Reporting on the conflict between the mega mining project Conga and the people of Cajamarca, Peru
The following post is by Lynda Sullivan, human and environmental rights campaigner, based in Celendin.
As I sit down to write this I’m looking out over the beautiful Laguna Azul (Blue Lagoon) high in the mountains of northern Peru. It’s been three weeks since the last time I was here, and I feel privileged to be given the opportunity to visit this special place again so soon.
Two reporters from the Lima collective Nadie Nos Pagan – Alexander Luna and Jesus Martinez Mogrovejo, are visiting Celendin to take photos and document the personal stories of the men, women and children involved in La Lucha (the struggle) against the mega mining project Conga. They wanted to visit the heart of the conflict – the life-giving lagoons, the water source of the regions of Cajamarca, Celendin and Hulgayoc that are under threat of destruction and contamination. So I jumped on board for the ride.
The journey there is spectacular; we ascend the huge mountains whech plunge into deep valleys – passing humble houses made of earth whose owners farm the land and tend to their animals. Some fields are almost vertical but they somehow still manage to cultivate them. The land is rich and green, fed by a complex water system – the source of which is our destination.
First though we stop in the small village of Lirio. There’s a meeting of the seven communities of the area who maintain the ‘agua potable’ system – ensuring the water flowing from the lagoons above remains free from contamination – reaching and enriching the land below. Representatives from each community meet bi-monthly to discuss and resolve any issues that arise. Recently however they have been confronted with issues not so easily solvable – because the problem does not lie within. A foreign mining company (US-based Newmont Mining Corporation) wants to drain and exploit two lagoons and turn two others into toxic waste dumps.
The water received below will be greatly reduced and what is left polluted with the toxic waste. Obviously the vast majority of people that will be affected do not want this to happen, and have voiced their opposition. However, across the country in the capital many believe, due to false information spread by the mining company, that the lagoons are ‘naturally polluted’, that the water they supply is not fit for human consumption or agricultural use. The thousands of inhabitants of the region who live and whose families for many generations have lived off the land contest this ludicrous assertion. So does the presence of many species of fish that populate the lagoons and rivers.
The elected speaker of the meeting asks any of the community representatives to raise their hand if the water in their area of responsibility is polluted – if they, their animals or their crops have experienced sickness or death from drinking it. Not one hand goes up. No our water is not polluted, says one community leader, not yet.
To read the rest of the article, including how we were detained three times by the DINOES (Special Unit of the National Police) click here
Photo by Nadie Nospaga