Some 400 protesters on Nov. 28 clashed with police as they attempted to occupy the site of the planned Conga gold and copper mine at Celendín municipality in Peru’s highland region of Cajamarca. National Police troops fired tear-gas and shot-gun blasts, and protesters hurled stones as they tried to take over a work camp at the site. The airport at Cajamarca city, the regional capital, was closed and flights cancelled as another 500 protesters gathered and pledged to occupy the facility. The police force securing the airport was massively outnumbered. Protesters also blockaded surrounding roads. It was the fifth consecutive day of a civil strike to demand a halt to the mining project. Two were arrested at the mine site, and one protester wounded in the leg. Protesters are demanding that President Ollanta Humala come to Cajamarca to hold a town meeting or consulta on the project, and pledged to escalate their tactics if he does not comply within 24 hours.
Wilfredo Saavedra, president of Cajamarca’s Environmental Defense Front which is coordinating the strike, said protests would go on until the government declared the Conga project “unfeasible.” Gregorio Santos, the regional president of Cajamarca, has thrown his support behind the strike. Alfonso Valderrama, leader of the Union of Regional Fronts of Peru (UFREP), said that municipalities and popular organizations elsewhere in Peru’s north were ready to join Cajamarca in the strike.
Prime Minister Salomón Lerner Ghitis said the government is in dialogue with the protesters, but that no representative of the executive branch would be travelling to Cajamarca. “We have the responsibility to continue to be firm in resolving conflicts using dialogue, and seeking consensus, but we can’t fall into the trap that some small interest groups have in creating chaos and violence, hurting the image that Peru has gained,” Lerner said.
But the Environment Ministry’s vice-mister for environmental management José de Echave submitted his resignation over the affair, charing that the government “lacks an adequate strategy for dealing with social conflict.” A former director of one of Peru’s leading environmental groups, CooperAccion, de Echave had been a key figure in negotiations with the Cajamarca protesters.
The open-pit project, located at 3,700 meters (12,140 feet) above the sea level, would entail draining the water from four alpine lakes into new reservoirs the company has pledged to build. Locals say the reservoirs would not adequately protect the waters. The lakes now feed groundwater for agriculture and livestock. A drought in Cajamarca has forced water rationing for the past three months. (AP, AFP, Dow Jones, Peru This Week, La Republica, La Republica, Lima, Cinabrio blog, Peru, Nov. 28; RPP, Nov. 26; Fox News Latino, Peru This Week, Nov. 25; Reuters, Nov. 25; BBC News, Nov, 24)