Residents of Combayo, Peru, blocked roads leading to Yanacocha, Latin America’s most productive Gold Mine from August 27-30. They and end to the pollution of their pristine aquifers resultant from the gold-extraction process. The blockades completely shut down production at the mine. Similar pr led to the death of one protester at the hands of police.
The mine is run by a conglomerate including the Denver, CO-based Newmont, the Peruvian Buenaventura. The International Finance Corporation, a division of the World Bank, holds a 5% interest in the mine, which yielded 3.3 million ounces of gold and $10 Billion in profits in 2005.
The protest was a barometer for recently-inaugurated President Alan Garcia’s response to social movements that confront international corporate power. Garcia played negotiator. While he did not call in police to break the blockade, he utilized state power to mediate, end to the blockade and bring both sides to the negotiating table. That position was unlikely to hold for very long unless the Combayo Defense Committee sees some quick results from the company. Protesters in the region are driven by a history of broken promises and environmental degradation.
Many local residents hold a "zero-tolerance for mining" stance.
Protest is endemic to the mine, which has faced many chapters of fury scribed by local residents. In 2000, a truck driven by a Yanacocha subcontractor trailed 330 pounds of liquid mercury along a rural highway. The spill led to the poisoning of hundreds of people, primarily children, and has left entire communities with to deal with devastating, long term health and economic crises.
The company claims that it paid it share into a health fund. But endemic health impacts continue to devastate the poverty-struck community, such as birth defects and cancerous tumors.
Resistance at Quilish
To maintain the mine at the mega-profit levels at which yanacocha operates, constant expansion is required. In 2004, the town of Quilish was next. Yanacocha eyed the Quilish Hill, a sacred mountain to local indigenous people and the source of an estimated 3.8 million ounces of gold. The community would have none of it. In a highly coordinated resistance, Quilish residents organized and forced the company to retract its permit to mine the area.
However, former residents of the area who were displaced by the mining concession (before its retraction) cannot get their lands back. The company still holds deeds to the land and will not relinquish them to community authorities, leading many to suspect that mining company still harbors plans to excavate the area.
Meanwhile, on August 30, forty community representatives left from Combayo for Lima accompanied by environmentalist and liberation-theologist priest Marco Arana. Their aim was to meet with government officials and Yanacocha representatives. Protesters dismantled their blockade as their representatives departed on the trip as a confidence-building measure. The coming weeks will define whether President Garcia can contain the resistance at Combayo enough to ensure smooth functioning (and continued profits) at Yanacocha.
History at Yanacocha shows that local people little problem stirring the waters should their dignity be ignored by company authorities.
For more information on Yanacocha and the long history of resistance to its abuses of corporate power over local people. See:
Thousands of Cajamarca residents protested Yanacocha’s expansion to Cerro Quilish. <http://www.nodirtygold.org/cajamarca_peru.cfm>
Cool video online of the resistance at Quilish, 2004: <http://orosucio.madryn.com/quilish/quilish.htm>
Video available: <http://www.ifiwatchnet.org/eyes/item.shtml?x=42935>
In spanish: <http://hcmujica.blogspot.com/
An excellent pice by the NYT: