Meridian Gold Mine in Esquel, Argentina

Read about the first town in Argentina whose inhabitants' strong mobilization and people's "consulta" prevented the mining project from ever starting


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 [1]. 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 [2]. 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 [3].

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.

Basic Data
NameMeridian Gold Mine in Esquel, Argentina
Accuracy of LocationHIGH local level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Mineral Ores and Building Materials Extraction
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Mineral ore exploration
Specific CommoditiesGold
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsThe use of 6 tons of cyanide a day to extract the precious Argentine gold. The 26.600 tons of cyanide used over 10 years for the extraction operations: 180 tons a month of sodium cyanide and other chemicals, such as 12 tons of chloridic acid, 12 tons of caustic soda, 1.400 Kg of litharge and so on. The use of about a million litres of water a day.
Level of Investment (in USD)120,000,000
Type of PopulationUnknown
Start Date07/2000
Company Names or State EnterprisesDu Pont - supplier of Meridian Gold
Meridian Gold Inc. from Canada
Bussines for Social Responsability (BSR) from United States of America - hired by Meridian Gold to investigate the reasons of the victory of the opposition to the mine in the referendum
El Desquite S.A - subsidiary of Meridian Gold S.A.
Relevant government actorsProvincial Government of Chubut, City of Esquel -Argentina
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersSoc. Ecologica Reg. del Bolson, Association Ornitologica Lago Puelo, Vuquipura Mapu de Alto Rio Senguerr, Proy. Lemu, ORGANIZACION DE COMUNIDADES MAPUCHE TEHUELCHE 11 DE OCTUBRE, Ex Trab. de YPF de Cdoro., Rivadavia, Grupo de Reflexion Rural, Proteccion Ecologica Corcovado
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)HIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
When did the mobilization beginPREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups MobilizingIndigenous groups or traditional communities
International ejos
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Social movements
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of MobilizationLawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Referendum other local consultations
Street protest/marches
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Other Environmental impacts
Potential: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Desertification/Drought, Food insecurity (crop damage), Global warming, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Noise pollution, Soil contamination, Soil erosion, Waste overflow, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Mine tailing spills
OtherPollution from sodium cyanide and other chemicals
Health ImpactsPotential: Accidents, Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Malnutrition, Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Violence related health impacts (homicides, rape, etc..) , Occupational disease and accidents, Other environmental related diseases
Socio-economic ImpactsPotential: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Displacement, Increase in violence and crime, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Militarization and increased police presence, Land dispossession, Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..), Specific impacts on women, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Project StatusStopped
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseProject cancelled
After the referendum the company decided to stop the project.
Development of AlternativesThe local community rejected the project.

Since November 2002 they initiated the Assembly of neighbors self-convened (Asamblea de vecinos autoconvocados AVA) and called for a local non-binding referendum (consulta).
Do you consider this as a success?Yes
Why? Explain briefly.The population opposed to the project in a referendum on 23 March 2003. Although it was non-binding, the Province government and the company announced a few days later the interruption of the project.
Sources and Materials

International Labour Organisation (ILO) Indigenous and Tribal People Convention 169

National Law on Mining Investments Number 24.196


Minera: Impactos sociales y ambientales, World Rainforest Movement, 2004
[click to view]

[1] Nuevos conflictos ambientales mineros en Argentina. El caso Esquel (2002-2003), Mariana, Walter, Revista de la red iberoamericana de economia ecologica, 2008, 8: 15-28
[click to view]

"No todo lo que es oro brilla. Resumen de impactos ambientales de la minería de oro", V. Odriozola, Campaña de Tóxicos de Greenpeace Argentina , 01/2003
[click to view]

[3] Informe de Investigación y Lineamientos Propositivos - Diagnostico de la cuestion minera en la Argentina, Centro para la transparencia en la gestion publica y privida Lisandro de la Torre, 09/2006
[click to view]


NO a la mina
[click to view]

Observatorio Latinoamericano de Conflictos Ambientales
[click to view]

El desquite de Meridian Gold, T.A. Maknis Eco Portal, 10/2003
[click to view]

Patagonia rebelde, D. Aranda, 2013
[click to view]

Cuando esquel dijo No, Hace diez anos se hacia el primer plebiscito antiminero, 23/03/2013
[click to view]

Una corporación vs los vecinos de Esquel: Una querella de película, 15/02/2007
[click to view]

[2] Esquel: El Desquite minero, H. Scandizzo, 05/11/2006
[click to view]

Media Links

Video in Italian "Le miniere di Esquel - Argentina - Vergognoso"
[click to view]

Mapa conflictos mineros, Provincia de Chubut
[click to view]

Other Documents

March in Esquel in 2013 comemorating the victory stopping the project in 2003
[click to view]

Meta Information
ContributorLucie Greyl & Camila Rolando Mazzuca
Last update29/01/2016
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