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Protesters march against controversial land deal passed by Congress

PHOENIX — About 50 protesters gathered outside of Arizona Sen. John McCain’s office on Friday calling for the end of a controversial land deal, despite the fact that it has already been passed by Congress.

The group came to McCain’s office near 24th Street and Camelback equipped with signs and drums to express concern over the deal that was tacked on the National Defense Authorization Act.

The deal would hand over about 2,400 acres of federally protected land in the Tonto National Forest to a mining company called Resolution Copper, in exchange for company-owned land elsewhere.

McCain and several fellow Arizona Congressional Republicans were integral in the introduction of the deal and in its passing.

Organizer Roy Chavez said he’s concerned over the way the deal was added to the National Defense Authorization Act, widely considered to be a must-pass bill, rather than it being discussed and debated in Congress.

“I think the issue of the bill and the fact that for a decade it couldn’t pass is because it’s a bad bill, but the way they did it, I think has lit the fuse on a lot of people in the United States,” he said. “I think they’re concerned with how they’re operating in D.C.”

Chavez said he’s concerned over the influence large companies such as Resolution Copper and its parent companies, Rio Tinto Group and BHP Billiton, have on politicians.

“I’m really questioning whether we’re a country anymore on democracy based on of the people, by the people (and) for the people,” Chavez said. “It’s back to he who has the gold, makes the rules.”

Demonstrators such as Jacqueline Hines, who said she has family in the mining business, also expressed concern that the land where the mine would be built will destroy a popular camp site and land that is reportedly considered sacred by the San Carlos Indian Tribe.

“I have no problem with mining but not one of my relatives ever mined in a sacred Native American site or a recreational site, which is enjoyed by all people,” she said.

After demonstrating out front of McCain’s office, the group then walked several blocks north to the offices of Resolution Copper near 24th Street and East Arizona Biltmore Circle.

Proponents of the legislation, including Sen. McCain, say the deal will have a major economic benefit for Arizona; estimating the mine to be worth roughly $61 billion dollars and 3,700 jobs.

The National Defense Authorization Act, to which the land deal was attached, passed in Congress last Friday and now President Obama must sign the act for the deal to become official.