Conga: Peru’s communities won’t trade clean water for Newmont’s mega gold mine
By Nick Magel
November 7, 2011
Peru is once again front and center in Latin America’s new gold rush. Gold is trading at record prices, and multinational mining corporations are developing at record speeds to firm their grip on the precious metal. This blitz, however, is bringing with it a renewed wave of social conflicts and community resistance to these mega mines. It is, in it’s simplest terms, between clean water and dirty gold.
One project making major headlines is Newmont’s Conga project is Northern Peru.
This past July Newmont (US) and Buenaventura (PE) committed together to invest between $4 and $4.8 billion, with the IFC kicking in the last 4% or so. This gold project is Peru’s largest single mining investment ever. It sits just down the way from Latin America’s largest gold mine, Yanacocha, and the highly controversial Cerro Quillish (both Newmont concessions). This record breaking mining project now sits as President Ollanta Humala’s first major challenge in “Peru's paradox of stellar economic growth and growing social unrest.”
Newmont claims that communities are all supportive of the company coming in and turning THIS (Laugua Perol) into THIS (existing Yanacocha mine), but in fact there has been major resistance to the Conga project for over 7 years(ES). The crux of the opposition is water.
It is feared that the Conga mining project will affect water resources(ES) in the provinces of Celendín, Bambamarca, La Encañada and Cajamarca. The proposed mine would require Newmont/Buenaventura to remove no less that 4 lakes(ES). The company has promised to replace these lakes with man-made reservoirs. The problem is the communities prefer the lakes, and they know something of gold mining’s track record in Peru. They have the clean water they need for their agriculture, their livestock, and their families. Why should they jepordize their clean water for someone else’s gold? It’s a simple question that cuts right to the matter of things.
The Conga project gained national headlines because of the record-breaking amount invested in the project. It is now grabbing those headlines again, for the amount of community resistance to the project. Just a few weeks ago protestors marched to Newmont’s fully operational Yanachocha mine and blockaded the mine for two days. Following the two-day protest executives representing the mining giants, local mayors and officials, and community members convened a number of roundtables to attempt to broker a solution to the growing conflict around the proposed Conga mine. After a few heated days with few breakthroughs President Humala sent his Ministers of Mines, the Environment, and Agriculture(ES) to the region.
The ministers visited the disputed site where they were flanked by hundreds of community members and workers from the area (pictured above). The trip was deemed productive by some, yet others viewed the visit as merely as a show(ES) orchestrated by the industry. The ministers left the region with a commitment to review the existing Environmental Impact Statement compiled by the companies, but that hardly quelled the opposition of the region.
Because of the impasse many of the region’s mayors and the President of the Cajamacra region himself have called for a full suspension of the mine and have organized a region-wide general strike for Wednesday to amplify their calls on Newmont and Buenaventura to stop all operations towards the development of the Conga mine and the destruction of their critical natural resources.
Tomorrow we’ll take a closer look at the particular threats that the Conga mining project will pose to the water sources in the Cajamarca region.
NOTE: "ES" denotes Spanish language link
UPDATE:Read my next blog post about the Coga proposal's threat to water sources.