Peru: new stand-off at Conga mine site

Some 4,000 campesino protesters again converged on the Conga mine site in Peru’s northern Cajamarca region June 18, pledging to establish an encampment around Laguna El Perol and remain there to prevent its destruction. The Yanacocha mining company, after announcing that it would begin diverting the lake’s waters to an artificial reservoir to permit mining on the site, last week reversed itself and said this work would begin next year. But protest leaders say they believe destruction of the lake is imminent. At press time, the protesters are facing off with some 1,000 troops from the National Police Special Operations Division (DINOES). 

Protester Angel Mendoza from the nearby pueblo of Pampa Verde told Reuters: “Why would we want a reservoir controlled by the company when we already have lakes that naturally provide us water?” The new reservoir, to be dubbed Chailhuagón, will ostensibly protect El Perol’s waters while the natural lake is converted into an open-pit mine 600 meters deep and nearly 2,000 meters across. 

In an e-mailed statement to the press, Yanacocha co-owners Newmont Mining and Buenaventura Mining Company said they would only build the proposed reservoir if they obtain all the necessary permits “and complete an intensive public involvement process with neighboring communities.” Seeming to address recent violence at the Conga site, they added: “We respect everyone’s right to safely and responsibly express their opinion, whether they oppose mining or support economic development.”

Peru’s most prestigious daily La Republica warned in an editorial June 18 of “an escalation of the conflict, with results that are impossible to forecast.” The national Chamber of Commerce, Perucámaras, meanwhile warned that 77,000 jobs may be lost in Cajamarca this year due anti-mining protests, saying a similar number were lost last year due to investors and tourists being scared off by the unrest.

Peru’s Mines and Energy Minister Jorge Merino expressed similar sentiment. “With what is going on in the world, Peru cannot leave aside an investment as big as Conga,” he said. (, La Republica, La Primera via Caballero Verde, June 19; La Republica, La RepublicaGestión, June 18; La RepublicaServindiReuters via Celendin Libre, in English at Climate Connections, June 17)

On June 17, Amnesty International issued an urgent call to Peru’s authorities to “assure respect for the right of free expression, association and assembly” in accordance with international norms. The statement noted that in 2012, seven civilians were killed in conflicts over mining projects in Espinar, Cuzco; Celendín, Cajamarca; and Huaraz, Áncash. (Amnesty International, June 17)

Idelso Hernández Llamo, president of the Cajamarca Defense Front, has announced a region-wide mobilization to demand a final halt to the project on July 3-4. But indicating ongoing splits in the movement, Wilfredo Saavedra, president of the Cajamarca Environmental Defense Front, said he knew nothing of any call for a mobilization next month. (La Republica, June 19)