Protesters say 'Harper go home' on PM's last day in Chile
Last Updated: Wednesday, July 18, 2007 | 3:35 PM ET CBC News
Prime Minister Stephen Harper was greeted with "Harper go home" and "Canada: What's HARPERing here?" signs on Wednesday morning as he spent his last day in Chile visiting a controversial Canadian mining company.
Dozens of protesters waited outside Barrick Gold's Santiago headquarters for Harper's visit, which one Chilean environmental activist called "inappropriate."
The protesters claim the company's gold and silver Pascua Lama Project in the Andes Mountains is displacing indigenous people, polluting rivers and damaging three glaciers — charges the company denies.
Harper said Tuesday that as far as he knows Barrick "follows Canadian standards of corporate social responsibility." He said that it was up to Chile and Argentina to determine whether the company was meeting environmental protection standards.
Way to buck responsibility, Harper. Could you recite those standards for me, please? And why they absolve you from accountability for a company that is in another country but is Canadian-owned?
Karyn Keenan, program officer for the Halifax Initiative, an environmental coalition, said that the organization was worried Harper had not been properly informed of the issues surrounding the project.
"We're also concerned that Prime Minister Harper's visit to the Barrick offices might be viewed as a gesture of support for the project, just when the Chilean congress is considering forming a special investigatory commission to evaluate alleged irregularities with the approval process for the mine," Keenan said.
Lucio Cuenca, national co-ordinator of the Latin American Observatory on Environmental Conflicts, agreed with Keenan, claiming the visit gives the project the "tacit approval" of the prime minister.
The local defence council is considering suing Barrick for the alleged destruction of the glaciers, Cuenca said. A human rights complaint has been lodged with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, he added.
A committee of lawmakers from Chile's chamber of deputies is studying the accusations.
One 2002 environmental report by the General Water Directorship estimates the three glaciers have shrunk by 50 to 70 per cent, allegedly as a result of work done during Barrick's exploratory phase, such as road building.
Runoff from the glaciers fuels watersheds in the area, supplying water to many communities.
"There's a shortage of water in the summertime, and it's only sustained because of the glaciers," one protester told CBC News. "Because of the destruction of the glaciers, there won't be water in the short term, there won't be water for the communities."
Barrick says the glaciers are melting due to global warming.
The company's local director of corporate affairs, Rodrigo Jimenez, said the protesters represent "a small minority."
"A lot of them, as a result of professional activism … unfortunately oppose any type of development — whether it's mining, gas or any type of project around the world," he said.
Harper was scheduled to leave Chile Wednesday for Bridgetown, Barbados.
With files from the Canadian Press
Yet again, Stephen Harper is doing wonders for Canada's reputation in environmental issues. Not to mention the contribution he's making to Canada's history of displacing indigenous people--though his is with a twist! This Canadian company is displacing people in another country! Gotta love his casual, capitalist concern for the people of Chile as he visits this controversial mine. Well, why should he care? He's the prime minister of Canada, not president of Chile.
Wasn't one of the criticisms about Harper during the election the little experience he had in foreign affairs and such? Hmmmm....
Also, don't you love Barrick's local director's reference to "professional activism" (how do I start a career in this)? Opposing things like mining and gas? Like, why would anyone ever have a problem with development like that that has been destroying the environment for years upon years? Oh mah gawd.
Ahem. Anyone happen to see the Massive Change exhibition at the AGO a couple years back? Or the Live Earth concert a couple weeks ago? Anyone? Bueller?
I'll be the first to admit that my environmental science knowledge is low. But digging giant craters into the Earth and mining away for resources can't be having a great effect on the environment, whether it can be linked to climate change and global warming or not. It's still bad for the Earth, and obviously, it is bad for the people of Chile. I think the Prime Minister should deign to be a lot more thoughtful on the situation than to just say, more or less, 'It's not my problem.'
I know that this is one article and that there could be about a million sides of this story that I'm totally ignorant of. I realize this and I'm willing to cop to it. But the casual tone in which Harper offers no real explaination, and gives us no arguement to think about (which is pretty typical of the way he behaves in the media) is so suspect. And is kind of scary. I want to know what is going on and why, Mr. Harper, especially as your job is lead this country, and you also represent us when you visit others. And especially since your election campaign talked about bringing back dignity to the government. I'm still waiting.