Rosia Montana: Cyanide and Corporation profit

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 Ecology, Corporate Profit, and the Struggle for People’s Rights

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Rosia Montana beautiful natural landscape in the heart of Transylvania, Carpathian Mountains

In a remote part of Romania in South-Eastern Europe, a Canadian mining company in cooperation with the Romanian Government are planning what might be the most devastating environmental catastrophe in European history. In pursuit of gold and profits, people’s homes, their villages, and an entire region of beautiful hills, forest land, and agriculture, will be turned into a deadly waste-land. Challenging corporate pursuit of profit and blind destruction at the expense of people’s needs and the environment, this is the story of a people’s struggle for human rights, people’s basic needs, and the protection of the environment.
On July 28th 2002, a major protest demonstration was organized in Rosia Montana by representatives of the local community, Romanian NGOs, Green Peace and others to mobilize against the destruction of a community and its environment in what is intended to be the largest open-cast mining operation in Europe. Approximately 270 300 people gathered from the community, across Romania and internationally, upon a beautiful hillside overlooking the planned mining zone. Romanian and international media, as well as representatives of the central authorities parliamentarians and government officials were present. From the villages which were to be affected, to organizations working with the environment, social mobilization, and community development, people came together to voice their opposition to the plans to introduce large-scale and environmentally devastating mining to the region. While the size of the mobilization was impressive in the local context, the numbers of those present from the villages to be affected was far less than what is planned and expected in coming months. Many were threatened or paid not to come, and still more were afraid of what might happen to them if they took part. Rosia Montana, a beautiful location in the Transylvanian hills, is a village under threat, divided, and in fear. It is also a village which has chosen to struggle, to protect itself, its homes, its community, its heritage, and the environment.
A Lake of Cyanide

The Worst Environmental Disaster Since Chernobyl waiting to happen The purpose of this mobilization of civil society was to raise public awareness about what could become the worst environmental disaster in Europe: the destruction of an entire geographical area and the displacement of the whole community through a corporate project for the extraction of gold using cyanide at the surface and involving the construction of a cyanide lake. Mountains, fields, houses, cemeteries, archaeological sites all will be covered by an 800 football fields-size lake of cyanide. No life, no vegetation, only gigantic machines extracting gold for the next 7 or 8 years, before departing to leave the region they will have ruined by industrial waste and pollution, stripped bare of any life and inhabitants. In total, 400 hectares of land covered by a lake of cyanide and another 1200 hectares covered by waste. How is this possible in a country which claims to be democratic, and which has agreed to national and international legislation to protect the basic rights and freedoms of its people, and the preservation of the environment?

A Foreign Company Enters

The Canadian company Gabriel Resources came to Rosia Montana (located in the North-Western part of Romania, 128 Km away from Cluj-Napoca) in 1995. They first analyzed the region near the mountains for gold deposits, then started researching the places, taking pictures of the houses in order to categorize them for putting a price on them. They then began convincing people to sell their houses and to move. In 1997 they united with MinInvest and formed EuroGold in which the Romanian government owns 20% of the shares. In 1999, the company changed its name again, this time to the Rosia Montana Gold Corporation (RMGC). 30% of the total population of 2000 inhabitants accepted to move to towns and cities. Much of these are the younger population who are more mobile and not as strongly rooted in the community and can find jobs more quickly and can adapt to new environments. But what about the older generations? The people that have spent their entire life- time on the land, growing up there, living and working there. What do you do with them? Their houses will be bought but what next? They can’t go anywhere. They where born there and spent their entire life there. As one old woman from the community said: “I won’t move. They will take my house over my dead body. I just can’t. My family is buried here. I need to stay here and watch the graves”. The Company has totally divided the local community, employing some of them, threatening others, and paying some off. People that lived and worked together in harmony before, in what was a relatively wealthy community in which every family had a bit of gold and everyone had their basic needs met now fear each other. Relatives have begun to fight with each other and in many cases are not speaking with each other. The Company’s employment policy is detrimental for the community’s very sense of solidarity and goes against any possibility of sustainable development or long-term well-being in the region. They promised to create around 15000 jobs in the near future (the Romanian government has claimed that the project will create 23000 jobs) but only a tiny percent of them are to be from the local population, the rest being brought from other cities and countries: friends and relatives of corrupted officials, media and police staff. Others, like the “expert staff” (engineers, development workers, planners) will be brought from abroad, with salaries which in Romania are violently extravagant and humiliating for the people in the region: more than $3000 per month, in a country in which the average salary is between US$100—140. The few jobs which are offered to the local population are temporary, with no protection against being fired, no protection at the working place, no contracts and with working shifts of 12 hours/day. Above that, when the actual extracting operations will take part, only 500 people will be employed over the course of several years. The actual figure at any one time will be much smaller. The actual figure of those employed coming from the region itself will be smaller still. All the technology and the services needed will be provided by companies from abroad, and given the governments extremely generous export-import advantages and tax exemptions offered to EuroGold/Rosia Montana Gold Corporation, all of the profits will go abroad, with some remaining with the Romanian Government which has a 20% stake in the plan. Little or none of it will reach the people whose homes are being destroyed. When the company announced four days of public consultations one day for each region to be affected in early April 2002, they then cancelled them after being met by people in the villages who called for a truly democratic referendum one for each affected village and who condemned the use of cyanide in the mining operations.
Impact on Health and the Environment

To date, no serious research or assessment has been carried out to measure the impact on people’s health or the short and long term impact and effects on the environment. Some things, however, are known. Cyanide evaporates at 27 degrees Celsius, entering into the air and from there into the earth and ground water. Cyanide leaks in these types of projects are frequent. A gram of cyanide can kill an ox, while the total amount to be stored at Rosia Montana in an open lake of cyanide would be enough, if taken in pill form, to kill 35 billion people. The response by the government and the local authorities has been to approve last year’s (2001) regional development plan in which the project is incorporated. The people’s needs, concerns and solutions were not listened to, and no effort was made to bring the needs of the local population into the plan or to organize a referendum to approve it or not. Instead, the Local City Council took approx 500 hectares of land from the community and sold it to the company. Those people who will be forced off their land will be given the opportunity to purchase land in other places land that was theirs before, and which they will now be forced to buy. Top-down rather than people-centred development has been accepted and is being pushed through, with devastating impact upon the local community and its environment. The health threats and threat to the environment will also pose serious risks for the peoples of all of South Eastern Europe and neighbouring EU states. The leak of 100 tonnes of cyanide into the river Tisza in 2000 (that time from an Australian-run gold-mine in Baia Mare in Romania) was enough to kill 1 billion people if taken in pill form, and devastated communities throughout South-Eastern Europe which depended upon fish from the Danube for their diet. It was described as the worst environmental disaster in Europe following Chernobyl. The scale of the cyanide lake planned for Rosia Montana and the potential for catastrophe are many times greater.

rumänien Beautiful winter landscapes at Rosia Montana in the heart of Transylvania, Romania.

Beautiful winter landscapes at Rosia Montana in the heart of Transylvania, Romania

Gold & Cyanide: A Barrier to EU Membership, Human Rights, and International Responsibility

The Romanian state has largely been exempt from any pressure to prevent the cyanide mining at Rosia Montana, either from within the country or internationally, and has effectively ignored pressures and concerns from the local population. It has also chosen to ignore international conventions and treaties of which it is a part or is planning to sign. What is planned in Rosia Montana wouldn’t be possible in any EU country. The Berlin Convention signed last year completely forbids using cyanide in mining and storing it in open air. The Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Greece and Turkey have either outlawed the use of cyanide or are calling for an international ban. Romania will have to incorporate these standards and regulations in its own legislation if it is ever to be accepted in the EU. The project itself also involves serious violations of basic human rights and freedoms enshrined in the European Charter of Human Rights, rights and freedoms protected by the Council of Europe, and international responsibilities upon OSCE members and members of the United Nations (both organizations of which Romania is part): private and public property, access to land and resources, the right to have a decent standard of living and the right to work. Criteria for sustainable development and, specific to mining, the obligation to share the profits of exploitation with the communities affected, exist in the international Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights which Romania is a party to, were agreed upon in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro where the Romanian government took part, and will be negotiated further at the World Summit for Sustainable Development in Johannesburg and incorporated in a declaration that the Romanian state, represented by the Romanian president Ion Iliescu will have to sign and implement. To continue with the current plan for the destruction of Rosia Montana would be a direct violation of all of these agreements, and a significant barrier to Romania’s eventual membership and integration into the European Union.
Civil Society Mobilization: A Call for Sanity and Empowerment Respecting the Earth and People’s Rights

The mobilization of citizens and civil society organizations in Romania and internationally to save Rosia Montana and to prevent the madness of building a lake of cyanide is in its earliest stages. Even at this point, however, the commitment and struggles of the local community have been inspiring, a testament to their connection to their land and determination not to see their homes and villages destroyed. In the context of Romania and wide-spread feelings of disempowerment and hopelessness experienced by many throughout the country, it is a clarion call for hope and resistance in the face of injustice and insanity. To date, civil society organiztions and environmental groups have largely been ignored by the company and Romanian government. The government hasn’t responded to several petitions with thousands of signatures of Romanian citizens opposing the plans. Even within the Romanian government, however, there are many who believe that the construction of the planned lake of cyanide at Rosia Montana is unwise, and would go against the interests of the Romanian people and state. There are dozens of regions in the country which are facing or have been affected by the same environmental and social devastation brought about by mono-industrial development and the construction of environmental waste-zones through large scale industry and highly polluting plants and factories (Copsa Mica, Baia Mare, Galati, Resita, Turnu Magurele, Targu Jiu, Targu Mures, Zlatna, and many others). There are also few or no cases in which any significant effort has been made to develop self-reliant, sustainable people-centered and environmentally friendly development strategies. Rosia Montana is a focal point. It is an extremely important struggle to prevent the construction of an ecological and human waste zone which would pose outrageous risks to the environment and communities around it and throughout South-Eastern Europe. The issues involved go beyond the immediate situation in Rosia Montana and address the entire relationship between the Romanian state and how it views and treats the people of Romania, respect for human and environmental rights and responsibilities, the role of corporate- and profit-driven investments and development strategy, and the neglect, marginalization and disempowerment of the Romanian people and communities.
Ideas for What Can Be Done and How You Can Become Involved:
– Place pressure on the authorities both at the central and the local level to prevent the open-cast mine and cyanide lake at Rosia Montana and to implement and respect national and international instruments related to human rights, sustainable development and poverty reduction.
– Develop an integrated, constructive and solution-oriented media strategy to mobilize national and international public opinion, paying attention to local realities and peoples’ views and needs. Remembering always that it is not enough to point your finger to and demonize corrupted individuals, officials and investors. You also have to show the broader context in which they can develop their plans and pursue profit-driven strategies against the democratic desires of the people and at the expense of local communities and the environment.
– Write letters and develop petitions to be sent to the Romanian Government, the Local Authorities in Rosia Montana, Gabrielle Resources/Rosia Montana Gold Corporation Headquarters, Romanian Embassies and Consulates abroad/in your country, and the media protesting against the plans for the open-cast mine and cyanide lake – Write letters of support and solidarity to be sent to the people of Rosia Montana.

The Romanian Peace Institute (PATRIR) is setting a permanent office focusing on a very strong campaign of information and mobilization to help save Rosia Montana and support the local community.

For more information on the situation in Rosia Montana and how you can become involved, please contact us at; tel (+40) 0744 77 67 97 and visit the site