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LETTER: Trew challenges Bear Creek’s ‘right to mine’

Massive protests of thousands of people (led primarily by Aymara Indians) have been taking place in south-eastern Peru over the past month against a proposed Vancouver-based Bear Creek Mining Corporation silver mine. They are concerned that the toxic cyanide used to separate the silver in the mining process will contaminate nearby Lake Titicaca, South America’s biggest lake. Just this week, in response to public pressure, the outgoing Peruvian government agreed to withdraw the concession to the company to develop the mine.

Yesterday, newspapers reported that Bear Creek chief executive officer Andrew Swarthout has stated, “There’s a free-trade agreement between Canada and Peru which is very regulated, so there’s avenues there. We will go through the free trade agreement.” In a conference call yesterday, Swarthout said, “(This) is in violation of Peru’s foreign investment laws and constitutes expropriation. Our intention is to take immediate and strong legal action to vigorously defend our rights.”

In today’s Globe and Mail, Council of Canadians trade campaigner Stuart Trew writes, “Canadian mining firms behave as if they had a right to mine. In fact, under the free trade deals Canada negotiates with developing countries, they do have that right. They are not afraid to use it to bully communities and countries opposed to their projects. Canada’s Bear Creek Mining Corporation has already threatened to sue the government of Peru, under the terms of a bilateral free trade pact with Canada, for revoking a silver mining licence. The company can claim expropriation of future profits. Another Canadian mining firm, Pacific Rim, is similarly pursuing El Salvador for millions of dollars under the Central American Free Trade Agreement. Peruvian and El Salvadoran community members killed in protests against these mines have fewer options. The water and ecosystems that would be destroyed by gold and silver mining have no recourse to international trade law. We desperately need to reform trade agreements to correct this gross imbalance between democratic and corporate rights.”

It has been reported that President-elect Ollanta Humala, who takes office on July 28, wants to pass a bill that would require Peru to adhere to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to ensure “there is free, prior and informed participation in policy and development processes.”