It started with water. The multinational mining company, Barrick Gold, proposed taking 1,000 cubic metres of water per day for its mining exploits in the Andean region of La Rioja. The problem was, however, only 750 cubic metres of water flowed through the small town of Famatina daily.
The people of Famatina were worried that Barrick’s mining scheme jeopardised their livelihood and those in the surrounding region. Not only that, it threatened untold environmental risks to the region’s fertile and prosperous land.
So what did they do? They protested, and won.
Since their first victory against Barrick Gold back in 2007, the town of Famatina has successfully thwarted mining proposals from three other well-known multinational corporations: Osisko Mining Corporation, Shandong Gold, and, just last month, Midais S.H.
A town of 2,466 people [according to the 2010 census] has done what much larger and better-represented communities have failed to do time and time again. They took on big industry with grassroots level organisation and resistance, and came out on top.
In the process, Famatina exposed some of the darker realities of large-scale mining in Argentina. They highlighted the exploitative practices used against small communities and indigenous peoples, underscored the devastating effects of mining on the environment, and became an inspiration to stand up and fight. Today, Famatina’s popular slogans “Famatina no se toca” (Hands off Famatina) and “El agua vale mas que el oro” (Water is worth more than gold) have become rallying cries against open-pit mining throughout Argentina.
The Argentina Independent talked with Carolina Suffich, a leading activist and organiser for the Asemblea de Famatina [Famatina Assembly], about her experiences and activism in the near decade-long fight to protect Famatina from large-scale mining.
To begin, can you talk a little about yourself and your labours against large scale-mining corporations in Famatina?
I am part of the Asamblea de Famatina, and I have been working in this area [protesting large-scale mining] for a little more then nine years. I am a teacher, and the mother of two children.
When we started this we didn’t have any notion of what large-scale mining was. So we started learning and informing ourselves, and we looked for people who could teach us things — we went to places that were affected by large-scale mining and where resistance was happening. We talked with the people who lived in towns near mining sites, and from there we started learning the consequences that this type of mining [open-pit] could have.
And from there more mining companies using these methods started arriving and we agreed that we needed to expel them in one way or another. We started using roadblocks, manifestations, and other types of protest.
How has the nature of the protests and movement in general changed over the years?
In the beginning there was a lot that we needed to learn—a lot of information, developing relationships with people, learning about people’s suffering and meeting with specialists that could help us. And after that, starting in 2010, we started expelling mining companies with roadblocks, protests, and soliciting laws against the large mining enterprises. This was the change, in the beginning we were learning and after that we started using direct action.
It is very different in the global sense, because of course this is the fourth mining project we have expelled. But we continue working, now we are working towards provincial laws against this type of mining and national laws that have the people in mind—we are looking for a type of development that the communities want and not one that is imposed on them by large companies because for us, this is not development. We want development that is sustainable so that future generations can enjoy the things that we enjoy now. So of course, we are going to keep going.
There have been numerous examples of the government and security forces turning to violence to stop protests in Famatina, what are your views on this?
Here, the government’s way of making us shut our mouths in manifestations or when we speak out against mining projects is to suppress us. They suppress us with rubber bullets and they use the legal system; they denounce us so that we cannot go out in the street and protest. This is the model, we protest the mining projects and the government tries to stop us, to shut us up, to suppress us.
What are your goals moving forward from here?
We are going to continue forming a consensus throughout the community because we do not feel represented by the government, neither on a local or national level. I do not think that there is a national policy with regards to the environment, so we have to continue strengthening ties in the community to keep fighting and resisting in support of national laws against large-scale mining.
Do you think things will improve or change with the new government under Macri?
Hmm. I have my doubts, I have my doubts. At the very least, Macri knows who we are in Famatina.