Peru: Cajamarca anti-mining protests resume

Protests in Peru’s north-central region of Cajamarca resumed on Jan. 2, with a thousand gathering in the city square to demonstrate against the Conga gold mining project. “We will mobilize in a peaceful protest in Cajamarca, in Hualgayoc, and in Celendín,” said Wilfredo Saavedra, head of Cajamarca’s Environmental Defense Front, referring to the municipalities to be impacted by the project. Canal N television reported that regional leaders are expected to decide whether to launch a new indefinite strike in the coming days. With negotiations with the administration of President Ollanta Humala at a stalemate, Cajamarca’s regional council in the closing days of 2011 voted to declare the Conga project to be “unviable.” The declaration stated the project “could cause irreversible damage to fragile ecosystems, in turn generating economic and social damage of incalculable magnitude, which clash directly with the fundamental rights of people living in these jurisdictions…” (Peru This Week, Jan. 3)

The regional president of Cajamarca, Gregorio Santos, accused the Lima government of negotiating in bad faith and attempting to divide the populace by seeking a deal approving the mine with community leaders outside the affected areas. He said that the people of Cajamarca would never accept the mining project. He also implied that the national government had limited moral authority on the question because the project would impact local water sources as well as mineral resources: “The resources belong to all Peruvians, but the water of Cajamarca belongs to the cajamarquinos.” (Perú21, Jan. 3;, Peru, El Comercio, Lima, Jan. 2)

Conservatives meanwhile raised pressure for a crackdown in Cajamarca. Martha Hildebrandt, an outspoken former lawmaker in the coalition of imprisoned ex-president Alberto Fujimori, told TV talk show “Abre los Ojos” (Open the Eyes), characteristically peppering her language with peruanismos: “If Humala gives the cajamarquinos a good smack [buena ajustada], I will become a humalista. They are letting these poor devils do whatever they want in Cajamarca… We have to find some way of wiping them out [buscar la forma para una tacha] or something.”

She also implied that Gregorio Santos and Wilfredo Saavedra are preparing a guerilla insurgency, noting the latter’s one-time involvement in the now-crushed Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA): “They are manipulated by Marco Arana. There is a future guerilla manipulated by people who are more intelligent than the regional president. They are ex-terrorists but not ex-idiots [extontos]. They are alive, but they are not intelligent.”

(Marco Arana is the founder of Cajamarca environmental group Grufides, which advocates on behalf of communities affected by mining. He was honored as one of Time magazine’s “Heroes of the Environment” in 2009)

Hildebrandt said that if Humala dealt strongly with the Cajamarca movement, she would reconsider having dismissed him in his 2006 presidential run as a “mediocre cachaco“—a derogatory slang word for a soldier. (Perú21, Jan. 3)

See our last posts on Peru, the struggle in Cajamarca, and the global mineral cartel.