In a turn-around in the conflict over the proposed Conga gold mine in Cajamarca, Peru, right-wing fujimorista congressman from the region, Joaquín Ramírez Gamarra, has come out publicly for shelving the project in the interests of social peace. “The suspension of the Conga mining project is the best path to follow,” he said. “It will permit us to not only calm the situation, but also to open spaces for dialogue.” Breaking ranks with President Ollanta Humala, he added: “The state of emergency should be lifted; the provinces of Cajamarca, Celendín and Bambamarca cannot remain under a state of exception. This would say much about the proposal for an opening on the part of the Executive.” (El Mercurio, Cajamarca, Aug. 14; RPP, Aug. 7)
In an indication of how high tensions have risen in Cajamarca region, last month the Defense Front for the village of El Tambo, Bambamarca province, announced that the local ronda (peasant self-defense patrol) had captured a youth of 19 years who confessed to having been contracted by the Yanacocha mining company to assassinate the regional president, Gregorio Santos Guerrero, a leading voice in opposition to the Conga project. The young man, whose identity was not revealed, was said to be a member of a criminal band called Los Mudos (the Mute, presumably a reference to not ratting out to the police). The Defense Front said he had been promised 12 million soles ($4.5 million) to kill Santos and other leading mine opponents. (Celendin Libre, July 23)
In Lima, a new citizen’s group of seemingly middle-class composition called “Nadie Nos Paga” (Nobody Pays Us) has released a video statement to Peruvian mineral magnate Roque Benavides—director of the Buenaventura company, a partner in Yanacocha—calling upon him to take responsibility for the social costs of the Conga project. The statement, on YouTube, was transcribed by the Cajamarca activist blog Celendin Libre, Aug. 14:
We are limeños like you. We enjoy the fruits of a growing economy. But we also question the conditions generated by the private investment that makes it posible. And so, we ask:
Why does your mining company have a history of conflicts and permanent problems with the campesino communities that live near the mines?
Why do 90% of you projects cause social conflicts?
Why has the mercury contamination suffered by two communities in the year 2000 still not been resolved today?
Why have various Cajamarca districts been without water since the year 2002?
Why does a reservoir built to supply water to all the people in the north of the country still not function?
…Don’t you believe more could have been done to avoid the imposition of the Conga project from costing five human lives?
Development at any cost?
Does it appear just for a mining project to operate without social consent?
…We demand that you change the way in which your company relates to the communities impacted by your projects.
We demand this now! Because the country in which you invest is not only yours, and not only ours; it belongs to all the Peruvians.
As we have noted, the San José reservoir in Cajamarca’s Baños del Inca district, built by the Yanacocha company for community use five years ago with a capacity of 6 million cubic meters of water, has been dry since the end of last year.