The resistance against the Alumbrera and Agua Rica mining deposits dates back more than 20 years. As researchers Mariana Walter and Lucrecia Wagner point out: "The spread of anti-mining mobilizations in Argentina has been related to a cascade effect of two key conflicts: Esquel (gold mine conflict in Patagonia) and La Alumbrera (copper and gold mine in Catamarca, one of the poorest provinces of the country related to environmental accidents)" .
For more than twenty years, the communities of Andalgalá grouped in the Algarrobo Assembly have firmly expressed that mining does not have a social license in their territory. They also have carried out direct actions to stop such projects, including selective blockades, permanent assemblies, marches and several judicial actions, including injunctions to defend the Nevado del Aconquija and its water sources. These are some of their slogans: "Aconquija is not to be touched," "Lower the machines," "Out Yamana," "poverty=mining," "MARA is illegal and unviable," "No to mining," "Agua Rica does not have a social license."
Agua Rica is a gold, copper, silver and molybdenum deposit, "advertised as three times bigger than Bajo la Alumbrera" . The project is located in northwestern Argentina, in the Catamarca province of Argentina, approximately 17 kilometres north of Andalgalá, where the rivers that supply water to the region originate .
After the 2010 repression, the people of Andalgalá managed to stop the Agua Rica project (in 2010) and the Bajo La Alumbrera project (in 2019)  since 2020. However, both projects were integrated into what is now known as the MARA integrated project under the shareholding structure of Glencore, Newmont and Yamana Gold. For this reason, the communities remain vigilant and continue to resist the project, carrying out peaceful "Walks for Life" since 2010 to date every Saturday.
A resistance of more than two decades
The people of Andalgalá, in the province of Catamarca, in northwestern Argentina, have suffered and fought against the impacts of mining megaprojects since 1997. This year, copper mining began at the Bajo La Alumbrera mine, owned by the Swiss-Canadian consortium Xstrata-Goldcorp-Yamana Gold . The mine accumulated a dozen complaints for "spills, contamination of rivers and tax evasion during its years of operation" .
In 2008, environmental impact studies carried out by specialists from the Business Unit of the National University of Tucumán detected 360 flaws that made it advisable not to mine in the area. Based on this study from the Asamblea de Algarrobo, neighbour Sergio Martínez mentioned it would not only affect Andalgalá, but it would impact a population close to one million people, because our city is close to the springs that supply water not only to our region, but also to Tucumán, and is part of the contributors to the Salí-Dulce basin, which then goes to Santiago del Estero. He also highlighted that the report concluded that 'the project would negatively affect the glacial, periglacial and rivers and for being just 14 kilometres from the central square of Andalgalá'.
In 2009, the provincial government of Catamarca gave the green light to the Agua Rica copper, molybdenum and gold megaproject, owned by Yamana Gold. The deposit is located 17 kilometres from Andalgalá, in a periglacial environment, close to 200 rock glaciers in the Aconquija mountain range, which is sheltered by the Blanco, Candado and Mina's rivers. These three rivers supply water to the entire region, which covers almost a quarter of the province of Catamarca.
That same year, the Catamarca Mining Secretariat approved the Environmental Impact Assessment of the Agua Rica metalliferous exploitation project (Resolution 035/2009). The EIA made thirty observations (on water quality, water pollution, impacts on surrounding communities, etc.) on the project. In addition, members of the assembly pointed out that no public hearings or popular consultations were held before the authorization of the project, as required by Argentine legislation.
Neighbours of the Choya district reported water contamination and fish mortality in the Choya and Potrero rivers due to the exploration work carried out at the Agua Rica deposit.
Police repression in 2010 and the beginning of the Asamblea de Algarrobo
The residents of Andalgalá, aware of the disastrous environmental record of the Bajo La Alumbrera oilfield and the existing legal challenges regarding the contamination of this oilfield, decided to cut off supplies from and to the Agua Rica oilfield in March 2009. Upon learning that the Province of Catamarca had authorized the exploitation of the Agua Rica oilfield in March 2009, they decided to cut off the movement of supplies to and from Agua Rica on December 14 of that year.
The fact that Agua Rica was located in a rainy area and three times larger than La Alumbrera alarmed the communities regarding "the inherent environmental risks of the project" . Due to these risks, in 2009, Neighbors for Life, from Andalgalá --(member of the Union of Citizen Assemblies (UAC).
On February 15, 2010, the El Algarrobo Assembly was harshly repressed for not allowing the passage of machinery to the Agua Rica oilfield on the communal road that connects Chaquiago with El Potrero, leaving about 12 people injured and hundreds detained. While the roadblocks were being carried out, members of the assembly filed a protective action (amparo) . In this protective action, they demanded the immediate suspension of the exploitation of the Agua Rica oilfield for violating the environmental rights enshrined in the Argentine National Constitution and guaranteed in the General Environmental Law. They requested the respect of their human right of access to water. They referenced the Glaciers and Periglacial Environment Law. This law is pertinent to this case because the mine deposit is located in a periglacial environment. Thus, there is a legal prohibition to exploit it. This legal action was filed before the Court of Guarantees, Labor and Minors of Andalgalá.
On February 15, 2010, the Catamarca Mining Judge decided to suspend the activities of the Agua Rica mining company until further notice. In March, the Andalgalá town councillors approved a referendum on whether or not to accept the exploitation of the Agua Rica deposit on the river that supplies water for domestic consumption. The referendum was to be held on May 25. But it was suspended by the Catamarca Court of Justice at the request of the municipal mayor of Andalgalá.
The communities have blocked trucks carrying supplies for both Minera La Alumbrera and Agua Rica. In the Calchaquí Valleys, the Diaguitas-quilmeñas-Calchaquíes Indigenous communities and residents have also joined these direct actions.
Neighbours and neighbours have initiated several legal actions to protect their human rights, both to a healthy environment and to the protection of the environment.
In 2012, the neighbours of Andalgalá filed the Federal Extraordinary Appeal in the protective action (amparo) initiated in 2010, challenging how the Agua Rica project had been environmentally evaluated, thus reaching the Supreme Court of Justice. In March 2016, it urged the Court of Justice of Catamarca to issue a new ruling considering this claim. In September of the same year, the Judge of control of guarantees decided to issue a precautionary measure ordering the suspension of the exploitation of the Agua Rica deposit until the company submitted a new Environmental Impact Report and its environmental viability is determined.
The residents of Andalgalá have also initiated several legal actions to protect their human rights to a healthy environment, participation, access to information, and justice. In 2016, the Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation recognized their right to live in a healthy environment . As a result, the Deliberating Council of Andalgalá, issued a Municipal Ordinance 029/2016, which prohibits open-pit and underground mining activity in the Andalgalá river basin. The ordinance "prohibited metalliferous mining (gold, copper, lead and silver) in open pit mining ... in the Andalgalá river basin" . However, the ordinance was judicially challenged by Yamana Gold and the Government of the Province of Catamarca. The legal cases are currently pending.
As of 2019, Newmont acquires Goldcorp, a Canadian company, and becomes a shareholder of the company Alumbrera Limited, allowing it to be part of the consortium of companies that intend to exploit the Agua Rica deposit. One year later, in December 2020, Yamana Gold became the sole owner of Agua Rica. The mine is integrated with Minera Alumbrera's plant and infrastructure, resulting in the MARA project. At the same time, the Alumbrera partners created a new joint venture of which Yamana has a majority interest of 56.25%, Glencore 25.00% and Newmont 18.75% . Yamana plans to take the ore mined and sorted from Agua Rica to the Alumbrera plant for processing on a 36 km conveyor belt . From there, it will transport the ore to the port of Santa Fe. As stated by Asamblea El Algarrobo, "Yamana Gold was always the company that owned Minera Agua Rica... faced with the resistance to exploit the deposit of the same name as the company they created in Argentina, they made an agreement between Minera Agua Rica, Minera Alumbrera and Yacimiento de Agua de Dionisio (YMAD) to exploit the Agua Rica deposit".
Although the Canadian company Yamana Gold and the Government of the Province of Catamarca claim that MARA is a new project, the integration of the Agua Rica and Alumbrera deposits is not a new mining venture but a strategy designed by the mining companies and the government to achieve the exploitation of the Agua Rica deposit, given that MARA is located in the same place and with the same characteristics that are harmful to the environment and the Andalgalá River basin . As such, this project would continue to violate the human rights of residents.
During one of the hardest moments of the pandemic in May 2020, the company informed that the Environmental Impact Report for advanced exploration, which consists of carrying out 11 drillings, presented in 2019, "was approved going through the whole process of evaluation and public consultation, in a dialogue with the community of Andalgalá." In turn, in June 2021, the provincial government authorized ten more drillings to be carried out. The 21 drillings carried out by the mining company are located in glacier areas and periglacial environments . These decisions were challenged by the members of the El Algarrobo Assembly in the protective action (amparo) that is being processed before the Second Chamber of Civil, Commercial, Labor and Mining matters located in San Fernando del Valle de Catamarca.
Water emergency in Andalgalá
During more than 20 years of operation of the Bajo La Alumbrera deposit, "Alumbrera's impact on the productive system of the region ... was reflected in the reduction of cultivated areas, lower agricultural and livestock production and loss of crop quality due to water stress. In addition to the contamination proven in court cases, such as the one before the Federal Court of Tucumán, where the CEO of Minera Alumbrera is being investigated. The scarcity of water in the region has even led to restrictions on human consumption, with prolonged and frequent water cuts by authorities. The state of water, environmental and agricultural emergency in the entire province of Catamarca has been decreed several times by the authorities; the last ones in 2012, 2016"  and 2020.
Catamarca enacted the Water Emergency Law in the whole province in 2020. Consequently, one of the main concerns of the communities is water consumption by the MARA integrated project. In 2020, "the Ministry of Mining gave the concession to MARA to drill 11 wells in the mining perimeter which "consume 20 thousand litres of water daily from one of the main rivers, the Minas" . If the project advances to its exploitation stage, the impacts would be devastating for the communities. "The company would consume 300 million litres per day, six times more than what the entire town of 12,600 inhabitants uses" .
In addition to the damage to biodiversity, a species of frog that is unique in the world, found in Aconquija and protected by the norms of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), to which Argentina adheres, would disappear if this project goes ahead. High altitude grasslands are also threatened. The Aconquija mountain range corresponds to relatively new geological formations. It is an ecologically fragile area inhabited by many Andean species (vicuñas, guanacos, etc.), protected by law. Therefore, extractive activities in the Aconguija would affect local biodiversity, vegetation. Residents fear that mining in the Aconguija will produce landslides that could cover the city of Andalgalá.
“Intimidating maneuvers to silence social protest” in 2021
The communities of Andalgalá have firmly expressed that no mining activity in their territory has a social license and have carried out several direct actions to stop Yamana Gold's project and thus defend the Nevado del Aconquija mountain and its water sources. As a result of these peaceful actions to stop the project, the community faces “labour harassment (in private and public spheres), raids, arbitrary arrests and false criminal charges against organized activists critical of the mega-mining by the provincial government and mega-mining companies such as Yamana Gold” .
This year, 12 people were arrested during violent raids. In September 2021, "five women who participated in a sit-in in June against the multinational mining company Yamana Gold were charged with "simple damage" for painting graffiti. Thus, since 2010, a total of 70 neighbours have been prosecuted for exercising their right to peaceful protest and defending water. As one of the members of the Algarrobo Assembly says, these types of accusations are "intimidating maneuvers to silence social protest and advance the project in our territory" .
Yamana Gold: "copper is a green metal ... and a key raw material in electric vehicles."
The Agua Rica project was identified by Mining.com and Mining Intelligence in 2019 as the seventh-largest copper project in the world according to its proven and probable copper reserves .
Although Agua Rica is a gold-copper-molybdenum-silver mine, and Yamana Gold focuses on gold projects, the company is trying to capitalize on decarbonization efforts in the energy transition context. It promotes Agua Rica as a copper mine by emphasizing that "copper is a green metal in high demand yet short supply" . According to Yamana CEO Peter Marrone, "is a future generational mine that is advancing towards development at an opportune time, as copper is a green metal in high demand yet short supply. It is a key raw material in electric vehicles and renewable energy infrastructure that will drive the green transition" .
The company is so keen to capitalize on this energy transition market that it is considering other options to finance and develop this mine, which could include the company is considering options to fund and develop this asset, which might include spinning out the asset to its shareholders as a separate 'Yamana Copper' vehicle" , instead of just Yamana Gold (or Yamana Oro in Spanish).
In its eagerness to show a friendly and environmentally friendly face to its investors, the company incorporated in 2021 a climate strategy "to demonstrate the Company's commitment to the transition to a low-carbon future"  and also included the Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) factors into its operations . However, these types of voluntary frameworks allow companies like Neo Lithium to advertise themselves as companies committed to the environment and human rights without making any discernible changes to their operations or strategies. Their purpose is usually simply marketing.
While Yamana Gold and its executives advertise MARA as a project that will contribute to the reduction of CO2 emissions by providing the copper needed to manufacture electric cars and that will generate future economic profits for its investors, MARA puts at risk everything it promises to protect: rivers, glaciers and the ecosystems and communities that depend on them. Besides this, Yamana Gold has been an actor that has contributed to local repression and violence since 2010.
Argentinian delegation at PDAC: copper as a vital metal in the energy transition.
During the world's largest mining convention, the Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada (PDAC), which is held every year in Toronto, Canada, representatives of the national government and governors of several Argentine provinces, including Catamarca, highlighted Argentina's geological mining potential and the opportunities for international mining companies in the country. They also described mining in the country as an inclusive, sustainable and green activity that improves the lives of the population. PDAC is an "annual conference is a place where mining companies from around the world converge to make deals and ensure they can continue operating in ways that prioritize profit no matter the other costs" that their operations create for local communities: environmental, social and/or human rights costs .
Like its corporate counterparts, the Argentine delegation highlighted copper as a vital metal in the energy transition . The governor of Catamarca, Mr. Raúl Jalil, emphasized that: "Catamarca is mining province by nature, geological potential, history and tradition. Mining development has a constitutional hierarchy and is considered a strategic activity for the economic and productive growth of the province. We offer a wide portfolio of mining projects, a safe road and communication infrastructure that allows us to have access to the Pacific ocean allowing us to trade with Asian markets". He also used the opportunity to mention MARA: "Today we have one of the largest mining projects in Argentina, the MARA project."
MARA and multiple local laws violations
In summary, MARA violates the Protection of Glaciers and the Periglacial Environment laws , the General Environmental Law, Municipal Ordinance 29/16, which prohibits all open-pit metallic mining activity, and nuclear mining activity, in any form, in the upper basin of the Andalgalá River. Likewise, it does not respect the sentence of the Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation nor the two precautionary measures put forward by the People of Anadalgalá. The population of Andalgalá, is currently in a water emergency, and the development of MARA's mining activities will further affect its water sources .
600 "Walks for Life" and counting
Despite all this, the Algarrobo Assembly and the population of Andalgalá have had many successes fighting against mega-mining. For example, they achieved to stop the Agua Rica mine project in 2010, Bajo La Alumbrera in 2019 and managed to become Andalgalá, the first city in Catamarca to ban mega-mining in 2016.
The El Algarrobo Assembly maintains this roadblock on the communal road that connects Chaquiago with El Potrero, but the mining company has alternative routes to reach the project. In addition, since 2010, residents have been marching every Saturday during the "Walks for Life." These are peaceful marches organized to protest against the company, mining, and demand their rights to a healthy environment are respected. In August 2021, they marched for the 600th time .