Peru: is Conga project cancelled?

Jorge Merino, chief of Peru’s Ministry of Energy and Mines, responded on June 10 to reports in the media that the controversial gold project at Conga, in northern Cajamarca region, has been cancelled. The site, an extension of Newmont Mining‘s giant Yanacocha complex, remains under occupation by local campesinos, and clashes with police troops there have become frequent. “The information I have from the company is that they are making re-adjustments in Yanacocha and Conga,” Merino said. “In agreement with the workers, there has been a reduction in the order of 50 workers who will be relocated, but I strongly deny that there is a position that Conga has intentions to leave. Conga continues… I have spoken with functionaries of Newmont, and the project is going ahead.”

Merino said the recent reduction in workers at the site is due to completion of Chailluag├│n reservoir, one of four to be built at the site to replace natural lakes that are to be turned into open-pit mines if the project moves ahead.

Merino portrayed the project as a boon to the region’s peasantry. “Cajamarca is the region of the greatest natural resources, and has retrogressed in terms of the struggle against poverty,” he said. Calling out regional president Gregorio Santos, a fierece opponent of the project, as more interested in campaign “tours” than helping his constituents, he added: “It is certain that Cajamarca has had irresponsible management in combating poverty, so the central government is giving priority to doing justice in Cajamarca… We understand that any investment in the country will be done with respect for the issue of the environment, the issue of water, and above all with social inclusion.” (Gesti├│n, El Comercio, June 10)

On June 12, a group of European Parliament members, noting the pattern of “violence against the peaceful resistance in Cajamarca,” called upon Peru’s President Ollanta Humala to cancel the project. The letter was signed by Catherine Gr├Ęze of France, leader of the Euro-Parliament’s Development Committee. (Celendin Libre, June 12)

Similar controversy has emerged around the Quellaveco copper project in southern Moquegua region. Merino last month said that he would meet in Lima with the CEO of Anglo-American mining company, Mark Cutifani, to discuss the project’s future, which has been similarly clouded by local protests. Merino insisted: “It is normal that they will evaluate their costs, but the company has invested much money and has an interesting plan for dialogue in Moquegua.” (Gesti├│n, May 20)