Complete and Permanent Closure of Pascua Lama: The Power of Conviction and Persistence

January 23, 2018 | By admin | Filed in: Barrick GoldChile.

On Wednesday, January 17, the Chilean Environmental
Superintendence (SMA) ordered the permanent closure of Barrick
Gold’s Pascua Lama open pit gold mine project and imposed a
fine of approximately $12 million on the company. The agency’s
decision follows five years of investigation and a series of
community complaints about environmental infractions at the
project site. The authority imposed penalties and laid more
than 30 charges for a series of offences, six of which were
classified as very serious, including two that concern
irreparable damage to the environment.

Barrick emphasizes that the environmental permit (RCA) for the
project remains intact. However, the SMA makes clear in its
ruling that the permit remains in effect solely to facilitate
oversight of the project’s closure:  

(…) with the cancelation of the RCA, the state loses the
normative basis for imposing environmental mitigation
measures during project closure, which are fundamental to
control environmental risks and damage.  

Barrick asserts that the charges address past problems and
claims it is now focused on a responsible future that envisions
the option of an underground mine. The company claims that this
proposal would addressing community concerns by reducing the
project’s environmental impact.

Barrick’s actions speak louder than its words. During years of
conflict over the Pascua Lama project, Barrick trampled local
interests that respect and protect glaciers, water, and nature
in general. It is precisely Barrick’s actions – and the
importance and fragility of the ecosystems that they affect –
that the SMA took into account in ordering the closure of the
mine site. 

At the Observatory of Environmental Conflicts (OLCA), we have
accompanied the local community in its resistance to the
ill-conceived Pascua Lama project since its inception 17 years
ago. We have witnessed Barrick’s strategies to divide, co-opt,
harass and discredit local actors; its financing of political
campaigns; and the withdrawal of the state from the area,
making communities dependent on the mining company for
education, health care, and local development initiatives. We
have exposed all of this as it occurred and countered it to the
best of our abilities.

Projects like Pascua Lama are only made viable through
corruption, the violation of human rights, and by putting at
risk essential ecosystems. 

Felipe Grez Moreno 
Observatory of Environmental Conflicts (OLCA), Santiago,

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