Every single Canadian domiciled mining company will claim to have a great relationship with the community in which it operates, whether they work LatAm or any other place, but it’s only if the going gets tough that those on the outside get to find out if those relations are real or just lip-service. As word spreads of last night’s attack on the camp at Solaris Resources (SLS.to) in Ecuador so will the questions aimed at its management team, because the violence stands in stark contrast to the management’s repeated claims of kumbayah peace and shiny happy people all around in the years leading up to last night’s disturbances.
Here’s the thing: If a company builds real and valid community relations that unite local stakeholders, instead of using the all-too typical policy of dividing communities and then pitting one side against another, when the moments of community friction come it’s the locals themselves who’ll stand up and be counted on the side of the mining company and its development. A good example of this is the team of John Black and Kevin Heather, who may have other problems* at AntaKori with Regulus Resources but their exemplary approach to community relations has served them in good stead. Take for example last year, when hard left wing political opposition to mining developments in Cajamarca (under the auspices of the nefarious Vladimir Cerrón) came a-calling. That’s when the locals around AntaKori and NOT the mining company (or any police they tried to draft in) came to the company’s aid, as the locals that matter are the ones who will most evangelize people doing work in the right way. And it’s not the first time Black and Heather have gone about things in the right way, either; their CSR work at Haquira when Antares was their junior also paid mighty dividends and for the same reasons. It’s not that difficult, either; treat people with respect and understand that you’re an interloper in a place where these people have been living for countless generations, get treated with respect right back. People are people, after all. Black and Heather have other issues at AntaKori, but CSR is not one of them and that’s because they go about it in the way it should be done.
Compare that to how Solaris have gone about their task of controlling locals: Get the tiny community next to the project onside (with money, basically), ignore the wider Shuar-Arutam regional culture, its people and its leadership, then when those leaders raise their voices against your project get your country manager to issue thinly-veiled death threats against the dissenters. All SLS had last night was to call on the national government to send in the army! You think this attitude gets forgotten by people who have been living in a region for hundreds, nay thousands of years? Where were those “on-side locals” from Warints village to stop the “outsiders”, i.e the wider Shuar-Arutam, who were labelled “outsiders” by the company (so help us!), from attacking the camp yesterday? Of course getting your mining camp attacked and burned down is a bad thing and of course these pages do not condone such acts, but there is a tendency for people to reap what they sow and in provincial South America, locals are used to having to self-govern (national governments only remember they exist when it suits national politicos). Neither is this high-handed approach to airbrushed CSR limited to the SLS CEO Earle at Warintza; look at the Poliquins and the mess they’ve made all over Mexico (Ixtaca, Caballo Blanco, other). Look at the way Bear Creek treated the Aymaras of South Peru around Santa Ana and how that worked out for them. Look at IAMGOLD at Quimsacocha Ecuador, now called Loma Larga. Look at Libero in Colombia right now (and their troubles got worse now Petro is President-Elect). Or Agua Rica in Argentina. Or Argonaut Gold in BCS Mx. Or Candente at Cañariaco Peru. Those from the top of the head and we could continue but time and again, arrogant Canadian mining companies waltz into regions and zones of Latin America and can’t wait to splain them locals about how wonderful their lives are going to be in the future, all they need to do is sit down, shut up and welcome the progress they are being so generously offered. And that’s the end of my rant, now go warm your hands at the latest LatAm junior mining campfire, because until the attitude of your company directors and management teams change toward the way the few good companies do their business Warintza is unlikely to be the last.