Over the past week, protests have sprung up in Argentina over a controversial new mining law passed by the government. Titled ‘Law 7722’ and first passed in 2002, the legislation recently added an amendment on December 21st, giving the green light for increased mining in the Mendoza province. The protests are led by the local community and Greenpeace, both demanding a repeal of the legislation. Clashes between protestors and police have increased with groups of protestors throwing rocks at police who responded by firing rubber bullets and spreading tear gas. The future is not completely grim though as Governor Rodolfo Suarez suspended the law on December 28th to begin discussions with protesters.
Protesters argue that the law severely weakens environmental protections in an already drought-affected area. Mendoza is currently situated in the Valle de Uco, a region dealing with water scarcity. Over the past few months, residents have been under severe water restrictions with the expansion of mining likely making access to water even more difficult in the future. Severe concerns have been raised over the damage which could result from chemical spillage in the province’s waterways. Greenpeace Organizer Laura Videl stated, “it’s derisory…the province decided to favour the polluting mining [industry] at the same time it is dealing with the worst drought it has ever seen.” Protestors could be seen holding signs labelled, “Water is more valuable than gold,” and “there is no life without water.”
The local government argues that Law 7722 will help boost investments in the region and rebuild the economy. Suarez stated that the law would assist in raising employment, with just 6 projects having the potential to create an estimated 39,000 jobs. According to the provincial Chamber of Mining Businesses, an estimated $349.2 million will be reinvested back into the economy as a result of this legislation. Provincial Environment Secretary Humberto Mingorance released a public statement in which he claimed that there would be no negative impact to the environment, though the veracity of his statement is yet to be ascertained.
The new laws highlight the tension states can face when balancing short-term economic gains and long-term environmental protection. Condemnation must be given to violence enacted by both officials and protestors. Apart from injuries and increased hostility, little has been gained. It has, however, been highly encouraging to see the provincial government begin negotiations with the protesters. Open political communication is essential in resolving the conflict. Whilst economic investment is important for the country’s economy, strategies must be developed to ensure quotas are placed on the amount of water used in mining projects, as well as ensuring reserve water supplies are created for local residents.
These protests have largely been a result of increasing fears around water contamination in the province. Since the passing of ‘Law 7722,’ 19 new mining projects have been approved, encouraging business investment in copper, silver and gold extraction. The new mining laws have attracted significant controversy as, under the modified amendment, chemicals such as cyanide and sulfuric acid are now approved to be used to separate the natural resources from the rock. This poses risks of water contamination leaking into the soil, affecting the population’s supply.
In an age of increased environmental threats, more actions must be taken to ensure valuable resources such as water are protected. When environments are already placed under strain by water limitations, the idea of water contamination is frightening, devastating. Both the provincial government and grassroots movements must be encouraged to continue discussions of alternate methods of wealth generation, as well as non-invasive methods of mining resources.