BHP does not respect indigenous consultation: the Complementary project for the Cerro Colorado Mine will be re-evaluated for its impact on communities and environment

By Javiera Martinez

The Environmental Qualification Resolution of the Minera Cerro Colorado adaptation project in the Tarapacá Region is to be submitted to an environmental re-evaluation, after the First Environmental Court took into account the legal claim by the San Isidro de Quipisca Indigenous Agricultural Association over the first evaluation carried out last January (2021) by the Environmental Evaluation Service.

The San Isidro de Quipisca Indigenous Agricultural Association groups members of the Quechua and Aymara peoples. The Association is challenging  mining company BHP because it occupies the ancestral territories of indigenous peoples. BHP has affected the water and the environment of the ancestral territories, directly impacting the life of the communities.

The indigenous association challenged the Resolution of Environmental Qualification (known by its Spanish acronym as RCA), issued by the Environmental Assessment Service (SEA) to the project called “Adaptations in ballast tanks, internal roads and camp” in response to the increase in the contribution of particulate material to the air, and the noise caused by the removal, transfer and expansion of the capacity of the dump, which, the claimants also state, will contaminate the waters of the streams that support the agricultural activities and ways of life of the community.

The claim, which asks the court to invalidate the RCA, is based, among other things, on the fact that the environmental qualification was granted without an indigenous consultation process, that no meetings were held with the claimant association, that the company did not respect the norms on information and citizen participation; and that the impacts that could be generated on people’s health were not evaluated; nor were those that could be produced on archaeological sites.

The First Environmental Court established that, because it is a project that involves a risk to the health of the population, it must pass another review. Among the aspects taken into account were the lack of an anthropological report, the lack of meetings with the members of the Quipisca association and the failure to hold an Indigenous Consultation.

The Project

The disputed project would involve the depositing of steriles (wastes containing low-grade minerals) on 87.3 additional hectares, representing an extra capacity of 86 million tonnes. It would also involve the treatment of the surface of the site’s internal roads and improvements to the areas where company offices and mine workers’ houses are situated.

The Cerro Colorado Mining Company produces high purity copper cathodes and is located 4.5 kilometres from the Sabaya area in the Quipisca gorge, the place of residence of the communities of the indigenous association. The mine is located in the Pozo Almonte commune, 95 kilometres to the east of Iquique, in the Tarapacá Region.

Indigenous consultation

In relation to meetings with members of the association, as argued for in the claim, the tribunal stated that the SEA had the obligation to hold meetings with all the indigenous communities local to the project, including the association. This would have allowed them to share their opinions and advise on the consequences or risks that the project could generate for these people. In this way, they could have suspended the Environmental Impact Declaration (DIA) process and determined an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).

Regarding the Indigenous Consultation, the ruling establishes that it is the assessment body that is responsible for the protection of indigenous peoples. It states: “It can be said that there is irrefutable evidence of the community group AIASIQ (San Isidro de Quipisca Indigenous Agricultural Association)’s susceptibility to direct impacts. Therefore it must be concluded that the indigenous consultation procedure needs to be implemented in accordance with the standards set out in Convention 169 of theILO. Thus this ruling accepted the allegations presented.”

You can read the judgement via the following link: