Monday 18 July 2011

Women of Andalgalá

Argentina, Catamarca, Andalgala
By Mirta Alejandra Antonelli

Scene one. Living on a crust.
In December 2009, exactly a year ago now, a despicable document erupted into the public arena, adding further fuel to the already heated debate over the “development” of Andalgala by the mega-mining companies in Catamarca. The signing over of the concession in 2005 of Pilciao 16 to BH Billington was already well known by then. The whole area of Andalgala was ceded to the mining company for its own exploitation, signed and sealed by the state.

Seen as an archaeological disaster of the future, this open scar, authorised by the state could completely slice through the ancient land of the “Pearl of the West”. It decreed the eventual evacuation of the whole community, over 16,000 neighbours and villagers and all under the pretence of “developmental public interest”. No future compensation could ever make up for the uprooting of a community or for the exploitation of such nature rich lands. This rape of land and its peoples lent a voice of truth to those socially conscious communities.

Its very scandal made the agreement public and gave it momentum. Damaging by-laws, corruption and lies occurred on a weekly basis. Although the company tried to hide it, the attempts to deny the bluntness of this signed concession, reached loud noise levels which the state too, tried to silence.

One never knows the capabilities of one body of people. In January, from such a poor knowledge of the spoken word, from such a disorderly people, with hardly any effort, there arose a civil movement of the so called "township of Andalgala". It was a whirlwind of a month with many wasted words on all fronts.


Although the following video is in Spanish, images speak louder than words and are clear enough to understand what is happening in Andalgalá.

Scene two. A diffused death

Like an ominous glow, Agua Rica is a settlement trying to establish itself a few kilometres from Andalgala. This location is near to Bajo la Alumbrera, a place which during the past decade and a half has been turned into a desert and is a pathway of poverty. Both these locations have been exploited by Xstrata and have become a nucleus of non-action by the trappings of those who should be discussing its future, a mocking ritual for those who actually care.

In a study, conducted by scientists from the National University of Tucumán, the environmental impact report presented by the mining company in order to commence its exploitation was refuted. Over three hundred observations and objections were found against it, showing up the irreversible eco-system damage which could be inflicted on the land. This damage was such that should the project not be modified, the investigators recommended that the work should be cancelled. Nevertheless, in their blinkered determination and withdrawn from the public gaze, the Catamarqueño State authorised the commencement of works on this site, even though the company refused to modify their plans in any way. Within this context, the civic bodies, even now, started to cut off the access roads, putting their own bodies in front of the machines to try to limit the voracity and the corruption of the company and the betrayal of their political stance.

Scene three. Villagers take action

These people had suffered further violations towards their communities. Kuntur, a special group which fights for the rights of the local population, was repressed in the name of the company’s judicial security; neighbours and those who joined assemblies were criminalised and outlawed, BSR (Business for Social Responsibility), the same group which introduced “No a la Mina”, was infiltrated. In its 2003 vote, the town of Esquel, declared that “there was a lack of communication with the mining company”, so as to fragment and control the population. Above all the company used the media to give itself an air of social acceptability, aided by a doubtful popular authorship. Since their arrival, a cheap and hidden workforce daily rewrites the local’s graffiti, changing it to words such as “Yes to mining” and “water is only a living source if it can be negotiated upon”. Not so long, these walls portrayed a community which was resistant to mining.

In this scene, characterised by the infringement of people’s rights and the misappropriation of their own lands, the evaluation of the resources and the disciplinarian politics of the authorities have, from September, strengthened this drama. Women, showing atavistic behaviour are emerging in the rituals of silence, with a tragic consciousness of the use of language and its limits. Removed from daily events, from the rhythms of politics, and from any other agendas, these women meet in the square at Andalgala. Without noise, in mutual cooperation, they start dressing their bodies with those humble but highly efficient accessories. These serve to block any social assertions which could be misjudged, misunderstood or stigmatised. Mute, gaged and even handcuffed, they trace their slow path along the administration office, the church, the police station and the mining offices. Upon their humble attire, they pin on their backs a sole identification tag which states: “We are mothers and daughters of Andalgala, is that also a crime?”

Anyone watching this silent protest of women, in a violent, male dominated and colonial state, cannot fail to be moved. Their silence seeks no answers but demands that those in power learn to speak to each other, finding common ground and solidarity between all races and all generations.

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