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Tudcum, San Juan Argentina. “We are tired of the lies, of the bureaucracy, and of the contamination. We want Barrick to go home”, said a local resident who refused to identify himself for fear of government reprisal, common in the Province of San Juan Argentina for those opposing mining. The 52-year old man is a local resident of the quaint town of Tudcum, at the site of Barrick Gold’s entrance to its Veladero gold mine in the Central Andes of Argentina. Community residents from nearby Jachal, Iglesias, and Tudcum, marched to Barrick’s gates near the town and blocked all entrances to the mine as of last Wednesday. They are protesting against Barrick following recent news that Barrick has contaminated their local water supply.
Community-led road closures to mining projects have become common in traditionally agro-focused towns like Tudcum Argentina where mining investments are generally not welcome by local communities because they have shown to be irrelevant to the local economy, because they do not deliver on social and economic development promises an because they generally result in severe impacts to the local environment, and especially to the quality of water supply.
Veladero is Barrick Gold’s largest project in Argentina, and was recently in the news following a massive cyanide-laced spill that occurred near Barrick’s leachate valley, due to failed environmental management systems. Immediately after the spill, workers at Veladero, fearing freshwater contamination for downstream communities (including to their own families) started to send twitter messages alerting to the spill warning people not to drink water from tap. Barrick Gold downplayed the spill indicating that it was not a risk to the local water supply, and that only 15,000 liters of cyanide laced effluent were released into the environment. However, following local government intervention in the accident, and an official warning to residents that they should buy bottled water, just in case, Barrick admitted that the spill was actually to the tune of 250,000 liters, and finally conceded that well over 1.2 million liters of cyanide contaminated leach had compromised the local environment. The head of San Juan’s Mining Police, Marcelo Ghiglione admitted to a local news source that San Juan’s Rio Las Taguas, a key water lifeline into some of San Juan’s richest agricultural lands, had been compromised. Barrick denied that any waterways had been contaminated.
Local judicial authorities intervened and closed Veladero following the intervention by a federal judge. Following the spill, and the media botch-up, Barrick Gold fired Veladero’s upper management. Communities remain at vigil at Barrick’s checkpoint at the Veladero gates, not letting trucks into the mine.
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