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Registered: 02/26/01
Posts: 9,134
The poor fight back
    #1968184 - 10/01/03 01:50 AM (13 years, 28 days ago)

A taste of what Iraq has coming to it....

Beware saviours in hard hats

The poor of Argentina are standing up to the foreign multinationals seeking to exploit their country's natural resources

Naomi Klein
Wednesday October 1, 2003
The Guardian

It used to be that if there was one thing you could count on in matters of international trade, it was the desperation of the poor. No matter how bad the deal, it was always better than nothing. But all of a sudden, poor countries are busting up trade rounds, standing up to the International Monetary Fund and turning down foreign investment. What's going on? Is it possible that when you've lost enough, desperation turns into defiance?
Take the people of Esquel, a town in southern Argentina. A year ago, the US-Canadian goldmining company Meridian purchased Britain's Bancote Holdings, which owned a gold deposit in Esquel estimated at $1bn. The time seemed right to build a huge opencast mine: gold was selling high and Argentina, with its ravaged economy, was selling low. The company informed the town of Esquel that it was about to be the lucky recipient of 400 mining jobs. It slapped together an environmental impact assessment, assured the community that using 2,700kg of cyanide a day was no riskier than driving to work, and got ready to start digging.

So did the community. Not for gold, but for information. Selling off natural resources and public services to foreign multinationals has not worked out well for Argentina. These investments, far from delivering the promised prosperity, have left the country with fewer jobs, soaring debts, expensive services and suspiciously wealthy politicians. When Meridian said "trust us", Esquel was unable to comply.

Esquel is located in a striking part of Patagonia, surrounded by rivers with spectacular fly fishing, mountains boasting world-class skiing and the Alerces national park. The mine site is just five miles from the town of 32,000 people, raising serious concerns about what impact the use of cyanide and other toxins would have on the local water supply, as well as the ranching and tourism industries.

With so few details coming from the company, the community sought out its own mining experts. It learned that opencast goldmining using cyanide is banned in Montana. Greenpeace Argentina helped commission an independent study to assess the claims made in Meridian's environmental impact assessment. Dr Robert Moran, a US mining expert, said it was the most "undefined" EIA he had reviewed in a 30-year career.

Beyond these health and ecology concerns, many in Esquel simply believe that the mine is yet another bad deal for Argentina. Opponents say the company, based in Reno, Nevada, won't pay taxes for the first five years (the project is only projected to last for nine). They also claim that the government will pay out more in export rebates than it will receive in mining royalties. Most worryingly, if the site starts leaking after the mine closes, the community may be stuck paying for the clean-up.

On March 23, Esquel held a referendum on the mine. Seventy-five per cent of the population turned out; 81% voted "no" to the mine. Although the results of the referendum are not binding, with provincial and municipal elections coming up, they are persuasive. Local politicians have not granted the permits Meridian needs to begin construction and the project is stalled.

Meridian, so tantalisingly close to its billion-dollar prize, is going to great lengths to prove it has learned from past mistakes. After the referendum, it hired the San Francisco-based Business for Social Responsibility to "help the company listen and understand the concerns of the community". Last month, Meridian released BSR's finding.

The report, dismissed by many in Esquel as a PR stunt, does not address the substantive ecological and economic issues. Instead, it blasts the company for its "striking lack of consistent and comprehensive engagement". According to the report, accepted by Meridian, its employees displayed "an attitude of disregard" for the community.

Meridian accepted its lashings and committed itself to transparency in the future. The company says its activities are "on pause" and will not move forward "without the support of the Esquel community". Meridian execs sound contrite. Speaking softly, investor relations manager Deborah Liston told me the company has learned "a painful lesson". Her boss, Peter Dougherty, also talks about "waiting for the community".

But there is evidence that Meridian hasn't entirely changed its ways. Despite claims that the development is "on pause", Meridian has quietly registered a new mine site less than three miles from Esquel, even closer than the last one. And despite all the talk of transparency, the company may still be withholding key information.

Meridian has long promised to produce a comprehensive, independent water study. Five months past the deadline, Esquel is still waiting. So I was surprised when Liston mentioned that she had seen the study, that the results were favourable to the company, but that "we haven't released it yet. It's not the right time. Right now they [the public] don't want to hear that."

So what happens if, after all the listening and hand-holding, the town still doesn't want an opencast goldmine? Will Meridian leave Esquel, as the community is demanding? "Look," Dougherty says, departing from the touchy-feely script, "we're on this earth and if it isn't growing we are going to have to mine it ... Our entire planet has been formed on the ability of gold to form empires. Gold is a stabilising factor throughout time."

It's an appropriate historical reminder. Meridian rode into Esquel like modern-day conquistadors, convinced that its desperate people would be grateful to feed someone else's empire. But economic crisis has not just made Argentinians more desperate; it has also made them more savvy, more inclined to look past the shiny promises of future prosperity and protect what they have left. After all, when your entire country has been strip mined, you tend to be wary of saviours wearing hard hats.


Don't worry, B. Caapi

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Re: The poor fight back [Re: Xlea321]
    #1968605 - 10/01/03 04:20 AM (13 years, 28 days ago)

all over the world , I agree , poot ciuntries are starting to get it

the last WTO meeting collapsed in failure
thats something to celebrate!!!1


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Re: The poor fight back [Re: Xlea321]
    #1969571 - 10/01/03 03:23 PM (13 years, 27 days ago)

Good for them...if only they had adopted such attitudes earlier....

"Know your Body - Know your Mind - Know your Substance - Know your Source.

Lest we forget. "

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Re: The poor fight back [Re: Azmodeus]
    #1969581 - 10/01/03 03:26 PM (13 years, 27 days ago)

Maybe they should form a poor people's union.


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