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Community assemblies take on mega-mining
Juan Nicastro
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Citizens´ movements in southern region unite to fight projects that endanger food supply and biodiversity.

For the past seven years, the residents of Esquel, a verdant, picturesque town in Argentine Patagonia, have fought large-scale mining.

In 2003, residents in the Chubut province town fought off a massive gold mine by Meridian Gold, through protest and a popular consultation, fearing damage to their soils and water sources from the mine.

Esquel´s community groups have now teamed up with similar organizations around the country to defend biodiversity, food sovereignty and quality of life from large-scale industrial projects.

The Citizens´ Assemblies Union, an umbrella group composed of community organizations from around Argentina, met in Esquel March 26-28 to debate and strategize how best to defend their values from a largely extractive economic model.

These meetings, held every three months, were first launched in the central city of Córdoba in 2006, and were focused on fighting large-scale mining, cellulose pulping plants and the production of genetically-modified soy.

But their heralded advances are sometimes clipped by the government.

Since 2003, the provincial governments of seven Argentine provinces – Chubut, Río Negro, Mendoza, Tucumán, La Pampa, San Luis and Córdoba – passed laws against large-scale mining. Several state universities decided to reject funding from mining companies.

But in 2008, President Cristina Fernández vetoed a law protecting the country´s glaciers, a piece of legislation that had been approved unanimously by Congress. She argued that the law “could affect economic growth.” In April 2009, Fernández received Barrick Gold´s founder Peter Munk and its president, Aaron Regent, and days later they signed an agreement opening the door for the massive Pascua Lama project, which straddles the icy Argentine-Chilean border. The company says the mine holds 17.8 million ounces of gold and will begin production in 2013.

Mining and other industry
This austral summer, the news was up in Andalgala, in the northern province of Catamarca, where police answered to protests against the Agua Rica gold-copper mine with rubber bullets and arrests.

Community assembly members however, have maintained a block on the project until a popular consultation scheduled for May.

There has also been increasingly vocal and organized opposition to transgenic soy in Argentina´s central provinces. Under the slogan “Stop Fumigating,” dozens of community groups, many of them members of the Citizens´ Assemblies Union, have won court orders against agrotoxins, such as the town of San Jorge in Santa Fe province last December. Some towns in the Córdoba province, including Villa Ciudad Parque, Villa General Belgrano, Amboy, Mendiolaza and San Francisco, have established legal bans against their use.

A place for action, reflection
According to Pablo Quintana, of the Esquel community assembly, the Citizens´ Assemblies Union aims to find production and energy alternatives. The group, which includes members from Brazil, Chile and Uruguay, has no ties to the government or corporations.

At the meeting in Esquel, participants agreed to increase region-wide campaigns and citizens´ actions and push for legislation that favors indigenous and campesino citizens.

“Mining activity run by large transnational companies in alliance with the state and different provincial governments is trying to spread from the north of the country down to Patagonia,” said sociologist Maristella Svampa, co-author of the book Transnational Mining: Narratives of Development and Social Resistance, which explores “new mechanisms of expropriation and domination” and ways to fight these trends.

“We´re trying to bring a real discussion into the fray ... about the levels and senses that the word ´development´ means today.”
—Latinamerica Press.


Participants in the Citizens´ Assemblies Union meeting in March ended with a candlelight vigil. (Photo: Juan Nicastro)
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Latinamerica Press / Noticias Aliadas
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