Monday, August 9, 2010

Argentina, mining, Mercosur, a rant (excerpted from IKN66)

Here's a chunkette from yesterday's IKN Weekly.

MERCOSUR backs mining

In last week’s two day meeting of MERCOSUR in San Juan Argentina, the four Heads of State that comprise the trading block (Brazil’s Lula, Argentina’s Cristina, Paraguay’s Lugo, Uruguay’s Mujica) along with associate member heads from Chile and Bolivia as well as Venezuela’s foreign affairs minister (Venezuela hopes to join MERCOSUR in the very near future but is being stymied by right wingers in Paraguay’s congress) signed the Declaration of the 39th Meeting of MERCOSUR which contained the following passage as one of its points of order (translated) (12):

“The Presidents of MERCOSUR reiterate that mining, minerals and metals are important for the economic and social development of MERCOSUR countries, as conformed by the results of the World Summit for Sustainable Development of 2002” .

The declaration went on to state that it was concerned about actions taken by third party countries

“....that limit the full development of the mining sector of the block at a time of new investments, development of new projects and the generation of employment that creates opportunities for social inclusion and economic progress”.

This clause was in clear allusion to the European Union that has threatened to block imports of Argentine metal production as a retaliatory measure against fairly recent Argentine import restrictions, but could also be used against the countries of origin of anti-mining NGOs.

Argentina ‘Glacier Law’ and anti-mining protests (and a rant)

The MERCOSUR statement was a strong one and comes at a time when Argentina’s anti-mining movement has seen some momentum on its side. For example, on Wednesday President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner wanted to make a speech in the city of La Rioja to commemorate the assassination of a local bishop (Bishor Angelelli, murdered in 1976 during Argentina’s Dirty War and now honoured by an official day of mourning every August 4th in Argentina) but was forced to abandon the idea due to a anti-mining protest that turned somewhat confrontational (13).

It also comes at a time when the revised so-called “Glacier Law” is expected to pass vote in Argentina’s Senate this August. Your author received a mail on this subject from subscriber AP, who was concerned as to whether the passing of the law would affect specifically Minera Andes’s ( Los Azules copper project up in the Andean highlands. To put minds at rest on that score (and on the other projects in the Cordillera) here’s what I wrote back to AP:

The law will almost certainly pass, but it's very unlikely to affect Los Azules. In fact, the law as stands is a very watered down thing and not even Pascua Lama will be stopped. Any mine would have to directly affect a in the ice itself.

This passage of this law may make some headlines when it happens (and it still has to pass through the Presidential veto), but unless your mining project finds itself directly on top of a glacier or likely to directly affect water supply from mountain run-off put it low on your list of potential worries. But Argentina being Argentina, watch out in the longer-term (i.e. years, not months) for revisions done by future non-Kirchner governments that might just make the law more of a threat to mining projects. In Argentina, anything can happen and often does.

A final word about the anti-mining movement in Argentina; we’re now moving into the first stages of the Presidential election pre-campaign (the vote is October 23rd 2011) and we can expect the issue of mining to be on the debate slate. Most significant political powers in the country are pro-mining but there will be noise made by the anti-mining brigade looking to make the issue a central subject. What I’ve witnessed so far from the anti-mining people is a rather naive and simplistic campaign, with a message that doesn’t stand up to much scrutiny relying more on emotional responses than hard facts. A Spanish phrase that springs to mind when thinking of them is “Perro que ladra no muerde”, which literally translates as “the dog that barks doesn’t bite” and is similar to one in English, of course.

Your author does on occasion side with anti-mining groups when they present a solid case, for example many places in the Amazon basin region of Ecuador, Colombia, Brazil and Peru have no reason to see mining development, many projects are opposed by the people that really matter (i.e. the immediate locals) for cultural or even religious reasons and there are strong cases for the undoubted damage they would cause in very rich and sensitive areas of biodiversity, as even a low footprint operation can upset things. Also for the record, I am a supporter of Costa Rica’s ban on mining as a country policy as the Tico’s decision will probably turn out to be a net positive (marketing-wise at least) in a country reliant on eco-tourism for a significant portion of its income. But when the anti-mine factions use the Luddite “No Mining Because We Say So!” line they deserve no sympathy whatsoever. Just ask them where the raw materials came from to build their Prius/cellphone/flatscreen TV/ electricity supply/etc ad infinitum and send them on their way, as up in the arid reaches of the Chilean and Argentine Cordillera and away from the glaciers it would need a nuclear explosion to cause significant damage to the biosphere. The reactionary left is every bit as stupid as the reactionary right.