Mine exploitation in Argentina has been controversial for decades. While this kind of activity is presented as economically positive, many populations strongly oppose it due to its environmental impact. In many cases, the start of mining projects in the region has raised reasonable suspicion of connivance between the local political power and transnational companies. In these negotiations, the possibility of large profits was quite an incentive to ignore the will of local populations that oppose these kinds of economic activities. Since 2003, the blog Oro Sucio [ES] follows the topic of mine exploitation and its political and environmental impact. Luis Claps, who maintains the blog, is also the spanish Editor of Mines & Communities Network. He has a degree in Communications Sciences from the Universidad de Buenos Aires. He's part of the Asamblea Patagonica contra la Contaminacion y el Saqueo (Patagonic Assembly against Pollution and Plunder), the Union de Asambleas Ciudadanas (UAC) and the Observatorio Latinoamericano de Conflictos Mineros (Latin American Mining Conflicts Observatory), and has participated in many forums and reunions of communities affected by the mining industry in Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Peru and Equator. He lives in the patagonic region of Puerto Madryn, Chubut province, Argentina.
In this recent interview, Claps discusses his interest in this field and how his blog draws attention to the impacts of mining.
Global Voices: How, where, and when did you come up with the project? What reasons triggered the interest in working with this topic?
Luis Claps: Oro Sucio was created in the middle of 2003. We'd been closely following the struggle of Esquel against the Canadian mining company, Meridian Gold. We had been working on our thesis for the communications degree at the University of Buenos Aires. The topic was precisely on this case, so we had a lot of material. We decided to make use of this material, publish it, and somehow fill part of the hole that the local and national press left in regards to the this mining issue. We perceived there was good work there and that it was a space where we could be useful as advanced communications students and future professionals.
GV: In the blog there are several articles by many authors and from many locations in Argentina. How do you contact them or organize this coverage?
LC: To attempt to provide full coverage of all the mining conflicts is almost impossible. We make a quite heterogeneous and sporadic selection of material, since the site doesn't update on a determined regular basis, but rather whenever we can. We publish documents that are the result of collective fieldwork. Also, we keep in contact with many people and organizations that work in this problem in Argentina and other countries as well. Of all the amount of information around, we try to ultimately publish the least visible cases, and what we feel needs our support. And also, every now and then, some informs of our own or from trustworthy colleagues.
GV: The topic of mining usually leads to important mobilizations in many Argentinean locations, but these are poorly covered by the big media. What do you think are the causes?
LC: We believe the causes are diverse, and that each case has a particular mix of circumstances. There's a big dependence on official advertising guidelines, especially in the regional media, and this discourages a deeper coverage. There's a logic in the journalistic activity that forces the press to constantly jump from one topic to the other. There's straightforward censorship and strong pressure, in many cases. But there's more: the Venezuelan mogul Gustavo Cisneros (owner of Caracol Television, I-Sat, Space, Radio Disney, just to mention a few media) is part of the Barrick Gold Corporation's board of directors, one of the world's most powerful mining companies. So, there's many issues. But the assemblies and popular movements know all of this perfectly, and they go out to manage their own press coverage and intervene in the media's agenda. And they do it quite well. There are moments when the collectively accumulated information (in an autonomous, patient, word-of-mouth kind of way) reaches a level where it's no longer possible to restrain, not even by the big media. When this happens, even the politicians assume a speech that adjusts to the community's arguments, and they try to capitalize or domesticate the problem. On the other side, there are colleagues that work by advising mining companies to develop “crisis management” strategies.
GV: One of the most present topics in mine exploitation is the relation between political power and the companies. Could you cite cases in which the people's mobilization and the media coverage definitely stopped projects that would've affected the environment?
LC: For communities potentially affected by mining projects, there are only partial victories, there are no definite triumphs. In our country, there were very important advances: in Esquel the Meridian Gold project was stopped; in Ingeniero Jacobacci, it was the Calcatreu project from Aquiline Resources; in Mendoza, a law that prohibits the use of toxics in open sky mining was recently approved; in La Rioja, Barrick Gold announced that it's leaving Cordon del Farnatina because a similar law that was approved and the neighbors had cut the access route to the project for over four months!
In these cases, there was a lot of work from all available fronts: communication media, legal actions, public manifestations, legal modifications, etc. But Meridian Gold still has its office in Esquel, and last year, it started taking legal actions against four neighbors and two local journalists. Aquiline Resources continues exploration works in the south line of Rion Negro, while it tries to “modify the province's political conditions” (as we read in the press releases from Toronto), and as if something was missing, Carlos Menem is a candidate for governor in La Rioja, with some possibilities to win the elections next August. So, unfortunately, the threats are still there. Just like political power, capital also recycles, changes faces, returns, straightens, and goes straight to the attack.
GV: What are the topics that are most covered in Oro Sucio, by specific problems or location?
LC: We cover a little what happens in the Patagonia, which is our area. And mostly it's two lines: resistance to mining project and the mining companies’ strategies facing this resistance. We understand that mining mega projects operate on many different levels: political, legal, social, environmental, and economic. We try to identify the particular aspect on these levels, in the framework of a more general or global outlok. Another issue that interests us is the connection of the different experiences of the struggle, many of which involves the company itself: for instance, Barrick Gold operates in San Juan and La Rioja (Argentina), Valles del Huasco (Chile), Ancash (and other regions in Peru), Nueva Gales del Sur (Australia), Marinduque (Philippines), USA, Tanzania, Papua Nueva Guinea… How can information be exchanged in solidarity among those affected around the world?
GV: Could you mention other sites that cover similar problems?
LC: Yes, there are many other sites. In spanish: the one from the Asamblea de Vecinos Autoconvocados por el NO A LA MINA de Esquel [ES] and the Coordinadora de Asambleas Ciudadanos por la Vida de La Rioja [ES]. There are sites for specific campaigns such as No a Pascua Lama [ES] or the global protest against Barrick. You can also check the site of the Observatorio Latinoamericano de Conflictos Mineros [ES], the Confederación de Comunidades del Perú Afectadas por la Minería [ES], or the OLCA de Chile [ES]. The DECOIN [ES] site covers the long conflict between Íntag's communities and the Canadian company Ascendant Copper in Ecuador. In the English language, there's the Mines and Communities Website, and many sites of organizations such as Mining Watch Canada.