Massive protests force Argentinian governor to abolish mining law

Protest in Mendoza on December 27, 2019. (Image by Mario Vadillo, Twitter).

Following a week of protests, the governor of Argentina’s central province of Mendoza, Rodolfo Suárez, announced that he will send a bill to the legislature to abolish Law 9209, which allowed for cyanide and sulfuric acid to be used in mining operations and which modified its predecessor, Law 7722.

The new law was swiftly approved last week and it sparked massive, daily protests across the province. Some rallies caused transit disruptions on roads that connect Argentina with neighbouring Chile.

Seven wine-producing towns within the Mendoza province said they would suspend their annual vintage festivals if Law 9209 wasn’t abolished

Protesters, many of them from left-wing opposition parties and environmental organizations, argued that the new law threatened the province’s waterways and water supply. 

After a week of unrest, on December 26th, Suárez said that the legislature was not going to work on the regulations that would make the law effective until a social consensus was reached. In a press conference reported on by local media, the governor said he was even thinking about the possibility of calling a referendum on the law.

But rallies continued to take place with 10,000 people marching on Thursday, according to Clarín newspaper. Suárez’s office announced that a bill to abolish the law will be sent to the provincial legislature this Monday. 

The governor, however, said he still believes that allowing mining activities is key for Mendoza’s economic development. At present, the province has 19 mining proposals waiting for approval. Most of them focus on copper extraction, but there are also gold, silver, lead, zinc and uranium projects on the drawing board.

Of those, only one project has received the necessary approvals to go ahead. It is Alto América’s Hierro Indio iron ore operation, located near the municipality of Malargue where a new wave of protests is taking place but, in this case, in support of Law 9209.

Pro-mining activists in Malargue said over the weekend that they will ask the governor to apply the new legislation in their town, even if it is abolished in the rest of the province.

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