MAC: Mines and Communities

Protests over Newmont gold mine resume in Cajamarca, Peru

Published by MAC on 2012-01-10
Source: Reuters, AP,, Business News Americas

Opposition to Conga project has mainly centered on water use.

Previous posting on MAC: Humala does the Conga in Peru


Protests over Newmont mine resume in Peru


2 January 2012

Foes of Newmont Mining's $4.8 billion Conga project resumed their protests in Cajamarca on Monday but turnout was weak nearly a month after the government cracked down on environmental activists it labeled as intransigent.

Protest against Newmont's proposed Conga gold mine, near the Cortada lagoon
Protest against Newmont's proposed Conga gold mine,
near the Cortada lagoon. Source: Reuters

About 1,000 people marched in the Andean city of Cajamarca against the gold mine proposed by the U.S. miner and its Peruvian partner, Buenaventura. The government says the largest mining investment ever in Peru would generate thousands of jobs, but opponents of the project say it would hurt water supplies by replacing a string of alpine lakes with reservoirs.

President Ollanta Humala, whose term has been tested by the bitter impasse, temporarily suspended freedom of assembly last month to break up protests against the mine that drew 5,000 people onto the streets of Cajamarca.

"Our protest will be peaceful," Wilfredo Saavedra, head of the Environmental Defense Front of Cajamarca, told Reuters.

The government has been tried several tactics to eliminate opposition to the mine. Last week it promised to have the environmental remediation plan for the mine reviewed by international experts and committed to spend more money on infrastructure projects in towns near where the mine would be built.

It has also sought to demonize leaders of the protests. Peru's counterterrorism police briefly detained Saavedra last month but released him without filing any charges. A lawyer, Saavedra spent a decade in jail for belonging to the Marxist insurgency group Tupac Amaru. He later reinvented himself as an environmentalist.

Peruvian public prosecutors have also filed a lawsuit against the president of the region of Cajamarca, Gregorio Santos. The government says he has assumed powers beyond his reach by decreeing a local ordinance that forbids construction of the Conga mine. Peru's constitutional tribunal could strike down the ordinance in the coming days and rebuke Santos.

Humala, elected in June after running as a moderate leftist, shuffled his Cabinet in December to burnish his law-and-order credentials and to halt a wave of anti-mining protests that could delay $50 billion in foreign investment planned for the next decade in the sector. Critics say he has quickly drifted to the right, dashing the hopes of voters in poor provinces who expected he would usher in a period of swift change.

Newmont and Buenaventura temporarily halted work on the Conga project in early November.

Newmont has said its environment plan for the mine, which was approved a year ago by the previous government, meets the highest standards in the mining industry and would ensure year-round water supplies. It says local residents lack water during the dry season.

The standoff over Conga has challenged Humala's five-month-old presidency. He was supported largely by the rural poor in a June election and promised to hold mining companies to better social and environmental standards in a country with a 30 percent poverty rate.

Humala's popularity fell below 50 percent for the first time in his term, to 47 percent, a poll by Ipsos Apoyo showed last month.

(Reporting By Patricia Velez and Terry Wade; Editing by Marguerita Choy)

Anti-mining protests resume in Peru, demonstrators fear harm to water supplies

Associated Press

2 January 2012

CAJAMARCA, Peru - Demonstrators in Peru resumed their protests on Monday against plans to develop a $4.8 billion gold mine, saying they fear the mine will harm their water supplies.

About 2,000 Peruvians joined the protest march in the northern city of Cajamarca, carrying signs reading "Let's defend our sources of water, now or never."

Anti-riot police stood guard during the protest, which ended peacefully. In early December, the government had imposed a state of emergency to restore order after a general strike and clashes with police in which dozens of people were injured.

Protesters fear the Conga mine, which would produce gold and copper as well as silver, will taint their water and affect a major aquifer. The mine is majority owned by U.S.-based Newmont Mining Corp.

"I'm sure the population will keep defending its water resources," said Cajamarca state Gov. Gregorio Santos, who has helped lead the protests.

He reiterated that the protesters want a new study of the environmental impact of the mine, and are asking the government to facilitate dialogue about the issue.

Cajamarca is one of Peru's most heavily mined regions and many residents mistrust the new project because it is an extension of nearby Yanacocha mine, Latin America's largest gold mine, which is nearing the end of production. It has a history of troubled relations with neighboring farmers, ranchers and city dwellers downstream who claim it has harmed water supplies.

Newmont spokesman Omar Jabara said a thorough study of environmental impacts has already been performed and reviewed by multiple government agencies. He said the company welcomes "the government's effort to re-review" that assessment.

Jabara said the public has had ample opportunities to raise any issues about the mine in the past. "Some are using Conga today to advance their political agenda," Jabara said in an emailed statement.

Peru's economy depends heavily on mining, which accounts for 61 percent of its export income.

Newmont trying hard to divert protestors' attention in Peru by stressing Conga copper-gold mine community benefits

By Cecilia Jamasmie

6 January 2012

As protests against the $4.8 billion Conga project in Peru resumed this week, Newmont Mining Corporation put together a strategic document outlining its community investment projects related to the gold-copper project.

The programs include efforts to advance health and education, critical infrastructure and economic development in the Conga project's area of influence. The company remarked that implementation of the programs began four years ago and would continue over the life of the proposed mine.

Newmont has also commenced planning for 1,750 residents in seven villages to benefit from a new potable water system. International consultants were given 40 days to review Conga's environmental permit, which was approved in 2010.

Last November, violent demonstrations halted work at the Conga mine, demanding Newmont Mining to stop construction work on the open-pit project. Project opponents and several officials have expressed concerns about the project's impact on the environment, water supplies, health and livelihoods.

Residents in the northern city of Cajamarca which has more than 200,000 residents, led by the president of the region, said at the time that the new mine - adjacent to South America's largest gold mine Yanacocha - will harm agriculture and livestock by relocating water supplies. Conga would be the biggest investment ever in Peru mining.

Details regarding the social investments can be found in the fact sheet released by Newmont Mining.

Weak Environmental Impact Studies for Mines

By Milagros Salazar


26 December 2011

LIMA - The stiff local opposition to the Conga gold mining project in the northern Peruvian highlands region of Cajamarca revived a long-postponed debate in this country, on the weakness of environmental impact studies in the mining industry.

In response to the controversy, the country's new environment minister, Manuel Pulgar, announced a plan to address the problem. However, layoffs of several environmental experts in the ministry of mines who rejected flawed environmental impact assessments (EIAs) have raised doubts about how far the changes will actually go.

"The environmental assessment system must be strengthened, to generate greater confidence," Pulgar told IPS. He said his ministry has to play a more active role, and added that in early January it would put forth a proposal to improve the process.

Protests in Peru's mining regions over environmental damages have had a high social coast.

According to the November report by the ombudsman's office, there were 151 social conflicts in the country this year, nearly 60 percent of which involved environmental issues. And during the government of Alan García (2006-2011), 191 people were killed in clashes between police and demonstrators.

Pulgar said his ministry is still evaluating which part of the EIA process it should be involved in, since it is the ministry of mines and energy that is in charge of fomenting investment in the mining industry and reviewing and approving impact studies.

President Ollanta Humala, who took office in July, announced on Dec. 18 that the offices that review the EIAs would be restructured to avoid protests like the ones that broke out against the Conga gold mining project in Cajamarca.

The projected gold mine, which would destroy four high mountain lakes, is to be run by the U.S.-based Newmont Mining Co, which operates the nearby Yanacocha mine, the largest gold mine in Latin America.

The protests against the mine brought activity in the city of Cajamarca, the regional capital, to a halt for two weeks in November and early December, leading the government to declare a state of emergency and send in troops.

As a result of the social conflict, the government promised that the project's EIA, which was approved by the ministry of mines and energy in October 2010, would be reviewed by international experts.

The protests also prompted a new review of the EIA by the environment ministry, which found that two of the four lakes were to be emptied out to extract the gold, while the other two would be used to deposit the earth and rock removed.

But no hydrological or hydrogeological studies were carried out for the project, even though they are essential to prevent leakage of toxic waste. Nor was an integral study of the micro-basins that could be impacted by the mining activity carried out, and the local communities that would be affected were not all informed about the Conga gold mining project.

Despite the announcement that the EIA process would be reformed, the ministry of mines and energy recently dismissed three environmental technicians from its general bureau on environmental issues in mining, after they found serious flaws in several studies.

The environmental experts rejected an EIA presented for a mine tailings deposit projected by the Cobriza copper mine run by the U.S.-based Doe Run company. In their final report, dated Oct. 3, the technicians said the EIA could not be accepted because the company had begun to build the tailings facility before presenting the impact assessment, which is illegal.

Doe Run's large multi-metal smelter in the central Peruvian highlands city of La Oroya has caused such severe pollution that the New York-based Blacksmith Institute included the city on its list of the world's 10 most polluted places.

The team of technicians who were laid off also rejected EIAs presented for a project to expand a plant run by Volcán, a Peruvian company, in the central region of Pasco.

Medical studies carried out in 2005 and 2007 found that more than 80 percent of children living in the area around the company had blood lead levels exceeding 10 micrograms per decilitre of blood (mcg/dl), the acceptable limit set by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Fredesbindo Vásquez, who headed the mining ministry's general bureau on environmental issues in mining from 2007 to 2009, told IPS that the lack of job security and support suffered by the technicians who review the EIAs hinders "ethical and transparent work," which is essential for monitoring the country's most profitable economic activity.

Mining, Peru's biggest foreign exchange earner, brings huge profits to companies in the industry. From 2007 to 2010, the biggest companies took in more than 31 billion dollars, according to Peru's Securities and Exchange Commission (CONASEV).

Vásquez said the general bureau on environmental issues in mining was the target of heavy political and business pressure, and argued that the office should be transferred to the environment ministry.

The bureau currently has 20 technicians on staff to review the EIAs presented by mining companies, while 41 outside consultants are paid directly by the companies. This system was adopted to expedite the process of reviewing the EIAs.

But in the view of experts like Vásquez, the entire process should be in the hands of professionals working directly for the ministry.

In June 2010, 378 EIAs, submitted since 1993, were stuck in the bureau, and the directors announced that progress would be made in unblocking the bottleneck.

Vásquez, an agricultural engineer with 40 years experience in water management in the mining industry, said the greatest risk is toxic underground leaks that can contaminate the fragile water sources that the highlands population depends on.

"These ecosystems are highly vulnerable," Vásquez said. "People live in adverse conditions in the highlands, where the state usually does not guarantee basic services, and the only thing they do have is water, to carry out their productive activities and survive.

"If they see that another activity (mining) is going to take away the only option they have left, they will defend it like survivors in the desert," he said.

A report by the general bureau on environmental issues, presented to some 80 companies in July 2010, revealed that several EIAs underestimated the potential water and air pollution.

The document, made public by IDL-Reporteros, an independent team of investigative journalists, says EIAs do not generally include an inventory of Andean springs or wetlands that could be affected, and do not analyse the cumulative effects on water sources.

But the official report revealed an even more serious aspect: several EIAs drawn up by consultancies hired by mining companies contain entire paragraphs copied and pasted from other reports.

In his interview with IPS, the environment minister said the observations made by the EIAs made sense, because they analyse projects that have not yet been implemented. He also said the ministry of mines and energy is assessing the consultancies that work for the mining companies.

Vásquez said the authorities should not approve any EIA that fails to guarantee risk prevention and that does not include detailed hydrogeological assessments - as in the case of the Conga gold mine and the Tía María copper mine in the southern region of Arequipa, where five protesters were killed in a police crackdown before the authorities cancelled the project in April.

The EIA from the Tía María mine received 138 observations from the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS).

The Red Muqui, a network of NGOs working on mining, human rights, the environment and development, also reviewed the Tía María EIA and issued warnings about the impact on water sources, because the proposal by Southern Peru Copper to extract water from the El Sombrero beach aquifer "has not been studied closely enough," agricultural engineer Mirella Gallardo, who took part in the network's review, told IPS.

But aside from the need for sound, transparent EIAs, Vásquez said it was time for companies and the state to act with respect and consideration for the local populations, because while the mines rake in millions of dollars in profits, the indigenous communities live in extreme poverty.

"That is the only way to gain the people's trust and avoid conflicts," he argued.

Newmont open to independent review of Conga's EIS - Peru

By Rafael Ponce De Leon

Business News Americas

19 December 2011

US-based Newmont Mining (NYSE: NEM) is receptive to the Peruvian government's proposal to have an independent consultant review the environmental impact study (EIS) for its US$4.8bn Minas Conga project in Cajamarca region, a company spokesperson told BNamericas.

"We're open to the government's proposal to re-review Conga's EIS, which was extensively reviewed by 12 government agencies and was approved by the mines [and energy] ministry in 2010 following a three-year, public process," the spokesperson said.

Prime minister Óscar Valdés said the government will present alternatives for the re-evaluation of the EIS on Wednesday (Dec 21), state news agency Andina reported.

Conga is the biggest investment in Peru's US$50bn mining portfolio. Local miner Buenaventura and the World Bank's International Finance Corporation (IFC) hold 43.65% and 5% stakes, respectively.

Newmont suspended construction at Conga at end-November due to opposition to the project. President Ollanta Humala declared a state of emergency in Cajamarca on December 5 in response to increasingly violent protests.

Cajamarca representatives and the central government agreed to resume talks last week and the emergency measure was lifted. Talks began on Monday and will focus on reaching a consensus over the Conga project as well as implementing social development programs in the region.

"We remain willing to play a constructive role in the dialogue sponsored by the government, and we will participate as directed by them," Newmont's spokesperson said.

Water Use

Opposition to Conga has mainly centered on water use as some residents are concerned that the project will affect the supply of water for human consumption and agriculture.

"Conga's reservoirs will more than double the current water storage capacity of the four lagoons in question and will provide a reliable, year-round water supply to downstream users, something they don't currently have as a result of the dry season," the spokesperson said.

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