Peruvians in Cajamarca stop the building of giant gold mine, 2011-2012

Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly versionPDF versionPDF version
Timing
Time Period:  
November
2011
to
August
2012
Location and Goals
Country: 
Peru
Location City/State/Province: 
Cajamarca
Goals: 
To permanently stop the building of the Conga mine by the Newmont Mining Corporation.
 

In February 2010, U.S.-based Newmont Mining Company proposed a joint venture with the Peruvian company Mina Buenaventura to build the Conga mine, a new gold mine, in the Cajamarca region of Peru. Newmont proposed investing $4.8 billion in the project, the largest investment in Peru’s history, and the mine would become the second largest gold mine in the world. Newmont hoped to begin production in either 2014 or 2015, upon getting permission from the Peruvian government. Newmont submitted an environmental impact study for the Conga mine, which the Peruvian government approved.

However, Peruvian locals in Cajamarca opposed the building of the Conga mine, concerned that the project would affect the fragile mountain wetlands in Cajamarca that include numerous lakes, rivers, and marshes that supply the region locals’ drinking water. Locals were not convinced by Newmont’s additional proposal to build artificial lakes to replace the four main high altitude lakes that would be affected by the mine. Locals in Cajamarca mistrusted the new project from the start, since Cajamarca is one of Peru’s most heavily mined regions and locals have experienced a history of troubled relations with mining companies in the region – including Newmont, which proposed the Yanacocha gold mine, Latin America’s largest gold mine, outside Cajamarca in 1993.

The president of Peru, Ollanta Humala, publicly supported the Cajamarca locals’ opposition to the Conga mine as a presidential candidate and had stated, “the lagoons of Cajamarca are not for sale, because you can’t drink gold, and you don’t eat gold”. However, after being sworn into office on 28 July 2011, Humala later changed his stance and supported the building of the Conga mine, with the justification that Peru needs the project due to the profits and jobs it would generate. Mining makes up a substantial portion of the Peruvian economy, as mining accounts for about 60% of Peru’s export earnings.

On 24 November 2011, an estimated 10,000 residents of Cajamarca (with a total population of about 200,000) marched through the city to protest the building of the Conga. Cajamarca state governor Gregorio Santos helped lead protest efforts. During the march, protesters clashed with riot police who tear-gassed and fired upon protesters, resulting in reportedly 17 injuries. Protesters also used boulders to blockade the main roads in the region. Some Cajamarca-area schools and businesses closed in protest. In the nearby region of Yanacocha, protesters also reportedly entered the Newmont-owned mine site there and destroyed a warehouse. On 30 November, Newmont announced its decision to suspend construction activities at the proposed Conga mine site, as several of its installations were destroyed over six days of protest.

The protests went on to last for eleven days, prompting Humala to declare a state of emergency on 5 December. Under the state of emergency, police forces continued to use tear gas and rubber bullets on protesters. In addition, Humala wanted to urge more dialogue between the government and the protesters, and sent a government delegation, led by former Peruvian Prime Minister Salomon Lerner Ghitis, to speak with the local officials in Cajamarca who supported protesters. However, the talks ultimately failed and Humala decided to replace 10 of his cabinet ministers to try and find new ways to resolve the protests.

On 2 January 2012, Cajamarca locals resumed demonstrations over the course of two days. 2,000 Peruvians marched in Cajamarca, carrying signs reading slogans like, “Let’s defend our sources of water, now or never”. While anti-riot police stood guard during the protest, the march ended peacefully with no confrontations between police and protesters. Gregorio Santos continued to help lead the protesters, and reiterated protesters’ demands to shut down plans to build the Conga mine and also voiced protesters’ demands for a new study of the environmental impact of the mine. On 14 February 2012, the Peruvian government appointed foreign engineers to conduct an independent review of the proposal to build the Conga mine.

On 22 March, Cajamarca locals organized another march against the Conga mine – specifically choosing to march on World Water Day to continue to draw attention to their reasons for opposing the mine’s building. Thousands of residents marched to Laguna Azul, one of the high altitude lakes that would be affected by the Conga mine. Once they had gathered at Laguna Azul, protesters cupped water from the lake in their hands and drank it down. The crowds listened to speakers, who rallied protesters to continue their efforts against the mine. At the end of demonstration, protesters sang “Agua si! Oro no!” (Water, yes! Gold, no!) – a song by local Peruvian group Tinkari.

On 9 April, over 200 protesters marched in Cajamarca as the international consultants appointed by the government in February were to release their report on how local water sources would be affected by the mine that week. On 11 April, protesters launched a 24-hour general strike in Cajamarca, shutting down most of the city. Protesters held a mass meeting in the central square of Cajamarca as campesinos came from the outlying provinces of Celendin and Bambamarca. Protesters used rocks and tree trunks to barricade main roads through the area, blocking traffic for several hours.

On 17 April, the report by the international environmental consultants hired by Peru’s government was released. The consultants concluded that the environmental impact study conducted by Newmont had met required standards, but that a number of “substantive improvements” could be made to Newmont’s proposal including an expansion of water reservoirs to be built in the area.

In late June, the Peruvian government cleared Newmont to resume work that had been halted in November when its installations in Cajamarca had been destroyed during protests. In response, protesters organized mass demonstrations and marches in early July. On 3 July, several individuals were killed after as many as 2000 protesters planned to storm municipal offices in Celendin, a town close to where the Conga mine would be built. Protesters reportedly set fire to vehicles and attacked other government buildings in town. Consequently after some of the clashes between police and protesters had turned fatal, on the night of 3 July, Humala declared a third state of emergency in Cajamarca and the two neighboring provinces of Celendin and Bambamarca. That evening and on the following morning of 4 July, police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse protesters from the main public areas of Cajamarca. Police also arrested Marco Arena, one of the leaders of a local group that opposed the mine, along with six other protesters. Arena was later released from police custody a day after a video had aired on local TV that showed him being detained and beaten by police.

On 5 July, Peruvian lawmakers harshly criticized President Ollanta Humala’s decision to announce a state of emergency to crackdown on protesters. The five lawmakers who left Humala’s political party demanded that Prime Minster Oscar Valdes and Interior Minister Wilver Calle be forced to leave their positions in Humala’s cabinet for failing to resolve the protests in a less violent manner.

In light of the events that occurred in July and increasing pressure from within the Peruvian government, on the evening of 28 August, Peruvian Prime Minister Juan Jimenez announced the government’s decision to order the suspension of the building of the Conga mine and to place the project “on the back burner”. Jimenez announced the government’s decision to give Newmont two years to come up with a way to guarantee that safe water could be supplied for residents of Cajamarca if the mine was to be built. Newmont’s CEO Richard O’Brien stated, “Right now we don’t see [a successful operating] environment in Conga. It will take a significant change to make that happen.” O’Brien went on to state that that Newmont would only proceed with the project if there was strong community backing, with an alignment between Peru’s central government under Humala and the regional government of Cajamarca under Santos.

Since then, it has been unclear whether Newmont will proceed with the building of the mine, though there has been speculation that Newmont will wait until Santos leaves office in 2014. There had not been any government action to move forward on the Conga mine until 12 November, when Environmental Minister Manuel Pulgar Vidal stated that the government was considering resuming talks with locals in the area to restart negotiations on the building of the mine. However, given the strong opposition in Cajamarca, where 78% of people still oppose the mine, and Santos’ statement that the locals will not ask for anything less than a permanent decision to shut down the entire Congas mine project, it seems unlikely that such talks would be successful.

Research Notes
Sources: 
Bernard, Alice, and Diego Cupolo. "Peru: Cajamarca Protests Continue as Conga Gold Mine Awaits Green Light." Upsidedownworld.org. Upside Down World Online Magazine, 29 Mar. 2012. Web. 23 Nov. 2012. <http://upsidedownworld.org/main/peru-archives-76/3544-peru-cajamarca-protests-continue-as-conga-gold-mine-awaits-green-light>.

Cabitza, Mattia. "Peru Seeks to Build a New Relationship with Mining Companies." The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 08 Aug. 2012. Web. 23 Nov. 2012. <http://www.guardian.co.uk/global-development/2012/aug/08/peru-seeks-new-relationship-mining-companies>.

"Doing the Conga." Economist.com. The Economist Newspaper, 10 Dec. 2011. Web. 23 Nov. 2012. <http://www.economist.com/node/21541420>.

Finlayson, Bryan. "Conga Mine Protests Continue as Peruvians Await Court Decision | North American Congress on Latin America." Nacla.org. North American Congress on Latin America, 19 Jan. 2012. Web. 23 Nov. 2012. <http://nacla.org/news/2012/1/19/conga-mine-protests-continue-peruvians-await-court-decision>.

Gerken, James. "Peru's Conga Gold Mine Project Opposed By Local Farmers." The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 29 Aug. 2012. Web. 23 Nov. 2012. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/29/peru-conga-gold-mine-project_n_1840329.html>.

Hoetmer, Raphael. "Protests Could Derail Peru's Giant Conga Mine€“." Protests Could Derail Peru's Giant Conga Mine –. The Americas Program of the Center for International Policy, 16 Aug. 2012. Web. 24 Nov. 2012. <http://www.cipamericas.org/archives/7741>.

Jamasmie, Cecilia. "Newmont Faces New Protests in Peru as Key Report for $4.8 Billion Conga Project Expected This Week." Mining.com. Fundamental Research Corporation, 10 Apr. 2012. Web. 24 Nov. 2012. <http://www.mining.com/newmont-faces-more-protests-in-peru-as-key-report-for-its-4-8-billion-conga-project-expected-to-be-issued-this-week/>.

Jasamie, Cecilia. "Newmont Suspends Construction at the Conga Project in Agreement with the Government of Peru." Mining.com. Fundamental Research Corporation, 30 Nov. 2011. Web. 24 Nov. 2012. <http://www.mining.com/newmont-suspends-construction-at-the-conga-project-in-agreement-with-the-government-of-peru/>.

Jamasmie, Cecilia. "Peru Abandons Newmont's $4.8 Billion Conga." Mining.com. Fundamental Research Corporation, 28 Aug. 2012. Web. 23 Nov. 2012. <http://www.mining.com/peru-abandons-newmonts-4-8-billion-conga-project-66180/>.

Jasamie, Cecilia. "Peru's Conga Mine Future in Hands of Foreign Consultants." Mining.com. Fundamental Research Corporation, 15 Feb. 2012. Web. 24 Nov. 2012. <http://www.mining.com/perus-conga-mine-future-in-hands-of-foreign-consultants/>.

Kozak, Robert. "Peru Protests Slow Mine Plan, Growth." Wsj.com. The Wall Street Journal, 24 Aug. 2012. Web. 23 Nov. 2012. <http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10000872396390444358404577605511144775168.html>.

"Left, Right Criticize Humala over Deadly Peru Clashes." Reuters.com. Reuters, 5 July 2012. Web. 23 Nov. 2012. <http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/07/05/peru-newmont-idUSL2E8I5DV420120705>.

Leon, Adriana, and Chris Kraul. "Protests Mount against Proposed Gold Mine in Northern Peru." Latimes.com. The Los Angeles Times, 25 Nov. 2011. Web. 23 Nov. 2012. <http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/world_now/2011/11/peru-gold-mine-protests.html>.

Manglik, Vrinda. "Conga No Va: Peruvians Die in Gold Mine Protests." Sagemagazine.org. Sage Magazine, 10 July 2012. Web. 23 Nov. 2012. <http://sagemagazine.org/occupy-cajamarca-peruvians-die-in-protests-against-us-mining-company/>.

"Newmont Mine "on Back Burner": Peru Cabinet Chief." Reuters.com. Reuters, 23 Aug. 2012. Web. 23 Nov. 2012. <http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/08/23/us-peru-mining-newmont-idUSBRE87M0MK20120823>.

"Peru Protests Ensue despite Emergency Degree." Aljazeera.com. Aljazeera, 5 July 2012. Web. 23 Nov. 2012. <http://www.aljazeera.com/news/americas/2012/07/20127513330781731.html>.

"Peru State of Emergency over Conga Mine to Expire." Bbc.co.uk. BBC, 09 Feb. 2012. Web. 23 Nov. 2012. <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-19454440>.

Trujillo, Luisa. "From Yanacocha to Conga: Peruvians Keep Fighting against Destructive Mining Industry / Waging Nonviolence - People-Powered News and Analysis." Wagingnonviolence.org. Waging Nonviolence, 17 Dec. 2011. Web. 23 Nov. 2012. <http://wagingnonviolence.org/2011/12/from-yanacocha-to-conga-peruvians-keep-fighting-against-destructive-mining-industry/>.

Quigley, John. "Peru Police Arrest Newmont Protesters Amid Emergency Measure." Businessweek.com. Bloomberg News, 4 July 2012. Web. 23 Nov. 2012. <http://www.businessweek.com/news/2012-07-03/peru-calls-state-of-emergency-in-cajamarca-after-deadly-protests>.

Watts, Jonathan, and Dan Collyns. "Peru's Environment Minister Hails 'Landmark' Mining Reforms." Guardian.co.uk. Guardian News and Media, 03 Sept. 2012. Web. 23 Nov. 2012. <http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/sep/04/peru-environment-mining-reforms>.

Zelman, Joanna. "Peru's Conga Mine Protests Resume In Cajamarca." The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 03 Jan. 2012. Web. 23 Nov. 2012. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/03/peru-conga-mine-protests_n_1180750.html>.

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Rosanna Kim, 25/11/2012