Mendoza Governor Rodolfo Suárez has announced that he will ask the provincial Legislature to repeal controversial changes to Law 7722, following repeated protests from local residents.
The news is a huge victory for environmental activists and protesters, who have taken to the streets in huge numbers to denounce changes they argue would have paved the way for the use of dangerous chemicals in mining projects in the famous wine-producing region.
Suárez, the UCR-Radical governor who was only sworn into office on December 10, announced the decision after meeting with 17 mayors from across the province at Government House in Mendoza City. He admitted the pressure from the local people had informed the decision.
"I have made the decision to send the repeal of the law to the Legislature," said Suárez, who justified his decision by stating there was "no social licence" to allow mining companies to use hazardous substances.
Sweeping reforms to Law 7722 – first introduced in 2007 – were agreed by lawmakers in the provincial Legislature one week ago, prompting a huge social reaction to the modifications. While huge numbers of the protesters were peaceful, clashes near Government House last week had raised concerns that tensions would escalate.
Last Thursday, the governor announced he had suspended the introduction of the law in favour of dialogue.
"For mining exploration [to take place] two conditions were needed. On the one hand, it is carried out with strict controls and, on the other, with social consensus," Suárez said at a press conference. "That social license does not exist in Mendoza."
"During the campaign we said we were an open-door government that's about dialogue. For that reason we have decided to send to the Legislature a project for the repeal of the
mining law," he added, saying that
"This law is legal but does not have the legitimacy of the people," he said.
Senators and provincial deputies will debate the repeal of the bill on Monday, Suárez confirmed, as he called on demonstrators to stop roadblocks and protests.
"We are a government that listens," argued the governor. "Mendoza is against mining and we will look for alternatives for the productive sector," he adde.
Determined to bury the law, numerous environmental organisations said over the weekend they would continue their protests and that they had called a national "great mobilisation" for Monday.
"We are demonstrating to the governor that he does not have the legitimacy to carry out pernicious projects for public health and nature," said Rubén Esper Ader, coordinator of the Socio-Environmental Forum pressure group.
"Until the senators and deputies repeal the law, everything remains the same," said Esper Ader.
Protests erupted two weeks ago after Mendoza’s lawmakers approved the new version of a Law 7722, which had previously restricted the use of dangerous chemicals in mining operations and blocked water-intensive projects in the region amid concerns over their environmental impact.
The provincial legislature greenlit the modification of the law with 36 votes in favour, 11 against, one abstention and one absence in the lower chamber, and 28 votes in favour and seven against in the upper chamber. It was approved thanks to an agreement between Radicals and Peronist lawmakers .