Course:CONS200/2019/Canadian mining in Latin America: A review of ecological, social and economic outcomes

From UBC Wiki

Since the late 20th century, Canada has held a large stake in the mining industry of Latin America. Canada has acquired this stake in the region through an imperialistic neoliberalism movement from the country’s political and economic leaders [1]. Canadian mining has seen huge success in Latin America outnumbering all other foreign investors, but this success has been accompanied by a number of violations of human rights, as well has had a major negative impact on the environment [2]. Around early 2000, a conflict between the local oppositions - the Indigenous communities - and the Canadian mining firm arose. The opposing party were fighting for human rights as well as resource sovereignty resulting in locally based movements, law suits and initiatives [2]. The expansion of the gold mine came from the demand during the nineties. Today the persistence and strength of interest of Canadian companies in the Latin American mining is a point of conflict for both Latin Americans and Environmentalists, who view the companies as valuing economic gain over the preservation of nature in Latin America. This conflict will undoubtable continue grow dramatically if resolutions are not found and new policies are not adopted.

Canadian Companies

Ascendant Copper, Barrick Gold, Conquistador Mines Ltd, Colombia Goldfields and B2Gold, Da Capo Resources (today Vista Gold Corporation), Goldcorp Inc., Greystar Resources, HudBay Minerals Inc., Manhattan Minerals Corp, Metallica Resources Inc, Skye Resources, South American Silver, Corporation, Bolivia, Yamana Gold, Teck

Ecological Outcomes

Effects on Marine and Wildlife

Death of fish in the Lichu River believed to be killed from Lithium mining site

Water travels through from forming a cloud, then land, and end up going into the ocean. Water travels around the world. When activities occur on and within the land, there is a huge impact on the local water system. Mine tailing produces acid mine drainage, which seeps into waterways where it heads towards the ocean. This is endangering the marine life by contaminating the water and introducing toxic chemicals to the oceans. One study mentioned one of the biggest impacts from an open pit mining is that it requires a high amount of water and the waste acidifies running water, also known as acid mine drainage[3]. The result of disrupting marine lives and pollute our essential everyday consumption is fatal to every living organism on Earth. As the mining process destroys ecosystems, not only the shelters and species are getting wiped out, the food resources are also getting eliminated. While mining and burning coals contribute to global warming, there is also an increase in ocean temperature. The increasing temperature is a huge impact on marine lives such as coral reefs, where they are sensitive to temperature change and thus dying at a rapid speed. Dying of coral reefs affect the entire niche as they provide shelter, nutrient, cycling, and most importantly, carbon and nitrogen fixing.

Effects on the Environment

Soil Disturbance/Geographic & Landscape Change

Effects of Gold Mining on the Environment Mario Tama/Getty Images News/Getty Images

The soil is the material where plants grow on. As mining takes place of digging into the land, it removes the surface to expose the coals where deforestation often takes place. This action of eliminating all the vegetations in the area destroys soil profiles. Explosions also take place as well, destroy all the organisms that lie within the area. In addition, while extracting the minerals from underground, the land sinks in and collapses. Subsidence of the land surface, it reshapes the landscape entirely and may alter natural water flow and current land uses, thus causing a big disruption with the nutrient cycling process. These interferences result in poor drainage systems, which can cause landslides.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

During the mining practices, there are risks of igniting coal fires, releasing methane, and health impacts. Igniting coal fires release fly ashes and smokes which cumulates with greenhouse gasses and toxic chemicals which can last for centuries. Majority of coal fires happens through frequency in the expose of coal seams triggered by "combustion of coal, which is an exothermic oxidation reaction between coal and air."[4] And whereas mining discharge coal mine methane, a much stronger greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Methane is often captured for fuel and power generation purposes; however, it is less likely methane will all get used up. These emissions of greenhouse gases trap the receiving heat from the sun in the atmosphere, causing the rising of surface temperatures and thus contributes to the deterioration of air quality. The effect on the atmosphere of mining is a significant issue because of how much greenhouse gas emitted and its impact on a global scale.[5]

Social Outcomes

In a growing ceaselessly urban society, "demanding for more energy and material resources" had increased in conflicts of nature and locals who rely on those ecosystems and habitats. Many people suffered from pollution, lack of resources, and inequality. With the demand as the population grows worldwide, mining for gold, silver, copper, and other minerals continues to play an important material for everyday use[6]. Despite the fact that we need those minerals in our everyday living, the action and aftereffect of mining bring a huge cost of our nature and health. Since the industrial revolution, humans has shifted the consumption and uses of material from wood to metals and power resources from coals. Regardless of the disturbance of the world, it intertwines and relates to society. The essential need of minerals creates a negative impact on our society and regardless influence social orders.

Social Disorganization

The conflict between the locals and the Canadian mining companies has been known for many years. The locals had to emigrate from illegal evictions and there has always violence and protest against mining. One study mentioned mining areas does have a higher tendency of "economic inequity, AIDS, alcoholism, prostitution and child labour, accentuating poverty and social conflict.[7]" Aside from higher tendency of risk behaviours, the community also face many inequality and assultations such as rapes, suicides, assassinations, and many more tragedies associated with mining. In addition, landscape hazards increase as deforestation and change in topography takes place while mining. These landslides, pollution of water source from mining run-offs are hazardous, and thus making locals and natives are having difficult times due to the deprived basic necessities from nature and violence[1].

Tragedy of imperative rights

The leader of Anti-mining Activist (El Barzón) Ismael-solorio-urrutia

The murder case of Ismael Solorio Urrutia family

October 22, 2012, Ismael Solorio Urrutia who is a leader of Anti-mining Activist (El Barzón) and his wife Manuela Martha Solís Contreras found dead in his truck[8].The tragedy was a planned murder, and more importantly the beginning was when mining company paid for the violent behavior that Ismael and his son were maliciously beaten by a group of anonymous men on October 13 [8]. However, the company has not been convicted of the planned murder because legal evidence has not yet been found. Ismael Solorio Urrutia fought for his rights to defend against the mining company's illegal well drilling on the Carmen river in order to extracting minerals without nurturing biodiversities in river, which drove to this murder case at the end [8]. The incident of his death arouses public rage toward the irresponsible foreign mining companies in Mexico and those reprehensibly ignorant policies from the Secretary of Government [8] that caused the righteous man's death.

Shots fired, and a hundred year mining moratorium

After tragic incident on October 22, 2012, the landholders of Ejido Benito Juarez ("Ejido") group hotly denounce MAG Silver corp about the loss of El Barzón leader, Ismael Solorio Urrutia. In order to accomplish the protection for lives in local, and land rights, "Ejido" group chanted a hundred year mining moratorium in Mexico to expel Canadian mining company MAG Silver Corp. on 17 November 2012[9]. MAG Silver Corp. repeatedly claims the meeting or the announce of the moratorium was an Illegal activity without legal process, and especially the voting process of "Ejido" group was completely out path the agreed commissioner's legal regulation who have the authority to enact a ban on mining under federal jurisdiction [9]. MAG Silver Corp. filed a complaint letter at the Federal jurisdictional level, as the purpose of the remedial action and to void the mining moratorium law [9]. Furthermore, MAG Silver Corp kept insists their innocence about the case in murder that they consistently denied involvement when the Cinco de Mayo mining development company was managed by El cascabel[10] one-hundred percent. Ismael and his son not only has been threatened but physically assaulted by group of employees El cascabel [10] for daring to speak loud against mining installation and drilling well of Carmen river. The most essential needs of local group, such as land and water are failed to delivered from government level yet but they had a close relationship with Canadian mining companies when those affected local people were desperately crying out their rights to survive. El cascabel, named local friendly company is a local based subsidiary company from the corporation group of MAG Silver Corp. in Vancouver, Canada [10].

Economic Outcomes

Transnational Mining Business in Canada

Pascua-Lama mine, Chile

In the aftermath of rising indigenous activism with falling mineral price in 1987, the Canadian government and Mining industry made a consensual reduction of tariffs and taxes treaty to encourage Canadian mining business, especially towards developing countries[11]. Because many of Latin American countries reformed mining industrial infrastructure since 1980, so that the Canadian mining investment flew Latin American countries, and now 50-70% of mining activities in Latin American involved with Canadian mining companies.[12] However, the relatively loose corporate audit regulations from government level and lack of conscience due to overseas business ventures, such as the mass production of toxic chemicals or the reckless exploitation of minerals, have created multiple problems with transnational mining businesses.[12]

Maldistributed Incentive System

One of the biggest advantages Canada has given to mining companies is that they have reduced taxes by 15 percent for the purpose of mining site exploration activities both at domestic and foreign scale[13]. Moreover, unlike the United States or other countries in the transnational mining industry, Canada does not impose specific conditions or strict regulations on mineral companies. For instance, once the transnational mining company listed on the Canadian Stock Exchange, companies do not obligate to disclosed market value profits including detailed internal information, provided that they could make a satisfactory return[14]. Therefore, unlimited international speculation or use of private profits can be made according to the intention of the corporation or the intention of the board. Moreover, according to Canadian Pension Plan (CPP) Investment Board, public traded equity of 2017 reaches 748 million Canadian dollars from the transnational Latin America mining companies in Canada[15].

Categories of Actors

Argentinian citizens protesting against Barrick Gold [16].

Canadian Mining Industry

As of 2019 there are over 40 Canadian mining companies operating in Latin America [17]. These Companies generate a combined 198 billion dollars in revenue, with a large portion of that revenue coming from Barrick Gold, Yamana Gold, and Teck which are the largest Canadian Companies in the region [17]. These companies are present throughout the majority of Latin America, but Mexico, Chile, and Peru account for a large portion of the operations [17]. Canadian mining firms hold a majority position in the region, and account for 75 percent of all mining companies operating in Latin America [18]. Canadian mining operations have been a major source of instability in Latin America, with 34 percent of all conflicts relating to mining involving Canadian operations [18]. As of a 2014 report there were 198 active conflicts [19]. The massive amount of revenue generated from these corporations gives them strong lobbying power to make sure that conflicts against Latin American peoples are quelled either by security forces or through government intervention. It has been reported that violent threats and acts of violence have been made against individuals who oppose Canadian mining practices [19].

Local communities

Like many other regions where natural resources are abundant, the indigenous and local peoples of Latin America do not benefit from the extraction of resources nearly as much as foreign entities. Canadian companies alone hold 75 percent [18] of all mines in the region which means foreign entities control a monopoly on natural resources in the region. For the citizens of Latin America this monopoly leads to negative environmental, economic, and social consequences. Because mining is occurring in their communities, Latin Americans are most adversely effected by the negative environmental consequences from mines. In a mining area around Honduras several streams which supply water for local communities were polluted by "serious acidic infiltration" [19]. Economic disadvantages happens because many of the locals in rural areas where mines are located have either an agriculture based income, or have an income that is tied to the health of the environment around them. In many cases environmental protections are either not present or not properly administered, and communities who are adversely effected by environmental destruction by mining companied have little resources in order to seek damages [19]. The implementation of a mine can also completely destroy social aspects of a local community. This is because mining companies are able to forcefully displace communities, either through planned displacement because the community is on a resource deposit or environmental damages forcing a community to move on their own [19]. Indigenous communities often are already disadvantaged in Latin America, as one indigenous scholar claims "being poor and being of indigenous descent are still interchangeable" [20], but they are even more susceptible to be negatively affected than non-indigenous peoples. The isolated nature of many Latin American indigenous communities means that displacement because of mining will make it difficult to establish a new community because of the lack of outside support, and destroying land where indigenous peoples lived can erase important cultural areas for these communities [20].


Both Canadian and Latin American Governments are responsible for enabling the prevalence of Canadian Mining in the region. The Canadian government has repeatedly supported Canadian mining companies, and has adopted a policy of collaboration with foreign governments in order to promote mining companies in developing countries [19]. This policy means that the "the government becomes a strategic ally of the private sector, represented by Canadian mining companies" [19]. Canada's continued support of mining companies is especially problematic because of it's continued failure to institute a proper "regulatory and institutional framework capable of responding adequately to complaints of human rights violations by Canadian mining companies in host countries" [19]. Many Latin American governments have also supported Canadian mining companies, often at the expense of the wellbeing of their citizens. for example, in 2010 the Honduran government prosecuted 17 members of a wildlife group, who "opposed the clearing of a forest in a mining concession area" [19]. In 2009 the Panama police entered the camp of a protest group who were advocating against a mining project and assaulted, tear gassed, and arrested 19 Panamanian citizens [19].

The evidence for the problem

The evidence that shows Canadian mining in Latin America is problematic can be seen from a environmental and conflict perspective. The negative environmental consequences from Canadian mines are incredibly apparent. The Independent Panel on Global Governance for health studied the environmental footprint of Canadian mines in Latin America and found that mines were responsible for toxic materials in the air and water, spreading vector-borne diseases like malaria, and reduced agricultural yields and health of livestock [21]. While these findings are tangible and quite damaging for Canadian mining companies, the negative environmental effects that are caused by mines are inherent to the industry and would be incredibly similar to the environmental damage caused by any other foreign firm that operates a mine in Latin America. From a conflict perspective, Canadian mining firms have acquired a reputation as unethical corporations who are willing to commit human rights abuses. This reputation is largely true, as Canadian firms have a documented history of "human rights abuses committed by security personnel employed by the company or by agents of the host state" [18]. Canadian firms also lack a firm regulating body which can properly prevent abuses from happening. Some scholars argue however that Canada's reputation as a unethical mining country is largely gained because it controls the majority of the Latin American mines, and the mining industry is an inherently conflictual industry [18]. In Addition to this claim, a Canadian research paper did a quantitative analysis of 634 mines in Latin America and found that conditions and abuses on Canadian mines are almost identical to mines operated by American, British, and Australian firms [18]. despite the finding that Canadian firms do not act substantially different than other foreign firms, the report concluded that they operate "worse than locally-owned firms" [18]. These findings gives us evidence to suggest that conflicts and human rights violations are not a Canadian quality, rather they are a quality of foreign firms in general.

Options for remedial action(s)

There is a negative impact on human health from inhaling coal dusts, a cause of black lung disease, which impacts the local and surrounding populations. In addition, mine accidents had killed thousands every year, placing humans in danger not only from the air pollution but also physical damages from explosion and collapsing of land.

Improvements in equipments

One way to improve human health is ventilation. The use of closed-circuit escape respirator, also known as a Self-contained self-rescue device. This way the miners are able to breathe fresher air in exchange of toxic mine chemicals. When mining, traditionally miners use open flame lamps for vision and this is hazardous as the light ignites flammable gases that are released during the mining process. A replaceable device for this solution is the Safety lamp. Safety lamp is an electronic device enclosed with explosion-proof electric lights and it has replaced the traditional light to hence the safety in mining.


Due the major success of Canadian mining in Latin America, it is likely that these mining activities will continue to be persistent. It is clearly shown that there are many valid concerns about the outcomes that the mining has had on both social and the ecological aspects. Passionate movements and initiatives have been made by local communities to attempt to keep these companies accountable for their harmful actions with little achieved resolution. The actions of these community activism in favour of human and environmental rights, has ensured that suits are brought to court and forcing reforms [2]. Unfortunately, it is exceptionally difficult to take legal actions against these big corporations because it would take lots of money, time, and people to go against the power the corporations have. In order to resolve the issues brought to concern in a peaceful manner, a policy change is needed to regulate the actions of these corporations and ensure that there is protection to those harmed by the corporations. An example of a policy that has made a positive impact is bill 300 which purpose is to “promote environmental best practices and ensure that protection and promotion of international human rights standards in respect of the mining, oil or gas activities of Canadian corporations in developing countries”. Another is bill 328 that basically would allow citizens to sue these Canadian corporations for any harmful activity that goes against human and environmental rights[2].


  1. 1.0 1.1 Gordon, Todd; Jeffery R., Webber (2008). "Imperialism and Resistance: Canadian Mining Companies in Latin America". Third World Quarterly. 29: 63–87.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 North, Liisa A. (March 2013). "Generating rights for communities harmed by mining: legal and other action". Canadian Journal of Development Studies / Revue canadienne d'études du développement. 34: 96–110.
  3. Urkidi, Leire (2010). "A Glocal Environmental Movement Against Gold Mining: Pascua–Lama in Chile". Ecological Economics. 70: 219–227.
  4. Song, Zeyang; Kuenzer, Claudia (2014). "Coal fires in China over the last decade: A comprehensive review". International Journal of Coal Geology. 133: 72–99.
  5. Jang, YuWoon; Park, Il-Soo; Ha, Sang-Sub; Jang, Su-Hwan; Chung, Kyung-Won; Lee, Gangwoong; Kim, Won-Ho; Choi, Yong-Joo; Cho, Cheon-Ho (2014). "Preliminary Analysis of the Development of the Carbon Tracker System in Latin America and the Caribbean". Atmósfera. 27: 61–76.
  6. Conde, Marta (2017). "Resistance to Mining. A Review". Ecological Economics. 132: 80–90.
  7. Urkidi, Leire (2010). "A Glocal Environmental Movement Against Gold Mining: Pascua–Lama in Chile". Ecological Economics. 70: 219–227.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 "Murder of Anti-Mining Activists in Mexico a State Crime". Vancouver Media Co-op. Oct 24, 2012.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 "MAG Silver to challenge illegal eviction from Cinco de Mayo". MAG Silver Corp. Nov 20, 2012.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 "Mining activists opposed to Vancouver-based MAG Silver's mine project in Chihuahua, México murdered". Oct 30, 2012.
  11. "Canadian mining and ill health in Latin America: a call to action". Canadian Journal of Public Health. Dec 2018, Volume 109, Issue 5–6, pp. 786–790. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  12. 12.0 12.1 Birn, Shipton, Schrecker, Anne-Emanuelle, Leah, Ted (December 2018). "Canadian mining and ill health in Latin America: a call to action". Canadian Journal of Public Health. 109, Issue 5-6: 786–790 – via JSTOR.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  13. Birn, Shipton, Schrecker, Anne-Emanuelle, Leah, Ted. "Canadian mining and ill health in Latin America: a call to action". Canadian Journal of Public Health. Volume 109: pp. 786-790 – via JSTOR.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link) CS1 maint: extra text (link)
  14. Birn, Shipton, Schrecker, Anne-Emanuelle, Leah, Ted. "Canadian mining and ill health in Latin America: a call to action". Canadian Journal of Public Health. Volume 109: pp. 786–790 – via JSTOR.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link) CS1 maint: extra text (link)
  15. Birn, Shipton, Schrecker, Anne-Emanuelle, Leah, Ted. "Canadian mining and ill health in Latin America: a call to action". Canadian Journal of Public Health. Volume 109: pp 786-790 – via JSTOR.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link) CS1 maint: extra text (link)
  16. Desplanques, Anne Caroline (November 2016). "Argentinian town not thrilled with Trudeau visit after Canadian mining disaster". National Observer.
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 "Canadian Mining In Latin America". Canadian International Development Platform. July 2013.
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 18.3 18.4 18.5 18.6 Haslam, Paul Alexander (April 2018). "Do Canadian Mining Firms Behave Worse Than Other Companies? Quantitative Evidence from Latin America". Canadian Journal of Political Science. 51: 521–551 – via Cambridge Core.
  19. 19.0 19.1 19.2 19.3 19.4 19.5 19.6 19.7 19.8 19.9 "The impact of Canadian Mining in Latin America and Canada's Responsibility". Due Process of Law Foundation. May 2014.
  20. 20.0 20.1 Fisher, Eloy (November 2014). "Constitutional Struggle and Indigenous Resistance in Latin America: The Case of Panama". Latin American Perspectives. 41: 65–78 – via JSTOR.
  21. Birn, Anne-Emanuelle; et al. (September 2018). "Canadian mining and ill health in Latin America: a call to action". Canadian Journal of Public Health. 109: 786–790 – via SpringerLink. Explicit use of et al. in: |last= (help)

Seekiefer (Pinus halepensis) 9months-fromtop.jpg
This conservation resource was created by Will. It is shared under a CC-BY 4.0 International License.