Peru’s cabinet in bid to save Conga project

Peru’s government is seeking to restart talks with opponents of the $5 billion Minas Conga copper and gold mining project in the northern region of Cajamarca, Environment Minister Manuel Pulgar Vidal Nov. 14. Pulgar Vidal said in a TV interview that Catholic priests Miguel Cabrejos and Gastón Garatea will resturn to dialogue, and called upon Cajamarca’s regional president Gregorio Santos, to participate. “He has to be there,”  Pulgar Vidal said when asked if Santos, a harsh opponent of the project, would join the talks. As Pulgar Vidal spoke, campesino mine opponents from Cajamarca and their local supporters were maintaining a plantón (open-ended protest vigil) in front of the Lima offices of Newmont Mining, the US company that is the major investor in the Conga project.

The protesters  charged that work on artificial reservoirs at the Conga site is underway despite assurances that the project is suspended, and called on Newmont to make clear what the status of the project is. The opponents also met with members of the Congressional Commission on Andean, Amazonian and Afro-Peruvian Peoples, and visited with Elmer Campos and Carlos Chávez, two campesinos wounded in a confrontation with police at the Conga site a year ago, who remain hospitalized in Lima.

More than 1,000 protesters are camping at the high-altitude Conga site to monitor activities there. A large detachment of National Police has been mobilized to the site, and there is fear of a new confrontation. Interviewed by the Lima-based online program Radicales Libres, representatives of the “Guardians of the Lagunas” asserted, “We prefer to die by bullets than to die from mining contamination.” (Celendin Libre, Nov. 14; Celendin Libre, Nov. 17; Dow Jones, Nov. 14)