From the 16.-18. April 2013 gold mining companies and investors from all over the world will meet in Zurich. What might seem harmless at first sight, is in reality a commerce based on the most brutal exploitation of humans and nature. Displacement and oppression of the local population, toxic poisoning are an integral part of this dirty business. In search of ever new possibilities for the accumulation of capital, ecological and human catastrophes are consciously taken as a ‘collateral damage’.
That this meeting happens in Zurich is not by chance. A large part of the global gold commerce is done from here. Until the end of the 1990ies, Zurich was undisputed trading place number one for gold, and still more than a third of global gold production is traded in Zurich. While Switzerland is also an crucial trading hub for other commodities, in the case of gold, more that 50% of all traded gold is also physically transported through Switzerland. Fife of the most important gold refineries are located here.
In the year 2000, a goldmine of a canadian-australian company in northern Rumania caused a tremendous catastrophe. Now, the gold company “Gabriel Resources” also wants to start gold exploitation in Rosia Montana, Rumania, using the same technology based on Cyanide. This is just one example for many of the dirty businesses organized at the Gold Forum in Zurich.
However, all around the world people are fighting against this exploitation of humans and nature. In South Africa, there were strikes, in Greece construction sites were sabotaged, in Argentina, Colombia and Peru people resist against the destruction of their livelihoods. Out of the diversity of local resistance movements, there is more and more growing a global solidarity movement against oppression, the state and the corporations.
Let’s carry this resistance to the doors of the gold forum! Don’t let the powerful elite have their quiet hinterland! Let’s make noise against their dirty businesses!
P.S.: Some of the participating companies that are currently facing major resistance recently are: Eldorado Gold (Halkidiki / Skouries, Greece, also in Turkey), Dundee Precious Metals (Bulgaria), Osisko Mining (Famatina, Argentina), Bear Creek (Puno, Peru), B2Gold (Nicaragua), Centerra Gold (Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia). Fortuna Silver Mines (Oaxaca, Mexico) is responsible for the assassination of two activists in June 2012. Tahoe Resources (Guatemala) is responsible for the torture of 4 and assassination of one indigenous person in March 2013.
What is the European Gold Forum?
The European Gold Forum (EGF) is the European branch of the Denver Gold Forum, the most important conference of gold mining companies. Most of these companies are domiciled in Canada, some also in the UK, the USA, Australia or South Africa. Only selected and invited company representatives and particularly important investors can participate. The meeting is about networking, but also about more: most of the mentioned companies are of middle size, already operating for example one mine and have one or two new projects in advanced state. Building a mine requires a lot of money. The infrastructure can cost hundreds of millions. Therefore the companies need partners or they sell the whole project (or the company) all together to one of the big players in the sector such as Newmont, Barrick Gold, Xstrata or to Chinese investors. Such deals will be arranged and negotiated at the EGF in Zurich. On the website of the EGF is mentioned that the Park Hyatt Hotel offers adjoining rooms particularly suitable for signing contracts.
What’s the problem about gold extraction?
Gold has always been extracted. So what’s the problem? The technology used nowadays for the industrial gold extraction is completely different from the “old” forms: back then underground ore layers were extracted mechanically and in a well targeted way. Those deposits are broadly expended by now. Modern mines are of such a huge size that they can be easily recognized from big distance on satellite pictures. In the mining process thousands of tons of rock are blasted and crumbled mechanically to a powder, to which highly toxic cyanide is added, to leach out the gold (so called “heap-leaching” process). Therefore a big amount of energy, explosives, chemicals and water are needed, often in regions suffering from drought. “Thanks” to the mechanization relatively little labour force is needed.
The leaching process leaves a big amount of a highly toxic sludge behind. Next to cyanide it contains also of heavy metals, arsenic and sometimes radioactive metals, which are naturally bound in the rocks and are consequently emitted. This sludge is deposited in a tailings pond. These ponds are permeable, get flooded by strong rainfall and if a dam breaks a whole region will be poisoned. In some cases the toxic sludge is directly conducted into the rivers or the sea.
Today it is about a very low concentration of few grams of gold per ton of rock. Such gold deposits can be found on many places in the world (also in Switzerland, for example in Grisons or in the Napf). In order to make profit, the costs must be kept low for example through subsidized prices for energy and water, low salaries, low taxes, weak environmental regulation and a population that can’t defend itself easily. Therefore the companies are looking for economically weak regions, where they can „buy“ the approval to their dangerous business with little effort. In addition there is often a corrupt government and judiciary ready to suppress possible resistance through state authority.
And all of this for a rather useless product: 54% of the demanded gold is used for jewellery, 35% is bunkered as a “store of value”. Only 11% is for industrial use (e.g. electronics) – an amount that can be easily covered by recycling, without the need to extract any further gram from the soil.
What’s the role of Switzerland in the gold business?
Switzerland takes a central place in the global gold business. Approximately at least two thirds of the annual demand of 3800 tons is shifted physically, not only as virtual trade good, through Switzerland. The gold refineries are of special importance. They smelt crude gold that is flown in directly from mines from all over the world and old gold to certified pure gold bars. There are 5 such refineries: Valcambi SA, Argor Heraeus and PAMP in the Ticino, Metalor in Neuchatel, Cendres+Métaux SA in Biel. Valcambi is controlled by Newmont Mining and processes almost the whole production of this company. There is no more detailed information, as the export/import statistics of Switzerland don’t even mention from which countries the gold originates and to which places it is delivered. This concealment was introduced during the times of the UN embargo towards the apartheid regime in South Africa to mask the fact that the whole South African production was delivered to Switzerland. Without this revenue the racist regime surely had collapsed earlier.
Most of the gold mining companies are based in Canada, but the Swiss capital is highly involved. Companies such as Glencore and banks such as UBS, Credit Suisse or Julius Bär invest in shares of these companies or they buy their gold to hand it as base of funds to their clients. One of the biggest „gold treasures“ of this kind is located in a safe in Olten. Also the fact that the European Gold Forum takes place every year in Zurich shows the high importance of Switzerland in the gold sector.
Conflicts and resistance: some examples
All over the world people stand up against the displacement and the contamination through mines. The forms of resistance are diverse: at some places it’s only some brave individuals at other places there are whole movements with many local groups joining forces to fight collectively. Some use lawsuits, others organize protests, strikes, blockades or other forms of direct action. It is often a combination of all possible forms. At some places armed forces operate committing plots, kidnappings and sabotage.
Some simply demand a just distribution of the revenues, e.g. to get more money for the local economy, for schools and hospitals or for better salaries of the miners. Other groups demand the better control of the intoxication of water, air and soil and that environmental contamination is repaired. Some resist generally against the extraction of metals through „giant-mines“, as they’re always causing irreversible damages. And some become aware that they’re not only fighting a company and their project but also the state, the judiciary and the mass media, as these enforce the interests of the company. Their fight is hence more and more directed against the dominant system as a whole. Therefore new social forms of organizing, alternative economies and self-governing media as for example community radios emerge. The resistance AGAINST a mine X becomes a fight FOR a fairer society – worldwide.
Here only some examples of participating companies at the Gold Forum. The list of all the participants is here.
More and more companies try to open gold mines in Eastern Europe. The region’s attractiveness lies in the weak environmental regulations, corrupt authorities and high unemployment. In Bulgaria Dundee Precious Metals will massively expand its old mine in Chelopech. But the majority of the population is opposing.
In Romania several companies try to enforce mines in the Carpathian Mountains. Carpathian Gold is one of it. The most advanced project is from Gabriel Resources in the village of Rosia Montana, with involvement of Newmont Mining. The resistance movement is very strong – it is probably the most important social movement in Romania. Different groups have gathered in the Save Rosia Montana Campaign. As the locals oppose to sell their houses the government aims to change the law, in order to expropriate the people. In addition the company has negotiated advertisement contracts with the mass media to inhibit reports on the many protests.
In Greece Eldorado Gold intends to build an open pit in Halkidiki, close to Thessaloniki. The resistance is strong and pugnacious. In March 2013 demonstrations with 20’000 people took place in the capital. Heavy attacks by the police against rebellious villages, inclusive tear gas fogging of schools were the answer. These happened after a whole machine park of the company was set on fire. [source]
In South AfricaDRD Gold is one of several companies extracting gold in the Witwatersrand region. The environmental damage is huge. The rivers are highly polluted. As the local rock contains uranium radioactive radiation is discharged. It isn’t clear who will assume the costs for the renovation of the toxic piles from yearlong production.
In West Africa a total gold rush broke out. Many companies in Zurich are active in this region: in Burkina Faso projects of Ampella, Riverstone Resoucres and Orezone are about to start. Orezone is also looking for uranium in the Niger. Avocet is already operating a mine in Burkina Faso. Teranga Gold is conducting a mine in Senegal. Keegan (new: Asanko Gold) will produce from 2015 on in Ghana. Further to the south, Galane Gold is operating a mine in Botswana.
In the Andes of Argentina many big mines are planed. Osisko Mining has overtaken a project of Barrick Gold in La Rioja, after the withdrawal of this company due to massive resistance of the local population. In Chilecito and Famatina the neighbourhood assemblies block since January 2012 an access road in Alto El Carrizal for the vehicles of the mining company. There are strong protests in Andalgala and other towns in Catamarca against the huge mine Alumbrera of Xstrata. Xstrata wants to build in the region an even bigger mine Agua Rica. This plan is hampered since 2010 with two permanent street blockades. In Tinogasta all mining transports from Chile on the Ruta No. 60 are blocked, causing big detours for the trucks.
Silver Standard Resources operates the silver mine Pirquitas in the province Jujuy. It is one of the oldest mines in the country, where in 2009 the operations were newly restarted. The toxic remainders from previous productions weren’t removed and toxic substances continued getting into the rivers. Surrounding indigenous communities have brought in charges against it, which aren’t addressed by the judiciary.
The resistance is coordinated on national level by the Union de Asambleas Ciudadanas, where hundreds of basis groups and neighbourhood reunions (Asambleas) participate.
In the Brazilian Amazonas Belo Sun Mining intends to invest one billion for a gold mine close to the huge Belo Monte dam. The indigenous Xingu, who already opposed the dam, struggle against it.
Colossus Minerals and Luna Gold have further advanced projects in Para and Maranhao.
In Peru there are many on going conflicts on mining projects. One of it is the silver mine Santa Ana of the Bear Creek company in the region of Puno. In June 2011 thousands of indigenous went to the town Juliaca, set government buildings on fire and occupied the landing strip of the airport. The police only withdrew after the assassination of six demonstrators. The government annulated the concession of Bear Creek to calm down the protests, but they demand also to cancel the concessions of further companies.
In Nicaragua in February 2013 hundreds of small scale prospectors have blocked a street to El Cafetal to protest against the expansion of the mines of B2Gold. The police dissolved the protest with tear gas and rubber bullets, 40 people were arrested. Condor Gold has several concessions in Nicaragua and El Salvador.
In Guatemala there are many reports on protests, blockades and police violence around projects with the involvement of Argonaut Gold and Tahoe Resources. Among other inhabitants of Mataesquintla set fire on five vehicles of Tahoe on 19. November 2012. “On Sunday, March 17, 2013, at around 8 pm, the President of the Xinca Indigenous Parliament and three other Xinca leaders were abducted by a group of heavily armed masked men while on their way home from observing a public referendum on Tahoe Resources’ Escobal mine”. They were tortured and one of them killed [source]
Especially numerous at the EGF are companies with activities in Mexico: AuRico Gold, Pan American Silver, First Majestic Silver, Torex Gold Resources, Endeavour Mining Corporation, MAG Silver Corp., Excellon Resources, Scorpio Mining, Endeavour Silver Corp., Argonaut Gold, Gold Resource Corporation, SilverCrest Mines, Timmins Gold. Fortuna Silver Mines is responsible for the assassination of the activists Bertin Vasquez Ruiz and Guadalupe Vasquez Ruiz on 13. June 2012 in San Jose del Progresso, Oaxaca.
In the Philippines several new mines are planed – the biggest being the Tampakan gold and copper mine of Xstrata in Mindanao. The project has already led to fights with several deaths. In the north Oceana Gold has started to produce in November 2012. Alyansa Tigil Mina has made accusations of heavy human rights violations. Medusa Mining is planning on different projects.
In Kyrgyzstan hundreds of demonstrators have stormed the presidential palace in October 2012. They demanded the nationalisation of the Kumtor Mine of Centerra Gold. As a consequence the Parliament decided to renegotiate the contract with the company and a court imposed a fine of 315 million dollars for environmental pollution.
In Tibet an affiliated company of the China National Gold Group Corporation has caused a landslide, which killed more than 80 miners on 29. March 2013 in Lhasa. The Chinese government promotes the large size digging of copper, chrome and Bauxite in this region of Tibet, despite severe consequences for the environment and human rights infractions. Also several Canadian mining companies are operating in Tibet.