From old to new mining
This chapter provides an overview of two historical mining cycles in Bolivia: silver, focusing on the Cerro Rico in Potosí; and tin, focusing on Simón Patiño and the city of Oruro. It then analyses mining in Latin America since the 1990s, showing how this has taken on shapes and dimensions fundamentally distinct from those of mining in earlier periods. It then scrutinizes the role of the Canadian mining industry and the Canadian state in Latin America in recent decades. Finally, it tells the story of a famous investor-state-dispute-settlement (ISDS) lawsuit, brought by the Canadian company Pacific Rim against El Salvador.
‘The advance of mining in Latin America has been very intense, in a very short period of time historically. We’re talking about countries which have developed the industry over just two or three decades, countries which had no mining, but which have now been completely invaded by it.’
– Lucio Cuenca, director of the Latin American Observatory of Environmental Conflicts (OLCA), Santiago de Chile
‘In Peru … there are nearly 8,500 hazardous mining waste sites throughout the country which the state has been unable to clean up, either because the companies responsible cannot be held legally accountable (in many cases they no longer exist), or because the damage is irreversible. Some of them date back to the colonial period.’
‘In 2016, a report by the Justice and Accountability Project found that there had been 44 deaths associated with the presence of Canadian mining companies in Latin America from 2000 to 2015, 30 of which were targeted assassinations. It also documented hundreds of injuries and cases of criminalization. All these abuses were widespread, occurring in at least eleven countries throughout the region. The authors
stressed that the incidents they documented appeared to be merely the tip of the iceberg, with many other reports they were unable to corroborate (Imai et al., pp.4–5).’
‘ISDS is a recent phenomenon which only began to grow significantly after the turn of the millennium. From just six recorded ISDS cases globally in 1995, there were more than 1,100 as of late 2020. Latin America and the Caribbean are disproportionately affected, accounting for 303, or 27.4 per cent. Of these, 23.1 per cent concern mining and hydrocarbons, more than any other sector (ISDS America Latina, 2021).
‘In Latin America, there were just two operational mines in Canadian hands in 1990; by 2012, that had leapt to 80. It is currently estimated that between 50 and 70 per cent of all mining activity in Latin America involves companies listed in Canada, ranging from giants like Barrick Gold, Yamana Gold, and Pan American Silver, all of which operate several mines across the region, to juniors which may only hold a single claim.’
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The Heart of Our Earth: Community resistance to mining in Latin America
Chapter 2. From old to new mining