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Protests in Argentina following modification of mining law

Protest in Mendoza, Argentina, against the modification of Law 7722. (Image by José María Brizu, Twitter).

A number of protests took place this weekend in Argentina’s central province of Mendoza, following the approval of a new version of Law 7722, which restricted the use of dangerous chemicals in mining operations.

The provincial legislature greenlighted the modification of the law with 36 votes in favour, 11 against, one abstention and one absence in the lower chamber, and 28 votes in favour and 7 against in the upper chamber. The proposal was presented by Mendoza’s governor Rodolfo Suárez.

The modified law allows for the use of cyanide and sulfuric acid in mining activities but forbids the use of mercury. It also asks companies to submit an Environmental Impact Assessment specific to water resources and a general Environmental Impact Assessment that includes reports from municipal authorities, the General Department of Irrigation, the Argentinian Institute of Snow Hydrology, Glacier Science, and Environmental Sciences, among other institutions.

But environmental NGOs, left-wing parties, and citizens concerned about the damage that a spill could cause to the province’s waterways expressed their rejection by blockading route number 40 which goes to Mendoza’s central region, as well as route number 7 at Uspallata, which crosses the Andes and leads to Santiago in Chile. There were also rallies in the southern cities of San Rafael and General Alvear.

Yet, other towns such as Malargüe in the southwest didn’t see any protests and when asked by local media, many citizens expressed support to the new Law 7722. This is the only area of the province where a mining project received the necessary approvals to go ahead this year, namely the Hierro Indio iron ore project owned by Alto Américas.

Mendoza 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.

According to the Mendoza Chamber of Mining Businesses, the modification of the law will allow for the reactivation of the mining sector which, in turn, would move resources valued in $349.2 million.

A study by the Chamber revealed that if only six projects get permitted, over 17,000 jobs would be created during the construction phase and more than 39,000 once they go into production.