Church workers: Catholics must stand with victims in mining disputes | earth beat

Members of indigenous communities camp on the property of the Chinese-owned Las Bambas copper mine in Peru on April 26, 2022. On April 27, the Peruvian government declared a state of emergency near the copper mine, where production was halted for a week due to indigenous communities camped inside. (CNS/Reuters/Angela Ponce)

Lima, Peru – Amid conflicts between mining companies and communities in Latin America, Catholics must stand with those whose lives and livelihoods are threatened by pollution and human rights abuses, said church workers.

Communities affected by mining – and the church members who work with them – draw strength from spiritualities centered on protecting what Pope Francis calls “our common home”, according to members of Churches and Mining Network, who met here from April 24-28.

The rally brought together 40 people from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala and Peru, as well as France, Germany and Switzerland.

When Latin American countries went into lockdown during the coronavirus pandemic, mines in many countries continued to operate, often exacerbating conflicts with local communities, network members said in a public presentation on April 27. .

And the war in Ukraine and the demand for minerals for new energy technologies, such as solar and wind power, are likely to increase pressure for mining in the future, leading to greater tensions with communities, said the father. Dario Bossi, provincial of the Comboni Missionaries in Brazil and coordinator of the network.

“How much more is it going to progress this way, or worse? We have seen that in times of pandemic and war, instead of diminishing, (mining) expands. The increase in conflict and deaths is precisely because of the limit,” he said, adding that the conflicts are “a sign that we have run out of time.”

Conflicts take various forms in the region.

In Brazil, where the collapse of tailings dams in 2015 and 2019 at mines owned by mining company Vale caused environmental destruction and killed hundreds, victims are still awaiting reparations and communities feel excluded from negotiations, said the Franciscan friar. Rodrigo Peret.

Meanwhile, small businesses continue to explore new areas, often causing divisions within communities, he said.

In the province of Chubut, in the south of Argentina, the British company Anglo American PLC plans to exploit one of the largest silver deposits in the world, despite opposition from local communities, said Claudia Huircan, who coordinates the program of the Claretian Missionaries for Justice and Peace. and integrity of creation in Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and Paraguay.

Prof. Dario Bossi, provincial superior of the Comboni Missionaries in Brazil, Patiachi Taylor and Leah Rose Casimero leave the final session of the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon at the Vatican on October 26, 2019. (CNS/Paul Haring)

Prof. Dario Bossi, provincial superior of the Comboni Missionaries in Brazil, Patiachi Taylor and Leah Rose Casimero leave the final session of the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon at the Vatican on October 26, 2019. Bossi recently said that Catholics in the United States can help those affected by mining by boycotting the products of companies whose practices cause environmental damage or human rights abuses. (SNC/Paul Haring)

The exploration is affecting sites considered sacred by indigenous Mapuche communities, she said, and “defenders of our common home and Mother Earth” who oppose the project are branded as criminals.

It’s a common complaint in communities affected by extractive industries in what has become the deadliest region for environmental and community land defenders, according to watchdog group Global Witness. Three quarters of the 227 murders recorded by the organization in 2021 were committed in Latin America.

Latin America plays a key role in supplying the world with minerals, Cesar Padilla of the Chile-based Observatory of Mining Conflicts in Latin America, said via virtual connection during the April 27 presentation. Chile and Peru lead the region, especially in copper production, but other countries are also important, such as Bolivia, a major producer of lithium used in batteries for electric vehicles.

“We are victims of this abundance,” Padilla said. “The most serious problem is that abundance leads to a narrative that equates extractive industries with wealth and well-being.”

Although mining has increased overall incomes in many Latin American countries, helping to reduce national poverty rates, the benefits have not trickled down to many communities closest to the mines in places like the Andes.

An open pit at Barrick Gold Corp's Veladero gold mine.  is seen in Argentina's San Juan province on April 26, 2017. (CNS/Reuters/Marcos Brindicci)

An open pit at Barrick Gold Corp’s Veladero gold mine. is seen in Argentina’s San Juan province on April 26, 2017. (CNS/Reuters/Marcos Brindicci)

In Cajamarca, the region of Peru that is home to one of the region’s richest gold mines, two out of five people live in poverty, according to official 2020 figures. In Huancavelica, a mining center since colonial times , the number is closer to one in two.

Virtually all new mining projects in the region come with conflict, Padilla said, as governments grant concessions to companies in areas that include communities, leading to protests followed by crackdowns by security forces.

Governments continue to focus on natural resource extraction, which remains the main source of income for many Latin American countries, rather than prioritizing benefits for communities, he added.

Such extractivism is an effort to “convert nature into money,” the father said. said Bossi. “What we need is another kind of conversion.”

Communities are asking for churches to be allies, and Catholic bishops in Latin America have said evangelism involves caring for creation, the father said. said Bossi. Although the Church is often called upon to be a “conciliator” in conflicts, that is not its role, he added. Instead, he must take the side of the victims in unjust situations.

Catholics in the United States can contribute to this effort by supporting policies that protect indigenous and other traditional communities in places like the Amazon Basin and by boycotting the products of companies whose practices cause environmental damage or rights violations. of the man, said the father. Bossi told Catholic News Service.

He stressed “the urgency of making a voice heard from the outside, given so many cases of criminalization, death and silencing of people who defend their territories. We need international outrage on this happening in Latin America. This has worked in many cases. Asking us Catholics to join us in speaking out.

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