Peru: clash at Conga mine site

Some 400 campesino protesters at the site of the Conga mining project in Peru’s Cajamarca region on April 11 stormed the 200-strong lines of the National Police Special Forces Division (DINOES), to occupy the area around  El Perol lake, where they vandalized property, putting pipes and other equipment to the torch. The Yanacocha mining company evacuated its personnel and removed its machinery from the site. About 150 protesters continued to occupy the property, although Yanacocha said the next day that they had all been evicted. Comuneros from the provinces of Celendín and Bambamarca led the action, pressing demands that Yanacocha halt all operations at the site.

The campesinos rejected the company’s claim that operations at the Conga site have in fact been suspended. Edy Benavides Ruiz, president of the Defense Front for the Interests of Hualgayoc-Bambamarca, told the Lima daily La República, “we have discovered a new dirt trail coming down the mountain, in spite of what Yanacocha says about the project being paralyzed; they continue working even if they deny it.” (Fox Business via Climate Connections; La Republica, April 11)

In an indication of divisions between local communities over the Conga project, residents of Chugur village complained to reporters that followers of the Benavides’ Defense Front had threatened them to demand that they join the protest movement. The Defense Front had reportedly threatened to cut water and electric lines to Chugur, where many villagers are employed by Yanacocha.  (La Republica, April 11)

April 9 saw distubances in the town of Celendín, when the visit of the government’s Minister for Women and Vulnerable Populations, Ana Jara, was met with protests. Jara was on hand to oversee the opening of a new women’s shelter, but protesters demanded justice in the deaths of eight local youths in demonstrations against the Conga project last year. Two women were injured as National Police charged the crowd and used tear-gas. (Caballero Verde, April 10; Celendin LibreLa Mula, April 9)

José de Echave, the Peru’s former vice-minister for environmental management, a longtime activist who stepped down in 2011 over the Conga project, has released a new book, Más  allá de Conga (Beyond Conga), with co-author Alejandro Diez, calling for sweeping reform in the mineral sector. Echave told an interviewer that the Conga project has “compromised two administrations”—refering to the incumbent President Ollanta Humala and his predecessor Álan García. He especially protested that the Environment Ministry (MINAM) has no veto power over mineral projects. He called the government’s creation of a new advisory office, the National Environmental Certification Service for Sustainable Investment (SENACE) a “timid reform.” (Celendin Libre, April 10)