Reporting on the conflict between the mega mining project Conga and the people of Cajamarca, Peru
This week has seen a resurgence in the Conga resistance. After a barrage of announcements by Yanacocha (initiated by Roque Benevides of Buenaventura, the second largest shareholder in Minas Conga) and the national government stating that the Conga project, supposedly in suspension, has been and continues to progress, over 1,500 villagers travelled by foot and by horse to inspect the site in immediate danger – the Perol Lagoon. On their way they were met with a contingent of approximately 150 special unit police (DINOES) who told them they could not continue as they were on the private property of Yanacocha (owners of Minas Conga). The delegation asserted that they were in fact on a public road and exerting their right to free transit, and attempted to continue. The national police then fired rubber bullets into the crowd and one man, José Guillermo Cueva, aged 30 was badly injured in the stomach and arm.
The delegation were unable to carry out their inspection.
The statements of provocation coming from the mining company and the government stated that they had almost completed the first reservoir of the project – at Chailhuagon, and the second, which is due to be finished at the end of this year, will be filled with water drained from the Perol Lagoon. They say that these reservoirs will increase the water available to local communities – part of their strategy, they say, of ‘building credibility and reservoirs’ (a reference to Yanacocha’s appalling record during the past 20 years of operation in Cajamarca during which time the population have suffered poisoning from mercury spills, water contamination, severe water shortage, cancer proliferation and deformities and deaths of animals).
However Secretary General of the Plataforma Interinstitucional Celendina (PIC) Milton Sanchez refutes the claim that these reservoirs are being built to serve the communities living in the area. For a start, he explains, the first reservoir is not actually a reservoir, it’s a dam. It has been built downstream from the Chailhuagon Lagoon and will supposedly increase its capacity and thus the amount of water available for the local population. This may be true for now, but what the mining company haven’t explained is that at the other side of Chailhuagon Lagoon is where they plan to construct a huge open pit – 1,800 meters wide and 500 meters deep. Once this is built this, with the help of gravity, it will suck the water from the lagoon leaving it, and Minas Conga’s newly build dam, without water and without function. The Perol reservoir, or dam, planned to replace the Perol Lagoon will be similarly useless once the second and bigger open pit measuring 2km wide and 800m deep destroys the lagoon, a lagoon which feeds the river Chirimayo and the wetlands which feed another river, River Chujurmayo, providing water for agriculture, cattle rearing and human consumption for thousands of inhabitants living in the communities below.
The idea of building ‘credibility and reservoirs’ is even more ludicrous, Milton Sanchez continues, when you consider the reservoirs of Yanacocha in Cajamarca. These reservoirs are dry and do nothing to alleviate the water shortage caused by the mine. The water that does flow in the rivers is water that has been pumped out by the mine after it has been loaded with heavy metals, as seen by concerned villagers who followed one of the largest rivers, the Rio Grande up to its source (see photo below).
Resistance reaffirmed and strengthened
If the government and the mining company had wanted to provoke the local population into action that is exactly what they got. Indignant because of the blatant contradiction of the suspension of the project, because of the recent repression and injury of a neighbour, because of justice still denied to the families of the four men and one boy who were killed by the police and military last summer, for the many others injured, and for the continuing threat to their water and their lives, the people of Cajamarca are once again ready to resist with all their strength.
Assemblies across the provinces of Celendin, Cajamarca and Bambamarca have been meeting to coordinate their renewed efforts to fight off this threat; today in Cajamarca city, the heart of Yanacocha, people poured out onto the streets to show their opposition to Conga, and on 17th June a mass mobilisation is planned to return to the Perol Lagoon. As this mega mining project continues, so does the resistance.