Thousands march for the right to water in Peru
Protests become internationalised.
Opposition to Peru's largest proposed mine recently spread outside the country - to Spain and the United States.
Last week, up to 2,000 citizens marched on the Peruvian capital, calling for Newmont's Conga project (and two others, controlled by Anglo American and Grupo Mexico) to be cancelled.
Billed as a "Grand National March for the Right to Water and Life", the protestors asserted the value of the health and wellbeing of communities, specifically over large resource-extraction projects threatening vital water supplies.
For previous story, see: Protests over Newmont gold mine resume in Cajamarca, Peru
National Water March Arrives in Lima
9 February 2012
Participants in a national water march, which is aimed mainly at rejecting Newmont Mining's Minas Conga copper-gold project, began to approach Lima on Thursday, the head of the march's organizing committee said.
|An Andean woman marches for the right to water.
Source: Enrique Castro-Mendivil, Reuters
Environmentalist Marco Arana told IdeeleRadio that over 2,000 participants are beginning to arrive in Peru's capital eight days after the march began in the northern region of Cajamarca.
The leaders of the march have planned a rally in the Plaza San Martin and will present a bill to Congress to protect the headwaters of river basins and "highly vulnerable ecosystems."
The participants have passed through Cajamarca, Lambayeque, La Libertad and Ancash regions, Arana said. They have been travelling in buses, trucks and other vehicles, and walking through those town.
"More of my companions from Cajamarca are coming and I understand that from the highlands of Lima they will also come to march with us," Arana said.
Arana said the participants have been well-received in the towns that they have passed through. "Families came out to applaud and provide food and in some cases to give money to buy tickets or the fare on combis [local buses] to allow us to move from one town to another."
Arana, a former priest and the head of the Tierra y Libertad party, supported protests last year against Minas Conga. Opponents of the $4.8 billion project are concerned it will harm the local water supply since the project requires the draining of at least three lakes and the channeling of the water to reservoirs further downstream.
Spurned by president, Peru leftists protest mining
9 February 2012
LIMA - Left-wing activists and provincial politicians frustrated by President Ollanta Humala's move to the political center marched into Lima on Thursday to protest billions of dollars in government-backed mining projects proposed by foreign firms.
At least 1,000 people participating in a nine-day walk across the countryside arrived in the capital to pressure the government to withdraw support for the projects, which include U.S.-based Newmont Mining's $4.8 billion Conga mine and two projects by Southern Copper worth $1.8 billion.
The government wants to push ahead with $50 billion in mining projects, saying they are crucial to stoke expansion in one of Latin America's fastest-growing economies.
But the protesters say mining pollutes, soaks up scarce water supplies, and has historically failed to bring enough direct local benefits to impoverished rural towns in Peru.
They carried signs saying "there's gold, there's copper and the people are still poor," a phrase that rhymes in Spanish.
Peru is the world's second-largest copper, silver and zinc producer and Latin America's top gold producer. Mining fuels the economy by accounting for 60 percent of Peru's exports.
"We have to make a choice between mining and water," said Marco Arana, a former Roman Catholic priest and leader of the left-wing party Tierra y Libertad. He supported Humala in last year's presidential election but is now a fierce critic.
Humala, a former military officer shed his hard-line leftist past and reinvented himself as a moderate to win the presidency last June. He has embraced mainstream economic policies since taking office and forged strong ties to the business community that represents Peru's political right.
His swift political evolution has disappointed traditional allies and left his party with a tenuous working majority in Congress because of high-profile defections from his coalition.
Environmental Impact Questioned
Gregorio Santos, the top elected official in the region of Cajamarca, has led opposition to the Conga project and banded together with political leaders in Peru's 25 regions to pressure Humala.
"All regional leaders should unite to make the government address the issue of pollution and overuse of water by miners," he said.
Newmont says it has conducted an exhaustive environmental impact study for its mine, which has been cleared by the government but now faces stiff opposition.
It says the project would guarantee year-round water supplies, in part by building reservoirs that would replace a string of alpine lakes.
The Conga dispute is one of 200 environmental conflicts nationwide that Humala and Prime Minister Oscar Valdes are struggling to manage.
"I would like it if the march weren't political but rather technical - so that the leaders really make it clear what they see is the water problem," Valdes said.
Valdes has put the Conga project's disputed environmental impact study in the hands of international experts in hopes protesters will accept the verdict of what he says will be an objective audit.
Fernando Rospigliosi, a prominent columnist, said the march appeared to be more about ideology than water, especially because record rains have swollen rivers in Peru this month and caused floods.
"Heavy rains prove Arana and the anti-miners wrong: there's not a lack of water. There's a lack of infrastructure to dam and channel water," he said.
Peru Anti-Mining Groups To Start Water March On Thursday
Dow Jones Newswires
30 January 2012
LIMA - Civil society groups in Peru plan to begin a national march on Thursday to pressure lawmakers to ban mining in the headwaters of river basins, a contentious issue in one of the world's top sources of base and precious metals.
Supporters of the march also want Peru's constitution to recognize water as a human right and resource that cannot be privatized.
The use of water in Peru's mining sector has been a major source of conflict over the last several years. Communities and local politicians say they are concerned that new mining projects could lead to a shortage of water, while increasing the risk of contamination.
Industry officials say the conflicts threaten to derail the sector's portfolio of projects, which will require investments of approximately $50 billion this decade. A number of projects have already been delayed due to disputes, including Southern Copper's Tia Maria, Anglo American PLC's Quellaveco, and Newmont Mining Corp.'s (NEM) Minas Conga.
Analysts are closely watching the dispute over Conga, Peru's biggest mining project that will require an investment of $4.8 billion. Opponents say the project, which is located in the headwater of a river basin, will harm local water supplies, as it would require draining four lakes. Newmont plans to replace those lakes with reservoirs that it says will more than double the current water-storage capacity.
The government aims to resolve the dispute by hiring independent consultants to review Conga's environmental impact study, a key permit approved in 2010.
Marco Arana, a high-profile environmental activist helping to organize the march, said that more than 70 civil society groups plan to participate in the national march.
In northern Peru, the march will begin in Cajamarca and pass through the cities of Trujillo and Huaraz before arriving in Lima on Feb. 9, Arana said during a telephone interview with Dow Jones Newswires on Monday.
Arana said that participants in the march will not block highways or cause other transportation problems in the country.
The march will also include groups from Peru's central Junin and Pasco regions, as well as the country's southern Arequipa, Cuzco and Moquegua regions. In total, about 1,000 participants are expected to meet in Lima, Arana said.
On Feb. 10, the leaders of the march will present legislative proposals to Congress.
Peru is the world's second-biggest producer of copper and silver and a major producer of gold, lead, zinc and other minerals.
"¡La gente inteligente, defiende el medio ambiente!" Thousands march for the right to water in Peru
31 January 2012
Today, thousands of Peruvians are now participating in a "Grand National March for the Right to Water and Life." Many of the marchers are setting off from the lagoons of Cajamarca, or from the Amazonian jungle, or from the Southern Andes, marching hundreds of miles to arrive in the capital, Lima during the second week of February.
The march seeks to broadly respond to a public policy in Peru of valuing a particular model of economic development over the health and wellbeing of communities adversely affected by that "development" - particularly when large resource-extraction projects threaten a community's water supply.
The focal point for the march is the Conga project, a proposed gold mining operation in Cajamarca, which presents an emblematic example of many of the most salient issues to which the march seeks to respond. Here in our Peru office, we have been keeping a close eye on the development of the project and its opposition.
The project was recently put on hold after public protests and a report prepared by the Ministry of the Environment called attention to the environmental risks associated with the proposal.
Now, however, a new executive cabinet-formed in the aftermath of the political upheaval following the release of the Ministry of Environment's report-seems likely to give the project the go-ahead in spite of a great deal of opposition from local civil society organizations and the regional government.
The march has quickly taken on a much broader appeal. It is serving as a rallying point for similar concerns and a growing social movement opposing development policies that leave communities impoverished and sick. Coordinated activities are being organized throughout the country, including by farmers in the north, by those living in the southern highlands, and by organizations of indigenous peoples protesting the encroachment and contamination caused by petroleum companies in the Amazon,
Most fundamentally, the march has become a key part of a growing social movement to change the discourse and public policy surrounding resource extraction in Peru. The marchers question the notion that resource extraction is "essential" for economic development, and demand that the public policies of the state reflect a greater appreciation for the importance of clean water and healthy communities.
The marchers are pushing for policies that strengthen the rights to water and prior consultation, limit the use of certain chemicals in resource extraction, and in certain cases, designate some areas as "no-go zones" for mining projects.
At the very least, the marchers are demanding a greater role for entities such as the Ministry of the Environment in ensuring that resource extraction does not threaten the rights to water and life of neighbor communities. At present, the entity responsible for reviewing anticipated environmental impacts is the Ministry of Energy and Mines-a ministry with the conflicting agenda of promoting mining within the country.
The march is already generating international attention and solidarity.
To give just a few examples, protesters in Spain met President Humala on his recent trip to Europe with signs and chants rejecting his proposals for increased foreign investment in extractives.
And on February 3, the Denver Justice and Peace Committee is organizing a march through the streets of Denver-home to Newmont Mining, the major shareholder of the Conga project-to increase attention to this pressing issue and show their solidarity.
At the very least, the march already appears to be shifting the discourse. With the massive outpouring of support and chants such as "Sin Oro se vive, sin Agua se Muere," (You can live without gold, you die without water), the marchers are highlighting the political, moral, and social decisions that are now being made by the government, and in terms as clear as uncontaminated water.