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9/15/15

Lifting the lid on the Barrick (ABX) Pascua Lama mess

A very cool interview with Alexis Spencer, head of the Pascua Lama company employee's union, is in the Chilean press today. Those of you with the Spanish should go read the whole thing (and there's always that Google Translate button to press for others), but here's an excerpt from the thing as translated by your humble scribe:

Reporter: "In your opinion, how or when did the problems begin to show at Pascua Lama?" 
Alexis Spencer: "This all started a long time ago, here you have a situation from the beginning with a project director who was awful for us, who is Ron Kettles. All this (the Pascua Lama mess) was the mistake of one person and we workers are still paying for it to this day. The company brought in foreign personnel to high management who didn't know or respect Chile's laws, nor the idiosyncracies of the Chilean workforce." 
Reporter: "Is that where the issues of non-compliance came from, the things that weren't done on environmental matters?" 
Alexis Spencer: "That's where they came from. Environmentally, the project was well developed on paper, what was written and had been stipulated by the Chilean environmental authority (the RCA) above all was well done, there weren't any problems. But that project director ran roughshod (over the plans), on many issues he said, "No, we'll do it like this instead" on matters of construction. For example, we (the workers) told him not to raise buildings in one sector because it was an avalanche zone. But they built them there and after a heavy snowfall, one that was the worst since 1997, then came the avalanches that destroyed the buildings." 
"But why all this? Why this problem? It's because these people, the directors, were in Santiago and I told them "You do all the work here on Google Earth". They did go to the project site, so they said that no, these areas look good (for construction), but we repeated to them that in those places there would be avalanches when there was a harsh winter. That's how the problems started." 
Reporter: "If that director had done things right, would they have avoided all these problems?" 
Alexis Spencer: "I think so yes, of course, if things had been done right from the start we would be where we are today. Afterwards other directors were brought in. We talked with management and we were listened to and we managed to get the directors out, because we went to talk with Barrick Santiago and explained the problems and Barrick fired them all." 
They brought in other project directors, also foreigners and we still had problems. All this only began to get sorted out a little when the latest project manager arrived, the Chilean Eduardo Flores, but by then it was already badly done and all he could do was remediation, band-aids, we were already stuck with the problems."


Full interview here. For the record, Ron Kettles came from Bechtel Brazil to Barrick in 2004 and was eventually fired in 2011.