Monday, May 30, 2011

Friedman's Gold and Argentina

In his new book Imperialist Canada, Todd Gordon discusses Canadian company Barrick Gold and their mining at Pascua Lama, Argentina.
Toronto-based Barrick is the largest gold producer in the world, with properties—and opposition movements challenging its practices—on nearly every continent. As testament to the international unpopularity of the company, May 2, 2007, was the International Day of Action against it. One of Barrick's most controversial projects is Pascua Lama. Pascua Lama is a gold, silver and copper open-pit mine site located in the Andean mountains. It straddles the border between Argentina and Chile, in the province of San Juan in Argentina and on the outer edges of the Atacama Desert in Chile. .. (1)
Further exploitation of Chile and Argentina by the free-marketeers.

It's interesting that Peter Munk, founder of Barrick, is quoted in Time magazine praising Augustus Pinochet, the Chilean dictator who ran torture chambers and held massacres in football stadiums.

Munk defends his position by saying: "Maybe I'm less sensitive to these issues because I see that what people need first is economic security, and only when they have that can they afford to focus on human rights." The alternative to liberalized economies, he argues, "is the true enslavement of the people." (2)

An odd commentary that fits with Milton Friedman's shock therapy.

Barrick's initial plans for the mine was to "relocate" sizable portions of three large glaciers that were blocking deposits in the area. According to investigative journalist Jenn Ross, "these glaciers span approximately 24 hectares". The plan calls for moving roughly 10 hectares—about 25 acres—of that surface area, which amounts to 800,000 cubic metres of ice." (1)

Argentine ecologist, Raul Montenegro, argued that "Barrick is treating the glaciers like 'piles of ice' rather than essential parts of a fragile desert ecosystem. 'You cannot just pick up a glacier, move it, and then tell the rain to fall somewhere else."
Farmers of grapes, peaches, figs, lemons and avocados, among other crops, cultivate their land in the Huasco Valley, underneath the projected mine site. There is little rainfall in the area, so the crops are dependent on run-off water stored in the glaciers .

Local communities are also concerned about water pollution, a common fear of those living near mining developments. Barrick will use 7,200 kilograms of cyanide daily, and plans to divert rivers in Argentina for cyanide solution production, which is necessary for the extraction of gold. Vice-president for corporate communications at Barrick, Vincent Borg, has also admitted that the company plans to utilize arsenic in its extraction processes. The company assures the Chilean government and community activists that it has taken all necessary precautions to prevent spillage of pollutants into streams and rivers. However, Luis Fara, a farmer and councillor in the adjacent Chilean town of Alto del Carmen, points to the fact that the extreme weather conditions at the high altitude may very well overwhelm the containment systems put in place by Barrick. The U.S. Geological Survey has also recorded three earthquakes in excess of 6.7 in magnitude in the last four years in the area.
Stephen Harper visited the region in 2007, but only met with Barrick Gold officials, refusing to address the protesters.

And while Barrick is attempting to do better with PR, and has helped to build irrigation ditches, and provide alternative income, it is not nearly enough. They have also since dropped the bid to move the glaciers, but much damage has already been done. "So the protests continue.

And to help kill a Liberal private members bill, which sought to hold Canadian mining companies to account, the company had some inside help.
Corporations like Barrick Gold and Visa Canada both hired former government staffers to act as lobbyists last year, despite a 2006 law that aimed to end such political influence. The New Democrats say that’s because a loophole exists that allows politicians and ministerial staff to advise corporations so long as they spend less than 20 per cent of their time doing so.

For example, Alanna Heath, a former adviser to Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, was hired to advise Barrick Gold last year but wasn’t required to register as a lobbyist because of the loophole. (Heath was paid to help stop a bill that would have required the government to probe alleged human-rights abuses by Canadian mining companies in other countries.) NDP MP Pat Martin tells Bloomberg News the hirings violate “the spirit of the law.”
But they help to fulfil the neoconservative agenda.

The Canadian mining situation continues to be a controversial subject, and is greatly damaging Canada's reputation abroad.

But with Milton Friedman followers now in government, what hope do we have that this will change?

Not much, I'm afraid.


1. Imperialist Canada, By Todd Gordon, Arbeiter Publishing, 2010, ISBN: 978-1-894037-4507, Pg. 210-212

2. Canada's Gold Tycoon, By Andrew Purvis, Time Magazine, November 09, 2007


  1. Cyanide and arsenic. Right. And the companies are getting government advice, but, like the government, aren't held to account.
    I guess I'm glad they decided not to "move the glaciers" (huh? how did they plan to do THAT anyway?) but I'm still more and more ashamed to be a Canadian.

  2. It may have been a ploy. Suggest something so incredible and then negotiate. In the end they "bargained" for the deal they wanted.

  3. You're right, Emily. Of course it was a ploy. I'm disgusted AND ashamed.