Monday, January 20, 2014

Strip Mining in Uruguay

article from July 21, 2011
By Jamie Douglas

Uruguay, often referred to as “the Switzerland of South America,” is currently being confronted with a Swiss-made dilemma. The Swiss-owned Anglo-Indian Zamin Ferrous Aratiri Exploration Project has obtained the approval of the Uruguayan government to explore an area of 120,000 hectares in the east-central portion of this small nation.

In Uruguay, all subsurface minerals belong to the state; therefore, property owners who have been farming and ranching in this area are confronted with having their property expropriated to allow for the strip mining of low-grade iron ore that is to be shipped to China. The destruction of the land has already started, with landowners receiving a pittance for the damages caused to their properties.

A deep-water port is slated for the coast of Rocha Department, an area of unspoiled beauty, with its sensitive ecological lagoons, dunes and beaches. Some of my readers may be aware of the ecological and political fallout from the Finnish pulp mill that was built on the Rio Uruguay, polluting the air and water in Uruguay as well as neighboring Argentina. That not being sufficient, a Portuguese company wanted to build a similar mill nearby. But the prospect of the new deep-water port in Rocha now has this company more interested in building their plant near to that. La Paloma has been mentioned as a candidate, as there are hundreds of thousands of hectares that could be exploited by planting fast-growing Eucalyptus hybrids.

The mining idea certainly has very serious drawbacks, to my thinking. As it is envisioned, the ore will be crushed in situ.  Then by adding Mother Nature’s most precious resource, water, it will be converted into slurry and sent in a pipeline to the waiting bulk carriers heading to the iron smelters in China, probably by way of the newly expanded Panama Canal. Selling Uruguay by the pound! ...or by the cubic mile, more likely.

The main problem I foresee with this scheme, as I envision it, will be the slurry. Surely, the water will be extracted rather than being added to the gross tonnage of the ships – extracted and put into sediment ponds, which will eventually leak and pollute the pristine beaches of Rocha Department.

Oh, the lights just came on: that of course will lead to more job creation down the road for the former farmers and ranchers, and perhaps the vacationers will be able to supplement their income by cleaning the beaches, removing the penguin and sea lion carcasses.

So imagine the rolling hills of that area of Uruguay falling victim to open-pit mining. After they destroy the first 12,000 hectares, the government will have gotten used to the easy money and continue to grant more and more concessions to rape and destroy the Eastern Republic. And what will be the benefits to the people of this very special country? Cheaper nuts and bolts? Iron supplements? Maybe! 

The loss of such a large amount of fresh water in a nation that goes from drought to flood on a regular basis will surely have very serious consequences that will not be mitigated by creating 1,500 lousy mining jobs, roughly equal or smaller to the amount of people whose livelihoods will be destroyed. Never mind the internally displaced citizens, many of whom will end up moving to Montevideo, helping to enlarge the already sufficiently large population of the very poor there ...all this sacrifice for the Uruguayan government to get 5% of the take.

Jamie Douglas
Formerly La Paloma, Rocha Department, Uruguay
Where the Tannat Wine is Always Fine

I encourage you to write me at cruzansailor [at] gmail [dot] com with any questions or suggestions you may have. Disclaimer: I am not in any travel-related business. My advice is based on my own experiences and is free of charge (Donations welcome). It is always my pleasure to act as a beneficial counselor to those who are seekers of the next adventure.