Despite recent statements indicating that the planned mega-scale Conga gold mine in Peru’s northern Cajamarca region will be suspended, Yanacocha mining company has started work on a reservoir at Laguna Chaugallón near the proposed concession area, apparently in preparation for the project—sparking a new wave of protests from local campesinos. Wilfedo Saavedra, leader of the Cajamarca Defense Front, said that the regional paro (civil strike) to oppose the project would remobilize on Sept. 21, when comuneros (communal peasants) from Bambamarca province will blockade operations at the site. “We will return to protest because the Newmont company has received permission to complete the first part of the project, which consists of construction of the reservoirs,” Saavedra said, referring to the US-based Newmont Mining Company which is the majority holder in Yanacocha.
In a sign of a growing split in the movement, Saavedra harshly criticized Cajamarca’s regional president Gregorio Santos, accusing him of using the struggle against the Conga project to advance his political ambitions. “He is concerned to promote his party, wasting his time on things for himself and not for the benefit of the region,” he told Radio Programas del Perú network. Santos’ left-wing Patria Roja party has recently launched a new political bloc called the Social Affirmation Movement (MAS), to participate in national elections. The move has also created tension with another leader of the Cajamarca struggle, populist priest Marco Arana, whose Tierra y Libertad political party was not included in the coalition. Unnamed Tierra y Libertad adherents were quoted by national daily La Republica saying Santos has abandoned the ecological struggle to become a “lobbyist” for Chinese mineral interests—implying that his party, with Maoist roots, is opposing the US-backed Conga project to advance rival foreign designs on the region’s mineral resources. (RPP, La Republica, Sept. 18; El Comercio, Aug. 4)
Factional violence in campesino movement
In another sign of mineral interests fueling violent divisions within campesino communities, the village of San Marcos, in Áncash region, saw a weeks-long occupation of the plaza de armas (town square) culminating in a Sept. 15 clash with riot troops of the National Police Special Operations Division (DINOES), and several arrests. Protesters took over the plaza to prevent the removal of the town’s mayor, Óscar Ugarte Salazar, who was ordered to step down by regional authorities on charges of nepotism. His supporters said the charges were baseless, and he was really targeted for his opposition to the local operations of Australia-based Antamina mineral giant, which have taken a grave ecological toll in the region. The inauguration of his appointed replacement, Julio Máximo Blas Rímac, was postponed for four days until the 19th, on account of the unrest. (Primera Página, RPP, Sept. 18; La Republica, Sept. 15; Huarilindo, Sept. 3)
In a still mysterious affair, the National Confederation of Communities Affected by Mining (CONACAMI), which coordinates peasant anti-mining struggles throughout Peru, has removed its president, Magdiel Carrión Pintado, after he was arrested Aug. 26 in the Lima district of Jesús María for a knife attack on another leader of the organization, Eugenio Huaraya, wounding him in the hand and leg. The incident occurred when CONACAMI leaders were gathered in Lima for a national meeting. CONACAMI’s national council, representing local affiliates from nine central Andean regions of the country, voted to relieve Carrión of his post, calling the incident an “attack on the honor and dignity” of the organization. The statement pledged that CONACAMI’s work will continue unabated, with leaders to gather Sept. 21 in Cuzco for a summit of community representatives from the Southern Macro-region. (CONACAMI statement, received by e-mail, Sept. 16; Perú21, Sept. 1)
New paro in Cajamarca
Campesinos from Bambamarca province and their urban supporters in Cajamarca city marched Sept. 20 to announce a new paro, or civil strike, demanding that the Yanacocha mining company halt construction of a new reservoir at Laguna Chailluagón—a move they say is preparatory to the controversial Conga gold mine project that threatens the region’s groundwater. Banner reads CONGA NO VA—meaning the Conga project will not go forward, the ubiquitous slogan of the movement.
Photo: Caballero Verde