Chilean President Sebastián Piñera has entered the fray surrounding Barrick Gold’s decision to temporarily suspend construction on its troubled Pascua Lama gold mine which straddles up in the Andes along Chile and Argentina, a move which activists slammed as a ploy.
Speaking to local press, Piñera said that the future of the project was now “in the hands” of the Canadian mining giant, which would have to “comply with all regulations” designed to protect local communities and the environment.
“This is a 8.5 billion dollars project of which 4 billion has already been invested,” the president said. “It could become one of the largest gold mines in the world. Furthermore, it could generate a lot of employment and opportunities in the Atacama Region. But, as they are aware, Barrick has not seriously and responsibly complied with all that has been established under the environmental standards resolution.”
Piñera’s comments came after Barrick Gold outlined in its third-quarter earnings report — released last week — that it would temporarily halt construction on the gold mine, which straddles the northern Chilean-Argentine border.
“We have determined that the prudent course — at this stage — is to suspend the project, but naturally we will maintain our option to resume construction and finish the project when improvements to its current challenges have been attained” the report reads.
In addition to cutting costs — in a year in which the price of gold has fallen 19% — the call to suspend operations at the mine will allegedly provide Barrick Gold with a chance to expand their water management system in compliance with the national environmental standards they have been accused of neglecting.
Greenpeace Chile responded instantly to the announcement, describing the suspension as a “strategic decision” aimed at easing investors’ concerns over a series of court battles which forced a suspension on construction on the project until it meets environmental standards.
“The announced suspension is no more than a strategic decision designed to give Barrick the appearance of a responsible company, while buying it time to search for backdoors which would allow it to continue going forward,” said Samuel Leiva, campaign coordinator of Greenpeace Chile.
In late September, the Chilean Supreme Court upheld a local court ruling to freeze construction on Pascua Lama — originally slated to complete construction by early 2014 — after the indigenous Diaguita brought forward a case against the project, saying it would contaminate groundwater in the Huasco Valley and damage glaciers in the arid Atacama Region.
By Emily McHugh – The Santiago Times
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