Famatina is the name of a mountain located in La Rioja, a province in northwest Argentina. Its peak reaches 6250 MASL; it has glaciers and contains an enormous water basin. It has been historically a mining area. In 2005 the Canadian multinational Barrick Gold reached an agreement with Yamiri S.A., a local company from Rioja, for the exploration of the area for gold extraction. The project involves an open pit mine: a mining technique characterized by large explosions and the use of millions of gallons of water and acids. These explosions produce cocktails of contaminants in the air, soil and water of the area.
In 2006, citizen assemblies --“self-organized neighbors” (vecinos autoconvocados) of Famatina, Chilecito, La Rioja-- were created against the Barrick Gold project. These local mobilizations were able to stop the project. On 8 March 2007 in order to call attention to their message and keep a close eye on any attempt to restart the project, residents maintained a permanent vigil in the area of Peña Negra, the access junction to the mine along State Highway 38, at 1.800 MASL in front of Cordón del Famatina. They were permitting Barrick employees and machinery to leave, but not to enter. And they vowed not to abandon their vigil until Barrick Gold went gone for good, and a provincial law was enacted prohibiting open-pit mining on their beloved mountain.
With banners “El Famatina no se toca”, “No a la minería”, “Podemos vivir sin oro pero no vivir sin agua” and permanent meetings, this mobilization obtained that the provincial Legislature of La Rioja would enact in March 10 2007 a law that prohibits open pit mining.
The struggle continued in 2012, from January 2, about 400 people permanently cut the route in the Alto Carrizal under the slogan “El agua vale más que el oro. El Famatina no se toca. El agua y la vida no se negocian”. The exploration project was taken over in August 2011 by Canadian Mining company Osisko Mining that encountered the same resistance as Barrick met.
During January 2012, the efforts of some 4,000 people (the village has 6,500 inhabitants), prevented Osisko to proceed. As No a la Mina stated: "In response, in February 2012 President Cristina Fernandez announced the opening of a public debate on mining, although immediately after creating the OFEMI (Organismo Federal de Estados Mineros), in order to block any real discussion on the subject".
On 2 July 2013, one year and a half later, it was reported that “the provincial government of La Rioja rescinded its contract with the Canadian gold mining company Osisko operating in the Famatina mountain range, in light of protests that have slowed development of the project since the start of 2012”.
Osisko’s contract to carry out the ‘Famatina Project’ had been signed by the provincial, state-owned company Energía y Minerales Sociedad del Estado (EMSE) on 31th August 2011 and established the Canadian company’s intent to explore and possibly mine part of the province of La Rioja, Argentina.
Locals, supported by environmental groups including Greenpeace, had been protesting against the project since its inception, claiming it would pollute the environment and possibly contaminate water sources. In January 2012, residents of Famatina and nearby villages set up a blockade on the access route to the project site. They seem to have won the battle.
Update: 8 May 2014, The Asamblea de Vecinos Autoconvocados de Famatina stated: ¡EL FAMATINA NO SE TOCA! 8 años de Asamblea de Vecinos Autoconvocados, 8 años de lucha, 8 años sin megaminería. Source: No a la Mina.
“En mayo de 2014 el diputado Sergio Massa visitó La Rioja y aseguró que: "Creemos en la autodeterminación de cada comunidad. No somos quiénes desde Buenos Aires para decirles qué hacer con un desarrollo, pero la minería sin cuidado del medio ambiente es pan para hoy, hambre para mañana", sostuvo el Diputado en el marco de su campaña para las elecciones de 2015”.
The year 2015 marked a new battle against the ambitious plans of the mining company Midais to which numerous communties reacted, specially from Angulos, Campanas and Pituil. After severe police repression of the demonstration on October 15th 2015, during which the population was wounded by rubber balls, the Province governor Sergio Casas announced the withdrawal of the megamining project in the beginning of November 2015.
Update 2018: In 2017, local activists launch a campaign to create a national park to protect the biodiversity of the mountains. Moreover, a new junior company, SEARGEN S.A. advances with exploration plans in the area. New road blockades and mobilizations are organized by the neighbors to prevent the company to access the site.