Mine ownership and community relations: Comparing hydrosocial dynamics of public and private companies in Chile

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Debate over the merits of public versus private control of extractive industries has reemerged in recent electoral cycles of Latin American countries. Outcomes have major political and economic implications, given the global shift to clean energy that will increase demand for minerals such as copper and lithium. Yet less attention has been paid to whether and how socio-environmental relations with host communities may differ between state-owned and private mining companies. We examine this question through analysis of the decision by the National Copper Corporation of Chile (Codelco) to abandon its Andina-244 mine expansion proposal following local protest over harm to glaciers, in contrast to actions by two private companies that faced local opposition over water impacts. Results indicate that stakeholders perceive Codelco to perform worse than private companies on localized socio-environmental issues, owing to spending restrictions, the country's dependence on it for government revenue, and greater pressure placed on international firms. However, its decision to abandon the Andina-244 proposal owed more to the interaction of the geographical, technical, economic, political, downstream, and power relations factors of hydrosocial displacements theory—as well as a new factor, institutional constraints—than to its ownership specifically. These results indicate the need for policy attention to local socio-environmental concerns near public and private mines alike; the importance of policies that counter the creation of sacrifice zones, especially for state-owned operations; and the importance of including peripheral voices in political settlements over natural resources, such as in the current process of rewriting Chile's constitution.

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Resources Policy

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water, extractive industries, clean energy, political ecology, Latin America, Chile