Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

The Argentine government announced it was launching a legal investigation of the Canadian firm to see if there had been any criminal wrongdoing. If so, the company will allegedly face sanctions. The firm is already being sued in civil court over the leak, with plaintiffs demanding that it pay compensation for harm done to people, goods, and the environment. (Photo: ProtestBarrick.net)

Million-Liter Cyanide Spill in Argentina Highlights Canadian Mining Crimes

'They cannot continue to handle affairs that are so delicate, that affect the environment and people this way.'

Deirdre Fulton

Highlighting how corporate extractivism and lack of accountability is driving the destruction of Latin American communities, a Canadian mining company has now confirmed that more than one million liters of cyanide solution spilled from the Barrick Gold Veladero mine in San Juan, Argentina this month—making the spill more than four times larger than originally estimated.

"Far from ensuring that mining-affected communities enjoy the full range of protection under the law, governments—including the Canadian government—have twisted the law to protect and promote mining interests by targeting community activists and defenders."
—Jen Moore, MiningWatch Canada.

The Toronto-headquartered mining company initially said it had spilled just 224,000 liters of the toxic liquid, used to leach gold from processed rocks, into the Potrerillos River. On Wednesday, the corporation amended its statement (pdf) and said that in fact 1.072 million liters of a cyanide and water solution were spilled due to a failure in one of the valves in the mine's pipes.

The spill occurred on September 12, "and news quickly spread among local residents through social media, causing them to stockpile bottled water in fear," the Argentina Independent reported Thursday. Last week, thousands rallied together in the city of Jáchal to protest the mining company.

Barrick—dubbed one of "The 12 Least Ethical Companies in the World" by the Swiss research firm Covalence in 2010—claims that "no risks to human health were identified."

But a joint statement from the Environment and Natural Resources Foundation (FARN), Greenpeace Argentina, and the Argentine Association of Environmental Lawyers, made it clear that environmental protection groups remain unconvinced about the long-term impact of the spill.

"Even if the judge is understood to have put into place a series of conditions, we are concerned by the secrecy with which the incident was handled, the scarce information about the circumstances of the event provided by the authorities and the risk management measures and contingencies," said (Spanish) Pía Marchegiani of FARN. "They cannot continue to handle affairs that are so delicate, that affect the environment and people this way."

The groups are criticizing a judge's decision on Thursday to lift orders suspending operations of the mine, suggesting that the local government conspired with Barrick to cover-up the magnitude of the leak and its potential consequences. 

Just this week, MiningWatch Canada and the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group released a damning report linking Canadian mining interests throughout the Americas with intensifying repression and violence against mining-affected communities.

The new report—entitled In the National Interest? Criminalization of Land and Environment Defenders in the Americas—argues that "the model of industrial mineral extraction that Canada promotes abroad is informed by deregulation of the extractive sector at home and a colonialist past and present that—with renewed fervor in recent years—views those who speak out as a threat to the national interest and hence a target for spy agencies, tax audits, funding cuts, and gratuitous policing."

"Far from ensuring that mining-affected communities enjoy the full range of protection under the law, governments—including the Canadian government—have twisted the law to protect and promote mining interests by targeting community activists and defenders," said Jen Moore, Latin America program coordinator for MiningWatch Canada. "It has become a low-intensity war against communities and organizations who are fighting for environmental justice in Latin America."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

'Policy of Death': Amazon Guardians Sue Ecuador's President Over Oil, Mining Decrees

"We are fighting to defend our territory, our rivers, our forest, our fish, and our animals," one Indigenous leader explained. "Without our forest and without water, we cannot live."

Brett Wilkins ·


'Just Cancel the Debt,' Advocates Say as Biden Admin Develops Strategy for Restarting Student Loan Payments

Student debt cancellation "is good economic policy that will change the lives of millions of families," said Rep. Ayanna Pressley.

Julia Conley ·


Green Public Spending a 'Win-Win Opportunity' for Climate and Workers, Global Study Shows

"It's really a no-brainer for the federal government to prioritize green investments to put our economy back on track," said one advocate. "It's good politics and good policy."

Kenny Stancil ·


After CIA Plot Revealed, Press Freedom Coalition Says DOJ Must Drop Assange Case

"A precedent created by prosecuting Assange could be used against publishers and journalists alike, chilling their work and undermining freedom of the press," said the groups.

Julia Conley ·


'Needlessly Provocative': Austin Rebuked for Again Opening NATO Door to Ukraine and Georgia

"The Biden administration now faces a stark choice: commit to fight for Ukraine, creating a serious risk of war with Russia, or admit that NATO expansion has come to an overdue end."

Brett Wilkins ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo