The recent suspension of the Pascua Lama mining project -in the border between Chile and Argentina- by Chilean authorities, has once again shone the spotlight on the environmental risks these activities pose, and on whether they can be carried out safely and to the benefit of the wider community.
Keeping in mind the mining industries’ integral roles in national economies across the region and the long-term environmental costs produced by such resource extraction projects, we asked Argentines what they thought about the subject in general.
We found that most people we talked to agreed that as the industries stand, their activities not only threaten the environment, but have social costs as well. Many felt that though mining is undoubtedly a key factor in Latin American economies, there is an urgent need for management reform and for regulatory controls to be placed on the industries that more often than not exploit the earth and the local communities that host them.
Well about the issue of mining in Latin America, basically I think it’s expansive exploitation and that it has no concrete benefits for the environment nor for the places where the projects are founded. I think that in general the mining industries take advantage a little bit of the situations that they find in countries where they set up projects. It seems that the industries find that they are allowed, and even enabled, to cause this type of exploitation and that the countries sometimes don’t realise -or don’t care about what is actually happening. So they abuse this type of situation. And the projects always appear in small towns, in places where the people are subjected to bad economic consequences -these projects hurt society as well as the environment. But obviously the mining industry overall has greater economic benefits for these countries -mining is in absolutely everything that we use. It’s not that I’m completely 100% against mining, but rather I feel that that the mining industries should be better controlled regarding those things that they abuse. The worst thing is that in the midst of these consequences the governments don’t control the industries like they should.
For me, [the mining industry] is important on the most fundamental level in that it generates work– it is crucial for all the employment opportunities that it opens up for people. But the main issue is that the industries are not controlled on an environmental level. To me, there are a lot of measures and means that are lacking to control the industry and to help cut back on the ways that it contaminates. Although I think that mining is really important for the economy and the jobs that it creates, they should really implement more controls for the environment and precautionary measures for the people -in particular for the health of the people in mining areas.
I’m an economist, and from what I’ve seen, I don’t think that the issue is really something to talk about at all. At least in Argentina, we don’t know anything about mining because it’s not a lucrative business here. We only have a couple of mines in the north of the country as most of our economy is based on agriculture and livestock. But what I know is that as regards the mining industry in Latin America, it is important to understand why mining does not work -and that the industry has a lot of costs. For example, people don’t want to lose an opportunity to work, and then they end up somewhere like the mines. Where people are working a lot in the mining industry you notice that they are paid really bad salaries and they always talk about how poorly managed the mines are. I don’t know if now they are modifying anything a little bit regarding the situation, but in Argentina and other countries things like that are sometimes hard to come by. And, of course, anything that is related to what is below the surface of the earth is a difficult issue.
I don’t feel like I can really speak for Latin America as a whole because that issue is very broad. But in my country, I do know something about the issue because I study geology, and through that I’ve visited several mines. Mining is a contaminating industry like all other industries. I am suspicious of all the bad press that mining gets because it seems strange to me that they talk so badly about the mining industry and not, for example, about the petroleum industry or the pharmaceutical industry -or all other industries for that matter! I think that mining is an important part of the economy like whatever other industry in every country, and for this reason it has to be part of respective politics, just like all the rest. Basically that: yes, the industries need to be responsible with what they are doing and they need to be regulated -regulated by the government of every state in which they operate in order to minimise all of the negative effects they bring about.
As concerns the mining industry in Latin America, I think in the way that they are doing things now, their projects contaminate the earth a lot, and that’s really not a good thing. It would be wonderful if these industries would just continue to do what they do by extracting these sorts of natural resources from the land in a way that wouldn’t contaminate the earth or harm the people. Put simply, that’s all they really need to do.