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Thousands of Romanians protest the environmental and cultural impact of mining Europe’s largest gold mine

Story Transcript

JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.

Canadian companies have been in the news a lot, from Hudbay Minerals going to trial over allegations of human rights violations in Guatemala to the Canadian government being accused of spying on Brazil’s mine and energy ministry in the protection of corporate interests. Now Toronto-based Gabriel Resources is planning to mine gold and rare minerals in a historic site in Romania, but they are being met with opposition from local people and international environmentalists.

With us to discuss what is going on in Romania is Tudor Bradatan, who is a founding member of the MiningWatch Romania initiative and has been active for more than ten years in the Save Roșia Montană Campaign.

Thanks for joining us, Tudor.


DESVARIEUX: So, Tudor, this has been going on for quite a while. International parties have actually previously mined in this area. And, in fact, there’s evidence that mining even dates before the Roman Empire. And in 1975 there was this opencast system, more or less. Most of the employment in the region actually came from mining. So why is your group against reopening the mine?

BRADATAN: Well, our group is against the reopening of this mine because this mining project that is proposed by this Canadian company is, first of all, very destructive to the environment, but second, it would destroy a lot of the heritage of the region, since the mine–gold has been mined there from ancient times. There are lots of relics that can be found there. And this whole complex of Roman mine galleries, churches, and lots of [incompr.] monuments are very important for the development of the region, and they’re a very important aspect of our cultural heritage.

We oppose this mine on many grounds. First of all, it’s the environmental problem. This project is an opencast mine. They would use a lot of cyanide. And it is in an inhabited region. It’s not like other mines that are across the world where it’s more or less a deserted area. This is a very inhabited region where lots of people practice agriculture. And it would affect their way of life, especially that there are some we consider designers in, you know, the way the project has been thought in a very inconsiderate manner for the environment. The cyanide lake has many design problems that have been contested by different specialists. There are lots of groundwater issues, infiltrations that cyanide might end up in the freshwater sources of many people that live in the area.

The scale of the project is gigantic, because it’s Europe’s largest gold deposit, and in only 17 years the company wants to take it all out.

There’s, of course, the cultural issues, the heritage issues. There are many churches, there are many monuments in Roșia Montană and a unique complex of Roman galleries. If you look at the history of the Roman Empire, some of the most important mining relics are found in Roșia Montană.

DESVARIEUX: And like you mentioned, there’s so much gold in that region. We’re talking about more than 300 tons of gold. And the basic question is really: who aims to profit at the end?

BRADATAN: Well, you have to understand that according to Romanian laws, the deal between this Canadian company and the Romanian government is secret. We do not know exactly what are the terms of understanding. But Romania wins way too little from this project, especially because there’s only a mining tax that has been recently grown to 6 percent and whatever taxes come from the employment of people. Otherwise, the whole profit goes to the Canadian company.

DESVARIEUX: Okay. And if this was to be, let’s say, reorganized and the Romanian government was to have full control, would your group still support it?

BRADATAN: No, because in order to have this project realized, they would still have to destroy the archaeological heritage of the area.

And most important of all, there are people that live in the area, and this project would go on on their properties, and they do not want to sell their property to the mining company. Whether we talk about the four open pits or the bottom of the cyanide lake or where the processing plant will be, these are properties of locals that do not want to sell them, and they do not want to have this company there. So in terms of consent of the local population, we can say that the company does not have whatever it takes to go with this project ahead.

The jobs that they promised to the local people there are way too little for a region that–the people there lived until now with agriculture, with tourism. And what the company proposes now is just a couple of hundred jobs that would not even satisfy the immediate region that is going to be deemed–the villages that are going to be impacted by the mining activities.

DESVARIEUX: Okay. Let’s talk about that company little bit more. It is a Canadian company. And the Canadian government has actually come out in support of this project in 2005. And the Romanian government owns, they say, about 20 percent of the Roșia Montană Gold Corporation, along with the Toronto-listed company Gabriel Resources. What have they been doing to quell the opposition to the mine opening?

BRADATAN: Well, this–what they did until now, it’s more–we consider it’s a PR company, because they ran lots of ads on TV, they have lots of media coverage, but they have not mined for a single gram of gold.

We suspect that this whole deal, it’s being kept secret, especially because it’s very bad for the Romanian government. We have reasons to believe that most mining costs are covered by the Romanian state, since the company did not manage to insure its project with one of the insurers that reassured mining accidents. If there is going to be a spill or a major mining accident, the company does not have a solution for that, even though it’s both Romanian and European law that demand explicitly that any project of this scale has to be assured before it’s being permitted for an environmental permit.

Now, the company asked Allianz–it’s a big–I think it’s one of the biggest European companies for assurance. They refused it. And the Romanian government is now trying to give the go-ahead for the project even if they don’t have this assurance. And they will probably try to assure–to have the Romanian state, the Romanian government as the assurer for this company, which–in a way it is a very bad deal, because Romania has had bad experience with mining accidents, and eventually no one paid for them. There were spills, like the one in 2000 in Baia Mare, where no one–the company went bankrupt and no one but the Romanian government paid for all the damage.

DESVARIEUX: Well, Tudor, we’ll certainly keep tracking this story. Thank you so much for joining us.

BRADATAN: Welcome.

DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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Tudor Bradatan is a founding member of the Mining Watch Romania initiative and has been active for more than 10 years in the Save Rosia Montana Campaign. His work includes awareness-raising campaigns on the shortcomings of gold mining activities and continuous public information regarding the monitoring results of Romanian authorities.