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  • Demonstrators protest mining contamination in Argentina.

    Demonstrators protest mining contamination in Argentina. | Photo: AFP

Nine employees of Canadian mining giant Barrick Gold are facing a probe for negligence after a cyanide leak contaminated local rivers.

While Canadian mining giant Barrick Gold is busy crafting corporate spin to downplay the impact of a cyanide spill at a mine in Argentina that polluted five rivers last year, Argentine environmental activists demanded on Friday that the mine be shut down after local judges definitively ruled that the incident caused contamination, pegging part of the blame on negligent mine officials.

“Barrick has at every stage played down the severity of the spill, by both misreporting the size of the spill, and misleading the public with respect to the level of pollution,” Sakura Saunders, Toronto-based mining justice activist and founder of the organization Protest Barrick, told teleSUR on Friday.

“I would have almost expected them to get with it, were it not for the dedicated people in Jachal who have mobilized, set up encampments, marched, blockaded, and engaged in a diversity of tactics to get justice for their abuse,” Saunders added. 

Confirmed: Barrick Gold contaminated rivers of San Juan. Close Veladero now.

Local groups have ramped up a push to close the mine after an Argentine judge ruled on Thursday that nine high-level Barrick Gold employees acted negligently in last year’s “cyanide solution” leak at the Veladero mine, which pointed to violation of protocol around hazardous waste management.

The mine’s emergency system failed to activate when a valve burst and released the flood of cyanide-laced water.

“Authorities have the historic opportunity to correctly apply the lay and close a projects that damages the environment,” said Greenpeace Argentina’s Gonzalo Strano in a statement Friday about the Veladero mine in the western province of San Juan run by Canadian mining giant Barrick Gold.

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The case is one in a host of environmental and human rights abuses suffered in Latin America at the hands of Canadian mining corporations. Strano argued that while Greenpeace Argentina is urging for the mine to be shut down now in light of the contamination, the operation should have been closed earlier since it is located in an area protected by the national glaciers law.

But the suspects, current and former Barrick employees who will not be detained on remand while the investigation proceeds, deny any wrongdoing and plan to appeal the judge’s ruling, according to a Barrick statement.  

“It’s important to highlight that the circumstances that triggered the incident were immediately resolved,” Barrick claimed in the statement, adding that the spill “posed no risk to people’s health or the environment.”

The accusations come after an investigation found that a pipe burst at the Veladero mine in San Juan spewed out over 280,000 gallons (1 million litres) of diluted cyanide solution on Sept. 12, 2015.

The Toronto-based mining giant claimed that cyanide levels in nearby rivers did not exceed legal limits for safe drinking water.

Nine Barrick executive processed for cyanide spill in Veladero.

But investigators found toxic heavy metals in the rivers Potrerillos, Jachal, Blanco, Palca and Las Taguas, and concluded that there had been a “definite case of law infringement” of policies governing proper handling of hazardous substances.

According to the mining justice organization Protest Barrick, the global mining giant has a reputation for manipulating weak regulatory structures to “rob indigenous people of their lands, destroy sensitive ecosystems and agricultural land, support brutal police and security operations, and sue anyone who tries to report on it.”

Greenpeace Argentina has repeatedly called for the suspension of mining activities in the San Juan area, home to a UNESCO-designated biological reserve, where the Veladero mine is located.

Barrick Gold is the world’s largest gold mining company and Veladero is one of the largest gold mines in Argentina.

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