MARCH 1983 - VOLUME 4 - NUMBER 3
Multinationals Plan Massive Mining Operations
by Pedro Garcia
A group of multinational mining companies supported by the Puerto Rican government has developed a plan to exploit and mine Puerto Rico's natural resources. The proposal has drawn considerable opposition from Puerto Rican environmentalists, nationalists and the general public.
Dubbed the 2020 project because of its targeted completion date in the year 2020, the plan calls for building 11 parks circling the island's coastline, where strategic industries would be clustered around military bases. Puerto Rico's interior would be strip-mined for strategic metals such as nickel, copper and cobalt.
The 2020 plan is the Puerto Rican government's answer to a severe economic crisis. Puerto Rico has a per capita income equal to half that of Mississippi, the poorest state in the U.S. Twenty percent of the population is unemployed, and 70% are on food stamps. Close to 85% of the island's economy is controlled by U.S. based multinational corporations.
Plans for mining in Puerto Rico began at the end of the 1950s after a prospecting expedition carried out by a number of companies, including AMAX (American Metals Climax), Anaconda Mining and Kennecott Copper. Since then, 37,000 acres of land have been appropriated for strip-mining by the Puerto Rican government. The government is currently studying a proposal by Kennecott and AMAX regarding the copper deposits.
But corporate critics like Eduardo Garcia and Alexis Massol, engineers from the Cultural Arts Workshop in Adjuntas, Puerto Rico, believe that the mining of the metals, especially copper, will have a disastrous effect on the island's environment. The workshop is a small arts community whose members became involved in the struggle to stop the mining; members Garcia and Massol were on a recent U.S. national tour to speak about the 2020 plan.
"Copper mining is the most dangerous type of mining that could happen in Puerto Rico, due to the geographic location of the deposits of copper," Massol says. When copper is mined, he continues, it is in a form, which "when exposed to the atmosphere, would contaminate the water. There would be a huge effect of erosion since a great quantity of rains fall in the area." Massol adds that more than a million people - a third of the population - would be affected "strictly due to contamination of water resources."
(David Ackerman, the head of mining operations in Puerto Rico for AMAX, calls Massol's comments "wild statements." "We can talk for six hours about copper's effect on the environment," says Ackerman. "The effect of copper on the environment is actually minimal.")
Critics also fear that Puerto Rico will receive little of the economic benefits from the mining. Garcia and Massol point to the record of AMAX in Namibia, where, between 1967 and 1975, the company made profits of $38 million from the Tsumeb mine on an original investment of $1.11 million.
According to Garcia and Massol, peasants and mountain people in Puerto Rico are organizing to stop the mining. The two men say they "have visited the rural areas in the mountains, and we have noted in the campesinos a strong attitude against mineral exploitation."
The movement against the mining, which began in Adjuntas, has spread to various towns through the efforts of the Cultural Arts Workshop. Officials of the Episcopal Church have also joined the opposition, charging that the 2020 plan could destroy Puerto Rico's peasant culture.
Besides the mining of metals, oil has been discovered in the region off Puerto Rico's southern coast. The discoveries were made by Fugro and Western Geophysical, two U.S. companies under contract to the Puerto Rico Water Resources Authority. The Mobil and Exxon corporations are hoping to reach an agreement to exploit the oil and natural gas that is found.
The oil drilling, too, has received criticism. Dr. Neftali Garcia, an environmentalist and scientific advisor to Mission Industrial, an organization which fights against corporate interests in Puerto Rico, criticizes the proposed terms for the agreement. "Mobil's proposal," he says, "would give Puerto Rico SO% of the earnings, and Mobil 50%. As a matter of comparison, the OPEC countries are receiving over 75% of the earnings at this moment. So, it would not be a very good deal for Puerto Rico."
One of the most serious charges to be levelled against the 2020 plan concerns the Puerto Rican government's policies on population control. Puerto Rico has the highest rate of sterilization in the world - 40% of all women of child-bearing age. A 1973 Puerto Rican government report entitled "Opportunities ' for Employment, Education and Training" listed two methods for "reducing the working sector: increased migration of Puerto Rican workers to the U.S., and a massive government-sponsored sterilization campaign."
Challengers to the mining say that the government's sterilization program is a strategy to reduce the population of Puerto Rico and thereby limit the opposition of Puerto Ricans to the mining.
Pedro Garcia is a Washington-based writer.