President Ollanta Humala spoke April 20 on the new “expert review” of the controversial Conga gold mine project proposed for Peru’s northern Cajamarca region, assuring local residents that they would be ensured an ample water supply. Echoing recommendations of the report, Humala said two high mountain lakes slated to be destroyed by the project—known as Azul and Chica—should not be drained and filled with mine waste. He added that his government will spend about $1.8 billion on infrastructure in Cajamarca. Minera Yanacocha, owner of the Minas Conga project, said it will seek technical “alternatives” in order to allow work to resume on the stalled $4.8 billion project. The company said in a statement: “The report by the international experts has ratified unquestionably the environmental impact study, or EIA, approved by the Peruvian government in October, 2010. While the experts have proven that the EIA meets with national and international standards, we recognize that every study can be improved.” (AP, April 21; Dow Jones, April 20)
But there is presumably no alternative to destroying two other lakes at the site, because the gold Yanacocha hopes to mine lies under them. Thousands marched in the city of Cajamarca April 20 to reject the “expert review” (peritaje, as it is called in Spanish), and pledged to maintain a “permanent” mobilization, with daily protests until the project is cancelled. (ENS, April 20)
Cajamarca regional president Gregorio Santos was not appeased, saying that Humala “is on his knees before the transnationals to guarantee neoliberal continuity.” He called upon Humala to emulate the example of Argentina, where President Cristina Fernández has just announced nationalization of YPF oil company, local subsidiary of the Spanish major Repsol. (Notimex, April 22)
Protest leader Marco Arana of the Tierra y Libertad movement warned that if the Conga project goes ahead, “there’s going to be a bloodbath in Cajamarca.” He said that in communities that would be impacted the mine, “there is an extremely high tension,” and people are running out of patience for “legal mechanisms to stop the project.” (Celendin Libre, April 20)
On the other hand, Pedro Martinez, president of the National Society of Mining, Petroleum and Energy (SNMPE), warned that if the mine doesn’t go ahead, international corporations will chose “to invest in countries where these types of problems do not exist, and where they will be welcomed.” (Radio Nacional, April 16)
On April 17, days after the review was released, Peru’s Constitutional Tribunal, the country’s highest court, struck down a measure by Cajamarca’s regional government that declared the Conga project unviable, writing that “by virtue of the power established by the Base Law of Decentralization and the Organic Law of Regional Governments, the regional governments are not competent to regulate aspects relative to large and medium mining.” (La Republica, April 17)
See our last post on mineral struggles in Peru.