Lawsuit by Diaguita Community Shuts Down Barrick Gold’s Mine in Chile

On Wednesday, April 10th, the Court of Appeals in Copiapó unanimously ordered all work at the Pascua Lama mine halted until further notice. The order was a result of a lawsuit brought by the Diaguita communities of the Huasco Valley in northern Chile and alleged that the mine’s work was violating multiple environmental regulations including regulations that protect three glaciers in the area from environmental harm and contamination. The decision marks the second time in the past 12 months that a Chilean court has halted a mine based on a lawsuit brought by Indigenous communities.

The Pasuca Lama mine is run by Barrick Gold (a Canadian mining company), spans the Chile-Argentina border, and is the world’s highest altitude (4,000 meters) open-pit gold, silver and copper mine. It is situated on top of one of the largest remaining gold deposits in the world and more than US$ 1.5 billion has been invested into its development. It was given final approval by the Chilean government in 2006, but even at that time Barrick Gold was instructed not to damage the local glaciers in any capacity (the mine’s initial plan was to move three glaciers from the area entirely).

According to the Chilean media, the Diaguita people alleged a series of environmental infraction that included the destruction of glaciers and the heavy contamination of local water supplies — reports indicated that the ground water contained high amounts of aluminum, arsenic, copper, and sulfates.

After the court’s ruling was announced, in a somewhat unprecedented move, politicians were quick to praise the court’s decision. President Piñera, Minister of the Interior Chadwick, and deputies from multiple parties all spoke out in favor of the ruling. Barrick Gold did not immediately give any comment, but did indicate that its Pascua Lama operations in Argentina would continue uninterrupted.

For excellent coverage (in English) of the Pascua Lama mine and the movement against it, take a look at these three articles from IPS (Inter Press Agency):

See the articles linked in this story and additional Indigenous headlines by clicking here (updated daily).

Posted in: Chile, Diaguita
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3 Responses to Lawsuit by Diaguita Community Shuts Down Barrick Gold’s Mine in Chile

  1. Pingback: Pascua Lama Gold Mine Likely 1-2 Years Away from Opening |

  2. I have been working as a mining professional for over 40 year. During the last 20 I have been a mining executive. I am also a Chilean citizen and have never worked in my country. My opinion of Barrick’s Pascual Lama problems are not unique in this industry. Having worked for large natural resources corporations and having managed many major mining projects I can say that unfortunately our industry in now plagued with younger, arrogant and inexperienced professionals. We have been conditioned to believe that Safety, Health and Environment are not cost effective which I don’t agree. Project Executives tend to place themselves in positions of power without any regard for the local communities. The difference today is that local communities have rights while before they didn’t or didn’t know they had them. Today mining professionals cannot just be good technicians but also diplomats and be able to work within cultural boundaries. One reality is that most natural resources projects are located in remote locations where indigenous people live. Barrick problems in Chile are in my opinion rightly or wrongly cause by poor community relations and empty promises. The technical issues are easy to resolve but not the cultural related ones. I have worked in Arizona next to an indian reservation, in Australia where aborigines have their homes and Central Asia where tribal customs are most strong, I think that Barrick must take a deep look into its management and project management practices. If not, the costs will go up to the moon and using a contractor to managed the project could make things worse.

  3. Ryan Seelau says:

    Thank you for your comment. It was very interesting for us to read. We have done some limited work with mining companies and our organization (the Project for Indigenous Self-Determination) has spent some time trying to figure out a way to change mining companies’ approach to dealing with Indigenous populations. If you have any further thoughts on the matter or any ideas for types of resources or research that might help convince mining companies to take Indigenous rights seriously, we’d love to hear about them. Feel free to comment here again or to e-mail us any thoughts you may have to:

    Thanks again for taking the time to comment.

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