The Lima tabloid Perú21 April 25 airs claims that northern Peru’s Cajamarca region—site of the civil struggle against the US-owned Conga gold mine project—is a “new center of cocaine production.” Without giving his credentials, the newspaper cites “expert in themes of narcotrafficking” Jaime Antezana to the effect that Cajamarca’s province of Celendín has emerged as a key coca leaf production zone, replete with labs for processing the leaf into paste. The neighboring province of Hualgayoc, and especially its capital Bambamarca, is identified as the trans-shipment point over the Andes towards the Pacific, and local center of money-laundering. The paper says this intelligence has been “confirmed” by National Police Anti-Drug Directorate (DIRANDRO) and the official coca eradication agency, the Special Project for Control and Reduction of Coca Cultivation (CORAH).
The Unitary Struggle Command of Cajamarca Region responded the next day in a statement charging the assertion is a “psychosocial” strategy by the fujimontiollantistas—a portmanteau implying that President Ollanta Humala has joined the power bloc of imprisoned ex-dictator Alberto Fujimori. The statement said rondas campesinas (peasant self-defense patrols) of the named provinces are on alert for any attempt to plant drugs or arms. It charged that the aim of the allegations is to “militarize the zone so as to impose the Conga project at the point of bullets.” (Online at Caballero Verde blog)
That same day, the Unitary Struggle Command issued a declaration of a “Permanent Peaceful Resistance for Life and Dignity,” until the Conga project is cancelled. The declaration said the region’s rondas have launched a special citizen vigilance network, to be called “Guardians of Water,” to monitor impacts on the region’s water sources by extractive industries on an ongoing basis. (Via Caballero Verde)
The Cajamarca regional government meanwhile released a new study on the project, prepared by specialist Guido Peralta Quiroz of Spain’s Caminos Canales y Puertos Engineering School. The findings, announced in a press conference by regional president Gregorio Santos, casts further doubt on the official Environmental Impact Study approved by Peru’s government in 2010. Peralta’s study says the EIS failed to include adequate information about the treatment plant to be built on the site for acidified water—not quantifying how much water will have to be treated, and failing to take into account subterranean infiltration of contaminated water. The study said the EIS also fails to delineate what measures will be taken to assure clean water after the mine eventually closes. Without a budget for water treatment after the mine’s life, the Conga project could end up being an indefinite financial burden on the regional government.
Speaking of the alpine lakes that the Conga project would replace with artificial reservoirs, Santos added in an official statement: “The lagunas are depositories of rainwater that have no cost to maintain; they release water to the aquifers, springs, streams and rivers in sufficient quantities; therefore, we must care for them and protect them and avoid their destruction.” (RPP, Gobierno Regional de Cajamarca, April 9)
Chilean financial services firm Celfin Capital released its own report warning that the outcome of the Conga project will set major precedents for future mining projects in Peru. “In our view, the fate of the Conga project now rests on the decision of President Humala,” Celfin said. “We thus see this case as setting key precedents for foreign/domestic investment dynamics; relations between Peru’s regional governments and its central government; and future standards for planning of mining projects and dialogue with local communities.”
The report comes a week after a group of international experts contracted by the Humala administration submitted a review of the Conga EIS. In a televised address on April 20, President Humala called on Yanacocha mining company to increase the storage capacity of planned reservoirs fourfold to benefit the villages of Sorochuco, Huasmín, La Encañada and Bambamarca. Humala also said the company must create 10,000 local jobs, and establish a fund for the development of social, infrastructure and irrigation projects. He also said the company must take steps to preserve the Azul and Chica lagunas that were to be filled with mine waste under the original plan.
Celfin wrote: “If the Humala government can successfully deal with these challenges, we believe this will be a positive outcome for both private investment and the medium-term growth outlook in Peru. We also believe that how the government handles this project will set an important political precedent for dealing with other social conflicts surrounding the development of natural resources in Peru.” (Utility Products, April 25)
For its own part, Colorado-based Newmont Mining, owners of the Yanacocha company, threatened to abandon the Conga project if too harsh conditions are imposed. Newmont president Richard O’Brien said in a call with analysts that if the $4.8 billion project cannot be developed “in a safe, socially and environmentally responsible manner” while also earning shareholders “an acceptable return” Newmont will “reallocate that capital to other development projects in our portfolio, including opportunities in Nevada, Australia, Ghana, and Indonesia.” (AP, April 27)
See our last post on the struggle in Cajamarca.