Vancouver’s Eldorado Gold stayed calm in the face of rage triggered by the mine it’s building in Greece. The company didn’t expect everyone in Aristotle’s birthplace in northeastern Greece would shower it with love. It knew that protests against everything from austerity to a U.S. pizza chain’s hiring policies are common in a region with a 35-per-cent jobless rate.
Eldorado’s gold project has the support of 12 of 16 villages in the area. It has a crucial environmental permit from the central government to start production at Skouries. Opponents say the Skouries mine will trash the environment. Eldorado has offered detailed reassurances that it won’t.
Protesters say the mine will ruin the region’s tourism industry. “It’s not a big tourism area at all,” Eldorado spokeswoman Nancy Woo says. But in the wee hours of Feb. 17, mine opponents went too far. About 50 people stormed the mine site, assaulted two Greek security guards and torched construction offices, trucks and heavy equipment.
“We fully condemn any activities that put the safety of our employees, contractors and assets at risk,” Eldorado CEO Paul Wright said in deploring the violence.
Hatred of mines and mineral exploration is building around the world as local communities increasingly question the benefits of resource extraction.
Vancouver, as one of the globe’s mining capitals, has seen its own mining players targeted by hostile governments, environmentalists and non-governmental organizations.
The Vancouver mining community’s record on sustainable mining abroad is far from spotless.
Perhaps the most notorious case is the now-defunct Placer Dome’s joint-venture Marcopper project in the Philippines. A massive mine waste spill there in 1996 destroyed a major river, sparking a national emergency.
MiningWatch Canada spokesman Jamie Kneen identifies two factors fuelling the rising opposition.
The first is the evolving awareness of communities that they have a right to participate in decisions about whether a mine is built in their midst.
The second is mining companies’ push into remote, environmentally fragile areas as they deplete more easily accessible deposits.
“At this point, any large scale (mining) project is going to meet some opposition,” says Kneen, whose non-profit organization is funded by environmental, First Nations and labour groups.
“The question is how strong the opposition is. Are there issues that can be mitigated? Or are they just show stoppers?”
In some communities, the rage against a mine or proposed mine turns violent as proponents and opponents go beyond words to brute force. In extreme cases, that has led to rape, murder and forced relocations, according to Kneen.
The recent drop in gold prices has eased some of the pressure companies feel to develop mines in controversial areas, Kneen says.
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