In Latin America, 58 mining projects have an investment greater than US$ 1 billion. This industry has become an economic opportunity for the continent, but also a serious problem for the indigenous population, health and the environment.
Mining is an industry that, by its nature, is associated with conflict. The governments of Latin American countries that allow the extraction prefer to take a marginal role and it is the companies through their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), which take care of any problems.
This is the opinion of Glevys Rondón, project director of the Latin American Mining Monitoring Programme (LAMMP) a non-profit organisation based in the UK whose main objective is to support indigenous and rural women who are affected by mining industries.
In this environment, women are a very vulnerable collective because as human rights and environmental defenders they are not protected. Ecuador, Bolivia, Guatemala, Venezuela, Mexico and Peru are the countries where LAMMP develops its work.
“This is not a fight out of context. This is to support and strengthen the position of women in the process of discussion, to give them greater visibility and create opportunities for them to have direct representation”, says the London-based Venezuelan.
Glevys Rondón speaks in an interview with The Prisma of the severe effects of mining, the consequences on the environment, health and the indigenous communities.
Why do women find themselves in a situation of defencelessness against the mining industries?
In many Latin American countries, this business has a great importance and women have little real presence. However, there are women who serve as leaders and fight against the current who even experience family pressure to abandon the fight and are arrested and sometimes beaten due to not knowing their rights as defenders of human rights.
It is a privileged region from the point of view of resources. According to 2010 data, in a decade, mining investment had risen from 12% to 32%. This is extraordinary growth as projects in Latin America are among the most important in the world. In fact, there are 58 projects with an investment of over US$ billion.
However, what impact is the continent suffering?
Only when you see the coverage do you realise. For example, there are over 25,000 permits in Chile covering 51 million hectares. And 15% of the territory of Peru is under concession because it is the leader in silver mining, but also has one of the highest rates of complaints to the ombudsman for environmental problems.
In the past three years, more than 100 farmers have died in this conflict. The impact of mining on water, land and communities is extraordinary.
There is a large discrepancy between the alleged high-welfare promises that the country will receive and the harsh reality facing communities, for example, toxic pollution that reaches food and animals. The mining corporations have carte blanche in all Latin American countries.
What are the most serious effects?
That depends; for the indigenous the environment is everything. They have a very strong emotional and cultural tie to the land so for them the impact of mining is devastating because it destroys their environment and culture. For us, for example in Britain, the effects are on climate change. It’s something that affects everyone.
But of course, the most affected aspect is the health of the Indians because they are dedicated to agriculture. Above all, women because they are in permanent contact with contaminated water. They suffer skin diseases, in the same way as the children, who grow weak. Even suffering from new diseases which doctors do not even know of.
It is a vicious cycle that starts with mining but they do not know when or how it will end. They survive, but it is a long-term death.
Governments have abandoned their role as protectors of communities to become stewards of the resources and facilities to get corporations to enter the country.
This is a position shared by most Latin American governments regardless of ideology, from Mexico to Ecuador or Venezuela; they all share the extractive model.
Communities are at war with corporations, governments and police defend the right of these corporations that have legally acquired the land.
What about the responsibility of corporations and international organisations?
The problem is that Corporate Social Responsibility is voluntary and also the companies have created a whole international system that makes it easier to enter into a Latin American country for very little money and apparatus that protects them.
Internationally there have been a number of mechanisms such as the ILO Convention 169 to protect communities. But in practice it is more worrying than in theory. International mechanisms are on a parallel path to reality and never encounter this.
How do you approach the future in Latin America?
In the next 10 years it will be one of the fundamental problems of the continent. How to achieve the right balance between the desire to participate in this industry, which is incredibly lucrative, and the environmental impact and human rights.
Father Arana, who is Peruvian, said that Latin America has the resources but not the technology to exploit them. And over time, we will have the technology, but we will not have the resources. What will happen to the land that becomes desolate?
What can be the solution to this problem?
There must be a social consensus on if we want or do not want mining because if we continue with these levels of extraction it will affect not only the indigenous farming communities, but also those who purchase their products.
A consensus is needed, which can challenge how concessions are granted. Respect the right to consultation and that the decisions are binding.
The state owns the land and can allocate any part of a country to a mining project. There is no point in having inquiries like they have done in Guatemala with the answer being a resounding no and then ignoring the opposition. If you vote and then have no rights, it is undermining the foundations of democracy in Latin America.
(Translated by David Coldwell – Email: email@example.com)