Monday, November 5, 2007

Revisiting the Esquel Gold Mine Protest - Argentine community wins mining moratorium


Esquel Celebrates One Year Referendum Anniversary

March 2004. The citizens of the Patagonian town of Esquel, Argentina held a four day event to mark the anniversary of their historic 2003 referendum. On March 23, 2004, several thousand people participated in a rally in Esquel to voice their opposition to the proposed mine.

Meridian Gold Inc., headquartered in Reno, NV, is proposing to develop an open-pit gold mine 7 kilometers upstream from the town of Esquel (population approximately 30,000) in Patagonia, Argentina. Today, the natural beauty of the Esquel region attracts tourists, fishermen, and biologists from around the world.

The proposed open-pit mine would use cyanide to extract the gold. The company proposed to bury solid waste from the mine in pits. Lake Esquel will most likely be used as a tailings dam for liquid wastes flowing downstream from the mine site. In addition, the Esquel mountain range is covered with faults and fissures that could cause toxic waste from the mine to seep into the groundwater.

Merdian has tried to soft pedal the environmental impacts of the proposal with a flawed Environmental Impact Assessment. A March 2003 independent evaluation of that assessment reveals the inadequacies of the EIA. Written by Dr. Robert Moran, the report Esquel, Argentina: Predictions and Promises of a Flawed Environmental Impact Assessment demonstrates that Meridian's proposal "[...] is the classic example, which is all too common in Latin America, where an EIA describes short-term benefits and solutions, but fails to even begin to consider long-term consequences."


Protests against the proposed mine are growing . Marches on December 4, 2002 and January 4, 2003 each drew more than 4,000 people. . Soon after the referendum in March 2003, Meridian hired a consultant to identify the concerns of the Esquel community. The resulting report, prepared by Business for Social Responsibility, states that the company "never did provide adequate information about how it intended to transport, use and destroy the cyanide used."

Meridian claims that the project will not move forward without the support of the community. But exploration activities continue, and in August 2003, Meridian registered Willimanco I, another gold deposit site even closer to Esquel. The company has also appealed to the Supreme Court of Argentina to overturn a ruling by the Provincial Court of Chubut against the project.

Here is the full article.