These countries structurally have negative terms of trade, i.e. they export more tons than they import, and the ton of exports has a price much lower than the ton of imports. This reflects the “open veins” of the continent, and has been characterised as an “extractivist” model. This applies to Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Perú and Bolivia, and also to Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay, known as the “Southern Cone”. The same applies to Brazil (Chapter 19). Come conflicts are transboundary. Acción Ecologica in Ecuador and Censat in Colombia are internationally known environmental organisations. The leading mining companies are foreign, increasingly Chinese but also Canadian, American. There are some local companies. In some countries deforestation and soybean plantations are growing. Indigenous complaints under Convention 169 of ILO are frequent. New institutions such as “popular consultation” or local referendums stop some extractivist projects. Cultural and political movements have been born against “extractivism”.


The EJAtlas collected (by July 2021) about 367 environmental conflicts from Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Perú and Bolivia and 145 from Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay, known as the “Southern Cone”. These countries are somewhat over-represented. We counted with competent collaborators such as Sara Latorre, Mario Alejandro Pérez Rincón, Emiliano Teran, José Carlos Silva Macher, Raquel Neyra or Mariana Walter. Also, we had help from the Observatory of Mining Conflicts in Latin America (OCMAL), Lucrecia Wagner, Acción Ecológica in Ecuador and Censat in Colombia.

A map of South America presenting cases of the EJAtlas, classified in ten categories (biodiversity conservation, biomass, nuclear, waste management etc.).
Figure 17.1

Environmental conflicts in the Andean countries and the Southern Cone

Source:  A. Grimaldos

In Chapters 18 and 19, I shall add cases from Brazil and the Guayanas, and from Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean. Between Chapters 17, 18 and 19, I describe around one hundred conflicts taken from the roughly one thousand EJAtlas cases from Latin America and the Caribbean: similar causes (the change of the social metabolism, aggravated by ecologically unequal exchange), similar grievances, complaints, claims for justice, repression and some successes. This being said, I acknowledge my own great personal debt to the Latin American school of ecological economics and political ecology, to those who already died (Manfred Max-Neef and Héctor Alimonda) and those who are alive.


Following the methodology of picking from the EJAtlas only a “sample within a sample” of cases, I shall start from Kimsacocha (also called Loma Larga) and Rio Blanco, both in the province of Azuay, Ecuador. Their intricate trajectories had an impact at a wider political scale related to the career of Yaku Pérez, elected governor in Azuay. In 2021, he almost got into the final round of the presidential election with a majority in the Sierra and Amazon regions of the country. He hails from a peasant family and has a law degree from a provincial university.


Kimsacocha, the “three lakes” in Quechua language, was a gold mining project from Iamgold, a South African company. The peasant communities in that area have been fighting for water and for their moors for 30 years. On 24 March 2019, there was a binding popular consultation on the mining project in the canton of Girón reached after long struggles, particularly from the Federation of Indigenous and Peasant Organisations of Azuay (FOA) and from the Union of Girón Community Water Systems, which had the backing of other movements, p. 351 p. 352among which the Yasunidos de Guapondelig (Cuenca). Yasunidos was born in Ecuador after 2013 trying to revive the Yasuni ITT initiative.

The mining firm COGEMA was the first to carry out exploration work in Kimsacocha in 1991. In 1993, the companies Newmont Mining and TVX Gold became COGEMA's joint venture partners. In 1999, Iamgold acquired the concessions from COGEMA. In 2003 local opposition became active to avoid contamination in the Irquis River basin managed by the parishes of Tarqui and Victoria del Portete that supply water to 1,500 families. Local communities extended their alliances both within the province and beyond. Opposition faced violent repression. After the consultation, environmentalists gathered outside the Constitutional Court in Quito with banners saying “water is worth more than gold”. Yaku Pérez said: “in water sources, in moors, wetlands, water recharge areas, we want no mining whatsoever, small or medium, mega, neither formal nor informal”. The slogan el agua vale más que el oro, born in popular struggles against gold mining in Latin America, scaled up in Ecuador to the provincial political level and to the campaign of a presidential candidate.

Río Blanco

The Río Blanco project is located at the edge of the Cajas National Park whose moors flow a dozen rivers that carry water to Cuenca, the Ecuadorian coast and the rivers of the Amazon basin. In 1995, Rio Tinto Zinc (RTZ) discovered a gold mineralization on the Canoas concession. Social unrest emerged among communities belonging to the parishes of Molleturo and Chaucha because of unaccomplished economic promises, land tenure conflicts and environmental concerns. The company began to work in the Molleturo Protective Forest, an area embracing 25 watersheds and important sources of water for agriculture and human consumption. Communities opposing mining activities asked for withdrawal but authorities did not respond. In 1996, the Canadian mining firm IMC signed a joint venture agreement with RTZ.

IMC carried out exploration works and published its positive feasibility study in 2006. Local opposition grew at the same time as a nationwide anti-miming movement. In 2008, the new Constitutional mining mandate was issued. It should have meant the end of the IMCs contract as it overlaps with a protected forest. This did not happen, as president Correa was strongly in favour of mining. It is estimated that Rio Blanco contains 605,000 ounces of gold and 4.3 million ounces of silver. The project began operation in August 2016. Since 2019, a Chinese owned gold mine, Ecuagoldmining, has been prevented from mining by local resistance. In June 2019 the San Pedro de Yumate-Río Blanco highway, in the Molleturo parish of Cuenca (Azuay), had been cut off. Ecuagoldmining is part of Junefield Mineral Resources, of Hong Kong. By 2022 it threatened to sue the government. There had been no prior consultation with the communities. In the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador's (CONAIE) uprising of October 2019, a local group burned the mining camp,

Among the lawyers for the Molleturo communities was Zhang Jingjing, a Chinese environmental lawyer who brought a number of public interest cases in China.

Páramo del Almorzadero, Colombia: Coal Mining 2

Colombia is a country of much violence and heartless open cast coal mining; until recently, nearly one hundred million tons of coal were exported per year from the coastal regions p. 353El Cesar and La Guajira. Many conflicts have arisen between multinational companies (Drummond, BHP ‒ also known as BHP Billiton ‒ Glencore) and the local populations (Wayuu people and creole Colombians) who suffer from land and water grabbing, displacement and the pollution effects of coal transport by railway to the two export harbours.

However, the conflict we shall see takes place in the Colombian highlands, in a central part of the country. It is an important conflict, but its metabolic dimensions are much smaller than in the coast. The Páramo del Almorzadero is located in Santander, province of Garcia Rovira. Coal exploitation has been practised by different small companies since 1989. However, this moorland (a páramo) is of great importance because it contains streams, rivers and approximately 31 lagoons. The environmental conflict in the Páramo del Almorzadero is part of the national movement of defence of the paramos as valuable ecosystems with their frailejones (Espeletia) and as water providers (Figure 17.2).

Espeletia (frailejones), the unique vegetation of the páramos (Nicolas Ramirez, Wikimedia Commons).
Figure 17.2

Espeletia (frailejones), the unique vegetation of the páramos

Source:  Nicolas Ramirez, Wikimedia Commons

The streams that are born in the municipalities of Cerrito, Guaca, San Andrés and Concepción, form a binational river system of strategic importance for Colombia and Venezuela. The peasant communities of the municipality and Censat Aguaviva, have maintained a campaign since 1989. Consequently, companies like CARBORIENTE cancelled their projects in this area. In 2004, the national company MINALMO began illegal exploitation over the old abandoned mines. Young people resumed a ‘Campaign in Defence of Life and of Páramo del Almorzadero’, summoning all the communities of the subregion. This forced the state Autonomous Corporation of Santander (CAS) to order the suspension of mining activity again.p. 354

The return of CARBORIENTE in 2005 convinced communities of development possibilities, until environmental impacts were noticed and protests rose again. Forums were convened to discuss the situation and a lawsuit was filed. The Government of the Department declassified El Almorzadero to declare it as a Dry Páramo and thus enable its exploitation. The Campaign in Defence of Life and El Almorzadero forced the CAS to order the suspension of mining activity again. Finally, in September 2008, the tenders by the national government were again suspended. But, a year later, the government gave around 8,478 ha of land's concessions to Continental de Carbones to exploit coal in Paramo Almorzadero. In response, the communities carried out a popular initiative, collecting signatures for the Municipal Council to vote on an alternative proposal in which Paramo Almorzadero would be declared as a natural reserve for life.

In February 2012, the Regional Environmental Forum in Defence of the Paramo del Almorzadero was held with the support of the Association for the sustainable management of the environment ‒ AMASOMA in the municipality of Chitagá (North of Santander). The meeting was attended by Corponor (Regional Autonomous Corporation of Norte de Santander), the mayors of Chitagá and El Cerrito, communities, peasant organizations, environmentalists, trade unions, youth, students aiming at rescuing the sacred, cultural and environmental value that the moorland has for all the villages and communities living around it. One of them is the famous U’wa people. Another actor is the Inter-American Association for the Defence of the Environment, a non-governmental organization of international environmental law. The conflict continues.


Between 2013 and 2017, two famous popular consultations were held in the department of Tolima, against the wishes of the Colombian government. The South African multinational AngloGold Ashanti (AGA) had a large concession granted by the Colombian Institute of Geology and Mining (Ingeominas) since 2008 to conduct gold exploration. La Colosa gold mine was perhaps the largest site found in the last years worldwide.

Since 2011, there were demonstrations in Cajarmarca and the capital Ibagué. According to Renzo García, the Environmental Committee in Defence of Life, various social, cultural and environmental organizations in Ibagué, Cajamarca and Anaime, Usocoello, the Marmato communities, the university students and the citizens of Armenia, Circasia, Chaparral, Rovira, Lebanon, gathered 12,000 minds and hearts in defence of the right to a healthy environment for present and future generations.

In Piedras 3

As part of the La Colosa gold mining megaproject, part of the tailings dam would be located in the Piedras municipality. The material would be transported by gravity pipelines or by pumping systems from the processing plant to the storage area. Piedras has an agricultural vocation due to the richness of its soils and the availability of water. Although the provision for the treatment of the material extracted was not yet defined and the properties were in the process of being purchased, AGA sent a letter to the municipality in 2013 to consider the installation of this tailings dam of evacuation and storage of waste.p. 355

After finding out the intention of AGA, there was a strong mobilization against the social and environmental impacts, such as the contamination of water with cyanide plus the dispossession of land. A popular consultation was held in July 2013: 2,971 people for NO and 26 people for YES. This decision was ratified by the Piedras municipal council declaring a ban on large-scale mining. However, AGA announced that the question asked in the consultation was biased. The government decreed the consultation was illegal: the mayor of the municipality had no competence to organize it since the natural resources of the subsoil were owned by the State and mining required a tailings deposit. These movements against Piedras did not proceed much further because in 2017 a popular consultation stopped in neighbouring municipality of Cajamarca the company that impudently carries the name of the Ashanti kingdom.

In Cajamarca, Tolima 4

As Juan Miguel Hernández Bonilla reported in El Espectador:

March 26, 2017 was an unforgettable day for the inhabitants of the municipality of Cajamarca (Tolima). The community said ‘no’ to the execution of mining projects in its territory and with 6,165 votes, equivalent to 97% of the votes cast, forced the multinational Anglogold Ashanti to stop gold exploration at the La Colosa mine.

In the following months, in a country marked by political violence, there was a proliferation of peaceful civic popular consultations against mining and also against extraction of fossil fuels. The Minister of Mines and Energy said the consultation “did not have the capacity to change the law”; Carlos Enciso, the former corporate operation manager of AngloGold Ashanti, insisted that the decision was not binding; also, the mayor of the municipality, Pedro Pablo Marín, said that in Cajamarca people were already sorry to have voted no to mining. The Municipal Council of Cajamarca reluctantly ordered a ban on mining in the territory and, therefore, AGA decided to stop operations indefinitely and leave the region.

Renzo García said:

The ball is now in our court. It is our responsibility to demonstrate that agriculture and ecotourism are a real possibility to generate wealth and permanent good living in the territory. It is our duty to potentiate farmer organisations, promote adequate land use, advocate for the consumption of healthy food and generate employment for the entire population of Cajamarca.

In June 2011, British MP Ian Lavery, taking into account AGA's environmental and human rights record in Ghana and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, found it worrisome that this company had a concession in Colombia with inferred resources of more than 25 million ounces of gold (about US$ 30,000 billion). But in 2017 a popular consultation stopped the powerful mining company.


The cultivation of oil palm extends in tropical America, together with blatant land grabbing and open violence. In Colombia, Afro-descendant people movements in Chocó are famous. In p. 356that region, the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia paramilitary group were created at the end of the 1990s and were responsible for grabbing the lands of the inhabitants of the Jiguamiandó and Curvaradó river basins, while several palm companies, such as Urapalma SA, benefited from this violence. We focus on the conflict of the Hacienda Las Pavas (around 1200 ha), in the Bolívar region. The conflict was not only over land but also for the control of the territory to establish a development model associated with palm production. This model is devastating in environmental terms because of the destruction of wetlands; but it is also socially exclusive and racist, because it appropriates the territory providing livelihood to the Afro-Colombian peasants. It generated displacement. This conflict became known outside of Colombia and ended relatively well.

The Las Pavas case appeared to public opinion as a dispute between 123 peasant families displaced from their lands and one of Colombia's large agribusiness companies, DAABON. Between 1994 and 2009 these families occupied Las Pavas. In 2006, they requested extinction of ownership before the Colombian Institute of Rural Development through an Agrarian Reform action. In 2007, the El Labrador Consortium formed by the DAABON group and Aportes San Isidro bought the property from the owner who had abandoned it, initiating the legal process to expel the peasants from the farm. This was achieved through police action in July 2009. However, the purchase and subsequent expulsion of peasants were obtained by passing over the process of domain extinction initiated earlier. This irregularity made it possible to put a demand by ASOCAB, an organization that grouped the peasants displaced, to restart the process by a decision of the Constitutional Court of Colombia in April 2011. The peasants were able to return to Las Pavas.

The implications of this conflict went international since DAABON was a provider of The Body Shop, a recognized European chain of skincare items. There was wide dissemination in the media and various campaigns in different cities of Colombia and Europe. The Body Shop terminated their contract with the DAABON group, and the latter then chose to sell its share to the second owner, Aportes San Isidro.

In November 2011, the prosecutor of Cartagena, Myriam Martínez, based on the versions of witnesses linked to the palm company, issued a resolution that contradicted the provisions of the Constitutional Court. She stated that the peasants were not displaced and never had possession of the property, accusing several of the leaders of ASOCAB of being members of a guerrilla movement. This statement caused a stir in national public opinion. However, after the declaration of experts and NGOs, a visit of the Attorney General to Las Pavas and a march of ASOCAB, the case continued in its process of domain extinction.


I now change the landscape to coastal areas that are still or used to be covered by mangroves. We travel south to the coast of Ecuador. Mangrove forests are threatened by several causes – urbanization in Guayaquil but also deforestation to make room for industrial shrimp farming for export. I shall analyze one of many cases, in the little island of Muisne in Ecuador. Here again a local conflict acquired national relevance and also became known internationally. The areas with largest mangrove forests are in Indonesia (with its many islands), Brazil, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Australia, Nigeria and the Gulf of Guinea, Mexico, Myanmar, India and Bangladesh. In the case of Ecuador, the social struggles in defence of mangroves are well p. 357known. Women of Afro-American descent have been among the main protagonists. They are linked to the rebirth of the Comunidades Negras against displacement, modernization and so-called development, as documented by anthropologist Arturo Escobar in Colombia (Figure 17.3).

Mural saying “This town was born from mangrove, this town will defend its life”, with an illustration of a greedy character approaching mangroves.
Figure 17.3

Este pueblo nació del manglar

Source:  Greenpeace/Daniel Beltrá

From the mid-1980s the expansion of intensive shrimp farms in the Muisne Canton, in the coastal province of northern Esmeraldas, was strongly opposed by locals, and environmental associations like Fundecol. The mangroves were the main source of livelihood for communities and residents until being almost entirely destroyed.

“Sensitization” is an awkward word in English, it is equivalent to “conscientization”, in Paulo Freire's vocabulary, meaning to awaken people's awareness. The sensitization of the population about the importance of the mangrove ecosystem was primordial. In 1998, the National Coordinating Corporation for the Defence of the Mangrove Ecosystem (C-Condem) was founded. It brought together associations, communities based on seafood, gatherers fisherfolk, fronts and unions of peoples of the mangrove ecosystem, as well as environmental and social NGOs from other provinces in Ecuador. A crucial concept is “ancestral peoples”, meaning the people of Afro-American descent that in the British West Indies could be called maroons and in Spanish cimarrones. These are palenques and quilombolas of Colombia and Brazil. C-Condem's goals were to build community management proposals for the recovery, conservation and defence of the mangrove ecosystem that guaranteed the human rights of the ancestral peoples. They scaled up their actions, networking from local and national, to regional and international levels.p. 358

The first meeting gathering communities defending mangroves from different Latin-American countries happened in 1993, in Muisne. Since 2001, the Redmanglar Internacional gathered members from ten Latin-American countries. Most mangroves disappeared in Muisne as elsewhere on the coast of Ecuador but there are attempts to replant. Still, Ecuadorian legislation legalized the industrial farming practices in mangrove areas.

One morning in July 1998, I took part as a sympathetic observer in an action by Greenpeace together with Fundecol, in destroying at sunrise one crop of shrimp from an illegal pond by opening a hole in one of the walls, letting the water flow out, and replanting mangrove seedlings. I quote below a call from a woman of Muisne (a conchera – a collector of clams) a few months after the visit by Greenpeace. Her words (translated into English) were distributed to international networks by Fundecol. She said nothing about the monetary value of environmental services from mangroves such as defence of the coast against sea level rise, carbon uptake or defence of biodiversity. She argued for the commons against a “tragedy of enclosures”, in terms of what in the United States would be called “environmental justice” against “environmental racism”. She said:

We have always been ready to cope with everything, and now more than ever, but they want to humiliate us because we are black, because we are poor, but one does not choose the race into which one is born, nor does one choose not to have anything to eat, nor to be ill. But I am proud of my race and of being a conchera because it is my race that gives me strength to battle in defence of what my parents were, and my children will inherit; proud of being a conchera because I have never stolen anything from anyone, I have never taken anybody's bread from their mouth to fill mine, because I have never crawled on my knees asking anybody for money, and I have always lived standing up. Now we are struggling for something which is ours, our ecosystem, but not because we are professional ecologists but because we must remain alive, because if the mangroves disappear, a whole people disappear, we all disappear, we shall no longer be part of the history of Muisne, we shall ourselves exist no longer… I do not know what will happen to us if the mangroves disappear, we shall eat garbage in the outskirts of the city of Esmeraldas or in Guayaquil, we shall become prostitutes, I do not know what will happen to us if the mangroves disappear… We think, if the camaroneros [commercial shrimp growers] who are not the rightful owners nevertheless now prevent us and the carboneros [artisanal charcoal makers] from getting through the lands they have taken, not allowing us to get across the esteros [the swamps in the estuary], shouting and shooting at us, what will happen next, when the government gives them the lands [legally]? Will they put up big “Private Property” signs? Will they kill us with the blessing of the President?


The present major conflict, in the 2020s, is with the Chinese fishing fleet that intrudes into the territorial waters of Ecuador. But behind this ecological and geopolitical conflict on marine biodiversity conservation, there is a long history of international conflicts. Many serious clashes between the Galápagos’ fishing sector, the authorities and conservation scientists occurred in the 1990s. They were often on sea cucumber fishing, like with the Japanese in the 1990s. In 2017, the ship Fu Yuan Yu Leng 999 was intercepted inside the UNESCO-protected Galápagos Marine Reserve with 300 tons of shark onboard, including endangered hammerheads. There were also conflicts with and within the small artisanal fisheries of Galápagos, an area with a small but rapidly increasing human population induced by the increase of tourism. The conservation of the non-marine biodiversity of Galápagos has also been conflictive ‒ this p. 359was an area almost without human presence, still at the time of Darwin's visit with the Beagle when he saw the turtles and reflected on the peculiarities of the finches.

In July 2020, the Ecuadorian Navy issued a warning that a foreign fishing fleet of about 260 vessels was stationed just outside the exclusive economic zone (EEZ), around the Galápagos Islands. By the end of July, the fleet had swelled to over 342 vessels, the vast majority Chinese-flagged or Chinese-owned. Heavily dominated by trawlers, they often went “dark” for up to 17 days at a time, which is illegal if done deliberately. Illegal fishing constitutes the sixth most lucrative global criminal economy, with estimated revenues of $15 to $36 billion, according to a 2017 report by Global Financial Integrity. China's fishing fleet, the world's biggest, is a major contributor to this problem. Of course, which extractive practices are considered “criminal” and which are not is a moot point.

The fleet moved between Ecuador and Chile. They mostly fish squid. Yet the sheer number of vessels means there are concerns that not only is the fleet overexploiting squid but catching other species as well, including endangered ones such as rays and hammerhead sharks. There have been joint statements issued by the Chilean Foreign Ministry in conjunction with that of Ecuador, Peru and Colombia which condemn illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing practices, and commit to collaborating on deepening information exchange and to strengthening regional fishery management organizations. More importantly, it also highlights the decision by the Permanent Commission to the South Pacific, a maritime regulatory body, to condemn any act that resembles IUU fishing, even if it occurs adjacent to a country's EEZ. In other words, the next time a foreign fleet mass trawls off the waters of one of these countries, all four agree to clearly label this as IUU fishing.


The following two cases have something in common – industrial developments that threaten biological conservation and alliances of different social forces opposing them in urban contexts.

Fishmeal in Chimbote 7

Going south from Ecuador, we would reach Paita, the coastal port from where Cinchona officinalis was exported in colonial and post-colonial times, and where Manuela Saenz (Bolivar's lover and political ally) lived after his death. Still further south on the coast, past other valleys, cities and sugarcane plantations, we reach the large polluted fishmeal port and industrial city of Chimbote.

Peru is the world's biggest fishmeal producer. The fishmeal factories that sprang up in the 1960s polluted the air and the waters terribly. There were complaints as it caused major health problems for Chimbote's population of 350,000. The industry also severely degrades the marine environment by bottom-net dragging used to catch tons of fish. Heated water used in the production process is returned to the sea creating dead zones along the coast.

Fishmeal production for export is an aberration of social metabolism. There is massive fish capture in the very productive Humboldt current, then ground up to make fishmeal for export to feed animals. It is a similar resource to guano along the trophic chain – the fishmeal rather at the beginning and the guano at the end. Peru processes about 5 million p. 360tons of anchovy for over one million tons of fishmeal per year plus the oil. The amounts go down when there is a Niño episode, then come back again. Georg Borgstrom's concept of “ghost acreage” (which inspired Bill Rees’ concept of “ecological footprint”) calculated the amount of land saved in importing countries by the many tons of protein imported in the form of fishmeal.

A local activist, Maria Elena Foronda, won a Goldman Prize in 2003. She later became a Member of Parliament in the environmentalist group Tierra y Libertad led by Marco Arana. She spearheaded a campaign to clean up Peru's fishmeal industry, which spewed untreated industrial waste causing cholera outbreaks, fungal skin diseases and the worst pollution problems of Peru's coastal cities. Foronda's father was a union lawyer and influenced her decision to dedicate her life to social justice. After completing her master's degree in Mexico, she moved back to Chimbote to do volunteer social work. Foronda dedicated herself to addressing the ubiquitous environmental and health problems caused by the fishmeal industry; she successfully reduced pollution and improved the health standards in Chimbote and other Peruvian coastal cities. She founded and directed Natura and formed partnerships with progressive fishmeal companies, convincing them to operate in a more environmentally responsible manner.

The Ramsar Wetland of Pantanos de Villa, Lima 8

In the 1990s, a Ramsar site in suburban Lima was threatened by industrial developments ‒ the main one, a large and prosaic pasta factory belonging to the Chilean company Lucchetti which was part of the Chilean Luksic group. The project became conflictive not only for the damage it would cause to a weakly protected ecosystem but also for the discord that Chile and Peru have historically faced since the War of the Pacific (on guano and saltpetre) in 1880.

The Pantanos de Villa Wildlife Refuge is a 300 ha wetland in the district of Chorrillos included in the Ramsar agreement. It shelters about 550 species of migratory and native birds. In the 1990s, Lucchetti built a six-storey building without approval of the EIA or authorization for construction. The Municipality of Lima demanded compliance with the regulations and requested the project to be stopped. The Pantanos de Villa Swamp Defence Committee was created. Lucchetti managed to win several legal cases. The ambiguity of the authorities was evident, and the Municipality of Lima allowed the construction of a highway that cuts the swamps into two, and urbanization companies arrived. Then began a judicial battle between all the actors. The population was actively involved, but it was not until 2003 that the Lucchetti company withdrew, forced by judicial and administrative decisions. The intervention of Chilean environmentalists was remarkable.

The ‘Ramsar’ category is only granted to wetlands that have special international importance as a habitat for water and migratory birds. The Villa Swamps are the only protected area within Lima´s urban area. It is formed by cattails and lagoons that are integrated into the hydrological system of the Rímac River, whose underground waters emerge in a natural depression. Cattails are common plants in large marshes and on the edge of ponds. These wetlands have become part of the migratory corridor for thousands of birds. The growing urban settlement of neighbouring hillsides, the drilling of water wells, the lack of drainage networks and the consolidation of industries was ecologically strangling the legally protected natural area.p. 361


Two signs of the times are the increasing demand for copper and the presence of Chinese mining companies outside of China. The Andes and the upper Amazon basin are witnesses to these variations on an old theme.

Las Bambas 9

Las Bambas could become the second largest world mine for copper production. Despite the opposition of communities, the project continues under construction by the MMG company supported by the Peruvian state. It is located in the Apurímac region (5,000 m high), in central Peru. Its area of influence covers 49 communities of which six are within the mining complex. This is one of the areas with the highest poverty rates in Peru. There will be some inflow of money, for some years, but poverty, in terms of access to land and water, increases. Poverty is multidimensional, as shown in so many ecological distribution conflicts.

There are deposits of copper, gold, silver and iron. Regarding copper, the project has reserves of more than 40 million tons, like two years of world production. This site was discovered at the beginning of the twentieth century. In 2003, the government convened interested national and international companies to qualify for the auction, and in August 2004 the public auction was won by Xstrata AG Switzerland. Xstrata (later Glencore) is present in the controversial Espinar copper mine in the neighbouring region of Cusco where many protestors have been killed. In Las Bambas during the auction process, the communities located in the area of influence opposed the project, arguing the need to conduct a popular consultation. In March 2005, Xstrata began exploration work until 2011 when the EIA was approved. The communities’ claims became even stronger from 2014, when Xstrata sold its stake in the mine to the MMG Ltd consortium, an external subsidiary of China Minmetals Corp, for US$ 5,850 million. The new company was breaking the agreements made between the communities and Xstrata. In 2015, they took de facto measures such as the retention of 100 mine contractor workers and strikes. Some of the demands were: hiring of its inhabitants, payments for social water licences and training for local activities, as well as the installation and expansion of forest nurseries in the 33 communities.

The Las Bambas mega project includes an open pit and the construction of a copper processing plant and its by-products in the upper part of the Challhuahuacho River. The construction of a mineral pipeline to the Cusco region of 206 km was proposed, which caused several conflicts in local communities. However, this plan changed to building a concentrate processing plant near the mine. This concentrate goes with heavy truck transport (and eventually by rail or by pipeline), to the port of Matarani at 295 km. The mine is expected to have a life of 20 years. At the end of September 2015, there was a large protest in Las Bambas against the planned treatment plant in which several peasants died and some police officers were injured. The incidents have continued since then. There are regular reports of killing of demonstrators, whose main protests have to do with damage from transport of copper in the mining corridor that connects the Las Bambas with the port of Matarani.

In 2016, Quintino Cereceda Huisa, from the Choquecca community, died from a bullet wound to the head by the police. Together with four hundred community members, his wife p. 362Antonia Huillca veiled his body on a hill overnight awaiting judicial authority. This was just one of about one hundred environmental victims killed in Peru since the year 2000. Raquel Neyra in her book on environmental conflicts in Peru (Neyra 2020) gives the names, age, gender and circumstances of all of them (Figure 17.4).

Antonia Huillca and other people with flowers gathered around the coffin of Quintino Cereceda at his burial.
Figure 17.4

Quintino Cereceda burial: “I want justice for my husband, that the killers be found”, said his wife, Antonia Huillca, in Quechua

Source:  M. Neyra, El Comercio, 20 October 2016

El Mirador, Cordillera del Cóndor, Ecuardor 10

The Mirador project is located in the Cordillera del Cóndor, in the province of Zamora Chinchipe, canton El Pangui. The Cordillera del Cóndor is found in what is called the “jungle eyebrow”, the territory that goes down from the highlands to the Amazon plain, along the disputed border between Peru and Ecuador. Mirador is one of several new mines in the region. It is a site of high biological diversity and environmental fragility. It has been home to the Shuar community, one of the nationalities in the Ecuadorian Amazon.

Glencore company carried out exploration work in the area in 1995. After Glencore was transferred to Billiton, they made drilling work on their San Carlos, Panantza and Kutukú projects. In October 1999, Billiton entered into an alliance with Corriente Resources and Lowell Mineral Exploration for exploration. Direct result of this work was the discovery of two new deposits in Mirador and Warintza. The company Corriente Resources, sold its concession rights to the Chinese company ECSA EcuaCorriente S.A., which had the support of Ecuador presidents Rafael Correa and Lenin Moreno (2007‒20). This represents an investment of US$ 1.7 billion.

The government support and the offer of benefits generated by the mining activity did not break the resistance of Shuar organizations but divided them. On 5 March 2012, a group p. 363of Ecological Action women and other organizations symbolically occupied in Quito the Chinese Embassy to protest. That same month, the March for Life, Water and Dignity of the Peoples went from Pangui to Quito, headed by CONAIE, the prefect of Zamora Chinchipe, Salvador Quishpe and various social organizations. Since then, protests have continued.

Tongling Nonferrous Metals Group, a mining conglomerate from China's Anhui province, along with China Railway Construction Corporation (CRCC), own the Mirador mine. Local people have been evicted from Tundayme. Other Shuar, who used to live where the Panantza-San Carlos copper mine now operates in another corner of the Cóndor range 40 km away, complained of similarly violent evictions.

The resistance to mining in Cordillera del Cóndor took some time to develop. By 2019 and 2020, it was in full swing. CONAIE has always demanded that the government previously consults them on mining contracts in Indigenous territories (Figure 17.5). In this case, the CONAIE does not acknowledge the agreement between the State and the mining companies. The president of CONAIE has been Jaime Vargas, a Shuar leader.

The CONAIE logo: Tierra, Cultura y Libertad, with the names of indigenous nationalities surviving in Ecuador (La CONAIE).
Figure 17.5

The CONAIE logo: Tierra, Cultura y Libertad, with the names of Indigenous nationalities surviving in Ecuador

Source:  La CONAIE

As reported by Jonathan Watts in the Guardian on 6 December 2014,

The body of an indigenous leader who was opposed to a major mining project in Ecuador was found bound and buried, days before he planned to take his campaign to international climate talks in Lima. The killing highlights the violence and harassment facing environmental activists in Ecuador, following the confiscation last week of a bus carrying climate campaigners who planned p. 364to denounce president Rafael Correa at the United Nations conference in Lima. The victim, José Isidro Tendentza, a former vice-president of the Shuar Federation of Zamora, had been missing since 28 November, when he was last seen on his way to a meeting of protesters against the Mirador copper and gold mine. After a tip-off on Tuesday, his son Jorge unearthed the body from a grave marked “no name”.

Something like this is less usual in Ecuador than in Peru.


In 2013, our hopes were disappointed by President Rafael Correa of Ecuador when he gave up the plan called “Yasuni ITT”. I wrote this article “Yasunizing the world?” in The Africa Report (2 May 2013).

Arrhenius announced (in 1896) that by burning coal found underground, industrialized countries were releasing more and more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and that this would increase temperatures. He could not know that in the twentieth century coal burning worldwide would increase seven-fold or that in addition to coal, oil and natural gas would be added; and the effects of deforestation. What happens is that the new vegetation and the oceans do not absorb all the carbon dioxide produced by the human economy. Fossil fuels can be likened to bottled photosynthesis from millions of years ago. […] In this sense the proposal to leave some of the oil, coal and gas underground is clearly reasonable. […] This proposal first came from places where the extraction of oil, coal or gas is doing great harm; for example, the Amazon of Ecuador and Peru, or the Niger Delta. In Mexico, oil has caused much environmental damage in Tabasco and Campeche, and in 2010 BP caused a major spill in the Gulf of Mexico. But there are also disasters caused by coal mining in Colombia, China and India and from the extraction of tar sands in Canada. Everywhere there would be local and global reasons for leaving fossil fuels underground.

In Ecuador, the organisation Acción Ecológica proposed in 2006 to leave 850 million barrels of oil in the ground from the ITT (Ishpingo, Tiputini Tambococha) wells located in the Yasuní National Park, down the Napo River on the border with Peru. The proposal was accepted by the then Minister of Energy and Mines, Alberto Acosta, and also reluctantly endorsed by President Rafael Correa. However, a clause was added. Ecuador would make a financial sacrifice for its own good and that of humanity. It would forgo the extraction of oil (which if burnt would produce roughly 410 million tonnes of carbon dioxide) thereby conserving the unique local biodiversity, and respecting Indigenous rights. The country requested foreign contribution equivalent to about half of the money that would have been earned, some US$ 3.6 billion in total, paid over a period of ten or twelve years. These contributions would be deposited in a trust fund jointly administered with the UNDP and formed on 3rd August 2010.

The offer was in place, the money was arriving slowly, but President Correa decided to give up, and open the ITT fields for oil extraction. Correa is not an environmentalist although he defended the Yasuní proposal for a while in international forums. He could have become a leader from the South in the struggle humankind is losing against climate change. He chose not to take this role. He is an economist, after all.

The idea of leaving the oil underground was born in the Niger Delta. Some speak of “ogonizar” rather than “yasunizar” because after 1995 and the death of Ken Saro-Wiwa, the Ogoni people managed to expel Shell for many years. There they say, “leave oil in the soil”. From elsewhere: “leave coal in the hole”, “leave gas under the grass”, launching proposals similar to that of Ecuador. So much so that Acción Ecológica wrote to the Royal Academy of the Spanish Language in order to put the word “yasunizar” in the dictionary.

In Guatemala, the proposal was made not to extract oil from the Laguna del Tigre, a Ramsar site in the Petén. On the Colombian islands of San Andrés and Providencia (near to the Nicaraguan coast), the decision has been made to leave the oil underground in accordance with local protests. p. 365In distant New Zealand, those who oppose the brutal open-pit mining of lignite know the word “yasunizar”. […] There are local and global reasons for “yasunizing” and “ogonizing” the world”.

There are now many local LFFU movements, “leave fossil fuels underground”, as we saw in Chapter 16. In Ecuador, considering multiple criteria and not only economic gain, the non-extraction of oil in the Yasuní ITT emerged in 2007 as being possibly more beneficial for Ecuador while preventing the emissions associated with burning many barrels of oil as an active step in global climate change mitigation.

While we failed to secure the pioneering Yasuni ITT proposal, in another location not so far away, a community of Indigenous Kichwa people stopped oil exploration by themselves. This is the community of Sarayaku, one of the places where the use of the notion of Sumak Kawsay, buen vivir, came from (as shown in writings by Carlos Viteri) before it was included in the 2008 Constitution of Ecuador. The Kichwa people of Sarayaku had been appointed legal owners of their ancestral territory in 1992, and they strongly opposed the Block 23 oil exploitation project in 1996. They launched a campaign supported by environmentalists and other local associations against the facilities to be built by the Argentinian General Company of Combustibles (CGC). Back in the 1930s, Shell settled in that very area, triggering the Sarayaku people's resistance to oil extraction for the first time. In the following years, several oil companies tried to follow Shell in exploiting the ancestral territories: US Company Western Amoco in 1970, ldela Arco Oriente in 1989 and Argentinean CGC in 1996. In 2002, the CGC oil company started its seismic explorations, coupled with the militarization of the territory. Exploration meant that 1.5 tons of explosives were located in 465 different spots between 2002 and 2003.

The activism against the project was criminalized. Still the Association of the Kichwa Peoples from Sarayaku achieved international media attention when in 2003 they presented a petition to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (CIDH) denouncing the Ecuadorian State damages against Sarayaku. The CIDH finally ruled in favour of the Kichwa people in June 2012. Today, there are new threats to the Sarayaku territory's integrity. Sarayaku's people are proud indeed of their national and international role.


Amayapampa and Capasirca, a Mining Conflict 12

The environmental, social, economic and political history of Bolivia has largely been a history of mining. From genocidal and modern silver mining in the colonial era of Potosí (masterfully described by Horacio Machado 2018) to the exploitation of tin in the highlands and the formation of mining unions that have highly influenced the 1952 Bolivian revolution.

A typical mining conflict was the killing in Amayapampa and Capasirca in December 1996, in northern Potosí. Convinced that the capitalist exploitation of the mines only leaves empty holes, environmental pollution and land and rivers poisoned with mercury, the communities called on the Canadian transnational Vista Gold Corporation to leave the area and forget their attempts to seize gold exploitation from the Amayapampa mine. With this conviction, the company was expelled in 1996, with the cost of ten deaths among peasants and workers due to the repression of the Army during the presidential term of Gonzalo Sánchez de p. 366Lozada. In 2008, the company was acquired by Republic Gold. In March 2012, the president of the Mineral Corporation of Bolivia COMIBOL declared that the government would take over Amayapampa, because the mining company had tried for several years to start operations without success. Years later, the mine that cost so much blood hardly produces anything.

Takovo Mora's Prior Consultation on Oil Extraction 13

The extraction frontier for oil and gas advances in Bolivia, and the case analyzed here took place to the east, in a Guaraní village in Santa Cruz. It is a small conflict that nevertheless symbolizes a general pattern that took place as the presidential mandates of Evo Morales succeeded each other. He acceded to his position after glorious episodes of social rebellion of the Bolivian people in the so-called “wars” against water privatization in Cochabamba in 1999 and against gas privatization in 2003.

The exploration of oil fields of the state-owned Yacimientos Petrolíferos Fiscales Bolivianos Chaco S.A (YPFB) in Guaraní territory in Takovo Mora led to a blockade of the Santa Cruz to Camiri highway at the end of August 2015. It ended with the violent intervention of the police: raiding homes and gassing people, among other abuses. Twenty-six people were apprehended and released in the following days. This act of disobedience began because the Guaraní community (of about 2,000 people) demanded compliance with the Law of Consultation that requires the consent of the Indigenous peoples affected. In the debate over the location of the four oil wells to be explored in relation to the Community Land of Origin (TCO) of the Takovo Mora Guarani, YPFB argued that the hydrocarbon activities in El Dorado field were carried out in private properties that are not within the TCO. Even if the land was private, consultation was required, as the extraction of oil would affect a wider TCO territory. However, President Evo Morales himself ratified that the exploration activities be carried out on private property. Also, the president of the Senate said: “The exploration activity is being done in private properties […]. Therefore, there is no consultation and no compensation”.

The Bolivia Research and Information Center (CEDIB) of Cochabamba warned that hydrocarbon exploration with “zero” environmental impact was impossible because, regardless of the technology used, the work requires seismic exploration and drilling.

El Bala and Chepete: Hydropower 14

The Madidi National Park and Integrated Management Natural Area are located in the northwest of La Paz department. It is considered the reserve with the greatest world diversity of flora and fauna, as well as ecological floors ranging from perpetual snow to the Amazonian plain. The area has traditionally been inhabited by Indigenous peoples such as the Tacanas, Tsimane, Lecos, Ese Ejja and Mossetenes who are grouped in the Central of Indigenous Peoples of La Paz (CPILAP). Since the 1990s, they have undertaken responsible community ecotourism, becoming their economic base. Pilón Lajas was declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO's Man and Biosphere programme in 1977. It is also an oil and gas frontier (Chapter 27). It is part of a chain of other ecological preservation parks that extend to Peru.

This area is vulnerable to various “development” projects such as the El Bala hydroelectric project. The proposal in the 1970s considered a mega-dam 205 m high. However, in 1995, it was taken up as a national priority strategy presenting the proposal of a dam 169 m high, with a plant of 2,460 MW. It was not a viable alternative due to the enormous extension and volume p. 367that the lake would occupy. The Beni and the Mamoré Rivers eventually form the Madeira River in the Amazon of Brazil.

In 1999, the alternative of building two dams was presented, one in the narrow passage of El Bala and another in the mountains of Chepete, 40 km upstream, where the Beni River crosses the last foothills of the Andes. Together, they would generate 3,000 MW at a cost of US$ 6 billion. About 5,360 people would be affected, four Indigenous communities, the Madidi National Park and the Pilón Reserve. That is why the Indigenous communities have positioned themselves against this project. They have been joined by environmental groups such as the Bolivian Forum on Environment and Development, the Eco Bolivia Foundation, Conservation Strategy Fund, Ecoa, International Rivers and Amazonia without Dams. There was a river “roadblock” organized by Indigenous peoples. The Solón Foundation presented several studies. There are Italian and Chinese companies involved in the region. In the area to be flooded, there is an archaeological heritage of 4,000 years ago that has not yet been properly studied. The magnitude of the impact on human health that stagnant water would cause is not analyzed in the EIA.


Chile belongs to the Andes and to the Cono Sur. Even before the 2019 riots and the new government, there was a relatively strong presence of ecological economics (through Manfred Max-Neef) and political ecology in Chile, with an institute founded by Manuel Baquedano and Sara Larraín as early as 1990. It was the intellectual cradle of the claims for the unpaid Ecological Debt from the North to the South and the initial home of the founders of OCMAL and the Latin American Observatory of Environmental Conflicts (OLCA) with Lucio Cuenca and César Padilla. OCMAL publishes inventories and maps that are at the root of the EJAtlas in a relationship with myself that dates back 30 years. I choose only three cases from Chile for this book, two on mining contamination and one on biological conservation.

Antofagasta: This Dust is Killing Me

In Antofagasta, there have been strong complaints against black dust from transport of exported copper concentrates. Hence the direct-action movement in 2016 with the slogan Este polvo te mata ‒ this dust kills you. This case was sent to the EJAtlas from the movement itself in Chile to make it more visible. After a brave fight and inventing new forms of action such as a velatón in the harbour (a vigil with candles), the struggle was lost.

Antofagasta has been severely contaminated with toxic waste, especially following the installation of a Zinc Concentrate warehouse at the International Terminal (ITA). According to studies by the Institute of Public Health, a high presence of lead and excessive arsenic was detected. There was a desire to build another warehouse to store and export copper concentrates from the Sierra Gorda Mining Company on the Luksic Group's FCAB Railroad. In this context, in March 2016, the Chamber of Deputies approved a report that included responsibilities, proposals and recommendations. Congressman Giorgio Jackson read a letter sent by Ricardo Díaz, spokesperson for the organization Este Polvo Te Mata. It represented the demands of Antofagasta's residents: “Every morning my car and the windows of my house are impregnated with a shiny and viscous black dust. The Medical Association proved that this dust has more than 16 heavy metals”.p. 368

The Institute of Public Health ratified that there were in fact 19 heavy metals associated with the emergence of nervous diseases, learning disorders and cancer. “Suddenly we realised that the number of people suffering from cancer was more than eight times the national average and we realised that the figures for autism in the region are the highest”, lamented Ricardo Diaz. Consequently, it was reported that the shipment through Antofagasta would probably not be made. One crucial moment was the stopping of trucks by the movement. The interview with Ricardo Diaz reflects on the birth and actions of this social movement and his role in it:
  • How many people actually make up the “Hard Core” of this movement (Este Polvo Te Mata -EPTM)?

    There are around fifteen people. No more than that.

  • Do you meet regularly?

    We usually meet about once a week. And, there, we visualise and think about what to do, how to generate media impact. In the beginning, actually, that was the objective: to generate media impact, and to raise awareness amongst people.

  • That is, to socialize a demand?

    Exactly. It was not only about the people who lived in that sector, it was understood as an environmental demand of all Antofagasta. When we made the first video, when we stopped the trucks, […] the video started to go viral. […] Then we got a Whatsapp message: ‘The trucks are leaving today’. What do we do? So, I said, ‘Let's go to the port’. Then we got to the port, we started lighting candles, we started a velatón, and […] people who think differently gather together.

  • And that would be the environmental demand?

    Yes, it brings together people from the left, people from the right, people who even fight each other.

  • Ricardo, do you think that, since the birth of EPTM, the original idea of the copper concentrate storehouse getting out from the centre of the city, as a goal of the movement, has been changed to date?

    I believe that it has been mutating, because the need has made us see that the basic problem has to do with the lack of territorial planning and the lack of rationality with regard to the production processes of the port. That has been mutating. We began the fight to get the copper concentrates out of the port. That's right… But then you ask yourself why was that installed in the first place? It was installed because the authorities didn’t say anything. And why didn’t they say anything? Because PLADECO with its Communal Plan didn’t say anything about the port either. And why didn’t they say anything? Because the Territorial Development Division of the Region does not work. So, you realise that the warehouse was the [tip of the] iceberg of a great disaster that we had here: that no one thinks of the city for the environment.

  • Would you say, then, that the initial demand against the ITA has been overcome, and that EPTM is installed as a movement that fights for the integral environmental demand of the city of Antofagasta?

    Of course. Besides, when you talk about the “movement” you must understand that it is not a Coordination, nor a Grouping, it is not an Organisation that has a certain statute and certain regulations and that functions in a certain way. We began to see the issue of the children who were sick, and we began to realise that there were deficiencies in health in general. The important thing is to defend the city. And so different groups joined together, and at one point we called for the great march that took place in March of this year. And that great march was made by a group of groups. […] Some of them are interested in health. The fishermen with the interest of the contamination of the sea. There were some mining unions for their health. Many groups of former dockworkers, who are contaminated, who have cancer. So, in the end, the issue is “pollution ‒ environmental health”, but also the issue is “health in general”.

  • Does it have something to do with the “right to the city” in words of Lefebvre?

    Of course. The idea is that what has characterised EPTM, in reality, is its dynamism, which does not make it an organic, structured thing. It has been, basically, responding to the development p. 369of concrete activities. In other words, it has been mutating. In fact, I think that was precisely its strength. How do you dismantle social movements? They can be disarticulated if there is a leader, you sit him/her down at the table to negotiate, and there they die.

  • Doesn’t that happen in this movement?

    That doesn’t happen here. Because, deep down, there is no leader here.

  • But your figure is very noticeable, and it is clearly associated with EPTM.

    Yes, but I am only the spokesman.

In July 2021, after the political change in Chile, Ricardo Diaz was elected regional governor of Antofagasta.

Boliden in Arica: Lead Pollution and Corporate Social Irresponsibility 16

Between 1984 and 1989, 20,000 tonnes of mining waste landed in Chile from the Ronnskar plant in Skellefteå, Sweden, owned by the Swedish company Boliden, which wanted to avoid the ban that would come with the Basel Convention, which in theory prohibits the export of toxic waste. The Procesadora Metalúrgica (PROMEL) in Chile was in charge of importing the waste with the aim of extracting the remaining gold and silver. However, because it did not have the technology, the waste was deposited outdoors in the city of Arica. The imports were allowed by the Chilean Ministry of Health. The waste included heavy metals like lead and arsenic. The imported contamination allegedly caused 90 deaths and affected 700‒900 people directly.

Between 1989‒95, the Housing and Urban Development Service provided basic housing to poor people, and it was not until 1997 that a workshop held by the Peace and Justice Service (SERPAJ) began to identify contamination and health damage in one of the housing projects, especially to children who by then had been born with hydrocephalus, spina bifida and Chiari disease (structural defects in the cerebellum). Adults, on the other hand, more regularly identified joint and bone pain, chronic cough, memory loss, chronic fatigue, cancer etc.

In 1997, SERPAJ and the neighbours asked for an analysis that was carried out by the Department of Chemistry of the University of Tarapacá. It revealed the existence of toxic minerals in the area. Within this framework, AFCONTA (Association of Families Contaminated by Lead) was created, which sought medical solutions to the problems of the affected people and to file lawsuits against both the Chilean state and Boliden.

From the Chamber of Deputies, a commission was created to investigate the lead case in Arica in 2003. The Municipality of Arica also created an Office of the Environment. There were several personal claims: in 2007 and 2009, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of some of the plaintiffs and ordered the State to financially compensate some residents. The compensation was only made to part of the population. Other complaints and mobilizations forced the Health Service to carry out blood tests and monitor those affected.

In 2013, a group of Swedish lawyers filed a lawsuit with the court in Skellefteå against Boliden. In a judgment in March 2018, the Court agreed that Boliden had been negligent in several areas, but the decision was still not in favour of the plaintiffs. The victims submitted an appeal to the Umeå court. In addition, various Swedish activists demanded justice in the case of Arica, and it focused public attention through media reports and the production of the documentary film “Toxic Playground”. While PROMEL declared itself bankrupt, Boliden rejected any responsibility, and even attempted to sue the lawyers in a Swedish version of a SLAPP reaction. Boliden is also famous for its unpaid liability in the Annalcollar tailings dam failure in Andalusia.p. 370

In December 2019, 97 countries once again prohibited the movement of toxic waste from developed to developing countries. Although it came a quarter of a century after it was first envisaged, the entry into force of the 1995 Amendment to the Basel Convention is nonetheless a success for international law.

Valdivia: Black-necked Swans and Cellulose 17

This third case in the south of the country, with Mapuche involvement, ended with some success. By exploiting pine and eucalyptus plantations, Celulosa Arauco S.A. (CELCO) built a pulp and paper factory using highly toxic chemicals next to the riverbed of the Cruces River. A wave of protest started, as it is the essential water source for the whole valley and near the RAMSAR Carlos Anwandter Nature Sanctuary. OLCA complained: “We warned about the global impacts of this project, and especially about the consequences of the discharges both in its alternative (on the coast, with a pipeline to the Mehuin cove) and in the Cruces River”.

A report contracted by the Chilean government to the Universidad Austral de Chile in Valdivia found that the company's pollution was responsible for rapid ecological change in the wetlands. The population of black-necked swans did not recover after 2004. An international commission with the WWF ratified the findings. Scientists in the pay of CELCO disputed the causality between the cellulose plant pollution and the swan population decline.

An alliance between neighbours, Indigenous peoples, the Citizen Movement Action Group for the Swans, the Lonko Council of Pikunwijimapu ‒ a Mapuche organization, the Tralco Indigenous Community and the Steel Workers Trade Union of Valdivia filed lawsuits in 2004. One was a criminal investigation at the Prosecutor's Office in Valdivia and the other a legal petition to the Council of State Defence. In July 2013, a civil court found the company guilty of pollution.


Javier Rodriguez Pardo was one of the protagonists of the nuclear conflict in Gastre, Patagonia (Chapter 10). It was a victory for environmental justice, but he died in 2015. His role is acknowledged by activists and academics alike. Among the latter, Argentina and Uruguay have some of the best political ecologists worldwide.

Argentina is an urbanized, industrialized country with a peculiarity in its pattern of social metabolism: given its level of income, its use of biomass would be expected to be lower compared to the use of building materials and fossil fuels. Instead, in percentage terms it approaches India's although per capita it is much higher, and the reason is the exports of biomass. This was the pasture for cattle farming, and crops such as wheat and maize, then more and more soybeans. Like most countries in South America, Argentina follows a resource-intensive and export-oriented economic model with a persistent physical trade deficit absurdly combined with persistently negative terms of trade.

Many of its socio-environmental conflicts have been linked to land use, as also happens in Paraguay. For instance, appropriation of Indigenous land; and, more recently, the health impact of the use of glyphosate. But others are related to industrial pollution, as also happens in Uruguay. There are also conflicts on gas fracking in Vaca Muerta (Chapter 16), and also on copper and gold mining in the Cordillera, with a high rate of success in stopping such projects p. 371(Wagner and Walter 2021). A new institution called asambleas autoconvocadas, with a name unique to Argentina, was born around 2000.

Matanzas-Riachuelo River Basin, Buenos Aires

In the City of Buenos Aires, there were several serious epidemics in the years 1868‒69 and 1871. There was a citizen movement to improve the health situation. One of the foci was the very high levels of pollution from the slaughterhouses. From there, the Legislature of the Province of Buenos Aires sanctioned a law that ordered the eradication of the polluting industries of the Riachuelo, which at that time were slaughterhouses that had very bad hygienic conditions; 3.5 million people lived in the contaminated area. For a few years, the Riachuelo was sanitized.

This is an industrial urban-conflict, where local activism and judicial decisions have improved a situation characterized by extreme industrial pollution with risks to health. This 60-km-long urban basin houses many industries releasing effluents into the river, which cuts through 14 municipalities in Buenos Aires. The contaminated territory is larger than the city of Buenos Aires itself.

Between 2006 and 2008, the Supreme Court issued historic rulings and ordered the clean-up of the Riachuelo, entrusting the Ombudsman, Greenpeace and four other NGOs with the creation of a collegiate body to monitor the environmental clean-up plan. The soil on the banks of the river contained zinc, lead, copper, nickel and chromium above recommended levels (Merlinsky 2013).

In 2013, an internal audit conducted by the Matanza-Riachuelo Basin Authority (ACUMAR) in 11 municipalities concluded that 70 per cent of the open dumps that had been eradicated had reappeared. As Elio Brailovsky indicates, the situation of the Riachuelo continued to be a main environmental problem of Argentina. ACUMAR assured that the ruling of 2008 was complied with by 20 per cent, referring to a single indicator (the number of homes built to relocate the population at maximum risk). As for water quality, they did not want to show the Supreme Court indicators with comparisons between years for levels of mercury, pesticides and bacteria.

There were the problems of the sewage waste without treatment, and the industrial pollution, for which ACUMAR should have ordered industries to conform to international parameters. But, according to Brailowsky, ACUMAR authorized the industries to throw legally in the river the same amounts that were clandestinely thrown before. They whitewashed the clandestine contamination, and the river never got better. The authorities of ACUMAR said that in these eight years, $5,200 million were spent but the Auditor General of the Nation could not explain what they were spent on.

Along 60 km, there are different situations. In the opinion of Gabriela Merlinsky,

the turning point for Riachuelo-Matanzas was the intervention of the Supreme Court of Justice when it declared it had jurisdiction in the case promoted by neighbours, citizens and NGOs. By saying that it was a matter of State and relating it to article 41 of the National Constitution, which refers to the right to a healthy environment, and generating an institutional device (the Matanza Riachuelo Basin Authority – ACUMAR) so that this right is fulfilled, the problem became visible.

But there is no awareness at the level of the whole basin, according to Merlinsky (2013). Avellaneda has an interesting relationship with the river, because there were regatta clubs and p. 372there are recovered spaces. La Boca is certainly identified with the river, and it is synonymous with El Riachuelo. The people who live in Villa Jardín, in Lanús, live in the oldest settlement in Buenos Aires. In La Matanza there is an area that has a very interesting nature reserve. In Esteban Echeverría there is the Laguna de Rocha; many people did a lot for it to be declared a nature reserve.

Dock Sud Petrochemical Pole in “Villa Inflamable”, Avellaneda, Buenos Aires 18

In Avellaneda, in the Buenos Aires metropolitan area, complaints also arose about air, soil and water pollution because of the petrochemical industry, but so did denial, confusion and uncertainty about the extent of the dangers. The Shell-Capsa refinery is the most important plant in the area, but the complex includes another refinery, three oil and derivative storage, chemical product storage plants, a chemical product factory, a container dock and the Central Dock Sud thermoelectric plant. “Villa Inflamable” or, in English, “Flammable Village”, is located in the district of Avellaneda, right on the south-eastern border of the city of Buenos Aires, adjacent to one of the largest petrochemical compounds in the country: Polo Petroquímico y Puerto Dock Sud. The Shell Oil refinery opened in 1931. Since then, other companies have moved into the compound.

The name “Villa Inflamable” dates back to 1984, when an oil ship exploded and produced what one elderly resident noted as the “highest flames I’ve ever seen”. In this neighbourhood, around 6,000 people are exposed to industrial pollution in precarious homes built on top of soil contaminated with toxic waste. Specifically, children suffer from lead and chlorine poisoning.

In July 2004, a group of residents filed a lawsuit against the Argentinian Government, the Government of the city of Buenos Aires and 44 businesses for damages to their health suffered as a result of the pollution. In 2008, the Supreme Court ordered the ACUMAR to clean up the area. In 2011, ACUMAR established an integral environmental clean-up plan. The plan involves the reconversion of factories, the clean-up of rivers and riverbanks, garbage collection and treatment, water treatment, drainage works and slum redevelopment or relocation. But this clean-up is slowly done and no visible results are seen. However, according to the National Children's Defence Office, for Villa Inflamable there is no remedy possible. What has been done cannot be now amended, as so often happens with environmental damage. Women, as “mothers”, have an active role in this, they are the ones who typically mobilize, calling lawyers to make appointments and travelling to government offices to demand aid.

This environmental injustice became famous after the study of Javier Auyero (a scholar living in the US) and Débora Swistun (an anthropologist and resident of Villa Inflamable) in which they introduce the concept of Environmental Suffering that they defined as a “particular form of social suffering caused by the concrete polluting actions of specific actors and on the factors that mold the experience of this suffering” (Auyero and Swistun 2009). People are waiting for both compensation for damages and relocation. Meanwhile, they are still being affected by the toxic environment. It is a case of slow, structural violence.

Cellulose Industry in Gualeguaychú, Uruguay and Argentina 19

This case, upstream of Buenos Aires on the Uruguay River, is one of the many transborder cases in the EJAtlas: while the pulp mill is in Uruguay, the opposition has been stronger in Argentina.p. 373

In 2006, the Government of Uruguay approved the building of two pulp mills in the city of Fray Bentos. The first was to be managed by the Finnish company Metsa Botnia, while the Spanish ENCE planned to build a second plant but later announced it was studying plans to set up a site in Conchillas, the south-west region of Colonia. The activities started in 2007. The two mills were expected to produce up to 2 million tons of cellulose pulp per year. On the Argentine bank of the river is the town of Gualeguaychú, crossed by the Gualeguaychú River, a tributary of the Uruguay River, which would suffer the direct consequences of the two pulp mills’ activities. The construction was strongly opposed by the Uruguayan and Argentinian people. The bridge between Argentina and Uruguay was closed down for several years by the citizens movement on the Argentine side articulated by the Citizens Environmentalist Assembly of Gualeguaychú. The collective was founded in April 2005 and its mobilization lasted for a long time, with support from the authorities of Argentina. In May 2006, President Néstor Kirchner said that the defence of the environment and the struggle against paper mills were a “national cause”.

By 2013, the Uruguayan government agreed to the paper mills’ production. Concerned by the waste discharges’ increase into the Uruguay River, the Argentine Government reacted to the announcement and social protests rekindled. Since the beginning, the Argentine Government opposed the project, feeding a long running diplomatic crisis between the two countries which was appeased after the Hague International Court settlement in favour of the Uruguay plant.

Environmentalists Stop Iron Ore Mining Project and Save President Mujica's Image in Uruguay 20

Before travelling to the interior of Argentina, let's have a look at another attempt at Uruguayan extractivism: iron mining. President Pepe Mujica was a good president of his small nation between 2010 and 2015. But he was on the verge of joining the list of left-wing Latin American presidents who enthusiastically followed extractivist policies. In an article of January 2014, I wondered about the change in image that President Pepe Mujica might undergo. Born in 1935, he has well-deserved sympathies for his historical career as a jailed Tupamaro, his sense of humour and the modesty of his lifestyle. But his government was about to adopt megalomaniacal mining. He was seduced by the gigantic dimension and the money that would come from the project, which would extract and export 18 million tons of iron a year. He was about to sign a contract with the Zamin Ferrous company, of dubious reputation.

Meanwhile, environmentalists were calling for a referendum. The National Movement for Uruguay Free of Open Pit Mining held a press conference in January 2014 against the signing of an investment contract between the national government and Zamin. They questioned the constitutionality of the new Large-Scale Mining Act. Eduardo Gudynas, one of the main authors against “extractivism”, was against this project that was to take place in the country of Eduardo Galeano, the author of the Open Veins of Latin America.

The government's idea was to cut legal corners and give permits before completing environmental impact studies. Permits would be divided up for the mines, the pipeline and later for the new big port. But the environmental movement argued: if the project was stopped for environmental reasons or because of municipal competencies, would Zamin then be able to sue Uruguay? The investment would be worth US$ 2 billion, with 4,000 ha of open pits, a pipeline to the sea of over 200 km and a dedicated port. The investment's useful life would be twenty years, and the environmental liabilities were not calculated.p. 374

The government assured that part of the revenues would go to an intergenerational fund for infrastructure and education. In 2007, prospecting work began in the centre of the country, affecting two towns: Valentines and Cerro Chato. The fields are inhabited by families linked to the land for several generations. These are lands of extensive cattle raising in low, wooded hills. Large-scale open cast mining operations would mean the permanent displacement of the families along with the devastation of the original ecosystem. The Valentín Grande and Las Palmas streams would be dammed because of need for large volumes of water.

In 2011, President Mujica discussed the possibility of calling a referendum on the issue, but on the contrary, he promoted a new mining law. There was uncertainty about the damage to the fields from which the iron would be extracted from, with huge amounts of slag and tailings. In December 2013, a campaign was launched to collect signatures to achieve a referendum or plebiscite to ban open-pit mining. For the time being, the project was stopped. The environmentalists saved Mujica's image.

Monsanto and Glyphosate: Ituzaingó Mothers in Córdoba, Blockade at Malvinas Argentinas 21

In 1996, a particular variety of transgenic soy was introduced in Argentina. Marketed as Roundup Ready soy (RR), it was genetically modified (GM) to resist Round Up, a potent glyphosate-based herbicide. The multinational company Monsanto, a specialist in agricultural biotechnology and seeds and the worldwide leader in GM food production, produced both the RR soy and herbicide. Soy cultivation increased quickly and there was no need for ploughing up the land, with “direct sowing” and weed elimination with aerial spraying of glyphosate. Syngenta (later bought by ChemChina), Monsanto (bought by Bayer) and other companies combining seed production and chemicals production were involved in this

Originally produced in the region of Pampa Húmeda, the soya monocultures expanded to the Northwest regions and to the North East. Production of RR soy, which covers over 17 million hectares of land in Argentina, caused several environmental and social problems such as the reduction of food production for domestic markets, displacement of peasants from the countryside, massive use of highly poisonous agrotoxins (polluting water supplies and surrounding lands) and widespread deforestation, which goes hand in hand with the expulsion of local and Indigenous communities from their lands.

The consequences on the health of the populations surrounding the fumigated fields were striking. Collectives were set up by mothers whose children's health had been severely affected (e.g. Madres de Ituzaingó in Cordoba). At stake was the whole structure of an economy based for decades on biomass. Local complaints prompted Andrés Carrasco, director of the Laboratory of Molecular Embryology at the University of Buenos Aires Medical School, to carry out in 2010 a laboratory study on the effects of glyphosate. This will be discussed again in Chapter 28 on “activists mobilizing scientists”.

Meanwhile, the president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner announced with fanfare a multimillion-dollar investment by Monsanto, mainly for the installation of a GM conditioning plant in the town of Malvinas Argentinas, in the province of Córdoba. This announcement was made at the same time as a court case which was the result of complaints made by a group of women in a neighbourhood called Ituzaingó Anexo. There, a soybean planter businessman and an aeroplane operator were convicted, because toxic agro-chemical fumigations in areas p. 375of human habitation were seen as a criminal offence. The town of Malvinas Argentinas is 10 km from the Ituzaingó Anexo neighbourhood.

The Malvinas Argentinas plant began construction in January 2013, without an environmental impact study approved. Malvinas’ neighbours began to worry. A group of residents blocked the entrance to the property, initiating the protests. They established links with environmental lawyers and with groups from other fumigated villages. They formed the Malvinas Lucha por la Vida Assembly and the mobilizations multiplied with a clear slogan: “We don’t want Monsanto”. In September 2013, the Assembly and the Mothers of the Ituzaingó, with the support of other organizations, decided on a blockade of access to the site to prevent the entry of construction material. The blockade turned into a permanent camp. The Assembly of Self-Convened (auto-convocada) Blockade was born there, and for years it prevented access, finally managing to stop the project.

Delta Pine Seeds in Paraguay 22

In November 1998, with the approval of the Cámara Algodonera de Paraguay, the company Delta & Pine Paraguay (later owned by Monsanto) dumped 660 tons of expired cottonseed in Rincón-i-Ybycuí, a rural community located 120 km south of Asunción (capital of Paraguay). The cotton seeds were treated with high concentrations of toxic pesticides, including the organophosphates acephate and chlorpyrifos. Organophosphates are powerful poisons which attack the central nervous system. The label on the seed sacks stated that the acephate chemical compound (trade name: Orthene 80 Seed Protectant) “contains material which may cause cancer, mutagenic or reproductive effects based on laboratory animal data”.

Extending over one-and-a-half hectares, the disposal site was covered with only a thin layer of soil, in a private plot of land near a primary school.

Some children were affected. The first direct victim was Agustín Ruiz Aranda on 28 December the same year. His death certificate states the following: “acute poisoning due to pollution caused by toxins of the Delta & Pine Land seed deposit”. During the days after, medical testing of residents evidenced a high level of poisoning. Despite these findings, the Minister of Agriculture and the Minister of Health did not take action immediately. After five years of protests and judicial activism asking for justice and reparations to the victims, in July 2004, the court of Paraguarí convicted by criminal proceedings the owner of the private land and a Delta & Pine official to two years and 15 months jail respectively, further to the payment of a fine. The US company representative in Paraguay avoided the judicial sentence, fleeing days after the first alarm. This case is also relevant as one of the first convictions for an environmental crime from agricultural toxins in Latin America.

The Massacre of Curuguaty in 2012 in Paraguay 23

Another rural conflict in Paraguay, on land rights and soybean cultivation, led in June 2012 to the killing of eleven landless peasants and six policemen in Curuguaty, a city in the north of Paraguay, as a consequence of a violent eviction of peasants who had peacefully occupied the lands of Marina Kue. The day before, the judge of Curuguaty ordered the takeover of Marina Kue as a property claimed by the company Campos Morombí in order to sow transgenic soybeans. Yet, the company was not entitled to those lands. Legal measures had been taken by p. 376peasants since 2004 to formalize their rights to the lands of Marina Kue. According to them, those lands were allocated by the agrarian reform.

On 15 June 2012, a large group of armed police entered the peasant campsite, and the conflict escalated from verbal confrontation to a violent dispute, leaving 17 dead victims and several injured. Unsurprisingly, the testimonies from the peasants and the police contradicted each other when describing the sequence of events. Several violations of human rights were reported, mainly the loss of life resulting from abusive state authorities. On the same day as the eviction, Miguel Correa, a 20-year-old student, was wrongly arrested when trying to see what happened to his friend in the hospital of Curuguaty. He was accused of murder and sentenced to 30 years of prison. He was released in July after Sobrevivencia (Friends of the Earth Paraguay) mobilized and spread a petition to demand justice for him. Oscar Rivas, one of its leaders, had been for some time the Minister for the Environment under President Lugo. Three days after the eviction, 63 peasants were criminally charged by the Public Prosecutor.

In October 2012, evidence was presented to the Public Prosecutor about the human rights violations against peasants, but it was not considered. The massacre of Curuguaty led to a human rights and political crisis in the country. It was a factor in the dismissal of leftist president Fernando Lugo and the electoral victory of the opposing party. The irregularities during this process were pointed out by different organizations, and some have suggested that the massacre was part of a planned strategy to carry out a coup d’état in the country. Lugo had previously attempted to limit the use of GM seeds. The following Colorado government favoured the cultivation of GMOs in soybean cultivation in the country.

On 11 July 2016, the final sentence was passed condemning 11 peasants to jail for a period of between four to 30 years following accusations over the death of six policemen. In response, the lawyers defending the condemned peasants filed an appeal and demanded nullity for the case. At the same time, there was no imputation regarding the death of 11 peasants.

In a context of high land distribution inequality and continued criminalization of protests for land rights, the conflict of Marina Kue represented a turning-point because of the brutality of police action and its political consequences. Agrarian reforms and political ecology occupied for a while the centre of politics, but not in a direction favourable to the poor and the environment.

Esquel, Argentina: Success of a Local Referendum against Gold Mining 24

This was the first town in Argentina and perhaps the second one in South America (after Tambogrande, Peru) whose inhabitants’ strong mobilization forced a municipal plebiscite that stopped a mining project and fostered regulatory changes in the municipality and province. (Figure 17.6). El Desquite mine is only 7 km from the city of Esquel, in the Patagonian province of Chubut. The city, the largest in the area, is located by the Esquel River and surrounded by the mountains La Zeta, La Cruz, Cerro 21 and La Hoya. The city name comes from a Mapuche word meaning “thorn” referring to thorny local plants and the thousand-year-old lenga and ñire forests (two of the Patagonian trees unique to the area). In early 2002, Meridian Gold bought the mine site of doré, a gold and silver alloy. Its exploitation was supposed to begin in January 2003, with two explosions a day, every day of the year, for ten years.

A demonstration in Esquel against the megamineria projects. People hold an Argentinian blue and white banner, with written “No a la mina” on it.
Figure 17.6

March “No a la mina” in Esquel in 2020

Source:  Dario Aranda

The local population was highly suspicious towards the information provided by the company and the government. The EIA was questioned. The inhabitants of Esquel started to p. 377spontaneously gather, to debate and to share their concerns, knowledge and information about the consequences of mining and the use of cyanide. They finally organized by mid-November 2002 the self-convened Assembly of neighbours (Asamblea de vecinos autoconvocados AVA). The AVA brought together people from diverse backgrounds, qualified professionals but also people from marginalized districts, and some Indigenous people. They organized numerous marches and also networked with national and international organizations and institutions. In February 2003, the City Council agreed on some of the ordinances promoted by the AVA: it prohibited the use of cyanide in Esquel and called for a referendum on mining. The local referendum on 23 March 2003 resulted in 81 per cent of the votes unfavourable to the mine. The project was abandoned a few days later.

In 2006, Meridian Gold brought a court action in Buenos Aires against six members of the AVA for having openly disseminated a record of a Meridian staff meeting on the local radio revealing the company's links with provincial and federal politicians while they expressed their willingness to oppose the local referendum results. The company's unchanged plans to exploit sooner or later its concession remained a concern. Chubut's number of mining concessions kept on increasing. For instance, in May 2006, Esquel population had to mobilize once again against Minera Huemules.

Overall, Esquel's struggle became an outstanding example for other Argentinean municipalities opposing mining projects. By 2007, six provinces banned the use of cyanide in mines. The local struggles became a success at provincial level if not yet at the national level. By 2020, the struggles continue in Mendoza, Chubut, Rio Negro, Catamarca, La Rioja and other provinces.p. 378

Famatina no se toca: The AVA Stops the Project 25

This is another mining conflict up in the Andes. Famatina remains under the constant threat of mining projects, which have been successfully repealed by the efforts of the neighbouring communities. Famatina is the name of a mountain located in La Rioja, a province in northwest Argentina. Its peak reaches 6250 m; it has glaciers and contains an enormous water basin. It has historically been a mining area. In 2005, the Canadian multinational Barrick Gold reached an agreement with Yamiri S.A., a local company, for the exploration for gold extraction. The project involves an open-pit mine, characterized by large explosions and the use of millions of gallons of water and acids, which would contaminate the air, soil and water.

In 2006, citizen assemblies ‒ “self-organized neighbours” (vecinos autoconvocados) of Famatina, Chilecito and La Rioja ‒ were created and managed to stop the Barrick Gold project. In March 2007, in order to call attention to their message and keep a close eye on any attempt to restart the project, residents maintained a permanent vigil in the area of Peña Negra, the access junction to the mine along State Highway 38, at 1800 m. They allowed Barrick employees and machinery to leave, but not to enter. And they vowed not to abandon their vigil until Barrick Gold was gone for good.

With banners “El Famatina no se toca”, “No a la minería”, “Podemos vivir sin oro pero no vivir sin agua” and permanent meetings, this mobilization led the provincial Legislature of La Rioja to enact in March 2007 a law prohibiting open-pit mining. The struggle continued. In 2012, about 400 people permanently cut the route in the Alto Carrizal under the slogan “El agua vale más que el oro. El agua y la vida no se negocian”. The exploration project had been taken over in August 2011 by Canadian company Osisko Mining that encountered as much resistance as Barrick. This prevented Osisko from proceeding. As the website No a la Mina stated: “In response, in February 2012, President Cristina Fernandez announced the opening of a public debate on mining, immediately after creating the Organismo Federal de Estados Mineros to block any real discussion on the subject”. The website Noalamina became a popular source of information.

In July 2013, it was reported that “the provincial government of La Rioja rescinded its contract with Osisko in light of protests that have slowed development of the project since 2012”. Osisko's contract to carry out the Famatina Project had been signed by the provincial, state-owned company Energía y Minerales Sociedad del Estado in August 2011 and gave the Canadian company a right to possibly mine part of the province of La Rioja. Locals, supported by groups like Greenpeace, had been protesting against the project since its inception. The year 2015 marked a new battle against the mining company Midais to which numerous communities reacted, especially from Angulos, Campanas and Pituil. After police repression of the demonstration on 15 October 2015, during which the population was wounded by rubber bullets, the province governor Sergio Casas announced the withdrawal of the project in November 2015. The local bishop acted as intermediary.

In 2017, local activists launched a campaign to create a national park to protect the mountains. However, a new junior company, SEARGEN S.A., advanced with exploration plans. New road blockades and mobilizations were organized by the neighbours to block the site. After ten years of struggles, the villages are full of murals. A local poet and musician, Ramón Navarro, wrote songs on the “valuation contests” displayed.p. 379

Bajo La Alumbrera: A Large Copper Mine and a Failure of Environmental Justice 26

This was the first large-scale metal mining project in Argentina. Bajo La Alumbrera is a copper, gold, silver and molybdenum deposit located in the northwest of the province of Catamarca. Minera Alumbrera was operated by Xstrata, and is currently operated by Glencore, which holds 50 per cent of the share package, while Canadian companies Goldcorp and Yamana Gold hold 37.5 per cent and 12.5 per cent respectively. La Alumbrera was denounced for pollution by federal prosecutors. After La Alumbrera started operations, other mining projects were rejected in Catamarca. The conflict is notable because of the attempt to use criminal justice, although without great success.

The exploration and exploitation rights belong to Yacimientos Mineros de Agua de Dionisio (YMAD), a company comprising the province of Catamarca, the National University of Tucumán and the national state. YMAD formed a joint venture with Minera Alumbrera to exploit the deposit and receives 20 per cent of the profits. It was denounced for drying up the Campo del Arenal, from where water is extracted, and for the contamination of water courses due to its tailings dam. In 2008, the vice president of the company was prosecuted for criminal contamination, being the first case in Latin America in which a mining executive reached this judicial instance. The evidence for this prosecution was not only the samples obtained by the National Gendarmerie, but also the data from the company's own environmental report. In 2016, the former vice-president was dismissed and the company's general manager was prosecuted for the contamination of the Salí-Dulce River basin with heavy metals. Another source of pollution of water courses has been the rupture of the mineral pipeline, affecting some communities. The unfulfilled promises regarding hired labour led some localities in Catamarca to mobilize in rejection of new mining projects. They also carried out selective roadblocks, slowing down trucks carrying supplies to the La Alumbrera project. In 2012, a roadblock carried out by Tinogasta residents was severely repressed by police forces.

There is a law that determines that part of the profits from this project must be allocated to the National University of Tucumán, and then to the rest of the national universities. In view of the continuous reports of pollution and the growing social conflict, some national universities rejected the funds, and the ethical aspects of receiving money from environmentally and socially questionable activities were discussed. The project had planned its mine closure. In 2014, Bajo El Durazno began operating under the same company. In 2018, the company announced the continuity of the project through underground exploitation. Civic resistance (neighbours’ assemblies, road blockades) is shown in Andangalá and the popular assembly of El Agarrobo against mining projects owned by Xstrata-Glencore, meant to substitute the production from La Alumbrera. Local resistance insists on the value of local places, local water, and vegetation of Prosopis (algarrobo).


This sample of cases could be easily enlarged: the extreme violence in southern Peru in the copper mining projects of Tia Maria and El Espinar, the Bagua massacre of 2009 in the Amazon of northern Peru, the hydropower conflicts in Colombia involving the many Embera p. 380Katio victims of the Urrá dam etc. Through all of those, a new political idea and movement has established itself: the anti-extractivist principle in political economy and political ecology. In many of these conflicts, we see action geared to “degrowth in practice” from the supply side.

The causes of the conflicts, their variety of participants and forms of action, and the outcomes appear on conflicts in coastal areas, the fishmeal industry, the defence of mangroves, the Galápagos fishery, the coastal wetlands (bañados as they say in Uruguay). Open cast mining of metals is a strong topic. There are also conflicts on coal, oil and gas extraction, including the Sarayaku case in Ecuador. The most frequent forms of organization are local campaigns with ad-hoc groups or assemblies. Sometimes, environmental struggles produce new institutions such as “popular consultation” or local referendums on mining introduced for the first time in Tambo Grande (Peru) and in Esquel (Argentina). There are personal and organizational connections among all these cases (Walter and Urkidi 2017). Policy changes are sometimes born of such struggles, as provincial anti-mining legislation in some provinces in Argentina, or the pioneering Yasuni ITT initiative.

The chapter also deals with biomass and land conflicts, often involving Indigenous peoples. Human health and glyphosate are themes of the so-called República de la Soja that reaches Argentina, Paraguay, Bolivia and Brazil. There are conflicts also on cellulose and paper pulp in Chile and Uruguay. There are multiple oil palm conflicts in Colombia, in Peru (in Loreto and Ucayali). Chapter 21 deals with the intersection between agrarian and environmental conflicts, and this will be the place for more such conflicts.

The ups and downs of presidents such as Lugo in Paraguay, Correa in Ecuador, or of presidential candidates like Yaku Pérez, have been linked to environmental conflicts. The political fight on the left between the “extractivists” and the “anti-extractivists” even reached President Mujica in Uruguay. The fragmentation in the left and the strong racist culture in Peru have prevented the rise of a CONAIE which in Ecuador is often the protagonist of environmental conflicts. The CONACAMI in Peru, as well as Tierra y Libertad (a green political party) have failed. But the people themselves occasionally reach environmental justice successes, as in La Colosa, in Colombia. A candidate for vice-president of Colombia in 2022 was the ecofeminist working-class Afro-Colombian Francia Márquez, who was elected.

The countries in this chapter have negative terms of trade, i.e. they export more tons than they import, and the ton of exports has a price much lower than the ton of imports (Samaniego et al. 2017; Infante-Amate et al. 2022). This is a historical structural rule. It has been characterized as an “extractivist” model not conducive to stable economic growth and that causes social conflicts at the points of extraction, violence against environmentalists and therefore lack of democracy. Quite often the companies leading this march to hell are foreign, from Canada, USA, South Africa, Switzerland or China. There are also local mining entrepreneurs like the Luksik from Chile and Buenaventura from Peru. Biomass exploitation is often carried out by local enterprises, but the commodities go to the export market.

We live in a world based on minerals and biomass. Food is produced by photosynthesis with additional inputs from oil, gas and fertilizers. Biomass production is not equivalent to human food: much goes to feeding domestic animals or burning in engines as ethanol or biodiesel. This is land intensive compared to fossil fuels. The exosomatic use of energy and materials (to use Alfred Lotka's term, 1921) varies very much between rich and poor humans. Some of this energy comes (still) from biomass, but much from minerals. Some minerals are more specialized as “energy carriers’ ‒ the fossil fuels, and some are used for building (sand and p. 381gravel), or for metals, or as fertilizers. “From the buildings we inhabit to the infrastructures that supply them, from the machines that move us around to the energy networks that animate them – all are based to a large extent on materials that are extracted from the earth's thin outer crust” (Peša and Ross 2021). Even much of what we eat depends indirectly on mining: phosphates and potassium salts, and some of the nitrogen – whose main feedstock is natural gas. Other atmospheric nitrogen has gone to produce the leguminous crops, for instance the soybeans exported from Brazil and Argentina. This is the materiality of political ecology and ecological economics. Both fields of study are flourishing in Latin America.

There are estimates predicting that enormous increases in metallic and non-metallic minerals will still take place. It is tempting for Latin American governments to follow the easy road of commodity exporters despite historically persistent negative terms of trade. However, a cultural and political movement in South America has been born against “extractivism” (with Maristella Svampa, Eduardo Gudynas, Horacio Machado, Gabriela Merlinsky, Lucrecia Wagner, Alberto Acosta, Mario Pérez Rincón…), emphasizing the struggle against ecologically unequal trade. In Colombia in 2022 under President Gustavo Petro, decreasing the exports of coal and oil might become official policy. This “anti-extractivist” movement of “degrowth in practice” from the supply side (that we have seen already in Chapter 16) is intellectually strong but politically still weak ‒ it might grow in similar circumstances in many territories in Africa, South East Asia, in the Arctic and in some internal regions of India and China.




Quizhpe, H. (2019). La comoditización de las subjetividades: la minería en la provincia del Azuay, Ecuador y los casos de los proyectos Río Blanco y Loma Larga. Flacso, Quito.

Rio Blanco, Molleturo, Azuay, Ecuador, EJAtlas.

International Minerals Corporation (IMC) in Molleturo, Ecuador (Sara Latorre), EJAtlas.

Iamgold and INV Metals in Kimsacocha, Azuay, Ecuador (Sara Latorre), EJAtlas.

El Comercio (2019). El no se impuso con el 86,79% en la consulta popular minera del cantón Girón, en Azuay, 26 March.


Páramo El Almorzadero, Colombia (Mario A. Pérez), EJAtlas.


Consulta Popular en Piedras, Tolima, Colombia, EJAtlas.


La Colosa mining project, Cajamarca, Tolima, Colombia (Mario Pérez Rincón), EJAtlas.

Hernández Bonilla, J.M. (2017). En la consulta popular contra la minería, El Espectador, 30 December.

Martinez-Alier, J. (2011). Contravía ‒ La locomotora minera en Colombia, Otramérica, 17 September.

No a la Colosa Horrorosa (2011). Proyecto minero de la colosa preocupa a diputados británicos, 2 December.


Hacienda Las Pavas, Colombia (Mario Pérez Rincón), EJAtlas.


Bustamante, R. (2000). Marine conservation and human conflicts in the Galapagos Islands, MPA News. Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing by Chinese fleet in Galapagos islands (USFQ, Irmak Ertör), EJAtlas.

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Maria Elena Foronda Farro (2003). Goldman Prize Recipient South and Central America. The Goldman Environmental Prize.

Fishmeal Pollution in Chimbote, Peru (Dalena Tran), EJAtlas.


Luksic's investment damages Ramsar site of Pantanos de Villa, Lima, Peru (Raquel Neyra and Martínez-Alier), EJAtlas.p. 382


Las Bambas mining, Perú (Patricia Gonzalez Toro), EJAtlas.

Red de Comunicación Regional (2012). Organizaciones sociales estrangulan Las Bambas con bloqueos del corredor minero por exigencias económicas, 26 June.


Bermúdez, A. (2019). Indigenous communities take legal action over Ecuador's largest mine, Diálogo Chino, 4 July.

Mirador, Cordillera del Cóndor, Ecuador (Patricio Chávez), EJAtlas.

CONAIE (2019). La CONAIE condena el inicio de la minería a gran escala y desconoce supuestos acuerdos con empresas mineras.


Sarayaku ‒ Oil extraction in Block 23, Ecuador (Lucie Greyl), EJAtlas.

Melo, M. (2011). Sarayaku, un caso emblemático de defensa territorial.


Amayapampa and Capasirca's masacre, Bolivia (Joan Martínez-Alier & Pato Chavez), EJAtlas.


Takovo Mora, Santa Cruz, Bolivia (Antonella Calle, Yasunidos), EJAtlas.


Hidroeléctrica El Bala en el Parque Nacional Madidi, Bolivia (M.A. Pérez), EJAtlas.


Transporte de cobre en Antofagasta y movimiento Este Polvo te Mata, Chile, EJAtlas. Pablo Álvarez, Y. (2016). De la calle al municipio: Ricardo Díaz, la apuesta RD por Antofagasta: Fue el Estado el que decidió sacrificar esta ciudad, El Desconcierto, 28 July.


Conflicto del plomo por contaminación a partir de desechos mineros, Arica, Chile (Grettel Navas, Ellie Smith), EJAtlas.

Aznalcollar tailings dam failure, Spain (Joan Martinez-Alier and Talia Waldron), EJAtlas.


Cellulose Factory Celulosa Arauco S.A., Valdivia, Chile (Lucille Greyl, Joan Martínez-Alier, T. Waldron), EJAtlas.


Auyero, J. and Swistun, D. (2009) Flammable: Environmental Suffering in an Argentine Shantytown, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Polo Petroquímico de Dock Sud en “Villa Inflamable”, Argentina (Grettel Navas), EJAtlas.


Cellulose industry in Gualeguaychu, Uruguay and Argentina (Lucie Greyl), EJAtlas.


Proyecto Aratirí y mineria de hierro, Uruguay (Patricio Chávez, CENSAT), EJAtlas.

Martinez-Alier, J. (2014). Cambio de imagen en Uruguay: ¿el hombre de hierro?, La Jornada, 11 January.

Arregui, M. (2020). Aratiri, un repaso histórico sobre el proyecto que no llego a concretarse, 9 August.


Monsanto and soy monocultures, Argentina (Lucie Greyl), EJAtlas.

Agosto, P. (2016). Un pueblo en lucha contra Monsanto en Córdoba, Argentina, Ecología Política, 51.


Delta & Pine's toxic waste in Paraguay (Grettel Navas), EJAtlas.

Segovia, A.M. (2003). Las semillas de la muerte: A cinco años de la descarga de la basura tóxica, Rincon’í exige justicia.

PAN (1999). Pesticide Action Network, 20 June.


Massacre of Curuguaty, Paraguay (Claudia Custodio), EJAtlas.


Meridian Gold Mine in Esquel, Argentina (Lucie Greyl, Camila Rolando, Mariana Walter), EJAtlas.

Walter, M. (2008). Nuevos conflictos ambientales mineros en Argentina. El caso Esquel (2002‒2003), Revista de la red iberoamericana de economía ecológica (REVIBEC), 8, pp. 15‒28.


Famatina Gold mining, Argentina (Lucie Greyl updated by Mariana Walter), EJAtlas.

La Fragua Discos (2018) El Famatina no se toca, Ramón Navarro, 3 March (video). Songs reported by Lucrecia Wagner.


Bajo la Alumbrera mine, Catamarca, Argentina (Patricio Chávez, Joan Martínez-Alier, Lucrecia Wagner), EJAtlas.

Mining project MARA, Argentina (Joan Martinez Alier, Talia Waldron, Lucrecia Wagner and Beverly Keene), EJAtlas.

Agua Rica y Pilciao 16: la resistencia de Andalgalá y otras localidades de Catamarca, Argentina (Joan Martinez Alier, Talia Waldron, Lucrecia Wagner), EJAtlas.

Monograph Book