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Environmentalists fear the foreignization of lands and the sale of natural resources in Argentina

2024-02-27T05:14:38.294Z

Highlights: Aquifers, bodies of water, wetlands, mountains and other Argentine ecosystems could be auctioned off as if it were an end-of-season sale. This was authorized by a Decree of Necessity and Urgency (DNU) by President Javier Milei signed last December. Environmentalists fear a process of foreignization and handover of sovereignty in areas with the presence of fresh water, lithium and other minerals. Lawyer Florencia Gómez, former Secretary of Environmental Policy and Natural Resources, assured América Futura that the repeal will benefit “those who want to do big business”


A Milei decree repealed the law that establishes limits on territory in foreign hands. It is like “having wealth in our hands and watching it disappear,” says UBA professor Julián Monkes.


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Aquifers, bodies of water, wetlands, mountains and other Argentine ecosystems that play an essential role in the development of life could be auctioned off as if it were an end-of-season sale.

This was authorized by a Decree of Necessity and Urgency (DNU) by President Javier Milei signed last December that repealed the Land Law passed in 2011, which established limits on the territory that can be in foreign hands.

Two months later, environmentalists fear a process of foreignization and handover of sovereignty in areas with the presence of fresh water, lithium and other minerals.

The Land Law was approved by Congress with a large majority in 2011. Promoted by the Government of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, it had the support of the entire opposition.

The legislation sought to guarantee the protection of the national domain of rural lands to preserve non-renewable resources.

With this objective, it determined that there could be no more than 15% of the lands in the hands of foreigners, whether natural or legal persons.

Of that percentage, a single foreign owner could not have more than 30%.

Nor could they have more than 1,000 hectares in the agricultural area with the highest productive value.

In addition, they had to register in an official registry.

The core of the law is the prohibition of the sale to citizens or foreign companies of land that is located in border areas or that contains and/or is on the banks of large and permanent bodies of water, such as rivers, lakes, streams, sea, wetlands, lagoons, estuaries, glaciers or aquifers.

This point is not minor, since in the 1990s, Argentina suffered a process of foreignization of lands and resources with the sale of large portions of the territory and its natural resources.

The paradigmatic cases are those of the Italian Benetton family, which concentrates nearly 900,000 hectares in Patagonia, in the provinces of Río Negro, Chubut, Santa Cruz and Neuquén.

The largest landowner in Argentina is a foreign textile group.

Another is the British tycoon Joe Lewis, who through the Hidden Lake company has monopolized around 14,000 hectares of Lago Escondido, Río Negro, since the mid-1990s, and blocks free access to the water body, despite successive orders. judicial proceedings that ordered him to open a public road.

Year after year, organizations mobilize to demand access to the lake.

Foreignization, central concern of environmentalists

Lawyer Florencia Gómez, former Secretary of Environmental Policy and Natural Resources, assured América Futura that the repeal of the Land Law will benefit “those who want to do big business” and stressed that the fundamental objective was to guarantee sovereignty and the care of strategic resources. from the country.

“Today foreigners could buy land without having to go through the registry,” she warned.

“The world is on a path to analyze investment flows and have greater transparency and here one of the few cases of lifting the corporate veil is dismantled, which allows us to investigate the capitals that control the land and responsibility, even in the face of environmental disasters” , he highlighted.

For Nicolás Gallardo, lawyer and activist of the Youth for Climate group, the repeal of the law seeks to “lose control over the territory in times when more presence of the State is needed, because foreign interests seek to appropriate resources for production.”

In this sense, a debate that has been going on for years in environmentalism becomes relevant: what the exploitation of natural resources should be like in a country with a major economic crisis.

“We are not discussing whether lithium reserves should be explored, the question is whether the extraction will be sovereign, with added value and job creation or if Elon Musk will take it,” he says.

In Justice and in Congress

Added to the rejection by environmentalists is the presentation of a group of Malvinas war veterans belonging to the Ex-Combatants Center (Cecim-La Plata) who have gone to court to stop the repeal under the argument that "it puts principles in crisis." of territorial integrity and national sovereignty.”

Although in the first instance Judge Ernesto Kreplak granted the protection, days later another judge, Gustavo Recondo, annulled that ruling and left this section of reforms firm.

Now a second judicial instance must resolve the issue.

The president of Cecim-La Plata, Hugo Roberts, has stated to América Futura that “it is crazy that any foreign corporation can buy any portion of land that comes to mind regardless of the location, all in pursuit of the free market.

The law was approved by an overwhelming majority, any modification must go through Congress,” he said.

In this context, the Argentine Congress took a key step last week to begin discussing Milei's mega DNU.

The decree published in December is debated en bloc, modifications cannot be included or articles deleted, and, for it to be annulled, both chambers of Parliament must reject it: the law indicates that if one of the two validates it, it will have force of law.

Peronism and other opposition blocs trust that the Senate will oppose it by majority, although in the Chamber of Deputies the discussion is open-ended.

Resources under the sights of big capital

For experts, the process of foreignization that Argentina could go through if the DNU is firm could be even more serious than what was experienced in the 1990s. In addition, the repeal of the Land Law is complemented by other measures promoted by the Government that threaten the achievements of environmental rights, such as the modification of the Glacier Law or the changes in the Forest Law.

Big capital no longer even camouflages interest in the region for its resources: Latin America concentrates more than 30% of fresh water reserves, but it also has forests and arable land.

Argentina also has the world's second largest reserve of lithium, a key mineral for the energy transition.

Milei himself made public in December a dialogue he had with Elon Musk where the owner of Tesla showed himself “extremely interested in lithium.”

“They need a legal framework that respects property rights,” the president said then.

For Julián Monkes, a graduate in Environmental Sciences and a professor at the University of Buenos Aires, it is key to understand that those seeking investments aim for maximum profitability and “environmental costs never enter the equation.”

“The process of foreignization of resources implied that we inhabit a rich land that could never be used for our interests.

Tremendous damage is caused to ecosystems.

We observe it with mining, oil and agribusiness: when the environment is destroyed, capital moves and unemployment grows in communities and territories are destroyed,” he emphasizes.

Foreignization in numbers

According to the National Registry of Rural Lands, there are 14.7 million hectares of Argentine land in foreign hands, which represents 5.23% of the country's land.

Although, according to official data from 2022, in more than 30 districts in the country the 15% limit set by law was exceeded.

In Bariloche, in the south of the country, it exceeds 21%.

These are lands that arouse strong interest due to their productive capacity for mining, forestry or livestock developments, and also for tourism and real estate activities.

In addition to the cases of Lewis and Benetton, there are examples in other Argentine provinces, such as Catamarca, where an American businessman, Peter Lee MacBride, bought more than 100,000 hectares 20 years ago and today, through a local firm, already owns around 360,000.

The podium of foreignization is headed by the United States: until 2022 there were about 2.8 million hectares in the hands of American capital.

Behind are Italy (more than 2 million);

Spain (1.8 million);

Switzerland (851,000) and Chile (769,000).

Florencia Gómez insists that the judicial battle must take place, although she suggests that the provinces themselves promote local laws to defend their territories.

Gallardo, for his part, adds that the process of foreignization will be accompanied by a discouraging economic context, although he suggests that there may be resistance from citizens due to the impact of the crisis.

Monkes describes it eloquently: “Foreignization implies the feeling of having wealth in your hands and watching it disappear.”

Source: elparis

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