The Veladero mine is located in the Department of Jachal in the San Juan province of Argentina. Development began at the Veladero mine in 1994, the same year that the Canadian mining giant Barrick Gold bought a 40% interest in the project. In 2001, Barrick Gold merged with Homestake Mining Company which gave them full rights over the Veladero project. In November, 2003 the provincial government of San Juan approved Barrick Gold’s environmental impact assessment and in September 2005 the Veladero mine entered into production. The Veladero mine has been a major source of profit for Barrick Gold and for the San Juan Province. In 2012 alone the mine produced 766,000 ounces of gold at $510 per ounce. Barrick predicts that the mine will yield around 12.8 million ounces in its lifetime. Despite Barrick’s claims that the Veladero mine has “made an enormous economic contribution in San Juan,” and contributed to vast transformations in the provinces unemployment rate, infant mortality rate, education, and poverty levels, many of the people in the communities surrounding the mine are not as pleased with the results.
The Veladero mining project has come under intense opposition since Barrick acquired the mineral deposit and this opposition intensified when Barrick made serious moves towards developing it. On November 23, 2005, inhabitants of Tudcum, San Juan blocked the road access to the Veladero mine. This road block was born out of Tudcum community member’s frustration with the lack of employment opportunities for local people at the mine and concerns over the pollution that the mine would bring to their region. In 2004, a document was written entitled “More Valuable Than Gold is Water,” which details the various objections which community members have to the Veladero mining project and the conduct of Barrick Gold. The majority of the concerns are related to access to water, water contamination, and protection of the glaciers which are a major water source as well.
In 2010, the Argentina legislature passed the Glacier Protection law which forbids all mining activity in mountain glacier regions. Immediately after the law was passed Barrick Gold and other mining companies filed complaints and charges of inconstitutionality. In San Juan the companies’ complaints caused a federal judge to strike down 6 key articles of the law. The San Juan exception was reversed on July 3, 2012 by the Argentine Supreme Court. The passing of this law brought hope to many community members who opposed the Veladero project because many believed that the mineral deposit and mining project overlapped with the glacial mountain areas. They called on Barrick Gold to suspend its activity at Veladero claiming that it is in direct violation of the Glacier Law. Barrick responded by asserting that they do not mine glaciers and the mining activity at Veladero does not take place on glaciers so the Glacier Law does not apply and they can legally continue their mining activities. In August 2012, the San Juan provincial government created a committee to initiate an environmental audit of the Veladero mine in light of the Glacier Protection Law, responding to claims made by community members that the mining activities violated this law. On February 1, 2013 the audit commission revealed that the mining activities did not affect the glacial and peri-glacial zones and thus the Veladero mine was not in violation of the law.