MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Gold mine fails to glitter in Peru

Published by MAC on 2003-12-03

Gold mine fails to glitter in Peru

December 3 2003

By Hannah Hennessy, BBC News

There are few paved roads in Tambogrande. Most people in this Peruvian town do not have drinkable running water or electricity either. Many live on less than $2 a day. Those who have money, earn their living from the land.

This lush fertile region in northern Peru produces 40% of the country's mangoes and limes.

But all this could be about to change.

Not wanted

A Canadian company wants to invest hundreds of millions of dollars building a gold mine here.

Mining is one of Peru's biggest industries. It accounts for around half of this Latin American country's annual $8bn in exports.

But it is also a political hot potato. Foreign investors are not always welcome.

In the past, mining has caused irreversible damage to some local communities.


Americo Villafuerte, the head of Manhattan Minerals in Peru, says it will give people in Tambogrande a better life.

"Our company has a concrete proposal for development in Tambogrande. It's a proposal with three concrete social and economic aspects that will resolve many of the problems affecting thousands of children and adults in Tambogrande."

But time is running out.

While it waits for the government's decision on its environmental impact study, Manhattan Minerals says it will not proceed without popular consent.

And that will be a problem, because the people of Tambogrande do not seem to want the mine.

More than 90% of voters rejected the mine in an informal referendum in 2002.

Staying put

Francisco Ojeda, the mayor of Tambogrande, says they had good reason for this.

"Mines aren't an alternative to solving the problems of illiteracy, malnutrition, poverty in communities, because here in Peru we have had too many examples of that kind of thing. Mining has only left a legacy of poverty in Peru."

Manhattan Minerals wants to dig beneath dusty streets that house hundreds of people.

It says it will build modern homes for people who lose their old ones and supply the town with amenities now only available to 15% of the population.

The people here know drinkable running water, paved streets and electricity would make their lives easier, but they do not want to leave their homes.

Altemira Hidalgo has spent all her life living on one of the streets that Manhattan wants to pull up, and says the residents do not want to move.

"We were born here. We grew up here. Our children and our homes were formed here...our ancestors were also here. We want these men to go. We don't want mining. We want agriculture."

'Everything I need'

The majority of people in Tambogrande may be poor, but they are proud. They are not prepared to exchange their limes and mangoes for the promise of gold.

Jose Berru exports fruit worldwide. By local standards he is rich. He, too, is against the mine.

"Here on my farm we produce mangoes, avocados, we have sheep. I have everything I need and if the mine comes it will destroy everything," says the 66-year-old grandfather as he tenderly prunes his mango trees with his gnarled, walnut-coloured hands.

He and Altemira were just two of many people who said they would not give up their fight against the mine.

I walked these hot and dusty streets for hours, and talked to dozens of people.

Not one wanted the mine.

As time runs out on the option to develop the mine, this increasingly bitter battle between developers and environmentalists is not helping Manhattan Minerals' chances of success.

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