McGill Research Group Investigating
Canadian Mining in Latin America

Campana Mahuida, Lonco

Key Data

Company:Metallurgical Construction Corporation (MCC); Golden Peaks Resources Ltd Operational status:suspended 2011 Materials extracted:copper, gold Type of mine:open pit Main issues:indigenous issues, land rights, pollution


The Campana Mahuida and Lonco mines are located less than 10 kilometers away from each other in the Loncopué region of the Neuquén province and are situated near both the Agrio River and the Mulichincó stream.  On March 8, 2007, the Chinese Metallurgical Construction Corporation (MCC)  and Corporación Minera del Neuquén (CORMINE) signed a deal that gave MCC and its subsidiary Emprendimientos Mineros S.A. rights to the exploration and extraction of Campana Mahuida mine and the future option of purchase [1]. The Campana Mahuida mine was estimated to have a fifteen-year life span and yield between $1.500 and $1.700 million [2].  The Lonco mine was acquired by a Canadian mining company, Golden Peaks Resources Ltd., which began exploration and construction in 2007.

The Loncopué region is also home to the Mapuche community of Mellao Morales, a community that has a long history of struggle over land with the Argentine government. Both the Campana Mahuida and the Lonco mining projects were vehemently opposed by the Mapuche community as well as other community members living in Loncopué for a variety of reasons.  For the Mapuche people, the proposed mine site was located on “Cerro Tres Puntas,” an area that is extremely important to the community for spiritual as well as health and safety reasons [3].  The Cerro Tres Puntas region is the site of Mapuche folklore about a flood. It is also the source of the Loncopué community’s drinkable water and the source for the region’s irrigation systems [4].

In 2007, at the celebration of the anniversary of Loncopué, pastor José María Dorfeo made a passionate speech wherein he implored God to explain what was happening with the capitalist mining companies and why [5].  This poignant speech ignited a powerful response from the community. People began to research specific details about the projects and started meeting in the church to discuss how to move forward in their opposition.  Through their research they discovered that the Canadian company Golden Peaks had violated several necessary procedures essential to starting production: they did not give a public presentation of the environmental impact assessment, and they did not consult the Mapuche people who in theory have inalienable land rights over the region [6].  They brought these complaints to the Loncopué government in October 2007, and in December the justice ruled on the side of the community and Golden Peaks was forced to suspend the Lonco mine. This was the beginnings of the group Asamblea de Vecinos Autoconvocados de Loncopué (AVAL).

AVAL continued their resistance focusing their efforts on the Campana Mahuida mine and working with the Mapuche Mellao Morales.  The groups put an enormous amount of pressure on MCC to end the project in a variety of ways, such as public demonstrations, a public event with music and educational films about the effects of mining [7], roadblocks [8], various legal challenges, and boycotts of meetings with the mining company[9].  On April 5, 2011, the Supreme Justice Tribunal of Neuquén ruled that because the Campana Mahuida was located on Mapuche land, the mining activities violated the Indigenous and Tribal People’s Convention of 1989 and they called for a suspension of mining activities [10].

On June 3, 2012, the AVAL and Mapuche community members organized a popular referendum that sought to decide the ultimate fate of mining in Loncopué. The referendum asked whether community members wanted to prohibit mining in the Loncopué region. 72% of the population participated in the referendum and 82.08% of those who participated voted yes for the prohibition [11].  The state attorney of Neuquén later attempted to challenge the results of the referendum on the grounds that it was unconstitutional; however, the Supreme court upheld the results [12] [13].

[1] http://www.8300.com.ar/2009/03/10/explotacion-minera-en-campana-mahuida-cobre-por-baratijas/

[2] Ibid

[3] http://www.noalamina.org/mineria-argentina/mineria-neuquen/el-cerro-tres-puntas-no-se-toca

[4] http://www.8300.com.ar/2009/03/10/explotacion-minera-en-campana-mahuida-cobre-por-baratijas/

[5] http://www.panuelosenrebeldia.com.ar/content/view/932/133/

[6] Ibid

[7] http://www.noalamina.org/mineria-argentina/mineria-neuquen/comienza-la-vigilia-contra-la-mina-en-campana-mahuida

[8] http://www.minesandcommunities.org/article.php?a=9163

[9] Ibid

[10] http://www.rionegro.com.ar/diario/rn/nota.aspx?idart=595714&idcat=9521&tipo=2

[11] http://www.noalamina.org/mineria-argentina/mineria-neuquen/loncopue-hizo-historia-con-un-referendum-que-rechazo-la-megamineria

[12] http://www.noalamina.org/mineria-argentina/mineria-neuquen/corte-suprema-ratifico-suspension-de-proyecto-minero-campan-mahuida

[13] http://www.noalamina.org/mineria-argentina/mineria-neuquen/el-gobierno-fue-a-la-justicia-contra-el-referendum-de-loncopue