river, which, had they been incorporated, inevitably would have led to the revocation of the Environmental Qualifying Resolution (RCA) and the project’s closure.
As such, this sentence, while being a sign to companies that they should operate better from here on in, suffers from amnesia that leaves in impunity all of the damage that has been caused so far; giving the impression that the new environmental authority is nothing more than a renovated version of that which has allowed the accelerated degradation of our common goods to take place.
For us, the fine that the Superintendent has imposed is insignificant when measured up against the irreparable damages produced in our headwaters. As a result, more than a temporary suspension and fine, what really makes this sentence relevant, is that the state recognizes what we have been saying for ten years: that Barrick is an irresponsible mining company that lies and makes a laughing stock of Chilean institutions, that has regularly and intentionally damaged the environment, and while benefiting from the support of the authorities, represents a threat to glacier and peri-glacier areas and, along with them, to the life and health of thousands of people who live in the Chilean Huasco Valley and in the province of San Juan, Argentina.
The below-signed organizations emphatically defend the right to life and reiterate that we will not rest until we achieve the definitive closure of this destructive Pascua Lama project.
Asamblea por el Agua del Huasco Alto
Comité Ecológico y Cultural Esperanza de Vida
Comunidad Diaguita Patay Co
Consejo de Defensa del Valle del Huasco
Grupo Ecológico Atacama Limpio
Pastoral Salvaguarda de la Creación
Comisión Agua y Vida, Iglesia Evangélica Presbiteriana, Chigüinto
Unidos por el Agua, Conay
Pajareteros Alto del Carmen
Sindicato de la Construcción, Provincia Huasco
Observatorio Latinoamericano de Conflictos Ambientales, OLCA
Translated from original in Spanish available here.