In an interview with Dow Jones last week, Richard O'Brien, CEO of Colorado-based Newmont Mining Corp. acknowledged that the conditions do not exist to move ahead with the $5 billion Conga gold and copper project in Cajamarca, Peru. O'Brien said there must be a "consistent environment that we would need for the successful conduct of both mining and all those things that go with mining, whether that is transporting people or equipment. Right now we don't see that environment in Conga. It will take a significant change to make that happen." (Fox Business News, Aug. 17) This week, a new 48-hour paro (civil strike) has been declared to oppose the Conga project in Cajamarca region, much of which remains under a state of emergency. To kick off the strike Aug. 22, hundreds of campesinos marched in the province of Bambamarca, in defiance of a ban on public protests. The marchers were mostly ronderos (members of the self-defense patrol) the outlying village of El Tambo, which is within the impact zone of the proposed mine. The campesinos held a gathering at Laguna Namococha, one of the highland lakes that would be degraded by the project. (La Republica, Aug. 22)
The campesino communities of Ayavaca and Huancabamba in Peru's northern Piura region held assemblies Aug. 16 and issued a statement pledging to resist recently announced plans by Chinese mining company Zijin to move ahead with the long-contested Río Blanco copper project. The communities cited the need to protect threatened watersheds, wetlands and cloud forests in the high Andean region, noting that they have been officially listed as "fragile ecosystems" under Peruvian law. The local jalca ecosystem, which exists only in Peru's northern Andean regions near the border with Ecuador, is richer in water than the more arid high plains known as punas elsewhere in the country. Read the statement: "Ayavaca and Huancabamba are today more alert than ever and ready to commit our lives for the defense of water for future generations." (Megaproyectos, Aug. 16; CONDESAN)
Five soldiers were killed in an attack by presumed Shining Path guerrillas Aug. 15 on a military base in Mazangaro, Junin region, in Peru's Apurimac-Ene River Valley (VRAE). According to La Republica, the attack could be in response to the army's seizure three days prior to the assault of 800 kilos of precursor chemicals used in the production of cocaine. (InSight Crime, Aug. 16) Two days after the attack, Peru's special anti-terrorism prosecutor, Julio Galindo, asserted that the Shining Path column in the coca-growing region was financed not only by the narco traffic, but by illegal gold-mining and logging. He said the state is attempting to crack down on the guerilla column's money laundering networks, which he characterized as "very technical." He also referred to the area of guerilla operations as the VRAEM—including the Mantaro River in the acronym, a western tributary of the Apurimac-Ene, in an implicit acknowledgement that the insurgency is spreading. (Perú21, Aug. 18; El Comercio, Aug. 17)
Construction of a "new paradigm" for a "sustainable civilization" to uphold the principle of "buen vivir" (good life) was one of the resolutions to emerge from the Third Congress of the Andean Coordinator of Indigenous Organizations (CAOI), held July 15-7 at Chinauta in Colombia's central Cundinamarca department. Presided over by CAOI's director Miguel Palacín Quispe of Peru, the meeting brought together leaders of four member organizations: the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC), the Confederation of Kichwa Peoples of Ecuador (ECUARUNARI), Peru's National Confederation of Communities Affected by Mining (CONACAMI) and Bolivia's National Council of Ayllus and Markas of Qullasuyu (CONAMAQ). The closing statement charged that "in the Andean Region and all the continent, States, whether openly neoliberal, 'alternative' or 'progressive,' persist in application of a neoliberal extractive model, that undermines the fundamental rights of indigenous peoples, plunders the natural resources, and defiles Mother Earth..." (Servindi, Aug. 1; CONAMAQ, July 26)
In a turn-around in the conflict over the proposed Conga gold mine in Cajamarca, Peru, right-wing fujimorista congressman from the region, Joaquín Ramírez Gamarra, has come out publicly for shelving the project in the interests of social peace. "The suspension of the Conga mining project is the best path to follow," he said. "It will permit us to not only calm the situation, but also to open spaces for dialogue." Breaking ranks with President Ollanta Humala, he added: "The state of emergency should be lifted; the provinces of Cajamarca, Celendín and Bambamarca cannot remain under a state of exception. This would say much about the proposal for an opening on the part of the Executive." (El Mercurio, Cajamarca, Aug. 14; RPP, Aug. 7)
More than 500 residents in the campesino community of Tumpa in Yungay province of Peru's central Andean region of Áncash, began blocking roads leading to the local operations of the Mina California company Aug. 6, declaring an open-ended paro (civil strike) to demand a halt to the mine's pollution of local waters. The mine is located near Nevado Huascarán, Peru's highest mountain, and the national park of the same name, which forms the headwaters of several of Peru's major rivers. (Servindi, Aug. 6) That same day, Aymara indigenous residents of Acora community in Puno region announced that a 72-hour paro will begin Aug. 13, to protest President Ollanta Humala's plans to move ahead with the Pasto Grande II irrigation project. The Pasto Grande II project would divert waters from the Lake Titicaca basin for agribusiness tracts on the coast in Moquegua region. The strike, called by the South Puno Natural Resources Defense Front, will also protest contamination of local waters by mining and other extractive industries. (Pachamama Radio, Aug. 10; Los Andes via La Mula, Aug. 6)
On Aug. 1, Peru's President Ollanta Humala signed a decree extending for another 60 days the state of emergency in the remote jungle area called the VRAE, for the Apurímac-Ene River Valley, where a remnant faction of the Shining Path guerilla movement remains active. However, as we have repeatedly noted, the acronym "VRAE" is becoming an elastic term defined by areas where the Shining Path is active rather than by geography. The state of emergency includes Echarate district, in La Convención province, Cuzco region—in the valley of the Urubamba, the next river basin to the east of the Apurímac-Ene. Similarly, districts of Tayacaja province in Huancavelica region are also affected—in the watershed of the Río Mantaro, to the west of the Apurímac-Ene, and on the edge of the central Andean section of the country. Affected districts in Ayacucho and Junín regions constitute the VRAE "proper"—actually within the Apurímac-Ene watershed. Most of the affected districts have been under a repeatedly extended state of emergency since May 2003, but Echarate only came under the decree in April after guerillas took scores of oil pipeline construction workers hostage.
The president of Peru's Cajamarca region, Gregorio Santos, said Aug. 9 that he sees no purpose in continuing talks with two Roman Catholic priests trying to mediate a peaceful solution to the dispute over the proposed Conga gold-mining project. "The facilitators have already completed their tasks," Santos said. "The facilitators aren't going to make any decisions. The executive branch already knows the position of the people of Cajamarca." The statement came the day after facilitators, Trujillo Archbishop Miguel Cabrejos and dissident priest Gaston Garatea (suspended from the ministry by the Archdiocese of Lima for his populist positions), met with Prime Minister Juan Jiménez and other members of President Ollanta Humala's cabinet. The facilitators issued a statement calling on the central government to lift the state of emergency that was imposed on much of Cajamarca region in early July following an escalations of protests against the Conga project. (Dow Jones, Aug. 9; Andina, Aug. 8; CNA, July 24)