Much of Peru’s northern Andean region of Cajamarca was shut down in a 24-hour civil strike or paro April 11, the latest action in the campaign against the US-owned Conga gold-mining project. Organizers claimed participation in all 13 of Cajamarca’s provinces. Public transport and most commercial activity came to a halt in Cajamarca city as protesters held a mass meeting in the Plaza de Armas, or central square. Hundreds of campesinos from the outlying provinces of Celendín and Bambamarca marched on the city, and students occupied the campus of the National University of Cajamarca. Campesinos in Jaén province, organized by a local ronda (peasant self-defense patrol), erected barricades of rocks and tree-trunks on the road through their territory, blocking traffic for hours. No violence was reported, despite a huge presence of National Police and army troops in the region, and threats from authorities in Lima. “What we aren’t going to allow are acts of violence that threaten the freedom of transit for other Peruvians who are not participating in the demonstration,” cabinet chief Oscar Valdés told RPP radio network on the eve of the strike.
Hundreds of police and army troops attempted to bar protesters from gathering in Cajamarca’s Plaza de Armas, sealing off the surrounding streets with vehicles, but gave way when they found themselves massively outnumbered by thousands of marchers. Several popular movement leaders addressed the crowd, including regional president Gregorio Santos Guerrero, Idelso Hernández Llamo of the Cajamarca Defense Front, Wilfredo Saavedra of the Environmental Defense Front, Marco Arana of the Tierra y Libertad movement, and congressman Jorge Rimarachín Cabrera, as well as mayors and community representatives from outlying provinces.
In a bid to defuse tension with the security forces, leaders emphasized the peaceful nature of the movement. Milton Sánchez, president of the Interinstitutional Platform of Celendin, protested the “militarization” of his province ahead of the strike, telling the Lima daily La Republica: “The people are worried about the military presence, it is an effort to intimidate us, while our protests will be peaceful.”
In the evening, regional president Gregorio Santos held a press conference at which he showed photos he said were of government troops being moved in white Toyota trucks supplied by Yanacocha, the mining company that hopes to develop the Conga project. He decried this as improper collaboration between public security and private economic interests.
Progress was also reported in spreading the movement beyond Cajamarca region. A solidarity rally with the Cajamarca struggle was held in the central square of the southern city of Arequipa, at the other end of Peru. Santos told his supporters in Cajamarca that in the coming days he would be meeting with the regional presidents of Áncash, Junín and Apurímac to discuss proposals to change Peru’s constitution to give regional governments greater say over large-scale mineral projects on their territory.
The mobilization was held as a team of three independent consultants from Europe, commissioned by the national government to review the Conga project’s viability, handed in its report. The findings are to be released this coming week. (RPP, La Republica, Celendin Libre, Celendin Libre, April 12; Caballero Verde, April 11)