The canadian company Meridian Gold’s project to build a mine in Esquel, a small town in Patagonia, Argentina started facing an scalating opposition in 2002. In 2003 a referendum took place, 81% of the neighbours of Esquel said No to Meridian Gold. Six months later, the company held a meeting in a hotel. Anonimous hands sent the Esquel Assembly and the press a tape with everything discussed in that meeting. In the audio you can hear Meridian Gold executives, along with representantives of the NGO Bussines for Social Responsability (integrated by over 400 companies, Shell and British Petroleum among them) and members of Braga Menéndez, a Public Relations agency that was in charge of Kirchner presidential campaign, discuss strategies to neutralize the opposition: how to brake the Esquel assembly, how to reverse the public opinion results by making tricky polls, what ONGs to contact that could neutralize greenpeace, how to avoid Mapuche opposition… Meridian’s Gold’s plans explained by its executives, all recorded and now public.
Faithful to their plans, when the leak was news, Meridian Gold sued 6 members of the Esquel Assembly on charges of stealing secrets.
One Corporation vs The Neighbors of Esquel
The law suit impelled by the Canadian multinational Meridian Gold against six neighbors of the Assembly No to the Mine in Esquel is a confession. For the first time, the methods used by a multinational company to manipulate public opinion are revealed for the first time. An irrefutable proof of how they lie and who construct those lies. The Public Relation agency of the kichnerismo, Mendez Braga; spokesman of (ex president) Carlos Menem, Jorge Azcarate and the cousin of the argentine consul in New York, Raúl Timerman is revealed in this law suit as the authors of a plan destined a to “look for the break” between the neighbors who organized themselves to resist the installation of a mine that would contaminate the region with cyanide. Also for the first time, their proposals can be listened identifying their voices.
The 23 of March of 2003 the neighbors of Esquel obtained that a referendum was made so that all the community expresses their opinions about the project of the Canadian multinational Meridian Gold. The result: “no to the mine” won with 81% of the votes. Six months after this full uprising, Meridian Gold organized in the Crowne Plaza hotel of Buenos Aires a three days meeting, for which they paid 9,670 pesos plus taxes, according to the bill that was presented as proof in the cause N. 6777/72 that they initiated in court N. 13, in charge of judge Luis Alberto Schelgel. There its detailed that the 16, 17 and 18 of September of 2003 they hired a continuous service of coffe break, lunch for 16 people, broadband internet, inglish-spanish equipment of simultaneous translation and vice versa, screen, projector and seven microphones. The content of that meeting isn not the objective of the complaint, but its conclusions: they try to identify who recorded what was said there and try to criminalize the Assembly No to the Mine, that spread it publicly. The consequences of all this nonsense is, in words of the lawyer of Cels Santiago Felgueras, defender of the demanded assambleitsts, “a script of a Hollywood movie”.
As the mining company details in its judicial presentantion, “between the months of April and July of 2003 it hired the foreign NGO Bussines Social Responsability (BSR) as a consultant that, with the objective to establish the causes and solutions for the conflict, would be in charge of making a field study in the city of Esquel, studying opinions, knowledge, animic states and interests of the population. BSR introduces itself in that report (that can be read completely in this page)”like a non profit organisation dedicated to help companies to reach successful results respecting the ethical values, the people, the communities and the environment”. It is integrate by 450 companies, among them Shell, General Motors, Brittish Petroleum and Sony and has taken part in all places of the globe where there was organised resistance of the population to the excesses of the multinationals: the north of Peru, Nigeria, Bolivia or Venezuela are some of the examples that they themselves mention.
The delegate of BSR to take part in the conflict of Esquel is Christina Sabater, domiciled in San Francisco as revelaed in the judicial presentation and carrier of a caribean spanish, as revealed in the audio. her name is in the foot of the bill of the Crowne Hotel Plaza.
As detailed in the complaint “the persons, that being authorized, took part in the meetings” were:
-For Meridian Gold Holdings: Edward Colt (executive vice-president), Darcy Edward Marud (manager of exploration) and Guillermo Mendoza (head of press).
-For BSR consultant: Jim Bader, Matt Jeschke and Christina Sabater.
-For the publicity agency Bragas Mendez: Raúl Timerman and Juan Carlos Malagoli.
-The last name of the list: “Mr. Jorge Azcárate, also convoqued by Mendez Bragas ”.
Lets see who are these creoles who played as locals and what they said.
Who is Who
Bragas Mendez is a publicity agency that takes the last name of its mentor: Fernando Mendez Bragas. As he himself tells, “I discovered Néstor Kirchner when nobody offered two pesos for the by then governor of santa Cruz. Mendez Bragas decided to work in his eñectoral campaign, the one that made Néstor Kichner President with 22% of the votes, when its opponent Carlos Menen stepped down from the ballotage. The public announcement of this resignation was made by the spokesman of the riojan (Menem), Jorge Azcárate, the participant of the Meridian Gold meeting summoned by Mendez Bragas.
Braga Méndez at the moment is working in Cristina Kichner’s image campaign.
Jorge Azcárate is the person in charge of the consultant Bonaparte 48 S.A. besides the already mentioned participation in Menem’s electoral campaign, he was his subsecretary of media, he worked for Mauricio Macri in 2002 and was spokesman of the Dolphin Group, that controls Transener and Edenor, among other companies. At the moment, he is editorial advisor of the magazine Debates, whose last front page floods the city with the image of Cristina Kichner and an article that, in the best of the cases, is part of the antology of the best not-interviews of the history of the end of journalism.
How to Neutralize Greenpeace
The game of these cinic coincidences doesn’t end there. In its web site, the agency presents as an example of an institucional campaign- in the front page and with unfolding of graphic and video- the campaign it made for Greenpeace. In the graphic ads you can see a closeup of the face of Mario Pergolini, with a surgical mask and the slogan: “the indifference smells like contamination”. There is more: in audio of the meeting of the Crowne Plaza Raúl Timerman, partner of the agency Mendez Bragas, can be listened saying that the plan of action thought by the agency contemplates “to counterbalance the actions of Greenpace” in Esquel. How? By hiring the services of others NGOs. “Those that we have identified are the Wild Life Fundation, Democratic Change (he mentions a meeting with Graciela Tapia, member of the honorary advice), Citizen Power (mentions that he talked with its director, Carlos March, although he doesn’t say about what) and FARN”. The Americans add a data: “one fundation that works a lot with Mapuches in patagonia, is the one of Cristina Miguens. her brother, Carlos Miguens sold his company to Meridian Gold. It is like a secondary group, but it is to prevent any movilization in the aborigen issue. She can be the contact to make sure we are speaking with the right persons.” They are talking about the Huiliches Foundation and the Miguens, of the Bemberg Group, owners <>among other things of the Chocón and the mining company Patagonia Gold. Carlos and Cristina are children of the deceased film director María Luisa Bemberg. In the plan of action presented in the Crowne Hotel Plaze meeting by the agency Mendez Bragas, Timerman details what they thought to do with these ongs “we think they will be important in the development of our strategy to give them tasks. It is probable that we hire one of them for certain activities ”.
How to find breaks in the community
To the meeting of the Crowne Hotel Plaza -we reiterate, six months after the full citizen uprising of no to the mine, the agency sent its director of media, Juan Carlos Malagoli. He was the one in charge of speaking clear:
“the subject today is a problem with the community. 70% of people today in Esquel think that the company is going to continue advancing. And the obvious things are obvious, because eventhough we say that we are in pause, 70% of the town of Esquel knows that it is going to continue advancing. They already know it.”
After detailing the problems of “internal filtrations” that worries them, the North American directors of Meridian Gold, in that unmistakable gringo spanish, enunciate the objective of the meeting “how to turn the community around”. Malagoli is then the one that explains the plan of the agency. In first place, they must make a diagnostic to find what he calls “the breaking point between those concerned by ecology even if they starve and those concerned by money concerns, like an absurd and exaggerated axis. That is to say, how much of those are in Esquel.” The devised form to make this diagnostic is a survey that, taking advantage of the provincial electoral conjuncture, will help them disguise the true intentions of the survey. The agency points who they think is the the ideal consultant to be in charge of this task: Catterberg and Asociates, that habitually make the surveys for the radical polititian, Carlos Maestro.
“We chose this consultant because of it ties with maestro and with the radicalismo of the province (…) This people are very friend of Maestro, so if we agree with making the survey, this people would talk with Mastro first, before releasing the survey. we would have their ok first”.
How to approach to Kirchner
Raúl Timerman is the cousin of argentine consul in New York, Héctor Timerman and nephew of the legendary Jacobo. he introduces himself as expert in marketing, he is licensed in chemical sciences and has a show in World Radio, whose tittle may be a premonition if contextualized in this matter: “Without asking for permission”.
Timerman was the one in charge to display, at the Crownel Hotel Plaza meting a power point presentation under the tittle: “How to generate confidence ”. According to his words: “Which are the mechanisms of confidence generation that we plan to execute”.
The first mechanism pointed by the plan devised by the agency Mendez Braga contemplates the following thing:
“There is a list of members of the national government that are going to receive information that we are going to prepare: the minister of planning Julio de Vido; the secretary of mining Jorge Mayoral; the head of cabinet Alberto Fernández; the presidential spokesman Miguel Núñez; the Secretary General of the presidency Oscar Parilli; the private secretary of
the president, Pepe Salvini and the head of advisers of the president Carlos Cunten. This reads: Néstor Kirchner. That is to say, this the is the group of confidence of Néstor Kirchner that we are interested in keeping them informed to assure that every person the President sorroundings has the information if the president consults.”
Malagoli elaborates: “the idea is to maintain them informed. Just like we take control of the journalists, in this case we d o it with the politicians”.
Next we can hear the caribean tone pf Christina Sabater asking:
-”Is it cotemplated that some person of the company contact those politicians? Because that was a problem: until now the company hasn’t had had any contacts.” Malagoli Responds: “We think that first we have to make our part, because they are going to speak with greater tranquillity, and are going to say a series of things that true or not and even if they anger, it is necessary to listen to them. It is necessary that they elaborate and say what they think so we can prepare the visit where the company can announce something concrete. This does not mean that they do not do what politicians do nobody: that they cut us off, that they call Darcy (manager of Meridian Gold), if he is the one that was in charge of the subject and say to him: stay calm, we are with you ”; because that is part of their profesion as politicians”.
How to be honest
As specified by Meridian Gold in the complaint, the corporation didn’t ask for the meeting to be taped. According to its suspicions, the recordings that trascended to the public – and that, among others, the neighbors of the Assembly No to the mine received anonimously- corresponds exactly to the use of the microphones that each participant did: voices are not listened those those of who at every moment had the use of the word amplified by the speakers.
This is why the complaint presented by the corporation has two demanded groups. On one hand, it solicits that all the personnel of the hotel, sound engineers and translators who took part in the days declares. They try to find out who had account that what was going on was of interest for the public opinion they were trying to manipulate. They allege that that anonimous justice maker is responsible for the crime anticipated by the law 24,766 that sanctions conducts “opposite to honest commercial uses”. As we said: there are no ironies, just cinical coincidences.
On the other hand, it identifies six neighbors of Esquel – well known by their participation and commitment in the Assembly No to the Mine- as people in charge of the crime anticipated in article 153 of the Penal Code, that it sanctions with prision of 15 days to six months to that “will seize illegally of a letter, of a sheet, an office or another deprived paper, even if its not closed”. This is: to spread the audio that we reproduce in this page.
First resolution del judge was to reject the demand. The argument: not even clear in Meridian Gold presentation who they were complaining about. Nevertheless, the chamber of apeals, resolved to give course to the demand.
The complaint was initiated almost a year ago, but the neighbors of Esquel found out about it last October, when the demanded received the supina. As the performances appeared in a court of the Federal District, the first disadvantage was the obvious one: to be transferred, to obtain the lawyers credited in this jurisdiction, to count with the time and the money sufficient to face in courts a corporation and all the etceteras of human scale imaginable. Finally, they rceived the legal sponsorship of Cels, that last tuesday asked the judge to postpone the first hearing, since two of the persons were credited with medical certificates to be crippled to be transferred: one because of her advanced pregnancy and another because of a complicated diabetes. The judge, nevertheless, denied the petition, measure that was appealed by the lawyers.
David versus Goliath
So far, only one of the demanded neighbors could arrive to Buenos Aires: advocate Gustavo Macayo. In dalogue with lavaca, he was the one in charge to synthesize the situation:
I believe that this is not going to prosper, the miner made a mistake. In fact. heavy mistake, it has allowed us to come to Buenos Aires to spread the situation. Either they are crazy or they are desperate.
Is a paradox that the demand tries to penalize to those who spread a secret plan to manipulate the Assembly.
Not only the Assembly, but all the population of Esquel. If one listens to the recordings it gives account they not only want to affect people but also all the relevant political characters: deputies, senators, heads of poitical parties, some civil employees near the governor and the President, to whom are the closest lines to the provincial and national executive. They speak ’ to maintain them informed’ of the plans of the company, which lets see that everybody knows that the company is going to follow ahead with the project.
How is it possible that the miner could follow in Esquel after the referendum?
The referendum scaped from their hands, they couldn’t stop it. We made many actions: important judicial and legal administrative actions that were not sufficient. Evidently we are in a very unequal fight, as opposed to a company that handle million of dollars and political influences in all the levels. It is a company that has lots of money to just hold on and resist whatever years of wearing out, because they try to wear us out and we try to wear them out. But we worked with lung strenth, without resources, as we could say… we worked with one utopy that is to see if we can stop them. It is a work that does not have any financiacial resources or structure and that is very dificult, because they are arising other conflicts, like the hidroelectrical project in Corcovado or the advance of other companies in the zone of the plateau. Mining concessions arose and the fight is became more complex so that a single community can continue resisting. And they continued advancing, where they could follow, they followed.
They extended in concessions.
In all the province there is more than 200 concessions. Gobernation kept giving them. In fact, the province prohibited open sky mining with cyanide and the provincial secretary of mine kept giving them. We stopped the project in Esquel, but we have another one behind Esquel, in another sector of the mountain range, where Meridian Gold made an attempt advance. we also had to stand up and stop it, we deactivated it but theres no security they are not going to follow. This is like this, very complex, very long and very difficult.
Meridian Gold continues to have their offices open?
Today they operate with a low profile. They have offices and personnel, although they have become invisible, nobody sees them. They do not have speech, nor spokesman of press. Sometimes they remove an official notice, but they do not have a representative. Nobody wants to assume that role now, because the neighbors pressure is very strong.
Maybe thats why they made this denunciation in Buenos Aires?
I believe that they try to remove us from Esquel. A little because here people is less aware of the minings companies and also porque they surely bet to wear us out by bringing us to Buenos Aires.
As we said: Gustavo Macayo does not look like Julia Roberts, but this complaint seems an improved copy of that character that gave her an Oscar: Erin Brockovich.