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):