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.