Reporting on the conflict between the mega mining project Conga and the people of Cajamarca, Peru
On Monday 17th June 4,000 indignant citizens marched to their threatened mountain lake to protect it from destruction from what would be one of South America`s largest mega mining projects – Minas Conga. They gathered where the police were blocking the communal road to guard the private property of the mining company responsible for the project – Yanacocha. They came from every corner of the three affected provinces of Celendin, Hualgayoc and Cajamarca – on foot, on horseback, and in vehicles. The international and national press also joined the masses.
The determined protesters marched to `El Perol` Lake, which is at immediate risk of destruction, and continued to the site of the dam being built by Minas Conga – the preliminary stage before draining the lake. It was only a month ago that Yanacocha announced it was ready to begin the building of their reservoir, the second of the project that is supposedly suspended. However the company also stated “we will only build the proposed Perol reservoir if we are able to secure all the necessary permits and complete an intensive public involvement process with neighboring communities.”
Therefore when the delegation arrived and found a well advanced construction site eating into the natural landscape, they realized the extent of the deliberate misinformation the company was disseminating. The company have not secured the necessary permits from the government, nor have they started their ´intensive public involvement process´ with the communities, however they are progressing with the construction, and apparently have been for some time. The mass mobilization at the mountain lake, and the corresponding one in the city of Celendin which saw 2,000 mobilised on the streets, clearly shows that there is no social license for this stage of the project, nor for any part of it.
Some individuals, indignant and angry, burned some covers covering the work, but no confrontations with the police took place and the protesters passed peacefully to an area of private property not owned by the mine. Unlike on other occasions the police remained at a distance, they did shoot but into the air and no-one was injured. This may be due to a call by Amnesty International on the day of the mobilization to the Peruvian government about the use of force in protests, detailing what this means exactly and recalling previous incidents of excessive use of force by the state against protesters.
Once gathered the multitude held an Assembly which saw all major campaign leaders reaffirming their commitment to the defense of their water. Regional President Gregorio Santos Guerrero stated his rejection of the project and promised to work for the wishes of the people. President of the Plataforma Interinstitucional Celendina (PIC) Milton Sanchez informed the crowd of the achievements of the campaign on an international level – such as a letter from European NGOs to the UN, a letter from European MEPs to Peruvian President Ollanta Humala calling for the definitive end to the project, a Belgian NGO petitioning Deutsche Bank to divest from Newmont – the main shareholder of Yanacocha, and a march in Denver – the home of Newmont, on the same day as the march in Cajamarca. He also repeated a long-standing request to the Regional Government to carry out a study of the affected zone documenting the work of the mine – vital to disprove the supposed two year suspension of the project announced by the mining company last year. Sanchez ended by giving credit where it`s due- to the communities who have been working tirelessly and courageously to defend their water, their lives and the lives of generations to come- fighting off against this immense threat which takes the form of Minas Conga.
The villagers have set up camp near to the dam construction site and have organized themselves to carry out rounds of constant vigilance to ensure the lake El Perol is not destroyed and that Conga, this aggressive extractive project without a social license, does not progress any further.
2000 citizens march in the city of Celendin on 17th June
(Photo: Dignidad Celendina)