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Gold in Esquel - Patagonia Argentina

Gold in Esquel - Patagonia Argentina


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By Bernardita Bielsa

As if by magic, the mining activity has started in Esquel, Chubut province. But in reality it is the landing of a megaproject at the hands of multinationals, which will transform the bioregion of lakes and Andean-Patagonian forests into a mining district of international relevance.

Everything is a big lie

As if by magic, the mining activity has started in Esquel, Chubut province. It is a scattered gold deposit, for which reason it can only be exploited in the open pit. The initial project covers an area 2.5 km long and 500 meters wide located at the southern end of the Cordón Esquel and 5 kilometers from the city. But in reality it is the landing of a megaproject at the hands of multinationals, which will transform the bioregion of lakes and Andean-Patagonian forests into a mining district of international relevance.

More than 180,000 hectares have already been concessioned for exploration, and exploration permits continue to be granted in areas that will affect both the Futaleufú basin (Pacific slope), including Los Alerces National Park, and the headwaters of the Chubut River (slope to the Atlantic). The project has advanced and achieved a first consensus among the population through the promises of work and prosperity, but with the systematic concealment of the real environmental consequences, not to mention the social and economic ones.
In Andalgalá province of Catamarca something similar is happening. A neighbor of that town tells us: 'The Bajo de la Alumbrera Mine is located in our jurisdiction, exploited in the open pit since 1997, by Minera Alumbrera Ltda., Which is a joint venture of companies with Canadian - Australian - North American capital. English - Chilean and Argentine. As has happened throughout history in all parts of the world, this undertaking only brought problems and fights - among other border conflicts - with another neighboring Department (Belén), since the provincial government keeps the silver from the royalties ( 3% of the value of the mine, discounted production and transportation expenses, this is about 80 million pesos since the exploitation began), without giving anything to the Department that owns the deposit, among other things, and what is worse, the serious environmental damage to which we are being subjected, which I personally consider unprecedented in the history of our country, and which is done with the convenience of the control entities, in this case the UGAP, which is the Environmental Management Unit of the Province , the Provincial Mining Secretariat and the Environment Secretariat. '

Bajo de la Alumbrera, is located 60 km northwest of Andalgalá, very close to the Departmental boundary between Andalgalá and Belén, within the Andalgalá Department. From that 'low' and as a consequence of several waterfalls from the hills, the Vis Vis river basin is born, which gives its name to a very small population, and about 20 km downstream it becomes the Amanao River, where there is a small community constituting the Amanao District. Studies carried out many years ago speak of a deep fissure or geological fault existing in these basins, and that it moves to the Bolson del Pipanaco located south of Andalgalá and on the Departmental border with Poman. It is there where the largest underground water reserve in Catamarca is located.

As has been learned, contamination occurs because 'the company built a dam at the beginning of this geological fault within the Vis Vis river, and they had to make it static, that is, without the movement of liquids outwards. There they dump the> tails and the waste from the mine. In all parts of the world, companies are also obliged to cover these hazardous waste dikes with a geotextile membrane, which is like a plastic that makes it waterproof, but in this blessed Catamarca the comptroller entities allowed them to build it without the membrane so that these capitalists save several million dollars, surely with the bribes that are practical.

After starting to use the dam, they realized that it is a real seepage shower and after conducting the water studies, they saw that the levels of sulfates (copper, iron, aluminum, among others) had increased dramatically. alarming. Next, they made a back-pumping system with several wells about 200 meters deep, to return the liquids to the dike, but it is not working for them either. Of course the Minera says that they are not polluting and that they have the problem under control. Absolute lie. '
The seriousness of the situation described is confirmed in several journalistic publications. The newspaper El Ancasti of July 1, 2001, says in its headline: 'The risk of contamination in Andalgalá is very serious - Alarming revelations of a confidential report from the Ministry of the Environment', and then explains the following: 'A report Confidential of the Secretariat of the Environment, to which El Ancasti had exclusive access, reveals that the exploitation of the Bajo la Alumbrera Mining Deposit has already caused irreversible damage to the ecosystem. The contamination of the Amanao basin, as a direct effect of the exploitation of the Bajo de la Alumbrera deposit, was publicly addressed on multiple occasions, without being able to put together a homogeneous and credible discourse. Between minimizing gestures, partial admissions and resounding refusals, the Government made an effort to bring tranquility to the population, but it could never erase the general concern. He was unable to do so, because in no way were the results of the analyzes carried out in the monitoring areas disclosed publicly and above all because the course of the statements was modified according to the Agency that was consulted. In this way, the internal fights between the Ministry of Mining and the Ministry of the Environment prevailed over any report, and each time a new spokesperson appeared, it did so to add more confusion. The last chapter of the story was offered by the ruling party legislators, who no longer took care to deny the high levels of sulfate in the water, but to explain that it was a natural phenomenon, unrelated to the mining undertaking. '

El Ancasti, exclusively accessed a confidential report from the Ministry of Mining that shows a very different panorama of the matter. The document states that 'from studies carried out with water samples taken in the Vis Vis area to Amanao, Andalgalá Department, variations in sulphates were detected that a four-year study indicates as worrying. It is considered that the state of the water is already dangerous for consumption, but the projections are alarming: As the sulfate level never fell, and the curve is always upwards, serious contamination is expected with little margin of error, virtually irreversible for the next years. There are clear indications that the phenomenon known as AMD (in English "acid mine raynig") occurred, which is nothing more than the drainage of acids from the mine to the outside.

This occurs, it is explained, because there is a hydraulic connection between the dam and the Amanao basin. The toxins that pass from the reservoir to the river, are already detected in the monitoring outside the area of ​​belonging of the company and naturally repair the damage caused to the environment until today, would require a period of 400 to 500 years for the area. It is estimated that if the project continues and is completed while maintaining the current rate of pollution, the normalization of the area would take 18 centuries. The company generates acidic waters with the displacement of heavy metals, among other manganese, iron, lead and copper. When these elements are transferred to the Amanao River, as an immediate result of contamination, it would lead to a dead basin, it will not be possible to drink water, nor can there be life (flora or fauna) in the water.

The residents of Vis Vis used to drink water from the basin. There the water now shows levels of more than 700 milligrams of sulfates per liter, when the World Health Organization indicates as a maximum tolerable up to 400 milligrams. Today the same company supplies them with water in cans and lately they have been sent a hose with water from a different basin, which apparently is also already contaminated. The tailings dock is a source of hazardous waste and the technicians maintain that the conditions it presents would force the closure of the Mine, since at this point there is no way to fix the work, or to reverse the damage. The consequences will be paid by the next generations of Catamarqueños. ’

According to the neighbor in Andalgalá 'the struggles for the defense of the environment are still very lonely, because people are not aware of the gravity to which we are subjecting the planet to everything, much more when companies, together with the Government, use all the Dictionary words: lie, cajole, cheat etc. etc. and what is worse in this case, giving gifts to buy consciences and wills; For example, they go to a little school and they get a computer as a gift, they make all the teachers and students pose for the photo and then they publish that they are very generous; They give the unemployed association 5 shovels, 5 rakes and a few kilos of seeds to grow and then say that they are promoting large productive projects; for the day of the child they fall with 10 thousand bills, and they tell you that they love children; The Municipality is given something from time to time, for example pipes and plates to mark the streets, but it should not be forgotten that a sign higher up must say "Minera Alumbrera Ltda."; and they also buy for two pesos to all the press so that they defend them and say that they are the most beautiful. We are recreating the historical scene of the conquest of 1492. '

'We believed the story that Andalgalá would be the Great Mining Department, that they would build neighborhoods, hospitals, routes, hostels for the miners to live, that the economic multiplier effect would be such that there would be no unemployed here, and that from the tourist point of view we would emerge to the country and the world as the New Mar del Plata or Punta del Este. Five years after the exploitation, we are leading the statistics of unemployment and poverty in the country, and on top of that we are contaminated to the kidneys. As we realized all this lies and this fraud, we made reports, blackouts and stoppages; We petition the government on multiple occasions; We went through the schools of all levels, trying to raise awareness so that we can fight together, and at least we are putting the issue on the table in our community of 16 thousand inhabitants, even though we know that these multinationals are untouchable once they started to remove the gold and copper, since the National Legislation protects them above all things, and the Provincial Laws, in general, always arrive late. '

Only five years were needed for irreversible environmental impacts to occur in Andalgalá - Catamarca, contamination derived from the promises of multinationals and Argentine officials and politicians. Many other towns in various parts of the planet realize this, and in Esquel - Chubut as a great live reality show, La Gran Mentira that only favors capital and foreign investment, has already been launched.

* BERNARDITA BIELSA
e-mail: [email protected]


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