Twenty years ago I had the opportunity to visit the Atacama Desert, which is a high altitude plateau west of the Andes in South America, along the Pacific Ocean. Known as the driest place on earth, rain only falls in this area about once every 10 years. Being over 5,000 metres above sea level, hiking posed a difficult challenge for my hiking companions and me as we struggled to find our breath and adapt to the harsh, thin air. With the howling winds and majestic silence of the snow-capped mountains of this region, made complete with herds of roaming Alpacas, the Atacama Desert was unforgettably beautiful and like no other place I have ever visited.
Before we ascended to the higher altitudes of the Desert, we hiked through a luscious valley full of green olives, grape vines, mangos and avocado trees at the base of the plateau. It is still hard for me to believe this area bordered an area of such harsh, almost sterile dry conditions. As we ascended into higher altitudes we met the rivers, formed in the mountains by melting snow and glaciers, which are the only source of clean water nourishing the people and landscapes of the fertile valleys below.
I have since learned about Pascua Lama, a mining project located in the Andes owned by a Canadian Company called Barrick Gold, the largest gold mining company in the world. Straddling the border between Chile and Argentina, this project will have a huge impact on the environment and people living in the valleys below. According to Barrick, the mine will use up to 38 tonnes of explosives a day to blast mountain tops to get to the deposits of gold, then up to 27 tonnes of cyanide and 33 million litres of water per day to extract the gold. This form of mining is a serious threat to the safety of local communities not only because of water contamination and depletion but also because Barrick Gold has a history of human rights abuses and perpetuating unsafe working conditions. Operating in such a harsh climate where winds can reach up to 300 km per hour, where avalanches, falling rocks and severe electrical storms are common, accidents will be inevitable.
Barrick Gold has worked hard to block the application of national glacier protection legislation in the Argentinean side of the border. Further, Chilean authorities have recently fined Barrick for failing to comply with its environmental licence regarding the protection of glaciers on the border. Recent inspections by farmers and community leaders reveal that one of the glaciers called ‘Toro 1’ has all but disappeared. This mine will also have a huge impact on wildlife, threatening their habitat and destroying one of the most precious places on the planet.
Greenpeace in Argentina and Chile are actively campaigning against this mine and for the protection on the glaciers and surrounding environment and local communities. Today, the Board of Directors of Barrick Gold are meeting in downtown Toronto for their Annual General Meeting. We will be present, at a rally organized by protestbarrick.net to put pressure on Barrick Gold and its shareholders. It is my hope that our confrontation and presence will be a firm reminder that people are resisting and are aware that Barrick Gold stands for more than profiting from gold - it also stands for destruction. Having been there, I can attest that it is an area worthy of our protection; for the sake of local communities, future generations and simply for the spectacular place that it is.
For more information, I encourage you to read the new report, “Debunking Barricks” it can be found at protestbarrick.