A new memorandum of understanding between indigenous people’s in Chile and Barrick Gold could be the first step in a restarting the stalled Pascua-Lama Mine on the border of Chile and Argentina.
Reuters reported that Barrick has come to initial understanding with 15 of 18 local communities. Work at the mine was halted last year because of permitting issues, costs overruns, falling gold prices and strong and organized opposition of the local Diaguita indigenous communities. Barrick has invested $5 billion before halting work.
The new memorandum is seen as an initial step toward bringing the two sides together, Lorenzo Soto, the lawyer for the Diaguita, told Reuters.
“A new phase in the way that large-scale mining is done in Chile has begun,” said Soto, who is known for representing indigenous communities in cases against mining projects, including Goldcorp's El Morro mine, located near Pascua-Lama.
Barrick’s office in Chile said in a statement that the new initiative leaves behind the "sourness" of the past.
“Although Pascua-Lama is suspended today, our aim is to obtain the permits to restart construction,” Barrick said. The company recently met with the Chilean mining minister to express its interest in continuing with the project, the minister told Reuters.
Barrick's agreement with the indigenous peoples will last six months, during which the company will provide project details to the communities to allow corroboration by experts, a process that will be funded by the Toronto-based miner, Soto said.
Should that process be successful, Barrick will enter a dialogue phase that could last two years or more, he said, adding that the company would not restart construction until it is complete.
That phase may include the payment of an "indigenous royalty". Although no legislation for such a mechanism exists "there is nothing to stop it being created," Soto said.
However, Chile's mining minister, Aurora Williams, said she did not believe that such a payment would be the way forward.
"In practice, that's paying to resolve the situation and we think that dialogue is what is needed," she told reporters.