The whole world benefits from the successes of the Argentinean people in stopping new mega-mining projects
Argentinian mining companies are learning the hard way that you just can’t take away laws that protect a whole region from dangerous contamination.
In the drought-struck province of Mendoza, they sure tried.
They lobbied legislators to allow the use of cyanide in mining. But the backlash in the population was so massive that only a week later, the ill-fated plan was ditched.
It is all part of a wider trend in Argentina: one where environmental justice matters.
Research using the Environmental Justice Atlas (EjAtlas) shows that popular movements in Argentina are better than average in stopping mining destruction.
The contrast with neighboring Brazil, where Bolsonaro is giving mining companies a “go” to destroy, is striking.
The two neighboring countries tell two opposite tales of the frontline battles that over-extraction creates all over the world.
Mendoza is one of the Argentinean provinces where the rejection of mega mining has been particularly successful.
Since a Chubut province community stopped a mega gold mine proposal back in 2003, many Argentinian communities were inspired and motivated.
Using the largest database on environmental conflicts in the world, the EjAtlas, Lucrecia Wagner and Mariana Walter concluded that 20 out of 38 large-scale mining conflicts in the last few years resulted in the cancelation or temporal suspension of controversial projects.
For comparison: the “success rate” of all environmental conflicts mapped in the EJAtlas is only 20 percent.
The environmental conflicts caused by mining have united a wide variety of movements and groups all over Argentina.
Together they ensured strong participation in Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) audiences, road blockades, street demonstrations etc.
This massive social mobilization has led to the approval of laws restricting large-scale mining activities in 7 out of 23 national provinces (+2 reverted laws).
In the case of Mendoza, the self-organised neighborhood “water assemblies” (asambleas por el agua) shared knowledge about the mining activities, disseminated it and won the civil society support.
A decade of strong efforts by the mining companies to push for favorable legislation only gave them one week where they thought they could go ahead with their plans.
In that week in December 2019, the article prohibiting the use of cyanide, sulphuric acid and other toxic substances was removed from the now famous “law 7722”, thereby also removing the Legislature´s need for approval of the environmental impact statement.
The first demonstrations against this move were organized by the water assemblies and other social movements, who historically have participated in actions against mega-mining.
But in December 2019, the indignation of Mendoza society went far beyond these movements. People went to demonstrations where the main slogan was “the water of Mendoza is not negotiated” (“el agua de Mendoza no se negocia”).
The popularity of this slogan has many reasons. Mendoza is an arid province with an “oasis culture”.
Combine this with an intense drought during the last years and the acute lack of water in some areas of the city and rural regions and you get a strong struggle for survival.
Within a week, the government had to paddle back. But the rate of success of stopping mega-mining projects in Argentina also shows that this is not just a local or regional issue. It’s a national trend.
Given the fact that research increasingly shows that extraction of materials needs to stop growing and instead decline fast, the whole world benefits from the successes of the Argentinean people in stopping new mega-mining projects.
Lucrecia Wagner and Nick Meynen work for the EnvJustice project, which maps and studies environmental conflicts all over the world. Lucrecia did the research and article drafting. Nick was the editor of the article. Research: Wagner, L. and Walter, M. (2020). “Mapeando la conflictividad minera en argentina (2003-2018): un análisis desde el atlas de justicia ambiental”. In: Merlinsky, G. Cartografías del conflicto ambiental en Argentina 3. CICCUS, Buenos Aires (En prensa).
Photograph by Alber Piazza