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Mining and Social Conflict

This year has seen a seemingly endless tide of bad news about mining from every continent on the globe: reckless use of toxic chemicals; contamination and threats to the environment; draining or diversion of lakes and rivers; voracious demand for energy; construction of roads and railways to the detriment of vulnerable ecosystems; bitter and sometimes lethal labour conflicts; co-option of police and security forces to protect company facilities; the long-lasting social costs of wild-west style mining camps and towns. Notable, however, in many of the news stories has been the active role played by local communities, no longer willing to be passive bystanders in processes that threaten their future, nor to accept at face value the promises of jobs and development. Nowhere has this protest been more marked than in Latin America. In a masterly overview for LAB of the deepening contradictions involved in mining development, Luis Claps, The Editor of Mines and Communities takes an extensive sweep through the Region, charting the numerous mining projects and the problems and conflicts they create. Read more. Luis’ article contains links to detailed news stories published on LAB was also assisted in preparing this newsletter by London Mining Network, whose own excellent newsletter includes numerous reports from Latin America. An idea of the scale of mining operations is given by an interactive map of the operations of Canadian mining companies just in Central America. Read more. Of course, mining is only one (although arguably the most destructive) of the ‘extractive industries’. There is keen debate throughout Latin America, especially in countries such as Brazil, Argentina, Peru and Venezuela, about the dilemma confronting progressive governments for whom licensing of extraction appears to offer the only means of fulfilling their promises of social programmes in health, education and family support—the so-called ‘brown left’ option. Earlier this year the Uruguayan commentator Eduardo Gudynas gave an interview on this topic to the Spanish journal ECOS. Read more. Similar questions are posed by Raúl Zibechi, who asks: “Will Latin America be the new Middle East?” Read more. LAB will return to this topic in the coming months and we hope to dedicate a newsletter soon to the wider issues of extraction. In Argentina, communities in Tinogasta, Catamarca province, have been mounting a selective blockade of the highways leading to major mining developments in the area. They have formulated a ‘Plan Cerro Negro’ to pursue a blockade that has attracted nationwide support. Read more. An interview with a local activist gives an idea of how local residents feel about the mining company, Minera Alumbrera (jointly owned by Xstrata, Goldcorp and Yamana Gold), and the progress of the blockade. Read more. In Colombia, mining projects, like almost every aspect of life in the countryside, have been implicated in the country’s interminable and bloody civil war. Behind the combatants stand the companies that provide equipment, transport, guards, armaments and the incentives to seize and exploit land and mineral rights. Patrick Kane of War on Want, has examined the role played by the City of London in financing some of these. Read more. Mining sector publications can sound positively euphoric about development possibilities, particularly in the Middle Cauca region. Read more. However, key to resolving conflicts with communities remains a process of genuine consultation. Small (artisanal) and medium-scale projects can offer better and ultimately less destructive potential than the mega-projects beloved of government and the multi-national lenders. Read more. In Peru, communities around the town of Espinar took to the streets in May to complain about the activities of Swiss mining firm XStrata which runs a huge copper mine at Tintaya, which it took over from BHP Billiton in 2006.  Despite clashes with police which left two dead and over 100 injured, negotiations have resumed. The company has made some commitment to financing social projects and maintaining meaningful dialogue with community leaders.Read more. In the north of the country, however, Monterrico Metals, listed on the London Metals Exchange, but owned since 2007 by Chinese  mining giant Zijin Mining Group, chose to settle out of court for a very modest sum judged sufficient to divide and disarm its opponents. Read more. Meanwhile, there is a lively debate about the relative demerits of large-scale and artisanal mining. The latter is often blamed by environmentalists for the indiscriminate use of toxic chemicals, total lack of provision for restoring ravaged landscape and poor safety record. A detailed report from Peru Support Group weighs up the pros and cons. Read more. Mining conflicts are often presented as simple bilateral confrontations between victims (workers, trade unions, communities, ethnic groups) and perpetrators (the mining companies, corrupt local officials, distant national governments, security forces). Reality, however, is often much more complex. In Bolivia, short-sighted government policies have had the unintended consequence of pitting mining employees and their trade union against small-scale co-operative producers (Read more). This has provoked sharp discussion on the left. Read more. Become a LAB Partner Latin America Bureau (LAB) is extending a cordial invitation to NGOs, CSOs and others in the Region (as well as Aid Agencies, Campaigns, Human Rights and Solidarity groups concerned with the Region) to become LAB Partners. LAB will list Partners, with a brief Profile of each, where they work, their objectives, contact details, website links, etc., on the Partners Page of LAB’s website ( There is no cost. The Partner simply completes a very brief survey and signs the agreement. LAB will then add them to the listing of LAB Partners. As our work develops, we hope to publish links to websites and articles with news of the Partners’ work and campaigns; to launch discussions and blogs through which the Partners can communicate with one another; to provide training material and skills to help Partners to improve their communication skills; and to build an e-Library of links to articles and reports on campaigns and themes of common interest. To become a LAB Partner, simply click the appropriate link below and complete the Survey and Agreement:  Forthcoming Events The annual trade union-sponsored conference on Latin America has established itself as a fixture in the London solidarity calendar.  This year’s conference on December 12 includes a workshop by LAB editors Sue Branford and Francis McDonagh on ‘New Threats to the Brazilian Amazon’. 

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