Book review: El Mal introduces Argentinians to Barrick Gold

El Mal author Miguel Bonasso, pictured in the 1970s. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

The book El Mal introduces Argentinians to the man who controls much of their freshwater: Barrick founder and chair Peter Munk. Recently published in Spanish, the book’s full title roughly translates as “The Evil.” The book describes Canadian mining company Barrick Gold as a “virtual third country” that laws created at its behest and pays little in the way of taxes, all while destroying glaciers to obtain water and leaving cyanide in its wake.

Its author, Miguel Bonasso, is a journalist and a congressman.  Formerly part of the inner circle of the current president, Cristina Fernández Kirchner Kirchner and Bonasso eventually had a falling out when, in 2008, Bonasso introduced a bill, the “Glacier Law,” that would have put a damper on mining projects such as Barrick’s Pascua Lama. The Senate unanimously approved the bill; Cristina Kirchner subsequently vetoed it. It eventually passed in 2010 but has yet to be enforced.

Bonasso recreates scenes from Peter Munk’s life as though they were  part of a narrative, and frames Toronto as an exotic locale. He makes much of the fact that Munk’s father escaped Hungary by bribing Adolph Eichmann, which becomes a metaphor in the book for the corruption of politicians and mining companies. Bonasso’s central thesis is that even progressive politicians can be corrupt, and that Cristina Kirchner’s vetoing of the Glacier Law shows that she is no exception, but he does not offer proof of this.

Bonasso relies partly on first-hand accounts from environmental activists, and he also draws on Noir Canada, a book on Barrick’s activities in Tanzania that was published by Les Éditions Écosociété in 2008 and then pulled by its English- and French-language publishers after Barrick threatened a lawsuit. El Mal’s publication means that Argentine readers will have access to material that has been effectively censored in Canada.

Throughout the book, Bonasso uses the term “Canadian morality” ironically, as if it were an oxymoron. Given the high profile of the author and the amount of press his book received in Argentina, Canadians should be dismayed by this depiction.