MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Peru Mine Protesters see More Conflict Ahead

Published by MAC on 2005-08-02

Peru Mine Protesters see More Conflict Ahead

August 2, 2005

Story by Jude Webber, Reuters News Service

LIMA - Peru can expect protests against mining, the country's No. 1 industry and export earner, to keep escalating unless the government starts paying more attention to local communities who fear their land and water will be poisoned, the head of a lobby group said on Thursday. Sixteen of Peru's 53 rivers have already been contaminated by mining and some areas should be declared off-limits, Miguel Palacin, president of the Association of Communities in Peru Affected by Mining (CONACAMI) told a news conference.

"All mining activity has an impact, it's a question of how to minimize it," he said.

A slew of violent protests has put $1.1 billion in mining investment at risk, according to the private National Society of Mining, Petroleum and Energy. Two projects have been scrapped since 2003 following protests.

"We say 'no' (to mining) in fragile areas, like the source of a river," he said, using the Rio Blanco copper project owned by Britain's Monterrico Metals Plc as an example. Rio Blanco saw the most serious recent anti-mining protests last month, when two people were killed in clashes with police. The company says Rio Blanco will be Peru's second biggest copper mine, boosting national production of the metal by 25 percent. But locals fear the project will poison two rivers that rise in the rugged Andean area and serve a broad swathe of northern Peru. The company says it is complying with strict environmental rules designed to avoid more of the dire mining pollution Peru saw in the past. It says it has held workshops with locals. But Palacin said that "with the current standards, (the impact of Rio Blanco) would be devastating."

Another project on his blacklist was the La Zanja project, owned by Peru's Compania de Minas Buenaventura with US-based Newmont Mining Co. as partner. Protesters broke into the mine camp there in 2004, burning tents and vehicles. Gold exploration was halted for months and only resumed in June. CONACAMI represents 1,650 people but Palacin said it was not involved in the La Zanja protests.

PROTESTS SIMMER

Amid mounting protests, the Tambogrande copper and gold mine and Newmont and Buenaventura's Cerro Quilish prospect have been scrapped since 2003. Two others are on ice. Palacin said more protests were brewing. "There are currently 42 latent protests," he said, adding his group had submitted a plan to the country's human rights ombudsman to create a kind of ombudsman for mining regions that could facilitate dialogue among all sides.

The World Bank made a similar suggestion in a recent report on the industry that found there were conflicts in 16 mining areas and noted 610 cases of environmental damage.

Cesar Rodriguez, director general of mining at the Energy and Mines Ministry, told Reuters last month the estimated clean-up cost was $200 million and could be $500 million. "As long as the state fails to create a mechanism to hear (the protests), I think they'll rise because the conflicts are getting more acute," Palacin said.

The government and mining companies say protests are being whipped up by some nongovernmental organizations and leftist groups. Palacin said CONACAMI, which receives around $100,000 funding a year from Oxfam America, Denmark's IBIS and Belgium's 11.11.11, had no links with any political organizations.

"We aren't against mining. We are in favor of our rights being respected," Palacin said.

He said the major Las Bambas copper project being developed by Xstrata Plc and the La Granja site due to be sold off this year were good examples of community cooperation. But many miners and local communities were worlds apart. "For an investor, a hill is a reserve of minerals. For those of us who live in the Andes, the hill is our church, our god, and the biggest hill is our cathedral," he said. "It's like making a hole in the cathedral in Lima. How many Catholics would say 'no'?"

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