Projecting Change Film Festival highlights mining outrage in Peru

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      Last night, I watched a shocking documentary called Open Pit at the Projecting Change Film Festival. The fest is taking place in the Goldcorp Centre for the Arts at SFU Woodward's throughout the weekend.

      Open Pit features indigenous people explaining how their lives have been thoroughly disrupted by U.S.-based Newmont Mining Corporation.

      Newmont likes to brag about how it's the first gold mine to be included in the Dow Jones Sustainability World Index.

      But the filmmaker, Gianni Converso, makes the case that the company's massive Yanachocha mining operation in the Cajamarca region of Peru has poisoned nearby streams, killing livestock and undermining the peasants' traditional way of life. The filmmaker demonstrates that the workers' blood levels show alarmingly high levels of toxicity.

      At one point in the film, the former president of Peru, Alan Garcia Pérez, gives a rousing pre-election speech in Cajamarca on behalf of the people and against the big corporations. But after taking office, he's revealed to be complicit in allowing this mining activity to continue unabated.

      This film reflects growing concerns about the impact of the mining industry in several countries.

      In a world where anyone can show up in a remote community and shoot high-quality film footage, it's become much easier to transmit these types of stories to a broader audience. The Projecting Change Film Festival deserves credit for bringing the unfiltered voices of the people of Cajamarca to Vancouverites.

      Converso's cinema verité approach indicates that these peasants are extremely intelligent and articulate—and they know exactly what's being done to them in the interest of enriching shareholders.

      I was fortunate to be invited to moderate a discussion after the screening between audience members and B.C. writer Arno Kopecky. His 2012 book, The Devil's Curve, covered his travels through South America, which included examing conflicts between Canadian mining companies and the poor in Colombia and Peru. (Here's a review.) 

      Kopecky pointed out last night that what's happening in Cajamarca is not unique, though it rarely happens on such a grand scale.

      He also said that there are differences between mining companies, noting that Barrick Gold, for instance, has a better reputation than others in Peru. That prompted a couple of audience members to counter that Barrick's reputation in Chile is far from pristine.

      Meanwhile, the Straight's Travis Lupick recently wrote a feature article about similar concerns in Africa over the conduct of Canadian mining companies and their local contractors.

      As international travel has become more affordable over the past couple of decades, adventurous young writers like Lupick and Kopecky and documentary makers like Converso are finding it easier to explore previously inaccessible parts of the world.

      That presents a public-relations problem for Canadian companies that previously conducted business abroad without much scrutiny.

      The conduct of Canadian firms overseas burst into the public consciousness this week. The Joe Fresh clothing line, which is available in Real Canadian Superstores, was linked to a horrid garment factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The building collapsed, killing more than 300 people.

      In the meantime, I've also noticed that the Straight's letters-to-the-editor email account is being bombarded by supporters of the B.C. mining industry.

      This smacks of a coordinated campaign to send a positive message to newspaper readers on the eve of a provincial election.

      I've always thought that people in the public-relations industry should send a thank-you card every once in a while to great young investigative journalists like Kopecky and Lupick.

      That's because their work often causes corporations to rush out and hire spin doctors, which keeps these flacks employed.




      Apr 27, 2013 at 1:44pm

      Yes lets take any income away from them,and give them aid.
      And Canadian firms run Bangladesh ,If consumers(like us)didnt want the cheapest price it would still be made in North America,but as price dictates where its made then these countries do it.

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      Paul Suriname

      Apr 27, 2013 at 3:26pm

      Newmont is about to sign a deal with the Suriname government. The company wants to set up a huge goldmine in the eastern part of Suriname, where's a rich and unique biodiversity.
      However, it seems authorities and the Suriname media and organizations like the WWF Guianas and Conservation International Suriname are not interested in the problems Newmont is facing in Peru, Ghana, New Zealand, Australia, Indonesia. So, it's likely Newmont and the Suriname government will sign soon an agreement. There are no protests, not even from indigenous communities. I wrote some articles about the problems of Newmont, like the protests in Peru against the Conga mine project.(

      If so, if Newmont signs a deal in Suriname, it will be the second huge goldmining company in Suriname. The Canadian IAmGold is already several years operating the succesful Rosebel goldmine and the company a few weeks ago signed a deal with the government to expand its activities in the Rosebel area....

      So, it would be great of people, authorities and ngo's could watch 'Open Pit' they are warned.....

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      Apr 27, 2013 at 4:05pm

      In open pit mining you have to remove the surface and go deeper for the mineral, that is open pit mining. To pollute the water system is criminal, negligent, lazy, selfish and greedy.

      Canada also has had bad mining activity. The Giant mine, poisons were left and the company abandoned the site as one example. We spent much to clean up their mess.

      One story I heard years ago, A former MLA, (before he was an MLA) was about to do a small gold suction dredging operation on Similameen River downstream from the copper mine near Princeton. He went to the local mining office and told them what he was about to do. They told him that he cannot dredge. He then went and got water and soil samples downstream from the mine on the river and got them analyzed. He then went to the same mining office and showed them the results. They then gave him an OK or at least turned a blind eye. I assume the mines poisons leeched into the river system and the government and mine wanted to keep it quiet, so they let him suction dredge.

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      Chris C

      Apr 28, 2013 at 3:50pm

      I actually have first hand information regarding this project and the impact in Cajamarca that has recently happened due to the protests in the region. People are out of work - businesses are closing. I agree that the environment be protected - I imagine that the documentary mentioned that the mentioned spill issues were caused by local contractors, not the mine itself. Peru is in a situation where it needs to pay for roads, schools, hospitals and enriching the populace - this cannot be done without exploiting their main resource; mining. It is simplistic to say that all mining needs to stop - let the people live in poverty and invite corrupt military juntas to seize power and enrich themselves. This is not the answer - the people of Peru must be allowed to choose their own path for advancing their society - not the ideals of those who have no answers except to say stop development. It is easy to so no - but difficult to bring solutions to a very complicated issue.

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      Apr 29, 2013 at 10:02am

      There are all sorts of open pit mines in the US and I dont hear any protests of these DIRTY mines,Maybe because the economy needs industry,unlike Canada we chase out mining and oil to be GREENER ,and our economy will eventually suffer.
      When Canada only produces 2.5% of global greenhouse gases WE will save the planet and ruin our economy

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      Katherine Dodds

      Apr 30, 2013 at 6:19am

      Ironic that it is screening at the Goldcorp theatre. While I can hardly blame Vancouver's cultural community for using the venue - in the wake of more radically-run spaces in this city are losing funding - or SFU for taking their 10 million - nevertheless Goldcorp is one of the very tarnished corporations to be in bed with, making a film about the evils of corporate mining resonate even more. I do think about these ironies whenever I set foot in the venue.

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