Peru: villages to hold referendum on Conga project

Villages in the area to be impacted by the controversial Conga gold mine in Peru’s Cajamarca region announced last week that they will hold a referendum on the project—with the support of the regional government but not Lima. The vote will be held in Celendin and Bambamarca provinces in July, said a statement from the Cajamarca Unitary Struggle Command (CUL). “A consultation will be held on the Minas Conga project in order to see what the population thinks,” said the CUL’s Marco Arana. The consultation is being organized by traditional village authorities, and seems not to have been endorsed by the provincial governments. The mayor of Huasmin district in Celendín, José Eriberto Marín Agusti, is backing the referendum.

The CUL is also planning new protests against the project, which leaders say will degrade the regions waters. With tourist-drawing Carnival festivities planned for Cajamarca, accompanied by much drinking of traditional maize beer (chicha), CUL is warning: “Sin agua no hay maíz; sin maíz, no hay chicha; y sin chicha, no hay carnaval.” (Without water, there is no maize; without maize, there is no chicha; and without chicha there is no Carnival.”) (Dow Jones, Feb. 4; RPPUnitary Struggle Command statement, Feb. 1)

Cañaris zone in “permanent resistance”
In the wake of a violent confrontation with National Police near the Canadian-owned Cañaris mine site last month in neighboring Lambayeque region, local campesino communities have declared a state of “permenant mobilization and resistance.” The announcement came Feb. 5, after a “dialogue table” brokered by the national government with the mine and traditional village authorities broke down. The Presidency of the Council of Ministers, as Peru’s cabinet is known, initiated the dialogue after the confrontation, but village leaders have now suspended it, accusing government negotiators of dismissing their demands.

After a meeting in the city of Chiclayo, the statement was jointly issued by the communities of San Juan de Cañaris, San Isidro Labrador de Marayhuaca, José Carlos Mariátegui and San Pablo de Incahuasi. While early accounts had two campesinos injured by blows to the head in the Jan. 25 confrontation, community leaders now say one suffered a bullet wound. (La Republica, Servindi, Feb. 5; Celendin Libre, Jan. 25)

Militarization of mineral zones
In the prelude to the confrontation, Interior Minister Wilfredo Pedraza publicly stated his intention to beef up the National Police presence in areas of the country where there are mining-related conflicts, singling out Lambayeque. Said Pedraza: “The mining conflict is going to be permanent, and therefore we have the necessity to create police fronts to guarantee…mineral investment and also peaceful protest.” (RPP, Jan. 22)

The government is meanwhile pledging more investment in social programs for the mineral-rich but marginalized northern regions. Cabinet chief Juan Jiménez Mayor said Feb. 5 that the central government is prepared to assist in any development project proposed by the Cajamarca regional government. Cajamarca’s authorities have long been bitterly at odds with Lima over the Conga project. (El Peruano, Feb. 5)