President Ollanta Humala of Peru went on national TV the night of Dec. 4 to announce that he has imposed a state of emergency in four provinces of Cajamarca region, which has been the scene of a general strike for the past 11 days in opposition to the mega-scale Conga mining project that residents say threatens local water resources. The 60-day state emergency affects the provinces of Cajamarca, Celendín, Hualgayoc and Contumazá. In his address, Humala said the government “has exhausted all paths to establish dialogue as a point of departure to resolve the conflict democratically” and blamed “the intransigence of a sector of local and regional leaders.”
On Nov. 29, five comuneros (communal peasants) received bullet wounds in clashes with the National Police at different locales around Cajamarca region—including the at Yanacocha mine site in Cajamarca province and the Conga mine site in Celendín province. The National Police said three officers also suffered bruises and fractures. In the wake of that day’s violence, the Yanacocha consortium announced a suspension of the Conga project. The consortium, led by Colorado-based Newmont Mining, said in a statement that the suspension was “required” by the government “for the sake of re-establishing tranquility and social peace.”
But strike leaders have not called off their action. Cajamarca’s regional president, Gregorio Santos, told the AP that opponents want “a legal document that definitively eliminates” the project. At a Lima press conference, Prime Minister Salomón Lerner did not answer a reporter’s question of whether the suspension was temporary or definitive.
Lerner, appearing at the press conference with Newmont vice president Carlos Santa Cruz, said the government is forging “a new relation between communities and mining, a relation that was historically marked by mistrust.” He pledged to nvolve the local populace in decisions to “dispel all doubts and guarantee, as a priority, water for human consumption.”
But Cajamarca strike leader Milton Sánchez was not appeased. “We regret that the government’s reaction came after the spilling of blood in which today we have 17 wounded,” he told the AP by phone the night after the latest violence. “We peasants of Cajamarca feel tremendously defrauded by Ollanta Humala and really consider him a traitor.” (AP, CNN, Dec. 5; RPP, Dec. 4; AP, Dec. 1; La Republica, Nov. 30; TeleSUR, Nov. 29)
Humala meanwhile was able to secure a pledge by strike leaders elsewhere in the country to call off their actions while talks ensue. Strike leaders from Andahuaylas and Chincheros provinces in Apurímac region, as well as the two provincial mayors, met with Humala in the presidential palace in Lima Dec. 2. Protest leader Pelayo Hurtado, president of the Andahuaylas Irrigation District Users Board (JUDRA), as well as the mayors of several villages in the affected provinces, agreed to hear government proposals for roads, electrification, potable water and other development projects for the impoverished mining region.
Salomón Lerner also met in Lima with the regional president of Madre de Dios, Luis Aguirre, and Aquiles Velásquez, leader of the Madre de Dios Mining Federation (FEDEMIN), to announce an accord suspending the general strike in the lowland rainforest region. FEDEMIN, made up of small-scale independent miners, called the strike to demand legalization of their claims and resist government efforts to shut them down. (Con Nuestro Peru, Andina, Dec. 2)
See our last post on the struggle in Peru.