Climate (in)justice in Argentina

Like a tailor fitting a suit, the Argentine government is ready to alter basic environmental laws to adjust them to corporate interests. Español

Martín Vainstein
21 March 2018


Mining Camp in Veladero, province of San Juan, Argentina. Source: Wikimedia Commons. All Rights Reserved.

In November 2017, the Argentine Minister of Environment and Sustainable Development, Sergio Bergman, declared at COP23 that “all (environmental) laws are valid and will not be changed (…) The information going around is just gossip: it does not come from the government, and there is no ground for debate. The gossip (…) is just something that came out after a meeting with the mining representatives, that’s all”.

Mr. Bergman intended to shut down the rumours that the government was willing to modify the two main environmental laws in Argentina: the Native Forest Law and the Glaciers Law.

But just a few days later, after a meeting between government representatives and the mining sector, President Macri confirmed the decision to alter the Glaciers Law.

The Macri Government appears determined to maintain the relationship between public policy and transnational corporations.

The government’s attempt to push an extractivist agenda is not, by any means, an isolated move – it is an international trend.

Just two examples from Latin America show this: In Brazil, where responsibility for the Mariana catastrophe two years ago lies in the hands of the Brazilian corporation Vale and the Anglo-Australian BHP Billiton; in Colombia, where members of the Wayuu community are regularly being killed at the British, Swiss and Australian-owned El Cerrejón mine.


In Argentina, the government is poised for going further with the dispossession model. From the failed attempt to install Monsanto in Malvinas Argentinas, to the illegal logging and land grabbing at the Wichí community in Salta, the criminalisation of the Mapuche People in Vaca Muerta to defend Chevron’s and Benetton’s interests, the Macri Government appears determined to maintain the relationship between public policy and transnational corporations.

This is done by sacrificing territories and people’s lives - territories where economically and politically disadvantaged people live, most of them native, whose way of life does not fit in with the established development model.


The Glaciers Law

Details of the Glaciers Law and its rewriting have already been perfectly summarised in an article by Juan Parrilla and also an interview with Enrique Viale. However, some of the factors which generate the current problem with this law are worth mentioning:

  1. Mines like Veladero, which is managed by both the Canadian Barrick Gold and the State-owned Chinese Shandong Gold corporations, are located in glaciers. There are currently 44 other similar projects under way in Argentina which violate the Glaciers Law.
  2. On the basis of the legal framework set up during the 1990s, which shields government decisions by both the Kirchnerist and Macrist administrations, mines do not contribute to the country’s economy. On the contrary, they are being subsidised by the State.
  3. The number of jobs created by mining is not actually huge and cannot in any way be seen as a compensation for the sacrifice of the areas where it operates.

Clearly, these are not solely problems about mining, but about how this activity is currently carried out in Argentina.

The Glaciers Law, one of the country’s most prominent achievements in legal environmental matters, is of the utmost importance as it restrains the predatory practices of foreign corporations, which have no interest in the country other than extracting its resources – at the cost of convincing its officials to jeopardize its sovereignty.  

However, there is still some hope. Thanks to the organising and the resistance of social movements, seven provinces in Argentina have now passed environmental legislation that limits, or even bans, large-scale mining.

A case in point is the Hands Off Jáchal Assembly, set up by the community after Barrick Gold’s catastrophic spill of 1 million litres of cyanide solution into the Jáchal river, which took the issue to the courts and rallied the country behind it. 

Extractivism and neocolonialism

During the colonial period, both the continent and what today is known as Argentina were ransacked in the name of European civilisation’s values and for the sake of its interests.

Until the links between natural resources, health, hierarchical structures, racism and economic justice can be clearly seen and acknowledged, we will not be able to build truly free societies.

Genocides such as the so-called Conquest of the Desert, aimed at expanding the Argentine borders and at increasing the production of ovine cattle, were perpetrated in order to strike a better commercial deal with the United Kingdom.

During the past few years, the government has been active in getting some provinces to secure transnational extractive corporations’ access to natural resources in Argentine territory. Nothing much has changed since the colonial period.

As Svampa and Viale wrote in their book Wrong Development, extractive activities alter spaces, society, and culture itself - not only do they have an environmental impact, but they also have a profound and disruptive effect on, among others, living standards, work relationships and gender.

Extractive industries, in fact, act as a multiplier of society’s problems and illnesses.

The logic of extractivism, much as that of colonialism, stems from a systemic cultural problem. Until the links between natural resources, health, hierarchical structures, racism and economic justice can be clearly seen and acknowledged, we will not be able to build truly free societies and sovereign territories.  

The problem is, indeed, a major one. But in times such as these, when femicides and travesticides have become a plague, jobs are being cut for austerity reasons, agrotoxic rain is pouring down our heads and dissent is routinely repressed, we must be able to see further down the line. 

We need to understand, as native peoples have known and practiced all along, that we are all in this together – and that understanding this is the only way in which we can hope to fight the prevailing neocolonial narrative and its local faithful servants.



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