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NEWS: Chilean court to hear Diaguita claim against Pascua Lama open-pit gold mine

Toronto-based Barrick Gold’s Pascua Lama open-pit mine in the Andes on the border of Chile and Argentina is scheduled to begin production in mid- to late-2014. The mine, which is expected to produce 850,000 ounces of gold a year, will use up to 27 tonnes of cyanide and 33 million litres of water per day to extract the gold.

Today, the Montreal Gazette reports, “In October, a court in Copiapó, Chile, agreed to hear a motion to halt development of Pascua Lama from five of the 18 indigenous Diaguita Huascoaltino communities living in Chile’s Huasco Valley, which lies below the mine. The court agreed to hear the case based on the Diaguitas’ claim to the land – Barrick’s airstrip in Pascua Lama, for instance is built on sacred land, they said – and evidence of the company’s environmental impact. Three glaciers near the mine pit have shrunk by 50 to 70 per cent, and the court is also reviewing evidence it might have contaminated water resources by dumping mine wastes before the acid-drainage plant was operational. The lawyer for the Diaguitas, Lorenzo Soto, said the goal of the motion was to stop construction work at the site. The case will surely make it to Chile’s Supreme Court, he said, but he did not exclude the possibility of seeking compensation for his clients, should the work go on as planned.”

The Comunidad Agrícola Diaguita Los Huascoaltinos (the Diaguita Huascoaltinos Indigenous and Agricultural Community) in Chile opposes the Pascua Lama mine. In their May 2009 submission to the Parliament of Canada, they stated, “Barrick Gold seeks to extend the Pascua Lama project to the top of the Pachuy Ravine, which is located within the grounds of the Community lands recognized by the 1997 domain title. Although the Diaguita Huascoaltinos have decided to deny Barrick entry to our land, the Mining Code requires us to let them take over our ancestral lands. Although the mining work has not begun to date, there have been roads built by the mining company, and the exploration activities carried out in the high mountains have created severe deterioration of some wetlands and large-scale landscape deterioration. This is especially critical as the landscape determines the drainage capacity of the rock formations and defines microclimatic conditions. Environmental conservation and mega mining projects are not compatible.”

This August, Prime Minister Stephen Harper helped block a resolution at a Summit of the Americas meeting on Argentina’s claim to the Falkland Islands. Barrick Gold was reportedly concerned by this because they believed it would make it harder for them to obtain outstanding permits for the Pascua Lama mine from the Argentine government. In September, the Canadian ethics commissioner began a formal conflict of interest examination of Harper’s chief of staff Nigel Wright with respect to his dealings with Barrick Gold. In late-November, Postmedia News reported, “At issue is whether Wright acted improperly in connection with lobbying activities made by Barrick Gold Corp. The government has said Wright did nothing wrong in his dealings with Barrick and merely passed on the matter to others.”

The Blue Planet Project/ Council of Canadians stands with the Diaguita people. At our June 2012 ‘Shout Out Against Mining Injustice’ conference in Vancouver, Sergio Campusano Villches, the president of the Comunidad Agrícola Diaguita Los Huascoaltinos, spoke against the Pascua Lama mine.

Today’s Montreal Gazette article can be read at http://www.montrealgazette.com/technology/Glaciers+protests+court+cases+slow+Barrick+Pascua/7703080/story.html. Campaign blogs that note the Diaguita struggle can be read at http://canadians.org/blog/?s=%22diaguita%22.