El Desquite mine is only 7 km (4 miles) from the city of Esquel, in the Patagonian north-west province of Chubut. The city, the largest in the area, is located by the Esquel River and surrounded by the mountains La Zeta, La Cruz, Cerro 21 and La Hoya. The city name comes from a Mapuche word meaning "thorn" that refers to thorny local plants and the thousand year-old lenga and nire forests (two of the several Patagonian trees unique to the area). Beginning of 2002 Meridan Gold bought the mine site of dore, a gold and silver alloy. Its exploitation was supposed to begin in January 2003: with two explosions a day, every day of the year and for 10 years.
The local population was highly suspicious towards the information provided by the company and the government. The Environmental Impact Assessment, published in October 2002 by the mining company, was questioned. The inhabitants of Esquel started to spontaneously gather, to debate and to share their concerns, their knowledge and information about the consequences of mining and the use of cyanide. They finally settled by mid-November 2002 as the Assembly of neighbors self-convened (Asamblea de vecinos autoconvocados AVA). The AVA brought together people from diverse backgrounds, qualified professionals but also people from marginalized districts. They organized numerous marches and also networked with national and international organizations and institutions . In February 2003, the City Council agreed on some of the ordinances promoted by the AVA: it prohibited the use of cyanide in Esquel and called for a local non-binding referendum on the mining undertaking.
The local referendum on March 23rd, 2003, expressed 81% of the votes unfavorable to the mine. The project was abandoned a few days later.
In 2006 Meridian Gold brought a court action in Buenos Aires against six members of the AVA for having openly disseminated and released on the local radio a record of Meridian gold staff meeting. The record revealed the company’s links with provincial and federal politicians while they expressed their willingness to oppose the local referendum results . The company’s unchanged plans to exploit soon or later its mining concession remain a concern for Esquel population. Their opposition didn’t change at all the Provincial political direction, and Chubut’s number of mining concessions kept on increasing. As for instance in May 2006 Esquel population had to mobilize once again against Minera Huemules who was going to exploit the gold mine field of Huemues .
Overall Esquel’s struggle became an outstanding example for other Argentinean municipalities opposing mining projects. By 2007 six Argentinean Provinces banned the use of cyanide in ore mines.