An Argentine high court halted the project of a foreign company to mine uranium in an open-pit mine in Quebrada de Humahuaca in the northern part of the country, declared a World Heritage of Humanity site in 2003, according to local press reports. One year ago, on May 7, 2009, 2000 persons held a protest march from Juella to Tilcara against uranium exploration in the Quebrada de Humahuaca area. It was the second demonstration in a year in the aera, because on July 8, 2008, also two thousand residents of several localities demonstrated against the proposed uranium mine.
After losing their case against the mining exploration permits in the Quebrada de Humahuaca area before the administrative court, the NGO Los Vecinos Autoconvocados de Tilcara filed an appeal with the Superior Court of Justice in San Salvador de Jujuy on May 7, 2009. The decision of the Supreme Court of Jujuy province, handed down in February but made known to the interested parties in April, favored the suit for protection filed by inhabitants and environmentalists of the town of Tilcara, which is near Quebrada de Humahuaca. It denied an April 2009 ruling by a court of appeals favorable to the interests of the mining company Uranios del Sur, and also obliges the company to show that its project would not contaminate the environment.
“The sentence changed the judicial paradigm in bringing environmental law into mining activities,” Alicia Chalabe, attorney for the inhabitants of Tilcara, told a Buenos Aires daily. She said that “there are many cases” that have been brought in the Argentine provinces “against the negative influence of mining, but the courts always refer to the Mining Code and give no hearing to environmental law.”
The Supreme Court of Jujuy, a province bordering on Bolivia, halted the mining project “until it is shown that there is no possibility or certain danger that the work carried out in the area will cause contamination or environmental damage,” according to the court ruling published in the Buenos Aires newspaper.
The court said that “it is the duty of judges” to immediately “make effective the judicial protection of the reserve and of the collective interests” of the villages near the Quebrada de Humahuaca. In that sense, the ruling said that what must be protected is “the fundamental human right to a healthy, uncontaminated environment, doing whatever is necessary” to secure it.
“It is an absurd contradiction to allow further exploitation, such as open-pit mining, in a reserve declared a World Cultural and Natural Heritage of Humanity site” by UNESCO, it said. The court also warned that the title of World Heritage of Humanity “can be revoked” and if that happened “it would surely damage the tourism infrastructure now in place” in the Quebrada de Humahuaca, a deep, narrow ravine between peaks of the Andes.
Uranios del Sur is a subsidiary of Switzerland-based Uranio AG, the majority shareholder of Canadian mining company Rome Resources Ltd., according to the suit brought by environmentalists and local inhabitants.
Sources: Latin America Herald Tribune, 24 April 2010; WISE Uranium at: www.wise-uranium.org
Contact: WISE Argentina