Police in San Juan, Argentina brutally evicted environmental campaigners who had been blockading the access road to Barrick Gold’s poisonous Veladero mine complex over the weekend, detaining 36 people.
Protesters belonging to the horizontally-organised Assembly Jáchal No Se Toca group, linked to No A La Mina were violently dragged off the site by San Juan security forces and are at the time of writing being held at San Juan Police Central and Police Station 1. Witnesses have accused police of first setting up their own blockades to impede the occupiers, before rushing in with a pincer movement to make the arrests, denying lawyers and threatening detainees with prosecutions for trespass, resisting arrest and potentially for possession of weaponry.
Barrick, the largest gold mining firm in the world, has run Veladero since 2005, but pollution from the site angered locals and has led to clashes with libertarian organisations, students, neighbors and settlers in the region since February 2015. Signs and posters have been plastered across nearby Jáchal town for months reading, “Water is worth more than gold,” and “How much gold is our health worth?” Protests and occupations in the town centre have been commonplace.
There have already been two environmental disasters recorded at the site since the campaign began. On September 13th 2015, several million litres of cyanide used in the extraction process (the company says one, however environmental officers’ lowball estimates are around three) were accidentally spilled into the nearby Jáchal river after an alleged valve failure. Jáchal is one of the most important sources of drinking and farming water in San Juan, providing for the region’s 680,000 inhabitants.
Initially the company refused to admit that the spill had even occurred, and it took a major federal investigation and prosecution to force them to admit fault. A National University of Cuyo report found dangerous levels of heavy metals such as arsenic and mercury as well as the cyanide in doses up to 1,400% above tolerable levels (the company rejected this report).
Barrick was fined $9.8 million for the spill and nine company executives were found guilty of “negligence and incompetence.” A second cyanide spill happened on September 8th of this year, shutting the site for two weeks, prompting judge Pablo Oritija to temporarily place an injunction on further work — this has now been lifted following repairs.
Barrick has complained of increasing cost loads for the facility, however with an estimated 10 million oz of gold on site, potentially worth over £13.2 billion in total, the fines represent a drop in the ocean for Barrick, which is pushing on with production and reputedly nearing a lock-in investment deal with China’s Zijin Mining Group which could see it expand operations throughout the lucrative “El Indio belt” — a 140km stretch of land Barrick largely controls on the Argentina/Chile border.
Supporters at World Revolution said:
The protesters, before a cowardly police eviction, requested time and space from the police to withdraw their belongings and protect the minors who were there with their mothers in the blockade, but they were tugged, thrown to the floor and attacked until finally being thrown into police vans.
Assemblyman Iván said protests would continue, along with “calls for closure, remediation (to the victims of site pollution) and banning of polluting mining.” Anti-mining campaign No A La Mina said:
We have had to wait for years for answers from a State that has only responded with persecution and repression before the demands of the people, defending — as always — the economic interests of the powerful and the multinationals. We made a decision to take direct action, putting our bodies on the frontline, understanding it is the only option we have left to get these murderers to leave.
There is no more time, we will not wait for another poison spill, the open pit mining has to stop NOW. We are ready to give our lives to defend the present and the future, with the memory of the past. Now more than ever we need a massive movement of peoples, is vital that people head to the site so that we can’t be ignored.
MEN (at Police Central): Santiago Yáñez, Sebastián Sánchez, Matías, Maino, Santiago Palace, Santiago Lugo, Juan Bordachar, Diego Bow, Juan Valdez, Juan Barbieratti, Horacio Guerrero, Santiago Bustos, Felipe Echeverría, Matías Otero, Santiago Muxi, Gustavo Laredo, Lucas Vaca , Facundo Yáñez, Nahuel Cabanay and Ramón Cabanay
WOMEN (at Police Station 1): María José Cañizares / Camila Muñoz / Sofia Arcella / Natalia Balmaceda / Victoria Olivares / Rocío Bejarana / Micaela Ballester / Daiana Ponce.
MOTHERS WITH CHILDREN: Luciana Herrera / Anahí Montes / Marianela Cortez (The least would already be with their family and one of the detainees would be transferred with her son to the Children’s Office)