No Reprieve: For life and territory, COVID-19 and resistance to the mining pandemic.

Protest against mining in Panama, during the COVID19 pandemic In Panama, the government has been using the economic reactivation as a pretext to try to accelerate mining expansion. (© Radio Temblor)

May 24, 2022

Testimonies of people from different local organisations who have been documenting how mining has advanced during the pandemic.

Argentina, Province of Chubut: “We believe that the current crisis in Chubut, a province with so much potential, is intentionally designed; it is a crisis that has been created precisely to try to impose this activity so that the people see no other way out than mining.” Iván Paillalaf, member of the Indigenous Mapuche-Tehuelche community of Laguna Fría Chacay Oeste

  • In December 2021, under pressure from U.S.-Canadian company, Pan American Silver, provincial authorities in Chubut took advantage of the pandemic to overturn a decades-old mining ban despite widespread opposition. Indigenous Mapuche-Tehuelche communities and residents across the province massively took to the streets and after nearly a week of brutal repression, the decision was retracted. The popular movement is now promoting a legislative bill that would expand the ban to include the prospecting and exploration stages of mining.

Brazil, Community of Aurizona: “The pandemic served to intensify the conflicts and violence in our territories caused by these companies, [there have been] many cases of threats, strengthening of the militias [...] With a genocidal government like the one we have here, the mining companies undoubtedly feel very much entitled to act with violence.”  Dalila Alves Calisto is a member of the Movement of People Affected by Dams (MAB) in the state of Maranhão and part of the National Coordination of the MAB. 

  • Dalila is one of five local leaders being legally persecuted by Canadian mining company Equinox Gold as part of its attempts to pacify protests after a tailings dam overtopped at the Aurizona gold mine in 2021, contaminating the water of a community of 4,000 people downstream. The community still lacks adequate water supplies. 

Chile, Municipality of Putaendo: “[…] one of the things we have worked hard on is getting people to understand and learn to value what we have, what we have as a territory, and how valuable it is to defend the ecosystem. When people start to value this, commitments and concrete actions of resistance and organization are generated.”  Alejandro Valdés, a representative of the organization Putaendo Resiste, whose community is being threatened by Canadian mining company Los Andes Copper. 

  • Putaendo is the first Chilean municipality to declare itself a “territory free of mining”. Throughout the pandemic, Los Andes Copper has tried to strong-arm its proposed 2-pit copper mine into advanced exploration- for which it was granted a controversial permit while the population was under lockdown. For years, the company operated a drilling program without the proper environmental permits and amidst widespread opposition. 

Colombia, La Guajira: “We can see an evident deepening of the enormous asymmetry between the affected communities and the companies responsible for the damage caused around El Cerrejón - particularly in terms of information, organization, and accountability on the part of the companies with respect to the possible expansion of the mine.” Fuerza de Mujeres Wayuú, Colombia 

  • El Cerrejón is the largest open-pit thermal coal mine in Latin America, which has operated for over thirty years and dispossessed 35 Wayúu indigenous and Afro-descendant communities of their ancestral territories. These injustices deepened during the pandemic as the government companies continued to refuse to respect a 2017 Constitutional Court decision that recognized community rights violations related to proposed expansion of the mine. Since mid 2021, Glencore and Anglo American have been suing Colombia under the terms of bilateral international investment agreements with Switzerland and the United Kingdom for impeding the mine expansion.

Ecuador, Shuar Indigenous People of the province of Morona Santiago:[The companies] never stopped, they did not comply with the measures and curfew decrees that the government imposed. I don’t know why the law doesn’t apply to them, [but] only for communities and Indigenous peoples.” For the company, there is no law. Josefina Tunki, the first woman President of the Shuar Arutam People's Government Council (PSHA) in the Ecuadorian Amazon whose territory faces multiple threats.

  • Throughout the pandemic, the aggressive and advanced exploration activities of Canadian companies Solaris Resources and Aurania Resources have been a threat to the Shuar Arutam territory, despite that the Shuar have long said no to mining on their collectively held lands. Legitimate representatives of the Shuar, such as Josefina, have meanwhile faced a campaign of threats and defamation.

 

Honduras, Municipality of Tocoa: “The COVID-19 pandemic is the best opportunity that multinationals and national companies could have hoped for to deepen the system of looting our countries’ resources.”  Tocoa Municipal Committee for the Defense of the Natural and Public Commons, Honduras.

  • The Committee had to fight throughout 2020 until February 2022 to free eight water defenders who were arbitrarily detained for their peaceful opposition to an iron oxide project owned by Honduran firm Inversiones Los Pinares. In early 2021, Inversiones Los Pinares brought its iron ore project into operation without an environmental license, leading to heavy sedimentation in the San Pedro river. 

Mexico, Struggles from six states: “After mining activity was declared essential and necessary to reactivate the economy, there was no reprieve. No one questioned the paradigms of free trade at the service of international markets and private interests, the overexploitation of our bodies and common goods, or consumption beyond the limits of the planet. Nor has a finger been lifted to break the impunity enjoyed by companies and governments to hold accountable those who have caused so much damage to water, land, health and life in the territories affected by mining or other megaprojects.” Mexican Network of Mining Affected People (REMA) 

  • Mexico was one of the few countries to not make mining an essential activity from the start. The industry leaned on the U.S. Embassy and appealed to the putting in effect of the newly renegotiated free trade agreement between Mexico, the U.S. and Canada to have that changed within a short six weeks. As a result, even at the height of the pandemic, communities found ways to keep up the fight against new permit approvals and health harms from mining, while militarization and extreme violence worsened. 

Panama, National movement: “Faced with the fallacy of national economic recovery through mining, the communities around the Cobre Panama project and civil society organizations have launched a national campaign platform called Panama Worth More Without Mining Movement (MPVMSM). This movement opposes mining and the renegotiation of the contract with Cobre Panama.” Colectivo Voces Ecológicas-Radio Temblor (COVEC)

  • The Panamanian government has used the pretext of economic recovery to try to accelerate mining expansion, which the MPVMSM movement views as a move to enrich certain officials and the elite at the expense of people and the environment. Cobre Panama, owned by Canadian company First Quantum Minerals, is Panama’s only operating mine. It continues operating, despite its contract being declared unconstitutional in 2017 and violations of its environmental mitigation plan. 

Perú, Espinar: “This is the result of our constant struggle. We always have to take care of our seeds, of our food sovereignty, as caretakers of our bodies and territories.” Association of Women Defenders of the Territory and K’ana Culture, Espinar, Perú

  • For decades, the communities of Espinar have denounced water contamination and intoxication with heavy metals from the Antapaccay mine owned by Swiss company Glencore for which it faces legal action. This company administers a development fund for the community. In the midst of the economic crisis created by the pandemic, the company provided communities with food vouchers that were neither sufficient nor easily accessible. It did so only after the community mobilized for 23 days, for which they faced repression and violence. A consultation process over an expansion of the mine, called Coroccohuayco, has also been plagued with irregularities during the pandemic.

Perú, Puno: “[They do not] accept being questioned by local people who are against mining activity, what the mining company says is law in indigenous communities.”  Macusani Local District Authority 

  • Macusani Yellowcake’s lithium and uranium exploration project has been active during the pandemic, despite lacking the necessary permits and overlapping with an important glacier that provides water to downstream communities and electricity generation for three regions of southern Peru. The company’s activities have fostered divisions among communities and heightened surveillance through support to local authorities. To further facilitate such projects, in May 2021, the Peruvian government declared lithium and uranium mining to be in the public and national interest.