Conga Conflict

Reporting on the conflict between the mega mining project Conga and the people of Cajamarca, Peru

Corrupting Cooperatives

We`re delighted to share the following opinion piece, which was written by Lucho Campos about his visit to Granja Porcón, Cajamarca:

My friend and I were excited when we first heard about Granja Porcón, a campesino cooperative nearby the city of Cajamarca, Peru. Given our interest in self-reliance, direct action and anarcho-syndicalism we decided to make a trip. Over the past year, we had visited many campesino communities in the region, and while inspired by the way they live their lives in synchronicity with nature, we were often disappointed by the destiny of the fruits of their labor.

On a previous journey to a community high in the mountains of Cajamarca, we noted a long line of metal canisters stretching along winding tracks on the outskirts of the fields, canisters filled with fresh milk that the workers of the land had set out for collection. The sight of silver canisters glistening into the distance sparked a romantic image of campesino living. However when we inquired further as to who collects these canisters the image was soon shattered- the fresh organic milk, we were told, is swept up by national or transnational corporations who bring it to their factories, pump it full of chemicals and sell it back to the campesinos, and the rest of the country. This is just one of many examples of how capitalism forces its way into every corner of life, commodifies it, and then pushes the consumption of a lesser version.

We had the expectation then, on our daytrip to Granja Porcón, of finding a different form of community, living autonomously outside of the system, and taking responsibility for, not just the production, but also the destination of their goods, without opening the doors to the capitalist middlemen.

On the road to the cooperative we drive by a stone workshop and see a giant Atahualpa statue with his arm raised above his head.  We assume the Inca King has his arm raised in the common revolutionary gesture and feel uplifted by his spirit, hopeful that the revolution lives on in individuals and communities who are choosing to reject the new form of colonialism that is cloaked in the pervasive ‘development’ dialogue.

We continue along the road, passing the community of Porcón Bajo where the locals still speak their native Quechua, passing also the offices of Minera Yanacocha and turning onto a road that goes through a pine forest.  We see a large herd of llama out to pasture and come upon a sign telling us that ´Jesus is the Light of the World´… in both Spanish and Quechua. Odd, we think, to translate the religion of the conquerors into the language of the conquered. After about 100 meters we come across another sign: ‘Think in the things of the sky, not in the things of the earth,’ a short while later another, and yet another, until we start to feel uncomfortable, as the signs flicker by and we enter deeper and deeper, hurtling towards the frontier of some sinister mystery, with the awareness of our lack of faith growing more acute with each bible sign.

My friend leans over, whispering, “It’s a Jehovah`s Witness community,” as if to ease my perplexed and anxious face. ´How does this fit in with our idea of cooperativism?´ we ask ourselves. The little I know about Jehovah`s Witnesses comes from what I’ve picked up in the plaza de armas of cities across Peru and Ecuador. They’re always on about how Eternal Life will come to earth when the ‘government of Jesus’ arrives, when there will no longer be other states or religions, and no one will have to work anymore (oh did I mention everyone who is not a Jehovah´s Witness will be wiped out in a massacre?), basking in a paradise where even the wild beasts will be tame. They hand out pamphlets with pictures of blonde haired children petting lions. Something eminently anti-nature struck me about their beliefs, in which divinity, humanity and nature are separated and hierarchized, with a correspondence linking Father, Señor and God, who is always on top. It is a theology of transcendence (think of the things of the sky) and authoritarianism…or as another sign reads, “Children, obey to the utmost your parents, because this gives thanks to the Lord.” I’m reminded of one of the few bible passages I’ve memorized: “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’”

Arriving, we pull up to a toll-booth. A woman says it’s 5 soles to enter. What is this, a theme park? But nothing could have prepared me for what came next. As we parked and I got out of the car, I was bombarded by bible quotations lining every wall and glaring out from above each window and door of the plaza. The names of stores did not diverge from this increasingly paranoia-inducing trope, ‘Jesus: Pan De La Vida’, ‘Panadaria Jesus’, ‘Biblioteca Central Benediction.’ If it were a theme park… what would it be called? … Jesus-Land?

Strolling around uneasily, we see a few other foreigners milling about. A combi minivan waits for them with the word ‘turismo’ above the windshield. Flags of every state in the world are lined up, wagging limply in the chill air, out in front of a large restaurant dominating one whole side of the plaza. We come to a dairy shop and try samples of cooperatively made cheeses and buy cooperatively made yogurt. We chat with the woman in ‘traditional’ dress behind the counter. She calls her blouse a ‘saco’, but I’m bewildered by the neon color.  We ask, “Do the men wear traditional dress too?” “Ya no.”  She tells us the men once wore pantelones de llana, llanques – (wool pants, leather sandals) but the men don’t wear them anymore. I wince, from the inequality. A theory begins to brew in my head, connecting all the others or shadows of the white western rational man. Nature/Culture, Animals/Humans, Women/Men, Children/Adults, Primitives/Civilized, Black/White, Rural/Urban, Mad/Sane… the list goes on and on, the first term is always in the position of slave to the master culture, always devalued, inferior in the psychological structure of modernity, under the law of value…and yet the list of subjugated others also has a wildness, a freedom… which makes them a continual threat to the system. The romantic spirit seeks to transgress this separation and contact the other, and even…become other.

We enter a ‘workshop’…though more a gift store. Generic ‘Andean’ bags, purses, belts, rugs and blankets hang from the walls. Turning around, I see some inhabitants eating lunch, four ‘traditionally’ dressed women sitting on the floor and one western dressed man on a stool… overlooking. Some voice inside my head calls out in a panic, these weaving machines are European, rather than the traditional Andean back-strap method. Then I notice that the four wooden machines each have a name tag, and a woman’s name scrawled in cursive script. Are the machines women workers or are the women working machines? In a flash, I am reminded of the time I visited the Newmont offices, and was horrified, each office being named after a lagoon scheduled for annihilation. The nightmare of hystery. Stealing the names, the souls, like a vampire-image draining away the essence of life to feed its bureaucratic lifelessness.

We walk outside and see the place where the leche is refrigerated. The sign outside reads ‘Nestle’ and the name of the coop. Our dream of autonomous living is dissolving. The middle man hasn’t been expelled, he’s just hiding behind the ‘cooperative’. The campesinos are being milked, my mind punning in desperation, cheesy cheese.

We continue along the picturesque route, coming to a river (“the only one I’ve seen in Peru that they haven’t thrown trash into,” my friend comments) and an expensive wooden bridge. Pass another biblical phrase depicting the idealized view: “En las Alturas abrire rios y Fuentes en medio de los valles.” (In the highlands I open rivers and fountains in between the valleys.)

We stop at a gazebo and for a moment fall under the spell, enchanted by the vicuñas running free over the hillside, school children coming home playing religious music from their cell phones. We try to take a peaceful breath.

Then we visit the zoo. “What? There’s a zoo here?” “Yes, there’s a zoo.” A sign out front says, “It is prohibited to bring pets to the zoologico.” Might be mistaken for animals and locked up. Black visitors to plantation beware. A woman, sitting on the dirt, is offering pictures with robed llama and horse, for half a sol. Struck again by the dress of both the woman and the llama: excessive, bright, vulgar… garish…

The first cage reads: “Condor Real” – a strange looking white bird with piercing eyes. Then, “Condor Andino”, whose cage seems to be empty, but no, there was the master of the sky, now a hobbling buzzard. Opening its enormous wing span, with nowhere to go. Then it showed us a hole beneath the wood boards. The condor was trying to get a part of its body out. But if it did escape would it still be able to fly?  We pet its giant bald bird head which comes protruding from the hole, its eyes rolling wildly, blue tongue curling, as its beak clamps affectionately the fingers of my friend.

Pumas pacing up and down. Don’t know what to do with all their energy. Andean might caged up. I remember the Mochi sculptures once portrayed a hunter with slain deer slung on his back, but after the Conquest, sculptures were made of hunters with pumas on their back, a symbol that they´d been dominated.

Leopards. Two adults in a tiny cage. Across the way a baby leopard, in a bigger cage than the two adults, hiding in the very corner, beside a ball he’s supposed to play with.

I wonder again about the Jehovah´s Witnesses. Children petting lions. Lions eating grass. No longer predators, denaturalized.

We walk past a gaggle of geese honking at us. The one up front has half his beak broken off, but still persists in eating grass.

Come to the bears: four on top of a wire stand, one down below, hopping from foot to foot then jumping over an invisible obstacle. Repeat. Desperate attempt to expend some of his natural energy. Crazy look in his eyes.

Monkeys: they have more space to play– because it entertains the punters. One sad monkey looking forlornly at us through an electric fence.

“Why is this community so rich? How do they keep these exotic animals?” I find myself asking.

Caged eagles. Beside them a sign reads, ‘those who believe in God will have new force and fly like the eagles, they will run without tiring and walk without fatigue’. Regal eagle, Andino eagle. Am I the only one who sees the irony? ‘Mirad las aves del cielo, que no siembran ni siegan.’ (Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap) I´m not sure what that sign is supposed to mean.

Leaving the zoo, we pass woman working with flowers, dressed in their traditional costumes. “It’s like the campesinos are part of the zoo,” whispers my friend.

We go to the overpriced restaurant with all the flags of all the states of the world lined up out front: “Venio, comeo,” reads the carved wooden sign hanging above the doorway. ‘Suprema Americana de pollo’ 12 soles. “Kind of expensive…no?” I ask. Inside more of the florescent and neon dressed women are serving a large table of people and children. “Son de la mina” (“They’re from the mine”). ‘Worldwide Logistics Network’ reads the back of a man’s technician’s vest.

I chew my not very traditional chifa and ponder the absurdity of the signs. The interior of the restaurant is as well subject to an excess of signification. Entering you read: ‘What more can you spend your money on than bread?’ Then after you’ve spent your money on overpriced bread, you’re greeted with a sign saying, ‘Man cannot live on bread alone’, directing you to the next shop.

Suddenly my friend asks, “Is this a community?”                                                                                                                                                                 “Kind of.”

“Well what is it?”                                                                                                                                                            “A spectacle.”

Coming out, we encounter a huge bus with the name of the cooperative on the side, ‘Atahualpa Jerusalen,’ and walking to the front are greeted, this time not by a Jesus sign, but by a miner sign: ‘Minera Yanacocha.’ We’re shocked for a moment, then we’re shocked at ourselves, that it took this long to realize, the real driving force behind this spectacle isn’t Jesus after all, it’s Yanacocha. In this moment of confusion and illumination I read the sign above the doorway of the house which the bus is parked out in front of: ‘Johova te guardara de todo mal’ (‘Jehova will guard you from all evil’). I stand dazed by the irony, the contradiction, the hypocrisy, the profound absurdity, as I turn my dumbfounded head from one sign to the other. Jehovah and the Devil are working hand in hand, carajo!

We ask our Peruvian friends and find out that the cooperative was once as we were hoping now to encounter, but the mine saw the opportunity to polish its public image. The mine brings people from Celendin to Granja Porcón to show off the cooperative as an example of how the mine can live symbiotically with a community, concealing the reality of its parasitic relationship, having consumed so entirely its host, which now remains simply an empty shell.

The Andean is put on show, but without power, like a eunuch. What seems to be the authority is the colonial religion– all signs speak of God, el Señor, the sky, maintaining the hierarchy, but behind the signs is the occult power of capitalism, so ruthlessly effective in its control because it hides behind the mirage of perfection: an ideal, virtual community. And ‘Atahualpa Jerusalen’ is the model for other cooperatives throughout all of Peru.

Dejected, on our way home, we stop at the Atahualpa statue. 10,000 soles, “only a municipality or rich people can afford it,” a Peruvian friend mutters with scorn. We find out that the statue alludes to the Emperor´s final moments, when the Spanish ordered the Inca people to fill two rooms of silver and one room of gold up to the height of Atahualpa’s hand, as a ransom for the Son of the Sun´s life (upon receiving the ransom, he was executed all the same). The sacred body was converted into a monetary measurement, quantifying and abstracting all the riches (spiritual as well as material) of the Inca into capital. Conquest and commodification coincided in the hystery of political-theological economy. Looking up at this image of subjection and domination, our hope that history could be changed, rewritten, reversed…falls away.

Wandering around the sculpture shops with downcast eyes, in the last few minutes before we reboard the idling minivan, I come upon shelves of stone mining trucks, and then find an immaculately carved chess board: on one side are what appear to be miners and on the other side a line of determined looking campesinos, ready to take them on in the fight for their land. There is a glimmer of hope here, the outcome has not yet been decided. We reflect that it is not as this chessboard depicts, it’s not a fair fight, as the mine’s pockets are filled with all the money, corrupt politicians, and state violence that they could ask for. But the campesinos have something much stronger – community, spirit, passion, and love for (and connection to) the Earth Mother.



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This entry was posted on June 29, 2013 by in Comment and tagged , , , , .
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