Uruguayan President says Zamin’s massive iron ore mine will go ahead

Uruguayan President says Zamin’s massive iron ore mine will go ahead

Mujica, a 78-year-old former guerrilla leader, sees the Valentines iron ore mine as a crowning legacy of his presidency.

Uruguayan President, Jose Mujica, has said the massive open-pit iron ore mine proposed by London-based Zamin Ferrous, through its subsidiary Minera Aratirí, will go ahead, despite increasing local opposition.

The $3 billion Valentines project, also known as Aratarí, has been on hold since August last year, as the country was in the midst of passing a new mining law to allow large-scale operations. But the firm is now ready to sign an investment contract with the government, which will likely happen in February, Mujica told state-owned radio Sodre.

The authority reminded the nation that iron ore extraction does not require the use harmful chemicals, adding that the country will never learn about mining if it doesn’t open its doors to such endeavours.

While the South American country legalized large-scale mining last year, emerging groups are calling for a national referendum on the matter, as they claim the ruling was made specifically to let Zamin’s project move forward.

“This law has a first name and a last name: Aratirí,” Senator Sergio Abreu of the opposition National Party was quoted as saying.

Uruguay holds vast deposits of iron ore estimated in 2,500 million tons. If mined, they could put the South American country in the eighth position of the world’s largest iron producers list.

Valentines is an ambitious three-phase development that includes the construction of underground slurry and return water pipelines to connect the mine to a deep water port, to be built on Uruguay's Atlantic coast.

The project faced disapproval when first proposed in 2008, when Indian group Zamin’s subsidiary Minera Aratirí was granted initial exploration permits.

That opposition intensified after Zamin and Mujica agreed work together on building a deep-water port, which the Uruguayan President argues it will boost the country’s economy.

Currently, Uruguay depends on the goodwill of Argentina and Brazil for much of its global exports. But earlier this month, Brazil said it would support Uruguay's plans to have its own terminal and so bypass Argentina.

Zamin Ferrous's iron ore project, spanning five departments of the centre-west of the country, is set to generate $1.4 billion in exports annually over the 20 years of its life cycle.

Image from Flickr.