Responding to a wave of public outrage and pressure, Chubut Province Governor Mariano Arcioni announced a dramatic U-turn on Monday, confirming that he would repeal a newly signed zoning law that critics say paves the way for “mega-mining” in the region.
After days of protests by residents across Patagonia, which included violent clashes between police and protesters last Thursday and Friday and even public buildings being set alight in the provincial capital of Rawson, Arcioni said he would backtrack on his previous position and allow the people of Chubut to have their say in a plebiscite.
With 14 votes in favour and 11 against, Chubut’s Provincial Legislature last week approved a new Zoning Law that authorises mining exploration, without the use of cyanide, in the region’s central plateau.
"We have decided to repeal the law and promote a plebiscite at the provincial level to hear all the voices of the people," Arcioni said in a post on Twitter, referring to peaceful protesters who took to the streets to make their voices heard.
"I deeply respect those who have demonstrated peacefully these days and I want to ask them to open a window of time during which we can give ourselves a chance and the opportunity to think about how we give work to those who do not have it, how we generate investments to industrialise our production, with what resources we improve our education, our security and our health," he added.
Arcioni vowed to open "a new process of social dialogue with all the actors involved in this project, whether they are for or against it."
The proposed law, which has been strongly resisted by broad sectors of local society and criticised by experts from the Universidad Nacional de la Patagonia San Juan Bosco and CONICET (National Scientific and Technical Research Council), would allow metalliferous mining of silver, copper and lead in areas of the province, including Telsen and Gastre.
Following its passage last Wednesday, the governor promulgated the law the following day, just as protests were getting underway.
Chubut has seen massive demonstrations by civil society and environmental groups, with activity centred on Rawson, Esquel and Comodoro Rivadavia.
Arcioni had previously vowed that he would not "backtrack", but over the weekend the demonstrations continued and the governor moved to review his decision.