By Chrystelle Barbier and Christine Legrand LE MONDE/Worldcrunch LIMA/BUENOS AIRES -- In Catamarca, one of Argentina’s poorest provinces, residents are on the war path. For several weeks now, hundreds of protestors have barricaded routes near the town of Belén to oppose efforts by the multinationals Xtrata and Barrick Gold to expand production of a nearby open-pit mine called La Alumbrera.
In the neighboring province of La Rioja, residents are targeting another project, the Famatina mine, owned by the Canadian firm Osisko Mining Corporation.
“Water is more precious than gold,” is the battle cry being raised throughout Latin America by anti-mining groups that include rural peasants, ecologists and scientists. Together they complain of the negative environmental and social impacts caused by open-pit mines, which make heavy use of explosives, cyanide and fresh water. La Alumbrera consumes between 60 and 100 million liters of water per day.
In Peru, thousands of people descended upon Lima in early February for a “national march” to protest the expansion of mining concessions throughout the country. Participants say the mines threaten their local water supplies. The biggest single source of controversy is a $4.8-billion mine project called Conga, which risks emptying several lakes in the northern department of Cajamarca.