“Water is worth more than gold”: Mendoza, Argentina rejects advance of extractive industry

The province of Mendoza has been suffering from water crisis for more than 11 years and mining activities would be further aggravate the crisis

December 24, 2019 by Peoples Dispatch
"Do not touch Law 7722! Water is not negotiable!" Photo: David Medina Kaiser

On December 23, tens of thousands of inhabitants of the Mendoza province of Argentina, along with environmentalists and social activists carried out a massive march in defense of water and against the modifications in the Law 7722 that gives a green light to extractive activities such as mega-mining and fracking in the province.

The Law 7722 is aimed at the comprehensive protection of the water resources of the province. The law prohibits the use of cyanide and sulfuric acid, among other chemical substances, in mining operations. On December 20, the Mendoza Legislature approved the modification of Law 7722. Since December 21, the inhabitants have been protesting in defense of water and against the legislative decision across the province.

Over 50,000 protesters from different parts of the province came to the capital, Mendoza City, and marched to the provincial government’s headquarters, demanding the abolition of the modifications. The protesters peacefully demonstrated with flags and placards, displaying messages such as “No to Mega-mining”, “Water cannot be traded”, “Water is worth more than gold”, “There is no life without water”, “No to the modification of Law 7722”, “Law 7722 cannot be altered”, “In defense of Law 7722”, “Water Yes, Mining No”, etc.

Massive march in Mendoza city. Photo: David Medina Kaiser

Provincial police officials violently repressed the march with tear gas and rubber bullets, injuring dozens of people.

Despite the repression, the protesters returned to streets at night and carried out an equally massive march. They marched through the main streets of Mendoza City, playing drums and banging utensils, and concluded the march at the Mendoza Legislature building. In addition to the mobilizations, protesters also blocked several important highways in different parts of the province throughout the night.

In the capital, Buenos Aires, members of various social and political organizations demonstrated in solidarity with the people of Mendoza and their struggle. Hundreds of people marched from the Obelisk to the House of Mendoza to manifest their rejection of the modifications. From Mendoza House, the protesters continued their demonstration and marched to the Environment Ministry demanding the annulment of the modifications.

Mendoza has been suffering from water crisis for more than 11 years. These types of projects require millions of liters of water per day in combination with cyanide and other chemical compounds for the separation of mineral from mountain rocks. The people in the province insist that Mendoza is simply not in a position to provide water for mining activities. Last month only, various neighborhoods in the Las Heras department and many parts of the Mendoza City were without water for several days. In this sense, any mega-mining activity in the province will make water a scarce resource, affecting the everyday life of its inhabitants.

According to the inhabitants and the environmentalists, the modifications will allow the operation of over 16 mining projects, jeopardizing all the natural resources of the region.

The province of Mendoza is governed by Rodolfo Suárez of the center party, Radical Civic Union (UCR). The UCR is a part of the right-wing opposition coalition, Juntos por el Cambio (Together for Change). The bill was promoted by Together for Change and received the support of current center-left government of Frente de Todos (Front for All).

President Alberto Fernández, who had supported the modifications earlier, now given the  magnitude of the protests, is considering to withdraw the support.