Peru: protesters tear down gate at Conga mine site

Campesinos occupying the contested Conga mine site in Peru’s Cajamarca region on Aug. 20 tore down a gate they said had been illegally erected by the Yanacocha mining company across a trail used by locals as a traditional right-of-way. Video footage shows protesters using shovels and farm implements to tear up and drag away the metal gate across the pathway near Laguna Namocoha, one of the highland lakes that will be impacted by the mining project. National Police troops on hand apparently did not interfere. Idelso Hernández, leader of the Cajamarca Defense Front, challenged police and prosecutors to attend a campesino assembly to answer for allowing construction of the gates. Protesters said that if their demand for a meeting on the matter was not met, they would similarly take down two other gates built by the company blocking access to lagunas Azul and Cortada. (Celendin Libre, Aug. 20; video footage at Celendin Libre, Aug. 20)

Over the course of the ongoing occupation of the Conga site, police have sometimes used violence but mostly sought to avoid confrontations that could win sympathy for the protesters. Quiet harassment of project opponents has continued unabated, however. On July 28, journalist César Estrada, who has documented the occupation for local media, was detained near the Conga site by agents of the National Police Special Operations Diectorate (DINOES) and men in orange safety vests who appeared to be Yanacocha workers—but, like the police agents, in ski masks. The men confiscated his camera, cell phone and wireless modem before releasing him. (Celendin Libre, Aug. 3)

Mobilizations against other mineral and energy develpoment projects in Cajamarca are gaining ground. Earlier this month, hundreds of campesino residents of San Marcos and Cajabamba provinces held a five-day cross-country march, dubbed the “March in Defense of the Condebamba Valley,” to oppose the operations of the Sulliden Shahuindo mining company, as well as unlicensed “informal” mining in the area, which they charge is contaminating local waters. (Servindi, Aug. 9 via Consulta Previa)

On Aug. 17, a public forum was held in the town of Celendín entitled “Hydro-electicity in the Amazon: Rivers, Life and Extractive Industries,” analyzing the dangers posed by 24 new dams planned for the watershed of the Río Marañón, and especially the Chadín 2 project, intended to spur further mineral development in Cajamarca. Researcher Antonio Zambrano Allende of Forum Solidaridad Perú said the new thrust of hydro development would result in “thousands of forced displacements” in the regions of Cajamarca and Amazonas. The highland region of Cajamarca straddles the continental divide that separates waters bound for the Pacific from those flowing into the Marañón, a major tributary of the Amazon. (AlertaPeru, Aug. 21 via Celendin Libre)

A new report by Peru Top Publications finds that mining investment in Peru in 2013 has reached a record $9.9 billion, a 15% increase over last year, with 54 major projects planned or already underway. Peru now ranks eighth in global mining investment, and its ranking will likely advance in the next two years. However, the report notes that the country currently lacks the energy capacity to meet the demands of the new mining projects, and a major expansion of the electricity sector will be necessary for the projected growth in the mineral sector. (La Republica, June 27)

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