Humala does the Conga in Peru
"Leftist" president shifts violently to the right. More militarization to come?
Police destroy roadblocks as basic goods shortages appear on day 10 of Peru anti-gold mine protests
By Frik Els
4 December 2011
Reuters reports protestors abandoned roadblocks on Saturday after police were called in to secure access for basic goods to Cajamarca as government officials called weekend talks with regional leaders to try to resolve the conflict over Newmont Mining's proposed Conga project in northern Peru.
|Protest against Newmont's proposed Conga gold mine,
near the Cortada lagoon. Source: Reuters
Over the 10 days of protests, boulders were used to block exits from the regional capital, schools and business had closed and police used teargas against marchers forcing Newmont earlier this week to suspend construction of the $4.8 billion gold mine. Residents say Conga will destroy the environment by transforming four high Andean lakes into reservoirs for mining operations.
Reuters reports the blockades around the city had started to cause shortages of basic goods and quotes regional government spokesman Segundo Mata: "The main access routes have been cleared after police went in and opened up the roads. There's access for vehicles, the situation has got back to normal and vehicles carrying fuel, food and tourists are passing."
At least 200 communities nationwide in Peru have organized to stop mining or oil projects, usually over environmental concerns or to demand direct economic benefits in rural towns. MINING.com reported last week on the unrest and on the formation of the ‘Front for the Defence of the Interests of Cajamarca'. Read more.
Conga has gold deposits worth about $15 billion at current prices and would be the biggest investment ever in Peru mining. It is a crucial test for newly installed president Ollanta Humala who has on many occasions publicly backed the project. Royalties and taxes to the government from Conga, which would also produce copper, could total $800 million per year and operation was scheduled to start in 2014.
In October, Newmont was forced to briefly shut down nearby Yanacocha, a joint venture with South American precious metals company Buenaventura over the Conga protests. Yanacocha represents almost 25% of Newmont's total daily gold output and is the biggest gold mine in South America.
Nearly 500 years ago in Cajamarca the Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro captured the Inca emperor, Atahualpa, and as a ransom demanded a room full of gold and two rooms of silver. The Incas handed over the precious metals but Pizarro killed Atahualpa anyway. Reuters quoted Jorge Rimarachin, a lawmaker from Cajamarca, earlier: "Everybody in Cajamarca knows the history of Pizarro. It's very present in the minds of the people."
Peru declares emergency to end protest over mining
By Terry Wade and Teresa Cespedes
5 December 2011
Peruvian President Ollanta Humala declared a state of emergency late on Sunday to quell protests against Newmont Mining's $4.8 billion Conga gold mine project that have hobbled the region of Cajamarca for 11 days.
Humala, a former army officer, chided leaders of the environmental protest as intransigent after weeks of mediation efforts failed. His decree allows the military to help police reopen roads, schools and hospitals shuttered for days by rallies and marches against the proposed mine.
It was the first time in Humala's young presidency that he has used extraordinary powers to defuse a social conflict over mining in Peru, where disputes in some 200 communities across the country threaten to delay billions of dollars in planned mine and oil projects.
"Every possible means has been exhausted to establish dialogue and resolve the conflict democratically, but the intransigence of local and regional leaders has been exposed - not even the most basic agreements could be reached to ensure social peace and the re-establishment of public services," he said on state television.
Humala, a former leftist, won the presidency in June on promises to steer more social spending to rural towns to help calm social conflicts over natural resources while assuring companies their investments would be safe in Peru's surging economy.
He has said the project by U.S.-based Newmont would benefit all of Peru. It is the largest mining investment in the country's history, with gold deposits worth about $15 billion at current prices.
The impasse has highlighted Humala's struggle to neutralize Peru's polarized political environment and govern as a moderate who can simultaneously help the poor and please big business.
Humala has urged dialogue to solve the dispute, but nearly a week ago the government was forced to ask Newmont to temporarily halt work on the Conga mine after the protests turned violent. Since then protesters have continued to march and demand the government permanently cancel the project.
Prime Minister Salomon Lerner negotiated on Sunday for hours with leaders of the protest, who say the mine will hurt water supplies and cause pollution.
But Lerner could not reach an accord, prompting Humala to invoke a state of emergency - a tool that his predecessor, former President Alan Garcia, frequently used to quash protests.
The state of emergency decree came after a protest against a prison expansion project spiralled out of control on Friday in the coastal city of Canete, killing one protester in a clash with police that appeared to catch the government off guard.
Though the death was unrelated to hundreds of environmental disputes nationwide that Humala has promised to end, it was the first stemming from a protest since he took office in July.
A local environmental group, regional mayors, and the president of the region of Cajamarca say the Conga mine would displace a string of alpine lakes with reservoirs and hurt farmers. Other protesters worry about not getting what they say is their share of direct economic benefits from the mine.
Protesters have also criticized Humala for moving too far to the right, embracing foreign investment, and supporting the Conga project, which would generate thousands of jobs and enormous tax revenues.
Some political analysts have worried that if Humala did not act soon with a firm hand he would be continually tested by left-wing protesters upset that he is governing as a moderate.
The government has urged Newmont to set up funds for social and environmental programs in a bid to win support for the mine.
Newmont has said its environment plan for the mine, which was approved a year ago by the government, meets the highest standards in the mining industry. It also runs extensive community outreach programs out of its nearby Yanacocha gold mine, some of which were developed after a mercury spill in 2000 that angered local residents.
The Conga project, which Newmont owns with Peruvian precious metals miner Buenaventura, would produce 580,000 to 680,000 ounces of gold a year and open in 2014.
It has gold deposits worth about $15 billion at current prices and sits 13,800 feet (4,200 metres) high in the Andes, about 600 miles (990 km) north of Lima. (Reporting by Teresa Cespedes and Terry Wade; editing by Philip Barbara and Eric Beech)
Conga mine protest leaders "kidnapped" by police
7 December 2011
LIMA - Foes of Newmont Mining's $4.8 billion Conga mine project in Peru said on Wednesday they were "practically kidnapped" by counterterrorism police in a crackdown on left-wing activists by President Ollanta Humala.
Wilfredo Saavedra, leader of the Environment Defense Front of Cajamaraca, and Milton Sanchez, head of a civic association, were detained on Tuesday after addressing a congressional panel. They were held for 10 hours before being released.
Supporters said their rights were violated because police had no judicial order to detain them. Saavedra and Sanchez plan to file a legal complaint against the government.
Saavedra, who spent a decade in prison for belonging to the violent left-wing Tupac Amaru insurgency, has emerged as a high-profile leader in an environmental dispute that has tested Humala's resolve to govern as a centrist trying to help Peru's poor and attract foreign investment.
"They practically kidnapped us," Saavedra said on RPP radio after he was released.
Humala, a former army officer who shed leftist rhetoric and recast himself as a moderate to win election in June, decreed a state of emergency on Sunday to break 11 days of protests that had shut roads, schools and hospitals in Cajamarca.
The special powers suspend freedom of assembly and allow the army to help police to end marches and rallies against Newmont's proposed gold mine.
An emboldened Humala has called leaders of the environmental protest "intransigent" for rejecting weeks of mediation efforts.
"Today we have people who served time in jail for treason taking up causes they never defended and who are now free and acting like delinquents," he said on Tuesday, hours before the detentions.
Protesters say the U.S. company's mine would hurt water supplies and have demanded the government permanently cancel it. But the government has said the largest mining investment in Peruvian history would generate thousands of jobs and huge tax revenues.
The Conga project, which Newmont owns with Peruvian precious metals miner Buenaventura, is expected to produce 580,000 to 680,000 ounces of gold a year after it opens in 2014. It sits 13,800 feet (4,200 metres) high in the Andes and has reserves worth about $15 billion at current prices.
Newmont, which says its environmental plan for the mine was exhaustively researched, has designed a series of reservoirs to replace alpine lakes that would be eliminated by the mine.
The impasse has highlighted Humala's struggle to neutralize Peru's polarized political environment. Some protesters have accused Humala of having moved too far to the right and being too nice to big business.
Humala has urged dialogue but a week ago the government asked Newmont to temporarily halt work on the Conga project after the protests turned violent.
(Reporting by Marco Aquino and Terry Wade; Editing by John O'Callaghan)
Open letter to the President of Peru
10 December 2011
President Ollanta Humala Tasso
We, the undersigned individuals and institutions of several continents, committed to the movements for world justice, environmental protection and sustainable development, write to express to you our deepest concern regarding events currently unfolding at the Yanacocha mine in Peru, owned by US company Newmont, with participation of the World Bank.
On 24th November tens of thousands of Peruvian citizens initiated a protest against the development of the Yanacocha mine at the Conga site. The protesters claim current plans for the mine will destroy the surrounding environment and fresh water supplies affecting a population of approximately 100 000.
On 27th November a report produced by the environment minister Mr Ricardo Giesecke identified severe failings in the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) approved by the previous administration in relation to the Conga site. We understand Mr Ramiro del Pino, responsible for the government department which approved the EIA, was a former executive of the Yanacocha mining company. Despite these shortcomings and appearance of impropriety, the government of Mr Humala has not sought to review the mine plans and has dispatched security forces to the Conga site.
On 29th November the security forces opened fire on unarmed protesters approaching mine installations. Up to 18 protesters reportedly received gun shot wounds. Between 8 and 30 policemen were injured. The government has so far failed to admit the extent of the civilian casualties and the use of live ammunition. Following the shooting the Yanacocha mine announced it would suspend its operations.
On 4th December the government declared sixty days of martial law or “state of emergency” in the region of Cajamarca. This measure suspends civil liberties and allows security forces to break up meetings and arrest protesters at will. On 6th December Mr Wilfredo Saavedra and five other protest leaders were detained without warrant or charges being laid. Protesters have vowed to pursue peaceful opposition to the mine.
The above situation has created an imminent risk of large scale violence. The circumstances bear a distressing resemblance to the string of recent incidents surrounding extractive industry protests, including the Bagua shootings of June 2006 in which at least 34 protesters and police officers were killed. Such conflicts ultimately entrench antagonisms and frustrate the interests of all concerned.
As the world follows the events at the Yanacocha mine in the following days, we respectfully urge you Mr Humala to consider the following measures: 1) to honour Peru’s commitments to the rule of law and human rights by recognising and compensating the victims of the 29th November shootings 2) to guarantee the ongoing physical safety of protesters in the Cajamarca region including the right to justice and humane treatment upon detention 3) to properly address environmental concerns raised by the Conga mine and enforce corresponding requirements on the Yanacocha company.
Business as usual: Peru’s new president leaps to the right
By Stephanie Boyd
10 December 2011
He promised change. He vowed that decisions about the country’s natural resources would be made by consensus and dialogue with farming and indigenous communities. He said that water was more important than gold.
In June of this year, Ollanta Humala, a former army captain, was swept to electoral victory by Peru’s majority poor: the peasant farmers, urban street vendors and Amazonian indigenous peoples.
The business community trembled. They thought Peru was heading down the scary path of social democracy. Wealth would be invested in dangerous concepts like ‘education’ and ‘healthcare’, rather than bloating the coffers of foreign companies. The hysteria reached such extremes among the middle classes that my partner’s uncle thought Humala was going to expropriate his small tourism agency.
Their fears were unfounded. Since taking power at the end of July, Humala has cast off his trademark jeans and blue work shirt, donned a suit and embraced Peru’s right wing like a long-lost friend.
His supporters are not amused.
Growing tensions in farming and indigenous communities across the country exploded in Humala’s first major crisis on 24 November when four provinces in Peru’s northern Andes declared a general strike against a proposed mine. After nine days of complete shut down, at least 17 people were wounded, including a young farmer who was paralysed by a police ‘rubber’ bullet, and Humala had declared a state of emergency, suspending civil liberties. At least three community leaders had been detained without warrant by special anti-terrorist police.
The stakes are high
The $4.8 billion Minas Conga project, located in the state of Cajamarca, would be the biggest mining investment in Peru’s history, paying $3 billion in taxes over 19 years.
There’s just one wee problem: the mineral deposit is smack in the middle of several lagoons that provide the entire farming district with water. The company says they’ll build ‘modern’ water reservoirs to replace the lakes, as though fragile natural watersheds were something you could assemble in a factory.
Humala’s agricultural minister insists that the mine can co-exist with farming, but the local communities are not so easily fooled. The owners of Minas Congas, Newmont Mining of Colorado and Peru’s Buenaventura, have a long track record of environmental contamination in Cajamarca. Their Yanacocha gold mine has been accused of causing water scarcity and contaminating streams and rivers.
A decade ago the mine was responsible for a mercury spill that poisoned more than 900 people according to conservative government statistics. Locals say the real number is much higher. Villagers continue to suffer the long-term health effects: kidney and liver disease, paralysis, blindness and young people dying of mysterious illnesses.
A mining zone
Minas Congas is situated near Yanacocha, in the neighbouring province of Celendin. Together, the two projects would transform Peru’s northern Andes into a mining corridor controlled by the same owner. Regional leaders are demanding that Humala declare the project ‘unviable’ because it would destroy the area’s watershed. They want the government to consult with local communities and environmental experts to create a zoning plan for the state, marking out areas for agriculture, industry, mining and protected areas.
During the strike, more than eight thousand farmers staged a massive, 10-day sit-in at the site of the lagoons, climbing to over 4,000 meters above sea level and arriving by foot and horseback. An estimated 20,000 citizens across the state of Cajamarca took part in marches and protests, chanting ‘Water not gold’ and ‘No to Conga.’ Four provinces were effectively paralyzed during the strike, with roads blocked and schools and businesses closed.
In the provincial capital of Cajamarca, the protest took on a festive tone. Musicians paraded through the streets, artists displayed cartoons and drawings satirizing miners and politicians and many likened the atmosphere to ‘Carnaval’, the region’s popular folkloric festival each February.
People throughout the country have been captivated by the Congas cause, holding protests and roadblocks in solidarity and signing letters and petitions. Activists in the nation’s usually apathetic capital have held vigils to support the protesters and the story has dominated headlines in the national press.
Not all news is good, however, at least not for Peru’s beleaguered new president.
Humala has endured mounting criticism from Peru’s right-wing press, who accused the president of weak leadership for failing to quash the protest at the outset. Mainstream media hacks used scare tactics, referring to protesters as ‘terrorist elements’ (ie thousands of unarmed men, women and children). They warned that foreign investment would dry-up if Congas failed, the sky would fall and Peru would sink like a deflated balloon into the Pacific Ocean.
The issue has also caused divisions within Humala’s government. Conservative elements, especially the mining and finance ministries, are forcibly behind the project, and a month ago Humala himself declared that the project would go forward ‘yes or yes.’
The Minister for the Environment, however, says the company’s Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is ‘seriously flawed.’
The ministry conducted an evaluation of the company’s EIA and concluded that Minas Congas would ‘significantly and irreversibly transform the watershed, destroying various ecosystems and fragmenting the rest in such a manner that the processes, functions, interactions and environmental services would be irreversibly affected.’
The company’s EIA was approved during the former government of Alan Garcia by an ex-employee of the Yanacocha mine. (Companies must submit EIAs for approval to Peru’s Ministry for Energy and Mines before projects can go ahead).
Jose de Echave, vice-minister for the environment, resigned in protest. He said the government has no ‘strategy or clear vision for handling conflicts.’ De Echave is founder of a non-profit organization that has supported communities affected by mining for nearly two decades. His resignation was applauded by environmental groups.
Fissures continued to grow when 14 Congress Members from Humala’s own party signed a letter to express their solidarity ‘with the just struggle of the people of Cajamarca,’ and called for the immediate withdrawal of the company’s machinery and police presence.
Javier Diez Canseco, one of the Congress Members in the group, and founder of Peru’s socialist party, has been a leading critic of Humala’s flirtation with right-wing elements. In a public statement, he warned the government not to react with military force and ‘walk the razor’s edge, cutting the veins of the process of change’ and annihilating the possibility of true reform.
Several days into the strike, Yanacocha temporarily suspended work on the Minas Congas project, hoping to bring regional authorities to the negotiating table. But Cajamarca’s state governor refused to cancel the strike. He announced that there was nothing to negotiate: they want the project cancelled. End of negotiation.
Tensions escalated, the conservative press demanded action, and the strike celebrated day nine of complete shut down.
State of emergency
In a desperate attempt to save face, Humala sent a team of high level officials to Cajamarca on Sunday to negotiate with regional leaders. That same evening, the president sent shock waves through the country by enacting a state of emergency in Cajamarca. The measure gives the police carte blanche to use force against protesters and detain civilians without warrant.
In a televised statement to the nation, Humala said, ‘Every possible means has been exhausted to establish dialogue and resolve the conflict democratically … (but) not even the most basic agreements could be reached to ensure social peace and the re-establishment of public services.’
Regional leaders tell a different story. They say a government negotiating team tried to pressure them to sign an agreement, without allowing consultations with their rural supporters. According to one leader who prefers not to be named, government officials threatened to enact a state of emergency if they refused to sign.
Leaders explained that it was crucial to consult with farming leaders, who were at the root of the protest, before making major decisions, and asked for 24-hours to do so. Government negotiators refused to budge, and later that evening Humala declared the first state of emergency in the region in over 30 years.
The strong-arm move is not surprising considering Humala’s shady military past. The former captain was dismissed from the army after leading a failed coup against Alberto Fujimori (Fujimori is now serving a 25-year prison sentence for human rights abuses). A few years later Humala supported another coup attempt led by his brother against the democratically elected government of Alejandro Toledo.
But even graver accusations besmirch his record. During the country’s civil war with leftist guerrillas, Humala was in charge of an army base in Madre Mía, where he was charged with committing forced disappearances, extrajudicial executions and torture against civilians. The case against Humala was shelved, but human rights groups in Peru are not satisfied and want to see the former captain on trial.
Now, Humala is using military strategy to try to resolve social conflict. Thousands of combat soldiers are patrolling the streets and countryside of Cajamarca and three neighbouring provinces, and the emergency measure is scheduled to last 60 days. Fearing more bloodshed, local leaders called off their strike, but vowed to resume their struggle if an agreement isn’t reached in the next two months.
The state governor of Cajamarca has called on other provinces of Peru to take to the streets in peaceful protest to conserve the country’s water resources. Activists have started a movement called ‘The Grand March for Water’ and plan to continue nonviolent actions into the next year.
It’s not my fault…
Humala has tried to skirt responsibility for the Congas problem, claiming it was created by previous governments. It is true that Humala ‘inherited’ a slew of unresolved conflicts from the past government of Alan Garcia. In 2010, according to Peru’s government Ombudsman’s office, there were 246 social conflicts in the country, and nearly half of these stemmed from environmental issues related to extractive industries, such as oil, mining, gas and timber.
But these conflicts were part of the reason why the electorate voted for Humala. Tired of 20 years of neoliberal politicians, Humala’s supporters expected him to reform the country’s mining policies.
Things seemed to be starting out well. Shortly after taking power, Humala raised taxes on foreign mining companies, promising to use the extra cash to fund social programs. The government also passed the ‘Prior Consultation Law’ which stipulates that local communities must be consulted before mining, oil or gas concessions are granted on their land.
The law generated high expectations in farming communities, but analysts are more cautious about the law’s potential impact.
Father Marco Arana, a sociologist with 20 years experience defending mining communities, says much depends on the law’s ‘regulation’, which should be published in January. In Peru, once a law is passed, a policy, or set of rules, is drawn up to determine how the legislation will be implemented.
Will the new consultation law mean that Peruvian communities will hold formal referendums before new concessions are awarded on their lands? Or will companies only require consent from local leaders? Will consent even be necessary, or will companies only have to ‘consult’ local communities, without requiring their approval?
Business leaders say the law won’t be binding, meaning that companies only have to talk to local leaders: they won’t have to respect the communities’ wishes. Certainly the government’s handling of the Conga crisis suggests that they’re not concerned with obtaining local consent before proceeding with mega-projects.
Conga isn’t the government’s only foible. The past two weeks have seen the explosion of renewed conflicts throughout the country: like the strike in Peru’s central Andes against the Antamina y Contonga mines, protests against a proposed hydro-electric plant that would dry up a major river in Cusco, and uprisings against illegal miners in the jungle region of Madre de Dios and Andahuaylas. Violent encounters between police and protesters who oppose the expansion of a jail in the state of Arequipa resulted in the death of a young protester and dozens of injured, including two police officers.
But the money keeps coming
Last week, in the middle of the Conga crisis, Peru’s political and business elite met in the former Inka capital of Cuzco for CADE, a two-day conference on the current state of Making Money in Peru: or, as a foreign business reporter told me, ‘A lot of blah, blah, blah.’
There was a lot of back slapping and lip-smacking over the country’s economic growth. Smiling government officials announced that private investment in Peru has increased 10 per cent this year. Peru ranks third in the world for copper production and is the sixth largest gold producer. Over the next five years the country is expected to receive $50 billion in natural resource investment.
No one mentioned the eight million Peruvians living in extreme poverty, on less than $1.25 a day, or the fact that the wealth isn’t tricking down to the country’s poor. The state of Cajamarca, where Congas is located, remains one of the country’s poorest regions, with 56 per cent poverty, nearly 20 years after the opening of Yanacocha, the world’s second largest gold mine.
During the conference’s gala night, a high-tech light show and fireworks lit up the outer wall of ‘Qoricancha,’ the famed Inca Temple of the Sun. During the Spanish conquest of the Americas, the invaders sacked the temple and ripped sheets of gold from the walls to melt down and send back to Europe. It seemed fitting, somehow, that organizers chose this site to celebrate the modern-day sacking of Peru’s natural resources by foreign conquerors.
Humala has the opportunity to honour his election promises and work with all sectors of Peruvian society, including indigenous and farming communities, to create a more just society.
Unfortunately, it seems that his government has decided to follow a plan of ‘business as usual’ in Peru.