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Peru: Conga Mining Project Suspended in Wake of Public Pressure

Categories: Latin America, Peru, Citizen Media, Economics & Business, Environment, Indigenous, Politics

[All links lead to Spanish language pages except when otherwise noted]

The region of Cajamarca, located to the north of the Peruvian Andes mountains, continues its protest [1] [en] against the Minas Conga mining project [2] [en], considered to be the largest mining investment in the history of Peru [3], that according to its opponents [4] threatens to destroy some 20 lagoons, which serve as a foundation for local ecosystems and a source of water for farming communities.

The regional strike has so far left five residents and three police officers injured [5], although no number has officially been confirmed, and different [6] figures have been circulated: the blog Mariátegui, Revista de las ideas [7] reports up to 18 injured.

Las autoridades de salud del departamento Cajamarca informaron a la prensa local que el choque entre las autoridades policiales y los manifestantes dejaron un saldo de 18 heridos, de los cuales 12 son civiles y seis uniformados…

Cajamarca health officials informed the local press that the clashes between authorities and protesters left 18 people injured, of whom 12 were civilians and six were uniformed officers…

Stencil art against the Yanacocha mining company, ever a theme in Cajamarca. "Yanacocha contaminates and kills you, become aware of it" Photo: Jorge Gobbi (CC BY 2.0)

At the time of this article's publication, on the sixth day [9][en] of regional push back in Cajamarca, the Yanacocha mining company announced the suspension [10] [en] of Conga project operations; residents, however, have declared that they are hoping not for a move such as this from the company, but for the Peruvian government to declare the mining project ‘unfeasible’ [11] [en], which would, it is thought, cancel it definitively [12].

The protests in Cajamarca arose some time ago, led by farmers and other residents of the watershed that would suffer the direct impact [13] of this project, since the lagoons not only serve as a foundation for ecosystems and a source of water for irrigation, but also provide water for human consumption; and the conflict has been exasperated in the last weeks, after Peruvian President Ollanta Humala made statements [14] that he “is not anti-mining [15],” but that he “works to make sure that mining serves the population,” calling the Conga project “important for Peru [16].”

As detailed earlier in the blog Palabras van y Vienen [17]:

se supone que Conga (ubicado en los distritos de Huasmín, Sorochuco y La Encañada, producirá entre 580 mil y 680 mil onzas de oro por año; que creará alrededor de cinco mil nuevos puestos de trabajo, y que generaría entre US$ 800 a 1000 millones en regalías y canon minero para la región y los gobiernos locales de Cajamarca.

It is supposed that Conga, located in the Huasmín, Sorochuco and La Encañada districts, will produce between 580 and 680 thousand ounces of gold per year; that it will create around five thousand new jobs, and will generate between US$ 800 and 1,000 million in royalties and mining taxes for the region and the local governments of Cajamarca.

The residents of Cajamarca not only oppose Conga but also ask for the Peruvian Minister of Energy and Mines, Carlos Herrera Descalzi, to renounce the project [18]. So far, the only one to renounce the project [19] is the Vice Minister of Environmental Management, José de Echave, after encountering a report from the Minister of Environment [20] that specified that the beginning of the Conga project “will transform the headwater of the water basin in a significant and irreversible way as well as make various ecosystems disappear.”

But what exactly, in environmental terms, are we talking about? The blog El Maletero – Red Verde Cajamarca [21] pins down the facts about the at-risk lagoons:

…las 8 lagunas que en una primera etapa del Proyecto Conga se destruirían (o trasvasarían, según el eufemismo minero) son: El Perol, con una superficie de 16.48 hás.; Cortada, 3.64 hás.; Alforja cocha, 19.10 hás.; Azul lagoon, 4 hectores; 3 hectores; Mamacocha, 19.74 hectores.; Lipiac, 1.08 hectores; and Chica lagoon, 1.35 hectores. En total son 68.39 hás de lagunas repletas de agua. ¿Se imagina usted cuantos litros o metros cúbicos de agua están contenidas en semejante extensión hídrica? y ¿cuántas hectáreas de papa, maíz, trigo, cebada, arveja y pastos se dejarían de sembrar? (…) si le ponemos valor económico a todas estas pérdidas (…) ni todos los miles de millones de dólares de ganancia que acumularían en 20 ó 30 años alcanzaría para comprarnos el agua y los animales y productos agrícolas que se obtienen con dicho [sic] gracias al elemental líquido…

…the 8 lagoons that in the first stage of Project Conga would be destroyed (or diverted, according to the mining euphemism) are: El Perol, with an area of 16.48 hectares; Cortada, 3.64 hectares; Alforja cocha, 19.10 hectares; Azul lagoon, 4 hectares; 3 hectares; Mamacocha, 19.74 hectares.; Lipiac, 1.08 hectares; and Chica lagoon, 1.35 hectares. In total, there are 68.39 hectares of lagoons replete with water. Can you imagine how many liters or cubic meters of water are contained in a similar stretch of water? And how many hectares of potatoes, corn, wheat, barley, peas, and grass would cease to be sown? (…) if we put an economic value to everything that is lost (…) not the thousands of millions of dollars in revenue that would accumulate in 20 or 30 years would pay us for the water and animal and farmed products that are gained thanks to this elemental liquid…

A Yanacocha company poster: "What does really contaminate water? Throwing trash in the river contaminates water; modern mining does not contaminate. Taking care of the water in Cajamarca is everyone's responsibility". Photo: Participatory Learning (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Even though the Minister of Energy and Mines has already given his approval to the project, the Minister of Environment has asked that a more exhaustive evaluation [23] of the Environmental Impact Study (EIA) [24], which the project had presented, be completed.

Attorney Emma Gómez [25] writes on the blog SEVINDI:

el caso Minas Conga pone nuevamente sobre el tapete la credibilidad de los EIA y sus procesos de aprobación, pues es insostenible que sea el propio promotor de la inversión en el sector minero quien apruebe los EIA. Tal como ha sido propuesto por el Ministro del Ambiente, esa competencia tendría que pasar al Ministerio del Ambiente.

The Minas Conga case puts the credibility of the EIA and its process of approval back on the table, since it is illogical that the very promoter of the investment in the mining sector is the one who approves the EIA. As has been proposed by the Minister of Environment, that matter would have to go through the Minister of Environment.

Among netizens, there are both those in favor of the Conga project, and those who are against it.

On Twitter, Felipe (@marcielmarciano [26]) commented:

Asi son los radicales RT @perucom [27]: [VIDEO] Paro seguirá hasta retiro de proyecto Conga goo.gl/gmYDm [28]

That's the way the radicals are RT @perucom [27]: [VIDEO] Strikes will continue until the retreat of Conga project goo.gl/gmYDm [28]

OsOptimus (@OsOptimus [29]) said, also on Twitter:


@el_observante_Like 500 years ago: The priest gives the Bible to the Inca, the Inca casts it away because he doesn't understand, today = the Atahualpas will be defeated [ed. note: Atahualpa [31] was the last emperor of the Incan Empire who was executed by the Spanish]

To this El Observante (@El_Observante [32]) retorted:

@OsOptimus [33] El Peru no se puede detener por un grupo de gente q quiere solo posicionamiento politico a costa del progreso de Cajamarca.

@OsOptimus [33] Peru cannot be held up by a group of people that only wants political positioning at the cost of the progress of Cajamarca.

Peruvians continue to watch for developments and an outcome in this case, which has become the first significant crisis that the government of President Ollanta Humala will have to resolve.