Protesters demonstrating to protect Mendoza’s natural resources have chalked up a major victory, after provincial lawmakers voted Monday to repeal recent and controversial modifications to Law 7722.
Both upper and lower houses voted to restore the legislation to its previous incarnation, eliminating changes. Sweeping reforms to the legislation – first introduced in 2007 – had been agreed by lawmakers on both aisles last month, prompting social outcry.
The news is a huge victory for environmental activists and protesters, who have taken to the streets in huge numbers to denounce the alterations, which they argued would have paved the way for the use of substances, such as cyanide and sulphuric acid, in mining projects in the famous wine-producing region.
Governor Rodolfo Suárez, the UCR-Radical governor who was sworn into office on December 10, announced last Friday that he would not sign the new law into effect after meeting with 17 mayors from across the province at Government House in Mendoza City.
“For mining exploration [to take place] two conditions were needed. On the one hand, it is carried out with strict controls and, on the other, with social consensus,” Suárez said at a press conference last week. “That social licence does not exist in Mendoza.”
“During [my election] campaign we said we were an open-door government that’s about dialogue. For that reason we have decided to send to the Legislature a bill for the repeal of the mining law,” he added
He admitted the pressure from the local people had informed the decision. In recent days, several local municipal leaders had threatened to call off the region’s famed Vendimia wine harvest festival.
During Monday’s legislative debate, many senators made reference to the popular mobilisations against the changes that had sprung up across the province.
Protests first erupted three weeks ago after lawmakers approved the modifications, which had previously restricted the use of dangerous chemicals in mining operations and blocked water-intensive projects in the region amid concerns over their environmental impact.
The provincial legislature originally green-lit the amendments with 36 votes in favour, 11 against, one abstention and one absence in the lower chamber, and 28 votes in favour and seven against in the upper chamber. It was approved thanks to an agreement between Radicals and Peronist lawmakers.
Speaking to the Times before Christmas, when the law was still due to come into effect, provincial lawmaker Jorge Difonso (Cambia Mendoza) described the amendments as “going against global trends.”
Difonso, a co-author of the original – and now restored – version of Law 7722 said loosening its restrictions would pose a threat to the quality of Mendoza’s soil and water.
“The mega-mining model is a real threat to of Mendoza’s water supply. Mendoza has been in a water crisis for 10 years,” he told the Times. “Our rivers and streams have 50 percent of their historical volume and mega-mining requires millions of litres of water, and introduces the risk of eventual contamination that can be caused by the use of certain chemicals. We understand clearly that the use of cyanide and sulphuric acid jeopardises water quality.”