Reporting on the conflict between the mega mining project Conga and the people of Cajamarca, Peru
By Milton Sánchez
Residents of 11 communities from the towns of Huacataz and Otuzco, in the province of Cajamarca, users of the irrigation canals Tres Tingos, Muyoc, Huacatáz, Chicospata, among others, marched through the main streets of the city in protest against Minera Yanacocha, which, as a result of its mining operations in the basin headwaters, has caused the decline and contamination of water sources, reported the angry farmers.
Villagers indicate that problems began to be evident 20 years ago when Yanacocha began its mining operations in Cajamarca, and intensifying after 10 years of operations. They also indicated that the communities receive treated water, unfit for human consumption and laden with heavy metals. They additionally reported that since the presence of the mining activity the population has had health problems, diseases of the stomach and sore throats.
While elaborate radio spots broadcast on several local radio stations in Cajamarca proclaim that the population has 30% more water than before, thanks to Yanacocha; director of external affairs of the questioned mining company, Raul Farfan, in statements to the press, said that these charges made against them are not true and instead it is the managers of the irrigation canals Tres Tingos, La Quinua and Totoras, who threaten users with fines if they do not mobilize. He also argued that it is due to economic and political interests that some seek to harm Yanacocha.
However already on several opportunities the population has mobilized to denounce the contamination and disappearance of their water sources. On 11th June of this year residents of La Ramada, Manzanas Alto and Plan Manzanas mobilized in front of ALA Cajamarca (the local water board), to denounce that Yanacocha had taken away the water for over 400 families.
In May, residents of Quishuar – Aliso Colorado entered the La Quinua South open pit of Yanacocha to express outrage because the springs that endowed water to the Encajón ravine had dried up due to mining activities . They demanded compliance with previous commitments the company had made – such as the construction and implementation of a dairy processing plant in the Aliso Colorado village and the amplification of the electrification of Quishuar Corral. (See here)
Photo: Villagers of Quishuar the open pit La Quinua
The Yanacocha mine, at that time, like today, issued an official statement assuring that the water of the communities has not been affected and everything is in order.
In March this year residents of the village of San José reported the death of their animals and indicated that since March 2014 they had detected the pollution of their waters. They also reported the death of over twenty cattle in their community. (See here)
Villagers of San José looking on as their cattle die from contamination
In February of this year, an OEFA report came to light which was forwarded to Yanacocha on 18th December 2014, a document that had been hidden from the public view. The report shows that the San José – South Side deposit clearing, part of the Minera Yanacocha Chaupiloma South Unit, leaked acid water drainage which exceeded by 200% the maximum permissible limits, into the Quishuar creek – San José, whose waters are captured by the San José canal of Rio Grande (the main river flowing into the city of Cajamarca). (See here)
Photo: Inspection of San José water chanels which showed the extremely high acidity levels of the water
The problems facing the mining is not just due to the water shortage and contamination, but also because of breaches of promises made to the communities. On 16th June of this year former landowners in direct area of influence of the Yanacocha mine went on strike because the company did not comply with the granting of work to communal enterprises. Villagers complained that “Yanacocha came looking for us in our houses to buy our land and to secure social viability, now they run us away with the police.” (see here)
Also, in June of last year a report by a group of researchers from the University of Barcelona (Spain) and the National University of Cajamarca, led by Dr. Marta Barenys, revealed that levels of cadmium, arsenic and lead ingested in the daily diet of villagers located between the mine and the city of Cajamarca, exceeded the limits set by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the World Health Organization (WHO). The results were published in Food and Chemical Toxicology. (See here)
However the mining company also denied these facts, as it did when it tried to deny its responsibility for the mercury spill in the Choropampa community which affected more than 1,200 people. What is certain is that there is no manager, officer or shareholder of Minera Yanacocha that has been reported or prosecuted for environmental damage or harm to the public health of the people of Cajamarca. On the contrary, complaints and prosecutions abound against those who dare to oppose the abuses of the powerful Yanacocha.
It is to this company the government wants to reward with the 20-year exploitation of mountain lakes of Conga while trying to convince the public that the state, with rigorous inspections, will ensure the quantity and quality of water for the affected communities.
Original version in spanish at Celendin Libre
Translation by Conga Conflict