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Peru: Conflict Over Conga Mining Project Continues

The Christmas and New Year holidays, as well as other political news in the country, have taken a bit of the media spotlight from the Conga Mine Project in Cajamarca but that doesn't mean the conflict hasn't continued to develop.

The controversy arose over the damage the project could cause to a group of lagoons in the highlands of Cajamarca, which the locals in this area use for personal consumption and for crops. In November, there were two protest strikes, (1 [es] and 2,) against this mining project. The second of those lasted into December as a regional strike [es] that lasted several days, forcing negotiations to try to find a solution.

However, these meetings were not fruitful and a state of emergency was declared, abruptly closing down the strike. The government also took other steps to pressure the Regional Government of Cajamarca, leading the strike, as well as against other leaders who spent 10 hours in jail while “their identities were confirmed”.

Tony Alvarado gathered opinions from some Cajamarca locals about the conflict in the following video [es]:

An unexpected low in this confrontation was the resignation of Prime Minister Salomón Lerner and the naming of Oscar Valdez, formerly Minister of the Interior, as the new Prime Minister. This move signaled some political maneuvering by the government and a consolidating of the change in strategy by the government towards this particular conflict.

So, while Cajamarca was requesting an end to the state of emergency [es], the government started an information campaign about government investing in the area, and at the same time seeking to establish a negotiating table and announcing international expert assessment to evaluate potential environmental damages that Conga might produce.

After a few days the state of emergency was lifted, as well as other repressive measures that had been taken. When negotiations were restarted [es] in Cajamarca, they were marred by controversy regarding the representation of the participants, given the assertions that Wilfredo Saavedra, the President of the Defense Front for the Interests of Cajamarca, and said to be [es] a member of the MRTA (Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement), was not a valid interlocutor for Cajamarca. As could be expected, these talks also ended [es] without reaching any agreement.

Days later, new talks were initiated [es], this time in Lima, in which several Cajamarca leaders participated, [es] but the Regional President, Gregorio Santos, did not. Though these talks ended in some agreements being reached, [es] some factions in Cajamarca declared “traitors” [es] those who signed. Soon after, new protests were announced [es] for the first part of 2012.

Furthermore, the Cajamarca Region declared via ordinance that the Conga Project was not viable. In response, Prime Minister Oscar Valdés announced the Presidency of the Council of Ministers (PCM) would denounce Santos [es] for issuing the ordinance.

In the midst of this atmosphere of tension the protests resumed [es] in Cajamarca. On one hand, there were reports [es] that there wasn't much support for the protesters, however it was also reported [es] that shops were closed and that protests would continue. It was also announced that a meeting would be held January 13 to discuss the Conga project, and that the previously announced march in support of water would take place on January 27 at a national level.

As might be expected, people are commenting in blogs. Juan Sheput de Mate Pastor comments [es]:

El presidente regional Gregorio Santos se ha ratificado en la ordenanza que declara inviable al proyecto Conga. La amenaza de revocatoria en ese sentido lo debe tener sin cuidado, no sólo porque provenga de un sector tan desprestigiado moralmente como el fujimorismo sino porque, según noticia que ha pasado desapercibida en Lima, Gregorio Santos es considerado el hombre del año en Cajamarca.

Regional President Santos has ratified an ordinance which declares the Conga project nonviable. The threat of revocation should not matter, not only because it comes from such a morally discredited group as the Fujimorists, but because, as unnoticed as this news may be in Lima, Gregoria Santos is considered the Man of the Year in Cajamarca.

The blog Sin Patrones offers [es] stark testimonies of the recent protests:

Otra de las instituciones cuestionadas por la firma del acta a espaldas del pueblo es la Municipalidad Provincial de Cajamarca, representada por su alcalde, los manifestantes también llegaron a la Municipalidad.

Another of the institutions in question by the signing behind the backs of the people is the Provincial Council of Cajamarca, represented by the mayor–the demonstrators also got to the Council.

An article that has been published in several blogs is “Greed for Cajamarca Gold: Interest in Exploiting Conga”[es], by Jorge Tejada Campos, professor at the National University of Cajamarca. Among other things, he notes:

El Premier ha adelantado opinión sobre los resultados del peritaje , ha dicho que servirá para subsanar cosas y explicar al pueblo de Cajamarca sobre las bondades del proyecto. Es decir, su visión de peritaje es para hacernos ver lo torpe que somos, que no entendemos lo que significa las “ventajas de la actividad minera”. […]

En los términos de referencia se advierte que los peritos serán personas naturales, no hay peritaje internacional, para mitigar posibles impactos negativos y proponer mejoras. Se borró el peritaje internacional, se exige confidencialidad, es decir todo se hará en secreto, como se hizo con las aguas del río Grande entre Minera Yanacocha y SEDACAJ, la información ya se tiene en el Ministerio de Energía y Minas, entonces el Perito elegido sólo hará trabajo de escritorio, en Lima, en ningún momento será necesario siquiera visitar Cajamarca, menos la zona de operaciones de la minera. Todo, absolutamente todo está arreglado en favor de la ejecución del Proyecto.

The Prime Minister has put forth his opinion about the results of the study, and has said it will correct matters and explain the benefits of the project to the people of Cajamarca. That is to say, his vision of the study is to make us see how slow-witted we are, that we don't understand what the “advantages of mining” are.

In the terms of reference, it is noted that the experts will be individuals, not international entities, in order to mitigate possible negative impacts and propose better ones. It eliminated the international component, it requires confidentiality, so everything will be done in secret, as was done with the waters of the Rio Grande between Yanachoca and SEDACAJ, the information is already on file in the Ministry of Energy and Mining, so the experts will only do paperwork, in Lima, and it won't even be necessary to visit Cajamarca, let alone the mining areas. Everything, absolutely everything, will be decided in favor of going ahead with the project.

However, there are differing opinions [es] about the nature of the protests in Cajamaca and how this could affect governance:

A pesar de su caótica fragmentación, la izquierda en el Perú parece tener una curiosa orquestación que por distintos caminos les permite llegar al mismo peligroso derrotero: bloquear al Estado peruano. […] Debido a que las izquierdas no responden a ninguna dirigencia unificada y son solo conglomerados de agitadores, lunáticos y terroristas frustrados, lo más probables es que cada quién siga en su propio afán y acaben configurando un escenario de caos social y político que el gobierno de Ollanta Humala no va a tolerar. En algún momento que parece inevitable, la situación podría desembocar, efectivamente, en una militarización del país. Yo creo, sin temor a equivocarme, que la izquierda está jugando con fuego. Por desgracia la izquierda es un segmento no solo virulento e irracional sino irresponsable.

Despite its chaotic fragmentation, Peru's left seems to have a curious orchestration by which, through various routes, it arrives at the same dangerous destination: obstructing the Peruvian State. […] Because the leftists don't respond to any unified directives and are just a conglomeration of agitators, lunatics, and frustrated terrorists, most likely every one of them follows his own wishes, and they end up shaping a scene of social and political chaos that Ollanta Humala will not tolerate. In some moment that seems inevitable, the situation could effectively disintegrate into the militarization of the country. I believe, unequivocally, that the left is playing with fire. Unfortunately, the left is a sector that is not only rabid and irrational but irresponsible.

Peruvians are expectant to see what will happen at the meeting scheduled for January 13, the start and subsequent conclusion of the Environment Impact Study for the mining project, and how the March for Water develops.

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