The good news keeps rolling in for Newmont – the gold mining giant that has spent the last decade wreaking havoc on the people and ecologies of Peru, Indonesia and Turkey in its quest for profit. First, as I reported last week, Peruvians successfully got their government to suspend Newmont’s efforts to mine an environmentally sensitive site that would have polluted water supplies. Today, Indonesian authorities arrested executives at Newmont for doing just that, polluting the water supplies, in the North Sulawesi region of Indonesia.
Of course, the arrests will do little to heal the people who have been sickened by Newmont’s “alleged” dumping of treated waste rock, arsenic and mercury into the Buyat Bay. The arrests of three Indonesian executives and Bill Long, a U.S. citizen who was the pollution…er…project manager on Sulawesi island will not bring back to life the untold number of people who died after drinking and cooking with toxic water. And, although another American executive at Newmont, Richard Ness, will likely be arrested in connection with the dumping, which in addition to the human toll it exacted, caused fish populations in the bay to drop drastically – justice really has not been served.
Whereas in Peru, the people of Cajamarca prevented Newmont’s pollution of water supplies, the people of Indonesia cannot even completely know the extent of damage that has been done to them physiologically and economically. Given this sad and unnerving reality, a couple of arrests does little to ameliorate the situation. Even the $550 million lawsuit brought on behalf of several villagers against Newmont is nothing more than a piecemeal reprimand for a company that in a year rakes in $3 billion in revenues.
The government of Indonesia surely will not be discouraged by a couple of arrests and some bad publicity. Mining is the path that guides the country on the road of “development.” Indonesia’s Mining Association has already shown its displeasure with the escapade and has warned the police that such detentions will scare off investors. The association has resorted to veiled threats, with its chairman, Benny Wahju, telling the Wall Street Journal, “Indonesia will be a forgotten land for the global mining industry.”
“Development” at any cost has a high price, Mr. Wahju. And although for you this price isn’t measured by the pain felt by the families of dead villagers, perhaps the loss of substantial amounts of investment money will be a high enough price to prevent incidents like this in the future. Perhaps such an incident should awaken the governments of developing nations to not allow corporations to operate with impunity. I somehow doubt such a lesson will be learned. But forgive me, I was temporarily caught up in the euphoria of the moment: the small victory of the arrests in the larger struggle against development at any cost.