Adam Cernea Clark is a writer on sustainable development issues and an environmental attorney.
Two weeks ago, a little-known Canadian gold mining company that has developed or operated exactly zero mines over 17 years announced to its investors that it had initiated international arbitration proceedings against the government of Romania for failing to permit what would be the largest open-pit gold and silver mine in Europe.
Claiming this right under Romania’s bilateral investment treaties (BITs) with Canada and the U.K. (the company consists of ten separate entities in half a dozen countries), Gabriel Resources opined that the Romanian government had unlawfully deprived them of their right to develop the project and extract the full value of their investment.
Using some 40 tons per day, Gabriel subsidiary Roşia Montana Gold Corporation’s project would have created a massive pool of cyanide over priceless archaeological gold mining sites dating back to the Roman Empire and possibly earlier. It would have destroyed the village of Roşia Montana and two adjacent villages, as well as four mountains in this remote corner of the Carpathians.
Almost two years ago, the project triggered historic street protests of tens of thousands of people around Romanian cities. Public opposition and eventually government action rejected the project, which had been secured with secretive government contracts, massive contributions to domestic media markets, and a special mining law that was subsequently ruled unconstitutional.
Amidst the clear public outcry against Roşia Montana–which came to stand for the intersection of corporate interests and government corruption, with a characteristic lack of transparency–Gabriel Resources threatened to file an arbitration claim against the state of Romania for lost profits up to $4 billion US dollars.
In many ways, the Roşia Montana protests catalyzed a larger, if more diverse, movement of civic participation and social change within Romania. The subsequent years have seen broad-sweeping political changes and an unprecedented increase in civic participation.
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