Argentina: thousands protest in Mendoza wine region over axed water protections
Argentina’s wine-growing province of Mendoza, renown for its inky red Malbec varietal, has erupted in protest against the surprise overturning of a 2007 water protection law that had successfully kept water-intensive mining projects out of the province.
Thousands of people joined demonstrations on Monday outside the office of provincial governor Rodolfo Suarez in the capital city, also called Mendoza, after he overturned the law, known as 7722 late last week.
The peaceful protest turned violent on Monday afternoon, as police fired rubber bullets and tear gas into the crowd in response to stone-throwing by angry demonstrators.
Suarez further infuriated the protestors on Sunday, when he announced19 uranium, cooper, gold, lead, silver, zinc, and iron mining projects. He argued that the projects will create tens of thousands of new jobs, and promised to use royalties for new irrigation projects.
But environmentalists warned that the mega-projects could threaten water sources that farmers and wine-growers depend on, in a semi-arid province which is already going through the worst drought in its history.
Many of the protestors had set out from the city of San Carlos, marching 86 miles through the scorching heat of the South American summer, after Suarez overturned the law on Friday. “Don’t touch the water!” protestors chanted outside the governor’s office on Monday
“The modification of law 7722 will permit the use of sulphuric acid, cyanide and other toxic chemicals in the development of mega mining projects, which will generate the contamination of the province’s water,” Greenpeace Argentina said in a statement.
The law will be signed by governor Suarez despite the protest, said Mendoza environmental secretary Humberto Mingorance Monday. “The law
has consensus, Suarez never hid his promise to generate mining in Mendoza,” the official said following a meeting with four representatives of the demonstrators.
Argentina’s newly-inaugurated president Alberto Fernández, a moderate, business-friendly politician of the left-leaning populist Peronist party, has spoken out in favour of mining projects that he says are vital for Argentina’s recovery from its perennial economic malaise.
“Mining is a primordial activity,” Argentina’s new president said at a lunch with business leaders last week.
But some voices in his own party disagree. “Mendoza Law 7722 protected water by prohibiting the use of toxic substances in mining,” tweeted senator Pino Solanas, the president’s newly-appointed ambassador to the Unesco in New York. “Its modification is an environmental step backwards that endangers the future of the region.”
Mendoza, the largest wine-producing region in Latin America, is a semi-arid desert that gets the water for its vineyards from the snowy caps of the nearby Andes mountain range, already diminishing from the stress of global warming.
The province, which produces 80% of Argentina’s wine, is also a thriving tourism destination for visitors from all over the world who arrive to explore its over 1,000 wineries along the fabled Argentina Wine Route.
The people of Mendoza have a long history of environmental awareness. The law that was overturned on Friday was the result of sustained public demand. “This law was born on the streets,” Senator Solanas said.
“It is ridiculous that, during the worst drought on record, the province has decided to favour the polluting mining industry, instead of protecting the water resources it has. Undoubtedly, this resolution does not help to combat the effects of climate change that already affect the province,” said Laura Vidal, of Greenpeace Argentina.