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Cajamarca dispute rages on

Cajamarca dispute rages on
December 06
15:15 2011

LIMA – The dispute over mining company presence in Cajamarca has risen from anti-mining protests to a 60-day state of emergency to “restore peace” throughout four provinces surrounding Cajamarca. Anti-mining leaders and government officials have yet to reach an agreement concerning the Minas Conga Gold mining project.

proyecto conga 300x178 Cajamarca dispute rages on

The site of the controversial Conga mining project, Photo: yanacocha.com.pe

Citizens in Cajamarca are protesting against the USD$4.8 billion Minas Conga Gold mining project that plans to relocate four lakes and dry up a natural aquifer so the company can mine for copper and gold that is located beneath the lakes. The project, which is already in its preliminary stages, is a multi-corporation effort orchestrated by the Yanacocha Mine, Newmont Mining Corporation, Buenaventura Mining Company and the International Finance Corporation.

The communities who depend on the lake water are concerned about contamination and changes to the environment that could affect their community by the presence of the mining company.

Due to unrest and violent protests in the province of Cajamarca, the project has been suspended until further notice. Many citizens in Cajamarca have stated that they are upset with the president of Peru, Ollanta Humala, who promised during elections that he would preserve the water supply. However, the president confirmed in November that the project, including water relocation, would continue as planned.

Marco Arana, one of the anti-mining leaders in Cajamarca, spoke out to El Comercio about the government’s decision to declare a 60-day state of emergency in the region.

After President Humala’s announcement [of the mining project] the people demanded two things. They hoped that the head of state would say ‘we will listen to you’  and ‘there have been grave errors on behalf of the mining company; we will find a solution,’ and acknowledging further that in the election campaign ‘I was wrong to promise some things that couldn’t be accomplished and I ask for forgiveness.’ But there was none of that [and] they have suspended the right of assembly. How do they expect leaders to come together and reach an agreement if this right is suspended?

Leaders of the anti-mining protests say they have tried communicating with government officials concerning the project, but claim their requests are constantly denied.

Arana stated that “First, the head of the demonstrators called for the removal of Conga machinery and equipment, but [cabinet chief] Lerner said the commission could not impose a deadline for company withdrawal because it depended on their will and conversations. We also called for the decreeing of the Conga project unfeasible, but the government proposed instead to make a new environmental impact assessment (EIA).”

Arana goes on to question the results of any environmental impact assessment conducted by the government. “Authorities and leaders question if the EIA would be new or recycled information, because formulating a new one takes many years,” Arana asserted. The current EIA was approved on July 21, 2011, according to the mining project website.

Government officials fault the Cajamarca leaders refusal to negotiate a deal as to why an agreement can’t be reached concerning the mining project and the lake water. The  Peruvian lawmaker Cuculiza Maria Luisa Fujimori denounced the protesters, saying that  “We are all Peruvians and can not be that extreme in complaining. Don’t paralyze a town [because] there are people who need to live. Leave it alone.”

The president of Congress, Daniel Abugattás, also criticized the protests. “Given the situation that exists in the Cajamarca province, the state has been forced to make this decision, which I salute and congratulate [the president for making],” Abugattás said.

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