It is a well-known fact that Chile is the largest copper producer in the world and is also home to the largest reserves in the world. This project will investigate the general timeline of Chile’s copper mining history, beginning with Chilean independence, discussing how the British and the United States became involved, and concluding with what the copper industry looks like today. While investigating the general process I also wanted to evaluate different perspectives. I investigated perspectives about environmental impacts and workers’ rights. The Mountain Research and Development journal, Scholar Tom Gatehouse, and Angela Vergara have all written different perspectives on copper mining, which I am integrating into my project to investigate how Chile became such a powerhouse in copper mining and how it affects the environment, labor conditions, and safety.
To get a basic understanding and overview of mining in Chile and its’ history and how copper has become “the chief resource and the major export product of Chile” (Mining), we can look at the journal article from “Mountain Research and Development”. From the section titled “Extent of Mining in Chile”, this journal goes through Carlos Lambert, also known as Charles Lambert, and his mining technological improvements, the United States purchasing El Teniente mountain by the Braden Copper Company, and how these events have contributed to Chile’s copper success. The other part of this journal focuses more on an environmental approach, specifically with the arid regions of Chile, and how copper mining negatively affects the land. Both surface and ground water has been contaminated and erosion is becoming an issue, “Along the Rio Salado heavy erosion is taking place as a result of the numerous copper mines, and the almost total absence of vegetation increases the erosive effects of wind and summer rain” (Mining). Lastly, this journal looks at what is being done to try to reverse these harmful effects. To try and solve the water contamination issue, tailing dams are being constructed, which are to help contain waste that is produced in the mining process. Most mines include these dams, such as the Chuquicamata and the El Teniente mines.
International Mountain Society is an association in Switzerland whose purpose is to provide knowledge about mountain research and development throughout the world. Using a non-historical author adds a different perspective to my project and comes across as more informative than biased in one way or another. This journal provides strong factual data and events that help form a base layer to my own work.
Different from an informative piece, we can shift our focus on to Tom Gatehouse’s chapter from the book “Voices of Latin America: Social Movements and the New Activism”. Gatehouse speaks negatively about mining and how it greatly impacts the environment and the community in “Chapter 7 Mining and Communities”. For example, as opposed to the Mountain Research and Development journal, Gatehouse is directly opposed to developments in mining such as the tailing dams, “They threaten the physical existence of communities by diverting and contaminating water supplies, building potentially dangerous tailing dams, and in some cases removing the community altogether” (Gatehouse). He integrates a variety of opinions and quotes from citizens, living in areas affected by mining, to researchers. In specific to Chile, Gatehouse discusses how copper mining destroys vital glaciers needed for fresh water, left waste and pollution behind, and caused groups to become displaced. He then goes to discuss the ways communities in Latin America are challenging the government and pushing for mining to be safer and more sustainable. For example, Constanza San Juan, an environmental activist from Chile, talks about how citizens reacted to copper mining harming glaciers, “once we realized that it threatened the water supply and the survival of agriculture in the area, they started to fight it” (Gatehouse).
Tom Gatehouse is a writer and editor who graduated the University of Cambridge with a Latin American Studies Master of Philosophy. This provides my project with an expert in the field of Latin American Studies. Gatehouse is clearly against mining and is giving people who are being disturbed or harmed because of the mining industry, a voice. He reinforces my own beliefs, that mining is severely harming our environment and he backs his approach up with evidence of incidents and activist and researcher’s statements. I think the most important aspect is preserving our earth and the people who live on it, and he agrees with this as he includes a humanistic viewpoint.
Similarly, to Gatehouse’s humanistic perspective, we can evaluate how copper mining has affected miners’ health and safety through the example of Silicosis in the 1930s-1960s. Angela Vergara’s journal article titled, “The Recognition of Silicosis: Labor Unions and Physicians in the Chilean Copper Industry, 1930s-1960s”, takes a medical perspective on how silicosis was a result of copper mining. Vergara shares the story of Rosario Salgado, who died due to silicosis, among other diseases, from working in copper mines for most of his life. This disease led to a push in improving conditions in the mines, “The medical recognition of silicosis paralleled the empowerment of a union movement in the copper mines. Propelled by the growing importance of the copper industry, the enactment of the labor code […] copper workers organized a successful union movement and struggled to improve living, working, and economic conditions” (Vergara).
Angela Vergara is a history professor at California State University. Her specialty is labor and Chilean history. While Vergara is a history professor, this journal is very medical. Although, I think that perspective is an interesting example to add to my project. She appears to be more informative compared to biased. This work is very strong in the topic of Silicosis, but fails to include more harmful outcomes of working in the mines.
After evaluating Chile’s general history and timeline of copper mining, we can use this information to understand how this has affected the environment and working conditions. The Mountain Research and Development journal, Tom Gatehouse, and Angela Vergara all have unique perspectives on these topics to add to my project over Chilean copper mining. Mining causes extreme negative effects on the environment, and conditions have been dangerous since the beginning. In more modern days we are still experiencing workers fighting back in strikes and walk-outs. These outcomes of Chile’s copper mining cause us to question if the success is worth it in the end. Is the gain of copper products and the boost in Chile’s economy worth putting our earth and our workers at risk?
Gatehouse, Tom. “Chapter 7 Mining and Communities.” In Voices of Latin America: Social Movements and the New Activism, edited by Tom Gatehouse, 147-172. NYU Press, Monthly Review Press, 2019. https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctv1f88609.11
“Mining.” Mountain Research and Development 4, no. 2 (May, 1984): 175-159. https://www.jstor.org/stable/3673110
Vergara, Angela. “The Recognition of Silicosis: Labor Unions and Physicians in the Chilean Copper Industry, 1930s-1960s.” Bulletin of the History of Medicine 79, no. 4 (Winter 2005): 723-748. https://www.jstor.org/stable/44449493