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LATIN AMERICA
Mining boom sparks conflicts
2/23/2012
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Governments increase their dependency on extractive industry amid price spikes.

Amid historically high metals prices, many governments’ coffers around the region have seen their income from mining rise to as much as 20 percent of the gross domestic product in countries like Chile, Colombia or Peru, but a boom in the industry and interest in developing the sector has also sparked an increasing number of social conflicts.

According to the World Bank, nearly one-third of all the new mining projects in the world are in Latin America. But several large projects are stalled due to opposition from the local populations who have refused to be relocated or have the environments they depend upon be altered.

There are currently 155 unresolved conflicts tied to mining in the region, according to the Observatory on Mining Conflicts in Latin America, that monitors the mining activity.

Environmentalists’ main criticism of the industry is that it requires millions of liters of water and uses toxic chemicals, such as cyanide, to extract minerals from the ore. To extract one gram of gold from 1 metric ton of ore, some 400 liters are used.

Protests have helped stall or derail the projects, as was the case with the Famatina mine in Argentina, La Colosa in Colombia, Las Crucitas in Costa Rica, Marlin in Guatemala and El Dorado in Panama. Nevertheless, others like Veladero in Argentina and the giant gold project Pascua-Lama along the Chilean-Argentine border have been given a green light by governments despite threats they pose to glaciers and water sources for farming centers.

In Peru, the owners of the Conga project in the northern Andean department of Cajamarca intended on draining the water of four lagoons to extract gold from their beds. While the project was stalled by massive protests, the government has contracted three foreign experts to identify ways to make the project more environmentally-friendly.

“The environmental agenda in many countries is a third or fourth priority,” said Peruvian former Environmental Management Vice Minister José de Echave. “Environmental regulations are largely flexible and lax compared with the economic weight [of mining]. There is a strong dependence on the income that extractive industries generate and little political will to confront social challenges.”
—Latinamerica Press.


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