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Meridian Gold Mine in Esquel, Argentina


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.

In 2018, there is a Provincial struggle to avoid a Provincial zoning that would allow the development of mining activities. 

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Meridian Gold Mine in Esquel, Argentina
State or province:Chubut
Location of conflict:Esquel
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Mineral Ores and Building Materials Extraction
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Mining exploration and/or ore extraction
Specific commodities:Gold

Project Details and Actors

Project details

The 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.

Some years after Esquel plebiscite the project was bought by Yamana Inc. under the name of Minas Argentinas S.A. they have changed the mining project to "Suyai".

Level of Investment for the conflictive project120,000,000
Type of populationUnknown
Start of the conflict:07/2000
Company names or state enterprises: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.
Yamana Gold Inc. from Canada
Relevant government actors:Provincial Government of Chubut, City of Esquel -Argentina
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Asamblea de Vecinos Autoconvocados por el No a la Mina, Cooperativa de Agua, Soc. 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 Comodoro Rivadavia, Grupo de Reflexion Rural, Protección Ecologica Corcovado, Movimiento Antinuclear de Chubut.

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
International ejos
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Social movements
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of mobilization:Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Objections to the EIA
Public campaigns
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
Other Environmental impactsPollution from chemicals used in exploration drillings. Concern over Cyanide use impacts was high.
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-economical 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
Conflict outcome / response:Institutional changes
New legislation
Project cancelled
After the referendum the company decided to stop the project.
Proposal and development of alternatives:The 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).
They obtained changes in municipal and provincial regulations limiting the use of toxic chemicals in mining. Esquel example fostered a wave of anti-mining regulations in other provinces. A national network of communities affected by mining was created.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Yes
Briefly explain: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 & Materials

Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

National Law on Mining Investments Number 24.196

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

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[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

[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

Minera: Impactos sociales y ambientales, World Rainforest Movement, 2004

"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

Predicciones y promesas de un estudio de impacto ambiental defectuoso (Moran, 2003)

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

NO a la mina

Observatorio Latinoamericano de Conflictos Ambientales

Patagonia rebelde, D. Aranda, 2013

Cuando esquel dijo No, Hace diez anos se hacia el primer plebiscito antiminero, 23/03/2013

Una corporación vs los vecinos de Esquel: Una querella de película, 15/02/2007

El desquite de Meridian Gold, T.A. Maknis Eco Portal, 10/2003

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Video in Italian "Le miniere di Esquel - Argentina - Vergognoso"

Mapa conflictos mineros

Meta information

Contributor:Lucie Greyl, Camila Rolando Mazzuca, Mariana Walter
Last update18/08/2019
Conflict ID:492



March in Esquel in 2013 comemorating the victory stopping the project in 2003