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By Sylvia Ubal
A new economic project is being debated in the Uruguayan parliament, which involves a million-dollar investment by the transnational company Aratiri (from India), for the extraction of iron in large-scale open pit mines in the center of the country. There are as yet no official appraisals of the request from these investors, who are identified as an Indian family business, but are actually the front of a large operator in the global commodities market.
The Aratirí company, a Uruguayan subsidiary of Zamin Ferrous, promises to invest 2,000 million dollars and expects to generate 1,500 jobs (objectives criticized by the opposition bank as unreal), with an open-pit iron mine in the Valentones area, which will devastate a an area several times larger than the department of Montevideo, rendering the development of agricultural production useless, affecting the environment in the short, medium and long term, estimating that 18 million tons of iron per year would be exported to China.
About this transnational, the Uruguayan journalist Víctor L. Bacchetta points out that “the Zamin Ferrous (ZF) registered as a multinational firm in Jersey, with offices in London, São Paulo (Brazil), Montevideo and Zug (Switzerland) that operate in South America , its president Pramod Agarwal has 30 years of experience in the international trade of raw materials, he was also president of Gerald Metals (GM), an important business group in the United States ”. Adding that “in fact, Agarwal's business trajectory was forged in Texuna which became, in a short time, a large network of companies operating in the trade of raw materials between Asia, the CIS, Europe and the USA. multinationals have relied on Texuna to enter the markets of the former Soviet republics, extremely lucrative, but often complicated according to specialized sources ”.
In an interview conducted by Baccheta with the manager of the Aratirí Health, Safety, Environment and Community area, Lic. Uruguayan Helga Chulepín firm that represents Zamin in Uruguay reiterated that “it belongs to an Indian family, which is investing in mining, there are several projects at the Latin American level, but all at the prospecting and exploration level, however, they have intentions to continue in the Aratirí project throughout the chain. This family is new in this part of the project, but not in mining, because it used to be involved in the mineral trade ”.
But what is striking about this interview are the puerile arguments used by the lic. Chulepín, about a multimillion dollar investment in a family, but she defends her arguments by stating in the interview that “for Aratirí, it is advantageous that Zamin is a family business, because many people, mainly in the government, have valued the size and the fact that it is a family business, because they are not the large corporations, Rio Tinto, etc. And I add; "For the Uruguayan government, it brings it closer to being able to handle this."
This vision given by lic. Uruguayan, arguing that Zamin is a family business in India does not seem real, nor does it have any relevance to evaluate an investment project like the one announced, which is playing with the rules of the international financial market, doubts also arise about the capacity of this company , because it seems that the Uruguayan government could be dealing with someone with little experience in this industrial activity, which would also be dangerous, both in production, in the ecosystem and in profits. According to Uruguayan analysts, they analyze that the Aratirí mining company could obtain more than US $ 600,000,000 (six hundred million dollars per year) for this production, while it will leave the Uruguayan State only receive 10% of that figure, similar to business with Botnia, which are exempt from tariffs.
With this income, the serious ecological effects of this mining could not be covered
Uruguay is recognized worldwide for defending the ecosystem and has important standards in environmental matters, under the slogan "A Natural Uruguay". Uruguay has important aquifers, it does not have natural catastrophes, and together with the scarcity of industrialization processes, an environment is created that allows tourism as an independent sector that generates large income of foreign currency per year. So it is necessary for the Uruguayan state to regulate or carefully study the effects of this highly polluting activity. So we ask ourselves: how is this combined with Natural Uruguay? What is the government betting on with a mining undertaking of such magnitude? How great will the benefit be in economic terms for the country? Are the damage taken into account? irreversible social and environmental? What will happen to those lands once the company withdraws?
Because this open pit mining project will leave, in more than 100,000 hectares, craters of 1.5 kilometers in diameter and 600 meters deep that will prevent other productions in the area. According to information from the Uruguayan press, this initiative will generate a danger of contamination for human health in nearby areas, in addition, a mining-pipeline will be created that will cross more than 200 kilometers (the size of 200 blocks of a city) through protected areas. It is said that it will end in La Esmeralda, a tourist development in recent years where there are more than 6000 houses and where 70% of the tourists who come to the coasts of Rocha and Punta del Diablo spend the summer, where the communities have made strategic investments to promote tourism in this area. In addition, this mining-pipeline generates an environmental impact, pollution and risk of accidents. Nor have economic feasibility studies been shown that indicate the advantages of replacing a growing tourism industry with a port industry whose profitability is not assured and which would ruin the area's tourism potential forever.
We received a letter from rural producers from four departments Florida, Durazno, Treinta y Tres and Cerro Largo, who have between 100 and 300 hectares of fields and do not have access to legal studies, who denounce that company employees enter their fields in an arrogant way, with heavy machinery that causes an impact on the soils, and without giving more information they proceed to carry out drilling that they do not know well how they will affect their traditional agricultural production practices and that the drilling works of the Minera Aratirí are progressing in the exploration and search for iron in the cattle area, where rural producers are directly affected.
We know that open-pit mining constitutes one of the most violent attacks on the environment, due to the enormous earth movements that exploitation implies, the creation of the dump, the accumulation of toxic waste and its dire consequences for the environment, for acidic waters produced with an extremely low PH that reaches values of 2.0.
Soil removal is a direct and irreversible impact
La Minera would dig huge holes in the heart of the country, causing a permanent and definitive alteration of the landscape, of the drainage network, given the impossibility of returning the area to its initial structure. This alteration brings dramatic ecological, social and economic consequences since it breaks a productive chain that will later be impossible to rebuild.
One of the open pit mines would have 2.5 km. long for about 500 ATS. wide and several hundred meters deep, between 6 and 10 holes of these characteristics would be made in an area of 10,000 hectares, in addition to taking into account all those families that live in the vicinity of the area. According to technicians from the Aratirí company, they reported that wildlife and livestock must be, for safety, more than three or four thousand meters from the area of operations, if we add that strip to the 12 to 15 thousand hectares that the mine occupies, they are From 30 to 41 thousand hectares, which must be totally cleared of humans and animals, generates a greater impact on human beings, who must leave their lands and with them their cow and livestock.
Can anyone reasonably conceive that an evacuation of this magnitude, in a short period of time, of a population made up of more than 300 families of rural producers, with movable property and animals, can be resolved in a calm and satisfactory way through of the usual complaint channels?
We are concerned that the Uruguayan government has not generated any instance of mediation or dispute resolution, leaving the producers at the mercy of constant pressure from the Aratirí company and the reality is that both the mining company and the government intend to ignore the producers, the Aratirí company has proposed that the producers buy part of their property in the field as if the rest could be kept intact.
Ultimately, the situation posed for Senators Blancos and Colorados, say that the solution between the producer and the mining company would be compensation or the sale under adequate economic conditions to compensate for patrimonial and "moral" damages. In this vision, land is another capital and the social responsibility of its possession does not count. The social responsibility with the land, which the owner must respect and the State control, is to preserve the ecosystem, the patrimony of the nation that ensures the survival of society. President Mujica received the executives of Zamin Ferrous, but has refused to receive the producers who did vote in the last elections for him.
Article 47 of the Constitution of the Eastern Republic of Uruguay says: “The protection of the environment is of general interest. People must refrain from any act that causes serious depredation, destruction or contamination to the environment.
Sylvia Ubal, International Barometer