Argentina is striving to attract foreign investment and its mineral potential – in mining, and energy – offer attractive possibilities. But a social conflict playing out in the northwestern province of La Rioja could have be a taste of things to come as environmentalists and increasingly local communities seek to halt extractive projects that could bring in millions in investment but, they say, at too high a price for their livelihoods.
Residents in the northwestern Argentine town of Famatina are on a war footing, determined to oust Canada’s Osisko Mining Corporation from the Famatina gold project that they say will poison their scarce water supplies and ruin their environment.
The open-pit project has long been a subject of fierce controversy. Barrick Gold Corp, the world’s top bullion producer, tried to develop the project but finally threw in the towel in 2007 after the town joined ranks against it under the slogan “Don’t touch Famatina”. That slogan has been reprised and locals say opposition in the town is virtually 100 per cent of the 5,800 population, with only a couple of people having been found to defend it. The town’s mayor and priest are firmly opposed to mining.
Since January 2, protesters have been blocking the only route up to the site, at an altitude of nearly 2,000 metres. The mine previously been explored and Osisko said last August it was planning to invest an initial $10m in the project, in partnership with the La Rioja provincial mining company, EMSE.
January 16 was the deadline for Osisko to start exploration work, and although no sign had been seen of company representatives since mid-December, residents were taking no chances. Some 3,000 people turned out in a protest “caravan” and had a picnic at the roadblock, in the blazing sun and more than 40 degree heat, waiting.
“There is no social licence for any mega mining project in Famatina and La Rioja,” Carina Díaz Moreno, a spokeswoman for one of the protest groups that has been campaigning against mining since the days of Barrick, told beyondbrics. “No matter how many contracts (La Rioja provincial governor Luis) Beder Herrera signs, people won’t give him social licence,” she said. “We will be keeping the blocade until Beder Herrera gives in.”