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Water is worth more than gold

Water is worth more than gold

By Marcelo Scanu

Those who have been lucky enough to know San Juan, will have noticed the aridity of its territory. The cyanide, used by Barrick, would contaminate all these watersheds, ending a traditional way of life and economy.

“According to what the Spaniards were told, a fantastic bird lived in this Cordillera: It fed only on silver and gold, the ancients feared it, but at the same time they knew that, if they followed it without being seen, they could discover the deposit of precious metals where it filled his crop. That was heard by a colleague of Osorio, the conqueror, and greed stung him ... "

(Story of Mrs. Irma Balmaceda, a native of the region. Taken from the unpublished book by M. Scanu "Legends of the Argentine Andes".)


This mythological bird (the allicanto or allicantu) is known both in Argentina and Chile. Guide the miner to the rich veins of noble metals. It only appears at night and by observing its plumage the content of the deposit will be known, if it is gold it will be gold, if it is silver, silver. But it is not as easy as you imagine, this bird "turns off" if it notices a strange presence, it even throws off those who pursue it with excessive ambition. A richer version places the bird's nest in the Valle del Cura. A Spanish captain chased him, awaited his return. Cold, hunger and fatigue crushed the fortress of the Goth, crazed stumbled and fell into the abyss clouded by wealth. Today, in the town of Angualasto, locals wisely comment that greed causes multiple evils. If the treasure of the mythical bird were discovered, it would bring droughts and death.

This legend seems to come true today. The allicanto would be the site of Veladero (and others), the greedy conqueror is the well-known Barrick blinded by the gold metal and the consequences, drought and death. The ancient settlers were certainly not wrong.

Those who have been lucky enough to know San Juan, in addition to its respectful and cordial people, will have noticed the aridity of its territory. The Cordillera, dry but with glaciers on the heights, produce stunted threads of water. These come together and we can hardly consider them rivers. These wind their way until they bathe the oases, one of which is Tulum where San Juan is located. There vines, olive trees and other crops produce the true wealth of the province. Its wines are some of the best in the country and in the world, as is its olive oil, asparagus, etc. Even its fruits and vegetables are exported to demanding markets by air. The most important of these rivers, the San Juan, has as one of its main tributaries the Río Valle del Cura. This continues to Desaguadero and in times of exceptional floods, it joins the Atuel system, flowing into the Atlantic by the Colorado River. Today Barrick uses eight million liters of water per day, taking it away from farmers and consumers without paying a single peso for it. The cyanide, used by Barrick, would contaminate all these watersheds, ending a traditional way of life and economy. Hence the title of this article.

Riddle. It is yellow but it is not corn. It shines but it is not a star. It is underground but it is not a potato. What is it? Answer: Gold.

(Taken from page 7 of the publication "Gente de Veladero" N ° 1 August / September 2003. On page 7 there are various activities-riddles, crosswords, etc.- to "raise awareness" among the little ones.)

Although the quote from this publication (really a pamphlet made on good paper) may have surprised the reader, it is nothing compared to the drawings on the last page. There, Velarito and Filo are introduced in the episode Pierinita's Visit.

Pierinita is a girl dressed in traditional Peruvian clothes as she represents the site of the same name and its people. Velarito represents the Argentine Veladero site and is accompanied by a nice character, Filo who is a donkey and we do not know who he should represent according to Barrick. The characters meet and a talk begins (donkey included) where Pierinita talks about the increased quality of life, work, etc. in the area of ​​the Peruvian deposit (but not of the social or ecological problems that occurred there). The donkey asks if this is going to happen in Veladero and with the local people and of course the answer is yes. It will be achieved “with everyone's effort. Protecting our lands and our customs. ”(Sic). They get to work and the story is colored red ... just beginning.

This "awareness" campaign of course cannot leave the elderly without indoctrination. For this they use an important journalistic medium in San Juan. In both versions (paper and virtual) there are happy families, workers in huge machines and different attitudes. They are shown in the camp where "they can eat whatever they want, whatever goes into their stomach" (sic). They continue: "They now earn more than 600% their previous salary", "Barrick now employs more people than the municipality (N. Del A. De Iglesia) and Veladero has more inhabitants than Rodeo, head of the department". Or "Doña María now works feeding the boys at the barrier, each lunch costs $ 7.50 and Barrick pays her every 15 days." Nobody can judge the workers or the local people who search for them as best they can, they are victims of years of delay in this area. Take into account the salary of a Barrick worker, which ranges around $ 1,500, which is low considering the work at great heights, the hostile environment, the risk, the distance with his family. After the completion of the deposit there will be a long line of unemployed as happened in Chile. The aggravating factor, its land and water will be degraded and polluted, like those that irrigate the oases. Let's remember, Veladero occupies 700 people, agriculture and viticulture tens of thousands in San Juan.

How beautiful is the party, mamaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa …….

In this campaign to win “hearts and minds”, Barrick has done several highly publicized works of public good. He has also given harvesters, edited a CD by a local singer and made an art exhibition at the site. Large billboards appeared in San Juan with the stamp of Sarmiento and a legend: "He would be happy with the mining boom, mining is good."

But the most striking, and I would even dare to say bizarre, was the party organized for the inauguration of Veladero. The party really started a few days before, exactly on September 15, 2005 with the smelting of the first ingots: 3 of 12 kilos each containing gold, silver and rare metals (perhaps later used in the missiles that fall in Iraq) without specifying exactly in what percentages. And this seems to be a constant, Barrick pays royalties based on the affidavits submitted by itself ... No one would allow the fox to do the chicken count. Not even the San Juan mining authority can reach Veladero to control. Remember, there are checkpoints on the way to the site. This road, improved by the company, was made by pick and shovel in the 50s and 60s by public employees from San Juan with a lot of effort. Although Barrick also helped with half of the paving of the access road, its trucks destroy the provincial road network without fixing or paying a penny.

Some figures: Barrick is the world's No. 2 gold producer and could be No. 1 if its $ 9.2 billion offer for Placer Dome is accepted. Barrick has 12 operating mines around the world, last year it produced 5 million ounces of gold, explores in 16 countries, its reserves in Latin America amount to 42.1 million ounces, or 47% of its world reserves. Veladero is the 17th-ranked mine in the world with 12.8 million ounces, currently the ounce of gold tends to the price of 500 dollars, a record that was not reached for a long time. The “expenses” to erect Veladero would amount (according to Barrick) to 540 million dollars but surely less than half were invested in the country (trucks, vans, supplies, etc. are generally imported with low or no tariffs).

On October 11, the mega-party took place with the participation, among others, of Puma Rodríguez. Entrepreneurs, officials, ambassadors participated in addition to the President of Barrick Greg Wilkins and the new president of Barrick in Argentina, Celorrio, from San Juan. 550 employees catered to the 1000 guests. Already at that time they talked about the next deposit to be exploited in San Juan, Pascua Lama north of Veladero to be built in 2006 and to begin the extraction of gold, silver, copper and others in 2009. Pascua Lama is located 25% in San Juan and 75% in Chile.

Also a problem in Chile.


Since 1996 Barrick has been working on a project promoting a border treaty between Argentina and Chile. This should give "legal and economic feasibility to the initiative." In December 1997 both countries signed the Mining Integration and Complementation Treaty, in 1999 the Complementary protocol and in 2004 the specific Additional protocol giving free rein to the project. In sum, this produces what I would define as "a state within a state." Only Barrick commands and manages this binational zone, slowing anyone down to its "deposit." In addition to cutting the Conconta glacier in Argentina, on the Chilean side it launched a “glacier management” program to relocate the Toro 1 and 2 and Esperanza glaciers. This is laughable contrary to science, to remove thousands of tons of ice from these glaciers and "attach" them to another, minimizing the impact. " Today Barrick has reversed the project, for the worse…. It has concluded, according to experts hired by them, that "glaciers are not glaciers but masses of surface ice" and that is why it is going to destroy them. Environmentalists in Chile made several marches and collected signatures. The small farmers (70,000) are on the warpath, not the landowners. They have promises for works (paid for by Barrick) for 60 million dollars. In the center of Santiago, in front of the Casa de la Moneda, there were violent clashes between the victims and the Carabineros. The collected signatures, even with the endorsement of intermediate entities and members of the Legislative Power, could not be delivered.

"Well managed, cyanide is a safe element."
George Bee, former manager of Veladero.

Safe and nitroglycerin too, until you get careless and fly away. Barrick Exploraciones Argentina SA, a Barrick subsidiary, paid a fine of 240,000 pesos for environmental contamination. This was produced by Resolution 46 of the San Juan Mining Council in January 2003 based on a complaint in July 2002. It concluded: "There is contamination and the commitments made in the Environmental Impact report were not fulfilled." As we can see, there may be growth and some investment but at the cost of destroying the provincial economy for a few years of a certain bonanza.

Today, November 23, as I finish this article I learn of two facts. The very safe Barrick suffers a shed in San Juan and 50 employees fired by the company cut access to the mine asking to be reinstated.

I remember Don Geraldo Flores. He lived alone in the Quebrada Arrequintín, not far from Veladero. A widower, he took care of his goats and thus survived. In his 70s, practically illiterate, he was a great connoisseur of country life and an observer. Friend of the mountaineers, he always received us in the best way. We listened to his stories and found in him wisdom, not acquired in school. At his age he bathed in the cold waters of the stream. One day, I had to go down at a forced march to look for a doctor because a scorpion had bitten him and he would not leave his sheepfold at the mercy of the “lion” for nothing in the world. One day he discovered the gold deposit of Antecristo. He broke the news to an "engineer" who blew up the mine in exchange for giving the old man some food. But when the site ended its useful life, the supply ended and poor Geraldo, who had let his guard down somewhat, was left with a meager flock. He ended up begging from gendarmes and mountaineers. His sisters took him away and he died, perhaps out of grief for missing his old tranquility and way of life. Hopefully this story is not repeated with dear Saint John.

* Marcelo Scanu is Secretary of Culture UPCN - Del. ANSES

Author's Note on the repercussions of his article El Oro Maldito y la Minera Barrick Gold published in https://www.ecoportal.net/content/view/full/51700

Repercussions of the Note El Oro Maldito

Since the appearance of "El Oro Maldito" in Ecoportal, the repercussions were pleasant and multiplied in the media. It was published in the San Juan weekly La Séptima (on paper and digital version) and in the prestigious magazine Escenarios de UPCN. It appeared in more than a dozen web pages in our country (www.pensamientonacional.com.ar, www.fullaventura.com.ar, among others), in 3 pages in Peru, 1 in Venezuela, 1 in Chile and in various forums from different countries. It was also published on the ANSES intranet, our new computer tool that is giving us so much satisfaction. Two news agencies even prepared a note based on this work and the portal Areaminera, of the mining industry, published it. Other radio stations talked about the issue from the published note, even National Radio (our comrade Corizzo's program) interviewed me. A chain of informative emails, which included El Oro Maldito, went around the country. Regardless of our work, an important Channel 13 program echoed the case, being mistreated by the company (they were even filmed) and they were not allowed access.

From a letter from Readers of La Nación, which only referred to the supposed benefits of mining, I wrote a reply that was published on November 8. Unfortunately it was cut off for "reasons of space", removing the reference to the article published in Escenarios. On November 22, Mr. Martin, the leading voice of Barrick and whose job, apparently, is to read every publication in search of information considered negative by the company and answer it according to his interests by lobbying, published a reply (by the extension of it seems not to be trimmed). In it, he simply talks about the positive facts but at no time does he respond seriously to the most important questions made by the community and by the subscriber. We transcribe both letters.

"With surprise I read a letter from readers of Mr. José González Podestá entitled" Mina de Oro ". There he comments on a series of events, but forgets the main theme, sees the tree and not the forest. I can speak with authority since I know the area and I informed myself. The Barrick company will raise $ 8 billion in gold by paying just $ 56 million in royalties. If we subtract from this all the tax benefits (they do not pay certain taxes, VAT refund, etc. and many more), we are subsidizing this company with the public treasury.

In addition, they use cyanide to extract the gold metal, a chemical element that is polluting. They have already paid a fine here for polluting, and they have also had to pay it in Peru. The towns of Iglesia and Jáchal will suffer the contamination without receiving any benefit. I'm not an ultra-ecologist, but I'm not a fool either While Barrick celebrated with a great party, the people of San Juan suffer water restrictions and do not know if it will soon be poison ”.

Marcelo Scanu

"Regarding the opinion expressed here about a gold mine in San Juan, I would like to indicate that large-scale investments, valued by the countries that seek to attract them, produce a chain of beneficial economic and social effects, both directly and indirectly, associated with the creation of jobs, the flow of income that is produced from the purchase of national inputs and services and the foreign exchange generated by exports and taxes paid at the national, provincial and municipal levels. To this must be added the effects positive results derived from the multiplier effect of consumption triggered by local hiring and the increase in aggregate demand for goods and services. "With rates of increase in construction of 120 percent in San Juan, for example, well above the national level, caused , in part, due to the favorable impact of the Veladero mining project in this province, the multiplier effects of this type are beginning to become visible. e projects. Finally, these benefits are added to the investments of companies in sustainable development programs in the communities near their operations. "It is also worth mentioning the responsibility that companies have to protect the environment and the controls established by the laws so that this is fulfilled, due to the fact that their shares are listed on international markets, which often forces them to go further comply with regulatory requirements and exceed them to truly do responsible mining. "

Miguel Martin
Communications Supervisor
Barrick Argentina

Mr. Principal:
"Regarding the opinion expressed by Mr. Miguel Martín, Communications supervisor of the Canadian mining company Barrick Gold, in his letter published on November 22, entitled« Gold Mine », he manifests a distorted reality about the performance of said company here , in San Juan. "The reality differs widely from what it expresses and the opposition, although silent, increases day by day; not against mining itself, but against the methods used by mining for gold mining. "Among the variability of questions raised ad nauseam, the company is called upon to destroy the glaciers, the relocation of plains and the indiscriminate use of cyanide, which, mixed with the water from the springs, becomes a deadly poison that eliminates all forms of life, and represents a serious risk for the agricultural populations of the lower valleys (Jáchal, de San Juan, and Valle de Huasco, Chile). "And even so, although they call themselves entrepreneurs of a« responsible mining » , have already been expelled from other countries, where they had to pay fines for pollution and collateral damage to the population. "They have started their operations within the Biosphere Reserve proclaimed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site; therefore, they should not be there. There is talk of income flow, local hiring, social benefits and job creation with effect« multiplier »." It is indisputable that mining improves income and quality of life; but, in San Juan, a vast sector of the population senses that the profit raised by the company will only fill the coffers and the interests of a few, leaving, when they leave, a long and lamentable desolation. "
Miguel Beorchia


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