Protests continue in Peru over Conga project

January 3, 2012

Protests against Newmont Mining’s $4.8 billion Conga project in Peru continued into the new year, but the turnout was not as strong as it is has been in Cajamarca. Reuters reported that that about 1,000 people marched in protest of the mine, a significant decrease nearly a month after the government cracked down on environmental activists it labeled as intransigent.

Newmont Mining and its Peruvian partner, Buenaventura are working to develop the mine that the government says is the largest mining investment ever in Peru and would generate thousands of jobs. Opponents of the project say it would hurt water supplies by replacing a string of alpine lakes with reservoirs.

President Ollanta Humala, whose term has been tested by the bitter impasse, temporarily suspended freedom of assembly last month to break up protests against the mine that drew 5,000 people onto the streets of Cajamarca.

The government has tried several tactics to eliminate opposition to the mine including a promise to have the environmental remediation plan for the mine reviewed by international experts. The government has also committed to spend more money on infrastructure projects in towns near where the mine would be built.

Peruvian public prosecutors have also filed a lawsuit against the president of the region of Cajamarca, Gregorio Santos. The government says he has assumed powers beyond his reach by decreeing a local ordinance that forbids construction of the Conga mine. Peru's constitutional tribunal could strike down the ordinance in the coming days and rebuke Santos.

Humala, elected in June after running as a moderate leftist, shuffled his Cabinet in December to burnish his law-and-order credentials and to halt a wave of anti-mining protests that could delay $50 billion in foreign investment planned for the next decade in the sector. Critics say he has quickly drifted to the right, dashing the hopes of voters in poor provinces who expected he would usher in a period of swift change.

Newmont and Buenaventura temporarily halted work on the Conga project in early November.

Newmont has said its environment plan for the mine, which was approved a year ago by the previous government, meets the highest standards in the mining industry and would ensure year-round water supplies. It says local residents lack water during the dry season.



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