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Uproar over mining lobbying in Chubut

Chubut Justicialist Party (PJ) legislator Gustavo Muñiz was photographed exchanging messages with a representative of Canadian mining firm Yamana Gold during a debate in the Chubut provincial legislature over a key bill for the sector. The photograph caused on uproar in social media yesterday after the Legislature approved the bill in a 15-to-12 vote.
Lawmaker Gustavo Muñiz is photographed exchanging messages with Canadian firm

Chubut provincial Justicialist Party (PJ) lawmaker Gustavo Muñiz became the target of criticism yesterday after a picture exploded on social media yesterday that showed him exchanging messages on Tuesday night with a representative from the mining sector as the provincial Legislature was analyzing a bill that originally called for a ban on mining activities.

During the legislative debate, the measure was modified so that it now calls for public debates on mining and requests the provincial Executive to hold consultations about the possibility of allowing mining in specific areas that are likely to be apt for such activities.

Muñiz was pictured exchanging messages with Gastón Berardi, identified by local media as a manager at the Canada-based Yamana Gold mining company.

“Would it be possible to change one of the terms in Article 4? It should read: including the region or...” reads a message from Berardi visible on Muñiz’s mobile phone. The PJ legislator typed back, “...later the Executive will imple...” seemingly indicating that the changes requested by Berardi could be included once the governor signed the measure into law.

The bill originally put forward was an initiative of approximately 17,000 anti-mining activists urging a total ban on mining activity in the province. The environmentalist initiative debated in the legislature as part of the procedures that allow for popular participation as a result of widespread petitions. Nonetheless, the bill was modified by the legislature in committee by the PJ and Victory Front (FpV) and passed with language that triggers a series of public debates on mining. Muñiz was one of 15 legislators to vote for the modified bill. A total of 12 votes against were recorded after an arduous debate.

“I received many messages and the one from the mining company was after the bill had already been discussed,” Muñiz told a radio in Comodoro Rivadavia yesterday, effectively confirming the photograph’s contents.

Provincial law currently prohibits open-pit mining that utilizes cyanide, a known toxin and contaminant that is commonly used in gold mining operations.

Yamana Gold in Argentina

Yamana Gold mines for gold in various countries of the Americas and currently participates in open-pit mining operations for gold in San Juan and Catamarca provinces. It also has interests in Chile and Brazil. The company describes itself as planning to “continue to build on this base through existing operating mine expansions, throughput increases, development of new mines, the advancement of its exploration properties and by targeting other gold consolidation opportunities with a primary focus in the Americas.”

The Gualcamayo mine in San Juan, which is 100 percent operated by the Yamana, reportedly produced 120,337 ounces of gold in 2013 in the mine that has 1.4 million ounces of proven and probable reserves that are yet to be extracted.

While Yamana was the only mining company to be publicly quoted for expressing its positions, activists see it as a given that other companies also had an interest in the bill and expressed their opinoins.

The most well-known foreign mining interest in Argentina, Pascua Lama in San Juan province, is operated by Canadian-mining company Barrick Gold. Pascua Lama is currently on standby as the Chilean government has halted operations on its side of the mine, which straddles the border high in the Andes mountains.

Mining switch

According to the terms of the bill, mining activity is suspended in the province for 120 days but the Executive Branch, under the leadership of Governor Martín Buzzi is obliged to organize and guarantee a public debate on mining in the entire province and that once it is complete a binding referendum on mining activity in the regions most likely to be apt for extractive industries.

The areas most likely to be hold mineral reserves worth exploiting are in the central plateau and mountain ranges, far from the Trelew coastal area that Muñiz represents in the Legislature.

Legislators aligned with former Chubut governor Mario das Neves and the provincial Radical party (UCR) expressed support for the initial version of the draft. Despite the vote, debate continued yesterday in the local press among provincial lawmakers and environmentalist groups expressed their dissatisfaction with the modification to the original proposal.

Furthermore, once the bill was approved there were requests form the opposition calling on Buzzi to veto the new legislation. These primarily came from Senator Mario Cimadevilla, leader of the provincial Radical party, who said that the exchange of messages merited a veto of the bill.

Herald staff with online media

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