Keeping Romania impoverished

Anti-mining campaigns will perpetuate unemployment and environmental degradation

Paul Driessen

For decades, Nazi and Communist regimes ruled Romania, kept her people impoverished and exploited her resources - tearing vast mineral wealth from her mountains, with little regard for worker safety, people's health or the environment. When the Soviet Empire collapsed, Romania eagerly embraced a more hopeful future and embarked on a course to join the European Union.

Massive open pit mineLife has improved for many, especially in cities like Bucharest. But Romania remains one of the EU's poorest nations, and valleys that once echoed with the shouts of workers and roar of heavy equipment are now silent. Over 300,000 miners are jobless. Their villages have descended into squalor, misery and despondency that have no historic parallel.

Rosia Montana is one such place. This Transylvanian town hosts a massive open-pit mine, enormous waste dumps and, beneath them, hundreds of tunnels. The legacy of 2000 years of mining - the most damaging of which occurred under Ceaucescu - they leach toxic chemicals into local streams that now are red-orange from cadmium and contain 110 times the EU's legal limit of zinc, 64 times its iron limit, and three times the limit for arsenic, the most dangerous chemical on the US government's toxic substances list.

Homes and buildings are crumbling, two-thirds of them lack indoor toilets and running water, and 70% of the workers are unemployed. Families survive on wild berries, subsistence farming in rocky, acidic soil, welfare, and often less than US$2 a day. Few own a car. Frigid winters are warmed only by wood stoves. Malnutrition and ill health are constant problems. The dentist serves as the area's only doctor. Toxic chemicals into local streams

Unlike most former mining towns, however, Rosia has one last chance. Gabriel Resources wants to reopen the mine, to tease out nearly 2,000 tons of gold and silver that the antiquated methods of bygone eras could not extract.

In the process, the Canadian company would spend millions to erase the horrific environmental legacy, restore the land to forests, pastures and grasslands, and leave the alpine waters sparkling. All at no cost to the Romanian government, which cannot afford to clean up the mess itself.

Gabriel would also create high-paying jobs, revitalize the community, protect and restore Rosia's most valuable churches and buildings in a special historic zone, build a modern village with homes in traditional Romanian styles, save Roman and other archeological treasures in a museum - and provide precious metals for jewelry, computers and other marvels. (The company has already spent over US$200 million; its US$10-million expenditure thus far on archeology is 40 times the Romanian Culture Ministry's annual budget between 1990 and 2003.)

Over a 29-year period, the project would create 1,200 construction jobs, more than 600 mining jobs, and 6,000 indirect jobs in service sectors. It would inject US$2.5 billion into the local and Romanian economy, and leave Rosia Montana with a modern infrastructure: roads, electricity, internet, safe running water, a new school and clinic, and dozens of new businesses that will sustain a strong economy long after the mine is gone. Of course, other ore bodies might be discovered, prolonging the area's mining economy for decades. Homes and buildings

The museum, clean environment, and new hotels and restaurants will attract tourists who have never before had a reason to visit this cold, polluted, inhospitable region.

No wonder the mayor strongly supports the new mine and was re-elected with over 80% of the vote. If the project moves forward, miracles will happen. If it dies, the land and water will remain polluted, because Romania cannot afford to clean it up. More young people will leave, the elderly will be abandoned, and investors will think twice about coming to Romania.

But none of this matters to the international anti-mining movement. Almost the moment the plan was announced, foreign NGOs (non-governmental organizations) launched a local opposition group (Alburnus Maior) and well-financed campaign to stop the project - using techniques they had refined in countless actions across North and South America, Asia and Africa.

The region is idyllic, they say - perfect for farming and tourism. The people love their quaint homes and prefer horse-drawn carts over automobiles. Gabriel would uproot families, destroy Rosia's churches and landmarks, and pollute the pristine environment. The people don't want these temporary jobs. They'd rather pick mushrooms and carve wood figurines.

These and other absurd lies are chronicled in the documentary film "Mine Your Own Business." Residents can hardly imagine anyone would believe them. But websites, awards from celebrities and like-minded pressure groups, and a constant flow of spurious allegations have generated opposition all over Europe. A recent PBS television pseudo-documentary (funded by Greenpeace) is carrying their anti-mining battle to US audiences. Churches and buildings

The latest fabrication attacks the proposed use of cyanide to recover the precious metals. The NGOs claim the method is dangerous and used only in destitute Third World countries. They have persuaded Romanian legislators to introduce laws banning the chemical - and thus scuttling the project and future mining prospects.

Actually, cyanide is produced by bacteria and fungi, and found in almonds, coffee and other foods. Over 400 modern mines in the US, EU, Canada, Australia and many other nations use it to extract gold and silver. Because it degrades quickly and naturally, and does not involve acids or heavy metals, it is safer for workers and the environment than alternative methods. Indeed, it is far less toxic than automobile exhaust or the arsenic and other chemicals that now foul Rosia Montana's water.

Gabriel Resources - the only EU-licensed company to sign the International Cyanide Management Code - plans to use it in a state-of-the-art system that will safely recycle the chemical repeatedly and send nearly cyanide-free water into a lined waste facility. The system is designed so that even major storms will not release dangerous chemicals into the environment - a huge difference from the risky, antiquated system that caused the Baia Mare overflow.

The radical NGOs simply hate mining, don't live in the village, have no compassion for these families, and are under no legal obligation to be honest, transparent or accountable for the consequences of their actions. As one foreign activist said in an email:

"Why should any NGO come forward with alternative projects? That is not the job of civil society. We are not a humanitarian organization, but a militant environmental NGO. If the whole community is in favor of the project, we simply put it on the list of our enemies." People of Rosia Montana

They will spend millions to stop development, but not one cent on poor people or the environment. They destroy thousands of jobs, but create no new ones. When someone asked the Alburnus Maior president where his money comes from, he said "It's not your business!"

George Soros and his Soros Foundation Romania appear to be the principal money behind this campaign. Not only is this support anti-poor, anti-environment and anti-Romania. It's also hypocritical, because Soros has made millions from mining operations that use cyanide - and a silver mine that relocated an entire village. But stopping Gabriel and other Western corporations could certainly benefit his political agenda and provide opportunities to profit from fluctuations in metals prices caused by restrictions on mining in the face of surging demand to meet the needs of new technologies and developing economies.

It also promotes Hungary's desire to assert influence over lands that once were part of its empire, or at least prevent those regions from becoming economic competitors. That desire may explain why its government issued a press release condemning the project, almost immediately after it had submitted 122 questions about the project, but before it had received a single answer.

Twenty-one Romanian NGOs visited Rosia Montana and met with the people and company. Eighteen of them changed their minds and now support the project. The radical activists refuse to have any dialogue.

Draped in gold, actress Vanessa Redgrave used a Cluj-Napoca film festival to proclaim her opposition to the mine. When the people of Rosia Montana wrote her a letter - asking "Where will we go? How will we live?" - she responded with stony, callous silence.

Wealthy San Francisco insurance magnate Richard Goldman gave Swiss-British Stephanie Roth US$125,000 for leading the project's opposition. He has also given nearly US$1-million to radical anti-insecticide groups that help perpetuate malaria, misery and childhood death in Africa.

But what possible reason can the Royal Society, Catholic Church, news media and Royal Family of Romania have for opposing this project? Why do they want to ensure that thousands of their own people remain unemployed, living in squalid homes and sentenced to suffer in one of Romania's most polluted areas? Why do they want to give George Soros and Hungary veto power over Romania's mining industry and thousands of jobs and families?

Would Princess Margareta or any of the journalists, Church leaders or Society elites want to live even one winter in this "paradise" they want to "save"? Do they hate mining with enough passion to give up its benefits: their fine homes, jewelry, computers, cars and jet travel - none of which are possible without mining? Will Redgrave, Roth, Soros, Goldman and other project opponents do likewise? Will the anti-cyanide legislators?

Rather than aligning with the foreign militants, Romanian legislators, journalists, celebrities and citizens should visit the village, strip mines, streams and waste heaps, and speak with the people of Rosia Montana and Gabriel Resources. If there is a need for legislation, it is for laws that compel anti-development NGOs - and those that bankroll them - to abide by basic rules for honesty, transparency and accountability that every decent organization should be happy to follow.

Most important, they should let the people of Rosia Montana decide their own future - without lies and pressure from foreign activists. If that future includes this mining project, it will give Rosia and the entire nation an opportunity to rehabilitate this ecological disaster, preserve the best of their cultural heritage, and become healthy, modern and prosperous.

Together, these actions would help ensure that a half-century of oppression by totalitarians is not followed by oppression at the hands of unaccountable eco-imperialists.

Paul Driessen is author of Eco-Imperialism: Green power Black death ( and "Responsible Progress in the Andes," a report on anti-mining campaigns in Peru and other countries. He serves as senior policy advisor for the Congress of Racial Equality and Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise, whose new book (Freezing in the Dark) reveals how radical pressure groups raise money and promote policies that restrict energy and economic development, perpetuate poverty and hurt families.

Keeping Romania impoverished

Anti-mining campaigns will perpetuate unemployment and environmental degradation

Paul Driessen

Tucked away in the mountains of western Romania, Rosia Montana has been a mining town for 2000 years. From Roman times, extracting gold and other metals from these rocks has been a dirty, dangerous business, and life there has never been easy. Safety, health and environmental considerations were rarely priorities, and decades of operations under Communist regimes left mountains of rubble that still leach toxic chemicals into streams.

When the Ceaucescu government collapsed, state-run mines like Rosia's limped along, posting huge losses and continuing to ignore their environmental impacts. In 2006, most were finally shut down. Thousands of workers lost their jobs, villages were plunged into poverty, and families were reduced to surviving on pitiful welfare payments, scavenging for mushrooms and berries in the forests, and breaking up abandoned concrete facilities with hammers, to recover and sell their steel reinforcing rods.

Few families own a car. Indoor plumbing is almost unknown. Snowstorms make unpaved roads treacherous, and malnutrition and ill health are common.

Seeing an opportunity to make money by being socially responsible, Toronto-based Gabriel Resources proposed to reopen the mines, under modern Western standards and practices. In the process, it would create thousands of direct and secondary jobs in the village and surrounding areas, clean up the horrific environmental legacy, build modern homes and a museum, protect and restore ancient churches, and inject US$2.5 billion into the Romanian economy. The region would also get improved roads, wireless internet service, safe running water, modern schools and clinics, and dozens of new businesses - all of which would remain long after the mines finally close for good.

Almost immediately, the global anti-mining movement rose up in self-righteous indignation to oppose the project. Financed by George Soros's Open Society Foundation, San Francisco insurance magnate Richard Goldman's family foundation and others, the activists set up a local front group known as Alburnus Maior, brought in organizers and agitators from Belgium and Switzerland, recruited watermelon celebrities like Vanessa Redgrave (green on the outside; red on the inside), and launched an intense campaign of lies and vilification to stop the project and keep the area impoverished.

In the perverse tradition of Orwell's 1984, their noxious campaign was presented to and reported by the media as vital to ensure environmental protection and corporate ethics, transparency and accountability.

As winter 2007 set in and the Holiday Season approached, the agitators' efforts appeared to be paying off.

Romanian Environment Minister Atilla Korodi suspended further evaluation of the Rosia Montana environmental study. A local court annulled the urban planning certificate that the county council had granted. And Romania's parliament was considering a bill that would outlaw the use of cyanide for processing ore - despite the modern closed-loop system Gabriel has developed, and an EU decision specifically allowing cyanide as a preferred alternative to toxic acids once used in gold mining.

Villagers, legal analysts and corporate representatives insist that these actions have no basis in fact or law. But for now the project is on hold. Hundreds of workers have been laid off. Thousands of others realize their own prospects for employment are fading.

The Soros-Goldman Brigade is filled with holiday cheer. It's just sent Season's Greetings to some of the poorest people in all of Europe: May you freeze in the dark.

"They are laughing in our faces, while we are crying. They are happy for our sorrow," Marinela Bar said bitterly. "The so-called ecologists care only about themselves, not about the local community, Calin Cioara added. "They only mock people."

"We have no words to express our disappointment. The company was our only chance for development. We are hopeless now," Daniel Pacurar said softly, echoing the despondency that has crept into the valley, despite Gabriel's determination to continue seeking the needed permits and move forward.

"We'll spend the holidays together at the community center," Miorita Botariu said. "We'll sing carols and laugh together, maybe for the last time. With the project, we could have been a happy, united community. Now we will lose our friends, our neighbors, our relatives, because everyone will try to live a better life - somewhere else."

Rosia Montanans are tough, resolute and used to hardship. But this Christmas seems different. "We will prepare for the holidays in sadness, because of what will happen after the holidays," Augustin and Georgeta Cioara said, staring out their window. "We don't know what we will do."

"The cold is killing us," Mircea Silaghi shivered. "There is no public transportation. Our wood stoves barely keep us from freezing. We are living only a little better than in the Middle Ages."

Sometimes the snow gets so deep, and the roads so impassable, Tamira Danciu says, "that you cannot go anywhere. When the wind blows hard, the electricity goes down." The anti-mining activists often say "Rosia Montana is beautiful, like in fairy tales. It might be for people who just visit for a few days, and then go back to civilization," she continued. But they don't visit the polluted mine sites, they don't use water from the polluted streams, they don't have to endure the deprivation and bitter winters.

"Right now we have about 1000 lei ($400) a month for ourselves and four children," Sorinela Croitoru said softly. "But what will we do for Easter? By then the jobs will be gone, the money will be gone. We are desperate."

The villagers are in this terrible situation "because of the Hungarians and our Romanian leaders," Mrs. Botariu said angrily. "They took everything away from us. They took away our hope."

Soros, Korodi and Romanian senator Peter Eckstein-Kovacs (co-author of the no-cyanide bill) are all Hungarian by ethnicity and apparently by allegiance. A busload of anti-project Hungarian activists told villagers last summer that they view this Romanian section of Transylvania as part of Hungary.

Those attitudes appear to be driving much of their opposition: if they cannot rule it their way, if Gabriel went to Romanian leaders for permits, if the mining revenues flow to Bucharest instead of to Budapest (or George Soros), they would rather see the region broken and destitute, than let the project proceed.

No matter how they spin it, the opposition is clearly not motivated by concerns about ethics, the environment or people.

Others blame themselves, for not battling furiously enough against these unscrupulous, well-funded eco-imperialists. "We didn't fight hard enough to keep this project here," suggested Dr. Andrei Jurca, the village's dentist (and physician). He feels it is intolerable for Rosia Montana to remain "under the thumb" of a minister who is becoming "an environmental dictator." When the government held public debates in Bucharest to discuss the project, he noted, the villagers "were not even allowed to speak."

The local people - the true stakeholders, the ones who need jobs and will be most affected by any decisions - were not allowed to speak. That is incredible, outrageous, at odds with the most fundamental tenets of democracy, ethics, environmental justice, transparency and accountability.

"This project is the area's only chance for development," Ilie Botariu emphasized. "The Alburnus Maior people helped us with a big nothing. They didn't offer jobs and didn't provide any benefits. And when they are done protesting against this investment, they will pack their bags and leave, to fight another project. That is all they do."

Added Sebastian Hanesh: "We cannot wish them anything but the holiday 'happiness' they have given us. Today we are miners. Tomorrow we will be mushroom pickers, because of Alburnus and Soros. The members of parliament should resign, because they do not represent us and don't fight for our rights."

Romania has 300,000 unemployed miners. It can hardly afford to shut down this industry with ill-advised bans on modern mining technologies - or tell prospective investors they are not welcome.

The country's government needs to encourage investment - and start representing people who simply want jobs and a chance to get their families and communities back into the economic mainstream. It also needs to hold ministers, legislators and unaccountable nonprofit multinational activist corporations to the same standards of honesty, decency, transparency and accountability that they demand of for-profit corporations.

EU, UN, US and Canadian officials must likewise insist on basic ethical standards for these activist NGOs. And civil rights groups and social responsibility advocates need to insist that they do so.

Paul Driessen is senior policy advisor for the Congress of Racial Equality and Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise, and author of Eco-Imperialism: Green power Black death (