Peruvians Face Off Against Newmont Mining

Source: The Progressive

The Newmont Mining Corporation, based in Colorado, has embroiled itself in a controversial project in northern Peru that locals say threatens their water and their future. Peasants and workers in the region have engaged in mass demonstrations and general strikes, and the president of Peru has responded by declaring a state of emergency. At stake is the economic model of aggressive resource extraction lubricated by the new free trade agreement with Washington.

Newmont wants to proceed with its $4.8 billion Conga gold mine in the Cajamarca region despite the unrest. The project, as originally conceived, called for the destruction of four alpine lakes. And local residents fear several others in the area would be degraded. The company proposed to replace the four with artificial reservoirs. But the campesinos (peasants) pledged they would not let their lagunas be destroyed—and the leftwing regional government backed them up, butting heads with the country’s president.

On March 13, I accompanied a delegation of the Cajamarca Defense Front to a meeting in a village called El Alumbre. Before the meeting, village leaders guided our car over unimproved roads to view the lagunas they fear will be degraded. We briefly entered the Conga concession area—and our two vehicles were quickly followed by a pickup truck full of national police, wearing camouflage and black ski masks.

At the meeting, village leaders gathered around a lone microphone. Chewing coca leaf and occasionally passing around a bottle of cane liquor to ward off the misty cold, villagers in traditional ponchos and rubber work boots listened as the leaders of Alumbre and nearby hamlets each pledged to defend the zone’s waters and oppose the mining project. The proceedings were punctuated by chants of “El agua es un tesoro que vale mas que oro” (“Water is a treasure worth more than gold”) and “El agua es por la vida, no por la mineria” (“Water is for life, not for mining”).