Opponents of the US-owned Conga mining project in Peru’s northern Cajamarca region launched a cross-country National March for Water on Feb. 1, some 500 participants symbolically departing from Laguna Cortada, one of the high mountain lakes to be threatened by the proposed mine. The march hopes to arrive in Lima Feb. 10 in time to convene a National Forum on Hydraulic Justice. A hundreds-strong solidarity march was also held in Arequipa, capital of the southern region of that name which has been the scene of recent protests over mineral development. Organizers expect thousands to join the march on its way to Lima.
But organizers charge a campaign of harassment by the authorities and supporters of the mine. On Jan. 19, a coordinator of the march, Irma Pflucker, was detained by the police on charges that she had used a counterfeit coin at an Internet cafe. Leaflets have also been widely distributed in Cajamarca charing that march leaders Marco Arana and Wilfredo Saavedra are profiting from money donated to fund the march. Peru’s government has meanwhile announced a package of social and infrastructure projects for impoverished Cajamarca region aimed at placating the protest movement.
In another anti-mining action, on Feb. 2 campesinos from Llusco, Chumbivilcas province, Cuzco region, erected a protest encampment at the worksite of ANABI mining company, whose operations they say threaten the headwaters of the Molino and Santo Tomás rivers. They are also demanding that the company ARES halt its mineral exploration program in the nearby communities of Azuca and Crespo. (Peruvian Times, Con Nuestro Perú, Feb. 3; Global Voices Online, La Republica, La Republica, Feb. 2; La Republica, Marcha Nacional del Agua website, Jan. 31; La Republica, Jan. 21; WSJ, Jan. 13)
Meeting with potential mineral investors in Madrid Jan. 27, Humala sparked outrage back at home when he compared Cajamarca’s regional president Gregorio Santos, an adherent of the leftist Patria Roja party and outspoken opponent of the Conga mine, to Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot. In remarks clearly intended to evoke memories of the Shining Path insurgency, Humala said, “We cannot accept a Pol-Potist regime in which a regional government restricts the liberties of the populace.”
Santos quickly responded: “This is an extreme comparison which President Humala has made. My hands are not stained with blood, nor my party or the movement that has brought me to the regional presidency. I am not and have never been charged with forced disappearances and violations of human rights.” This was a barely veiled reference to the Madre Mia scandal, in which Humala was charged with the extrajudicial execution of a campesino couple in a village of that name in 1992 when he was an army captain. Humala was cleared of the charges in a 2006 trial. (Perú21, Cinabrio blog, Spain, Jan. 27)
December’s cabinet shake-up instrumented by Humala is increasingly being seen as a tilt to the resource industries. Among those dismissed were Environment Minister Ricardo Giesecke and Energy and Mines Minister Carlos Herrera, who had pledged to take a harder line with extractive industries. Their departure was followed by the resignation of several other officials, who charged that Humala had abandoned the left wing of his nationalist Gana Perú coalition.
Giesecke had especially raised questions about the environmental impact study for the Conga mine, which had been approved under the previous administration of Alan García. Calling for a review of the EIS, Giesecke said in November: “Getting rid of the lakes would be like dynamiting the glaciers in the Andes, we’d be creating a problem that impacts the ecosystem.” (Perú21, Jan. 18; Peruvian Times, Jan. 11; Reuters, Nov. 4)
Suspicions were deepened by recent press revelations that Giesecke’s replacement as environment minister, Manuel Pulgar Vidal, had between July and October of last year met with Yanacocha, local subsidiary of the Colorado-based Newmont Mining Corporation that wants to develop the Conga mine. Pulgar Vidal was approached, in his own words, to “improve relations with the regional and local authorities” over the mining project. (IDL-Reporteros, Peru, Jan. 21)