MAC: Mines and Communities

Peru: El Maranon - the environment, communities and rivers be dammed

Published by MAC on 2013-09-10
Source: Latin America Bureau

Peru: El Marañón - the environment, communities and rivers be dammed

Luis Manuel Claps

Latin America Bureau -

5 September 2013

A number of organisations held a meeting mid-August in Celendín, Cajamarca, in northern Peru to share strategies of resistance to the hydroelectric project Chadin II. In addition to the serious environmental and social impacts represented by damming the river Marañón, they claim that its purpose is to satisfy the energy demands of the huge Conga mining project. Luis Manuel Claps describes the meeting and its context for LAB. Scroll down for the Spanish original. English translation by LAB's Francis McDonagh.

Rain over the Marañón

On Saturday August 17 the Celendín Teachers Centre hosted the public forum ‘Hydro-electric Projects on the Marañón: Rivers, Life and Extractive Industries'. The organisers were Forum Solidaridad Peru), International Rivers, Grufides, the Plataforma Interinstitucional de Celendina-PIC and Rondas Campesinas. Among the speakers were several experts and representatives of the communities that might be affected. In the days leading up to the forum, a commission spent three days visiting the valleys and communities of middle Marañón that would be buried by the dam to provide information, have conversations, build relationships and promote joint actions to defend the river and its eco-systems.

On July 3rd the town of Celendín celebrated Celendín Dignity Day, and remembered Faustino, César, José and Eleuterio, who lost their lives in the repression mounted against the struggle in defence of water. Those responsible for these crimes have not been identified or brought to justice. A year later from the massive protests against the expansion of open pit gold mining in the watersheds, the Chadin II dam may well ignite a new environment conflict in the region. An on-line petition has been launched, seeking to collect 5,000 signatures in opposition to the Chadín II project. To sign it, click here.


The 600 MW Chadin II hydroelectric project is promoted by AC Energía SA, part of the Brazilian multinational group Odebrecht. It envisages the building of a 175-metre high dam that would form a 23-kilometre long lagoon on the Andean stretch of the river Marañón. The monetary cost is US$819 million, while the environmental and social costs could be much greater. It is estimated that the construction stage will require around 2,500 workers, but the operation and maintenance will not need more than forty.

The dam would submerge 21 communities, including El Inca, El Mango, El Paraíso, Santa Rosa, Montegrande, Salazar, Nueva Rioja, El Cura, Saquilillo, Mapish, San Francisco, Libián, Tupén and Mendán. The main economic activity of the area is agriculture, and among the most profitable the crops are coca leaf and fruits such as papayas, bananas, oranges, lemons, mangoes and cherries. In a statement issued in July 2013, local organisations objected: ‘Peruvian laws and international agreements cannot be tossed aside, nor can the rights of the residents of the provinces of Celendín in Cajamarca, or Luya and Chachapoyas in Amazonas be disregarded, since they are the descendants of the original peoples, the Chachapoyas, Caxamarcas and Coremarcas.'

In the executive summary of the project's Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), which is currently coming up for approval, AC Energía proposes ‘individual transactions' with the owners of properties that would be submerged, without the intervention of the state or intermediary organisations. The EIA does not recognise the existence of indigenous peoples.


The Conga project is located around 73 km northeast of the city of Cajamarca, in the districts of Sorochuco and Huasmín in the province of Celendín and La Encañada in the province of Cajamarca. It proposes to dig the Chailhuagón and Perol pits and at least two other additional areas, Amaro and La Carpa. A plant with the capacity to process 92,000 tonnes of rock a day would produce 3.1 billion pounds of copper and 11.6 million ounces of gold in 20 years. The mineral content is very low: each tonne contains less than 1 gm of gold and 0.2% of copper. The people have a live example of the devastation that will come from Conga. In Cajamarca, for the past 19 years the same mining company has been operating Yanacocha, the largest open pit goldmine in South America.

The original discovery of Conga deposits were found in 1991 but exploration activities started in 2004. The Environmental Impact Assessment was approved in 2010. The Regional Government and the communities denounced the serious impacts it would have on the watersheds. To the protests about the destruction of the Azul, Perol, Mala and Chica Andean lakes, Minera Yanacocha replied that it would build three reservoirs to replace them. On July 27 2011 the US corporation Newmont Mining and its local partner Buenaventura, the owners of Yanacocha, publicly announced that they had approved funding for the project to the value of US$4,800 million, the biggest mining investment in the history of Peru.

But in November 2011 a massive strike forced the corporation to suspend its activities. The resignation of the national deputy minister responsible for environmental management, who had had a critical attitude towards the project, caused a political crisis in the government of new President Ollanta Humala. Thousands of people came out to the streets to defend water, and Yanacocha announced the suspension of the project in response to a government order. On December 4 prime minister Salomón Lerner together with several ministers and the regional authorities held a meeting in the city of Cajamarca. The same day Humala decreed a 60-day state of emergency in the provinces of Cajamarca, Hualgayoc, Celendín and Contumazá and Óscar Valdes, hitherto minister of the interior, was appointed prime minister.

On April 17 2012 the Constitutional Court declared invalid an order of the Regional Government that had declared the project unviable. In the first days of July the brutal repression by the national police and the Peruvian army of the demonstrators protesting against the project, ordered by Valdes, left a tragic toll of five dead and around 150 injured.

One decree, twenty dams

In a single decree in April 2011, then president Alan García declared the construction of twenty hydro-electric power stations along the river Marañón to be a matter of national interest. Renamed the ‘power artery' that would guarantee ‘Peru's productive development until 2050', with ‘minimal or zero impact on the environment', the ‘15,000 million-dollar energy revolution' thus decreed would, it was asserted, generate ‘more than12,000 megawatts' and would make it possible to ‘irrigate millions of hectares of farmland'. The main projects included in the decree are Cumba (1400 MW), Rentema (1500 MW), Escurrebraga (1800 MW) and Manseriche (4500 MW). There are also another four: Chadin II, Marañón (96 MW), CH del Norte (600 MW) and Veracruz (700 MW). The decree says nothing about the real economic motives, the export of electricity to Brazil and an electricity supply to the vast portfolio of mega mining projects owned by transnational corporations in the region.

Phoney hearings

Elmer Saldaña Montoya, president of the recently created Yagén Defence Front, was one of the local leaders who spoke at the Celendín forum. He insisted: ‘My community cannot be bought. There are 300 hectares under cultivation that are communal property. They may be able to buy a few people, like the cowardly authorities of Cortegana and Chumuch, but my community cannot be bought.'

H. Rojas Gonzáles, of the River Marañón Defence Front, called on the audience to ‘go on to a war footing against the dams and reject Chadin II and Conga'. ‘We are sure that they won't beat us. This is a corrupt firm that organises phoney hearings, stuffed with police.' ‘The mayor of Cortegana has yielded to cowardice. Why do they call blocking the river progress? The productive valleys of the Marañón already have owners.'

The ronderos and the PIC condemned Odebrecht and the Peruvian government for ‘organising a fake prior consultation in the district of Cortegana'. In a ‘public hearing' held on July 5 this year, they said, the police used force and refused let opponents of the Project in. Something similar occurred in Chumuch on Saturday July 6.

Energy integration

On June 16 2010 the Mining and Energy ministers of Peru and Brazil signed an Energy Agreement with the aim of drawing up a legal framework to promote the construction of hydro-electric plants in Peru by Brazilian-owned companies and to lay down the conditions under which electricity could be exported to Brazil. On February 17 2012 the Multi-Sector Commission to Promote Energy Investments was set up with the aim of promoting ‘coordination measures with agencies of the Executive in order to establish mechanisms for the granting of concessions, licences and authorisations'.

With funding from Brazil's national development bank, BNDES, the largest development funder in Latin America, multinational companies like Odebrecht are exporting the model of neoliberal capitalist accumulation that they operate in Brazil to the countries of the region. The Brazilian dam victims movement MAB, which has spent 20 years fighting against the privatisation of the electricity system and for the democratisation of the energy model, says that Brazil has already built more than 2,000 dams, which have driven more than a million people from their land - a dictatorship imposed on riverside communities.

The golden serpent

The Marañón forms one of the most important river systems in Peru, within which at least 17% of the country's population lives. After flowing for 1,600 km through the inter-Andean valleys and cutting across six regions, between the western and central chains of the Andes, it crosses the region of the pongos or canyons in Amazonas department. This is the last obstacle it encounters before reaching the Amazonian lowlands, joining the Ucayali and adding its waters to the river Amazon.

Along its course the Marañón gives life to a rich biodiversity and its dry forests shelter a large range of birds found nowhere else in the world. The dams are being planned without sufficient understanding of the scale and complexity of the environmental services it provides, or of the impact they could have on these services. Much of the middle section of the river forms a canyon whose walls rise into invisibility on both sides - it is deeper than the famous Grand Canyon in Colorado. The Marañón canyon is one of the best locations in the world for rafting. It is also the location of the hamlet of Calemar, on which the Peruvian writer Ciro Alegría based one of his most delightful novels.

Publicity and networking

In June this year Peru Solidarity Forum and other social organisations launched the campaign ‘Living River - Marañón without dams', the objective of which is to alert public opinion to the dangers that could be caused by the building of these dams.

As part of this campaign, a commission made up of specialists, leaders and local residents spent three days travelling through the valleys and oases of the Marañón between Celendín and Chumuch. On foot and riding mules, since there is no road access, the commission visited Yagén and then Playa El Inca, which is located just upstream from the planned site for the Chadin II dam. The commission's aim was to collect facts about the present situation and provide information, to talk with local people and build relationships with a view to possible joint actions to defend the river.

From Playa El Inca they continued to Tupén, via the hamlets of Saquilillo, Choropampa and San Lucas. In Yagén, Tupén and Mendán (the largest community with 500 people), the commission held meetings with the residents to give information about Chadin II, its possible environmental and social impact, the threats to human rights and the legal actions that could be launched to defend them.

Environmental costs

At the Celendín public forum engineer José Serra Vega put forward some observations on the executive summary of the EIA for Chadin II: ‘The first thing to notice is that there is no analysis of the impact downstream of the dam.' Serra argues that ‘the total cost of the project should not be calculated solely in monetary terms, as the company does, but should also take account of the costs to the environment'.

Among the main impacts, Serra mentioned that ‘the dam will block the sediment that feeds the crops downstream and prevent fish from getting through, and these are two essential elements for the food security of the Awajún communities. There has not been sufficient study of the relation between the river and the food-producing lowlands, and it is alarming that the Ministry of the Environment has made no comment on these points.'

Serra has carried out an economic assessment of the impact of the Inambari dam, and its final recommendation was the cancellation of the project.

Displacement and poverty

Aurelia Matos López and the deputy governor of Nuevo Huabal, Hilda Montenegro Bonilla, representatives of the communities displaced by Odebrecht through the Olmos Tinajones Special Project in the Lambayeque region, denounced the abuses they have suffered from the company and the social and economic hardships faced by the families after they were resettled to make way for the reservoir of the Limón dam. ‘We used to be prosperous, but now we're destitute,' was their conclusion. Their message was clear. ‘Don't believe them: displacement creates poverty.' This is a pun in Spanish: according to the summary of the Chadin II EIA, AC Energy's local training project is called CREER (‘believe').

Benjamin Hoffman, lawyer for EarthRights International, explained that the construction of the Chadin II project presents various risks for human rights. Particularly concerning is the possible displacement of the population that lives and works in the zones that would be flooded. Hoffman emphasized the obligation of the State, before displacing the population, to demonstrate the need and the real benefits of the project, in addition to the impossibility of meeting those goals through less prejudicial alternatives. Additionally, "with a possible resettlement, the new site must offer the same or better opportunities to realize the rights to work, health, food security, and housing as the original location."

Hoffman added that the procedure for the construction of the Chadin II project is not ensuring the respect for the rights of the population. "The State must guarantee the right to participate, and for that, the affected population must receive all the relevant information in accordance with the law and a real opportunity to express their opinions, which, after our visit to the zone, is in serious doubt."

What for and for whom?

Antonio Zambrano, coordinator of the Solidarity Integration sector of the Peru Solidarity Forum, presented a critical view of the current process of South American integration based on large-scale investment: ‘The huge infrastructure projects are proclaimed as creators of more production and employment, but they also bring deforestation and forest degradation, population displacement, uncontrolled settlement, prostitution and people trafficking, the spread of diseases, increased crime and land grabs.' ‘How much longer will we continue to ignore social conflicts? How much longer will we continue to have this blind faith in the dogma of investment?' he asked.

Jaime Rivera Gonzales, deputy manager of the department of Natural Resources Management and Environmental Administration in the Cajamarca Regional Government, stressed that ‘the Conga and Chadin II projects are non-viable'. Because of what he described as their ‘impact on human rights and the environment, serious deficiencies in the studies and their potential contribution to the phenomenon of climate change locally and globally', Rivera called on civil society organisations to ‘maintain an attitude of vigilance towards huge mining and energy projects'.

Another speaker, Milton Sánchez, president of the Celendín Inter-Institutional Platform, stressed the connection between Chadin II and the Conga mining project. Sánchez argued that ‘the mining project's energy use is unprecedented. One sign of this is the scale of the rock-grinding mill they're going to install up there'. According to its manufacturer, Finnish company Metso, Conga will have ‘the world's largest semi-autogenous grinding mill'.

Sánchez added that energy demand of the mining industry in Cajamarca would increase geometrically with the coming on stream of a series of planned mining projects: Conga, Cerro Negro and Chaquicocha (Newmont and Buenaventura), El Galeno (Jiangxi Copper), La Granja (Rio Tinto), Michiquillay (Anglo American), Tantahuatay (Buenaventura and Southern Copper), Shahuindo (Sulliden Gold), Sipán (Hochschild Mining) and Cerro Corona (Gold Fields).

According to Lima based organization Cooperaccion, 55,2% of the territory of Celendín province, and 77,7% of the territory of Cajamarca province, have been granted as mining concessions by the central government.

It never rains but it pours

Mining companies encourage the construction of dams to take advantage of the energy they produce. Consumption is determined by the mineral content: the lower the proportion of metal in the ore, the greater the demand for water and energy to extract it.

In 2011 the Brazilian company Vale acquired a 9% share in the huge Belo Monte hydro-electric scheme (11.2 GW), one of the most fiercely resisted hydro-electric projects in the world. The company is not only the world's biggest exporter of iron, but also Brazil's biggest consumer of electricity. In 1984 it built the Tucuruí dam, and the resulting 72-metre deep lake displaced 35,000 people.

For years Xstrata Copper drove the construction of dams on the hitherto untouched rivers of Patagonia, between Chile and Argentina. In 2007 its subsidiary Energía Austral submitted an EIA to dam the river Cuervo and build a 640 MW hydro-electric plant and an 800-km high tension line to supply its copper mines in the north of Chile. Despite having been approved by Aysén Environmental Evaluation Agency, the project is currently suspended because of social resistance and a ruling of the Third Chamber of the Chilean Supreme Court. In April 2012 Xstrata sold 51% of Energía Austral to Origin Energy, an Australian company headquartered in Sydney. After merging with Xstrata this year, now the world´s biggest commodities trader, Glencore, owns the other 49%. In August 2013 Energía Austral has submitted further geological studies on the Cuervo hydroelectric plant to Chilean authorities.

Climate change and vulnerability

According to the Peruvian environment ministry, Peru is one of the countries most vulnerable to climate change. The greater intensity and unpredictability of climate phenomena is a threat to large infrastructure projects such as roads, pipelines and dams.

In June 2010 the collapse of the Minera Caudalosa tailing pond released 25,000 cubic metres of toxic waste into a 100-km stretch of a river that changes its name according to the community it flows through: Escalera, Huachocolpa, Opamayo, Lircay, Urubamba and Cachimayo, in the Huancavelica region. The disaster, one of the worst of its kind in recent years, was the combined result of unusually heavy rains and the company's irresponsibility.

Deep Rivers

According to Monti Aguirre, Latin America coordinator of International Rivers and member of REDLAR, the Latin American network ‘against dams and for rivers, their communities and water', ‘the majority of the current dam plans, including the series on the river Marañón, are based on research carried out in the 1960s and 1970s with the attitude prevalent at that time, in which issues of great relevance today, such as climate change, did not figure'.

Aguirre also noted that the final report of the World Dams Commission, published in 2000, revealed the global impacts of the hydro-electricity industry. There are 47,000 dams in the world classified as large (i.e., over 15 metres high), and the countries that have built most dams are the United States, China and India. In social terms, the Commission found that the negative impacts of dams are not quantified or taken properly into account. A wide range of impacts affects the lives, the livelihoods and the health of communities that depend on riverside environments. Between 40 and 80 million people have been displaced by dams around the world, and many of them have not received any recognition or compensation for the damage they have suffered. Impacts on the livelihoods of downstream communities were also not adequately quantified in the planning and design of large dams. Today the scientific community has rethought the role of large dams in the energy matrix because there are viable alternatives for meeting the energy needs of local populations and their economic development such as small scale dams, wind farms, solar or biomass.

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