Experts warn of civil unrest in Argentina as it readies to lift ban on open pit mining
Argentina’s national government is pressing ahead with its intentions to make of mining one of the pillars of job creation, and it’s holding talks with the leaders of the three provinces that declined to sign a 2017 mining act, which harmonizes taxes and regulations in hopes of attracting investment.
Mining secretary, Daniel Meilán, told local paper El Diario that the government wants the leaders of Chubut, La Pampa and La Rioja, to adopt federal mining regulations and reactivate major projects that have been halted for years.
Among those proposed mines currently stalled is Canada’s Pan American Silver’s (TSX:PAAS) Navidad project in Chubut, which has been on hold since 2013, when it ran afoul of provincial rules banning the use of cyanide and open-pit mining.
Allowing open pit mining in the southern province of Chubut, would let Pan American Silver’s $1 billion Navidad project — the world’s largest undeveloped silver deposit — to finally go ahead.
According to Agencia Digital de Noticias, President Mauricio Macri recently met in Davos with Pan American’s chairman Ross Beaty, promising his support to reopen the dialogue around the project and so create new sources of employment in the southern province.
Jimena Blanco, head of Americas, Politics at consultancy firm Verisk Maplecroft, is not very positive about the outcome of the potential end of the open pit mining ban in Chubut.
“This intention will carry a hefty political cost for the Peronist novice governor, Mariano Arcioni,” she said. “We expect Mining and Energy Minister Juan José Aranguren’s visit to Telsen next week to prompt social unrest, including by extremist Mapuche groups.”
The expert warns violence could escalate if federal security forces are required to remove protestors from roadways.
She notes that a similar operation last year resulted in the death of Santiago Maldonado, an Argentine that had joined a road blockade by the Mapuche community and drowned in a nearby river when trying to escape.
“In the best-case scenario, the provincial government may pursue passage of a zoning bill, as required by Law 5001. Zoning would determine in which areas (and what type of) mining can occur,” Blanco said.
Pan American Silver’s $1 billion Navidad project is the world’s largest undeveloped silver deposit. Passage of a zoning code would allow it to finally go ahead.
Since taking office in late 2015, Macri has adopted measures to revive the country’s mining industry. One of the first ones was eliminating a 5% tax on metallic minerals in 2016.
He also revoked a prohibition on foreign companies sending profits made in Argentina out of the country.
Experts estimates there is some $400 billion worth of untapped mineral resources underground in Argentina.