Peru's military police guarding the premises of the Yanacocha mine, after popular protests resumed last November 24th. Photo by Getty Images.
This was announced yesterday afternoon by Prime Minister Solomon Lernerb, after violent clashes exploded between armed members of the National Police of Peru, and local indigenous farmers from different communities, causing between 18 to 30 injured and possibly one man is dead.
The protesters had blocked roads and were holding a vigil at the lake El Perol, where peaceful civilians were ambushed at close range as they were eating breakfast, according to a report by Radio DJ of the nearby city of Celendín.
Reports from Lima and the city of Cajamarca are talking about 18 to 30 wounded, including 6 policemen. However, witnesses of the attack at El Farol reported to Radio DJ that the young activist Heiner Campos of 16 years of age, allegedly died after being shot in the lung. No one knows the whereabouts of the victim's remains.
As a result of police attack, some 25 000 people from various regions of Cajamarca are coming to the capital of the region to join the protest today. The population of Cajamarca will continue protesting with a Regional-wide strike until the Conga project is completely cancelled.
The decision of the government of Ollanta Humala is seeing as "just a ploy to gain time and to confuse people, as the operations in Conga are paralyzed for several days" said one of the protests leaders.
In Lima, most private media continued to minimize the protests, associating the farmers and civilians with terrorists or extremists groups. For example, pro-mining anchor Rosa Palacios said on TV that the mercury pollution caused by Yanacocha in the town of Choropampa was "the result of the greediness of the people themselves."
However, the population of Lima has organized actions to support Cajamarca. Last night the Committee to Support the Struggle of Celendín called for a "Vigil against Conga" at the Plaza Dos de Mayo, where they had visual displays providing information on the origins of the mining conflict.
In Twitter a majority of Peruvians express their opposition against this project that is said will destroy 6 lakes if its operations being in 2012. Follow the hashtags #CongaNoVa and #Conga.
The people of Cajamarca initiated a vigil at the 6 lakes that would be affected by the project Conga. Photo by Getty Images.
Decision time for president Humala
As a presidential candidate, Ollanta Humala promised the people of Cajamarca that as president he would defend the water resources of the lakes affected by Conga. He even went to ask the mining corporation Buenaventura to create his own political party, after allegations of funding pro-mining politicians.
But last week, President Humala said in a press conference that he supports the Conga project, because "is an important project for Peru, which will allow the great transformation of the country and the social inclusion we promised to the Peruvian people." He said this project can be carried out respecting both water and gold.
These statements contradicted campaign promises, and caused the increase of protests in Cajamarca.
Meanwhile president Humala is facing another domestic crisis in his government after the attacks of the opposition against vice president Omar Chehade. This week, one of his closest advisers and old-time ally Carlos Tapia announced his resignation as advisor to the Presidency of the Council of Ministers .
The resignation of Carlos Tapia comes after an interview with Radio Ideele where Tapia talked about the economic model of the Humala administration and of the conflicting mining projects, including Conga. In his resignation letter, Carlos Tapia who in fact was dismissed, complains of being spied by the goverment"
"I hope that with my departure, intelligence agents who have followed me with a permanent monitoring, can spend their valuable time to do other tasks" wrote Tapia in his resignation letter.
In Lima, there are rumors about divisions in the cabinet led by Salomon Lerner, showing internal struggles about the direction of the current government, between the two models that defined the presidential election this year: continuity of neoliberalism, or social and economical reform.
The challenge of mining and the role of the U.S.
As the police fired at unarmed citizens of Peru, pesident Humala was meetinbg yesterday with William Brownfield, the controversial U.S. Secretary of State for Narcotics Affairs. Brownfield was formerly the U.S. Ambassador in Venezuela, where he was accused of funding opposition political groups and was threatened with being expelled twice by president Hugo Chavez.
The U.S. government has pledged financial support to Peru to fight drug trafficking. This is something that should be taken carefully by Lima, because historically the U.S. government never give away money. We can see the cases of Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, Libya and especially Colombia which is today the largest Pentagon military base in the Americas.
Considering that the mining project Conga is owned mostly by a U.S. corporation, and knowing the history of U.S. military interventions to protect its interests and to control the natural resources of impoverishment countries, it is necessary that the government of Peru look with distrust the U.S. approach and its monetary offerings.
This meeting was held only two days after Humala met with the director of the International Monetary Fund (the financial arm of the imperialist U.S. government and Europe) in Lima. As expected, Christine Lagarde praised the neoliberal economic model that Humala promised to change but has continued under the leadership of Economy minister Miguel Castilla, a former official for the World Bank which is one of the owners of Yanacocha.
The Conga mining project was approved in October 2010 by the outgoing corrupted government of Alan García. It is an enormous project by the corporation Minera Yanacocha SRL to extract gold and copper, and requires an investment of about $ 4.8 billion dollars.
This project would pollute 5 river basins and a 6 lakes of the Andes in Cajamarca, in the province of Celendín, affecting some 60,000 people or more, excluding the residents of the city of Cajamarca. The inhabitants of these regions do not want more mining projects in their regions, based on the 18-years experience with the open pit mine Yanacocha.
Yanacocha is the largest gold mine in the continent and one of the world's largest. Since it began operations in August 1993, Yanacocha has been denounced by the locals on several cases of mercury and cyanide pollution and depletion of water resources, corruption, violence and abuse against the people of Cajamarca.
At a time when global demand for gold has reached record levels, mainly promoted by the weakening of the dollar currency and massive buying by countries and investors who envision a drop in European and U.S. economies, the Conga project can be seen as an extraordinary opportunity for Peru's economy.
However, we all know that mining has never created real progress in Peru, but it benefits a few privileged in Lima and foreign companies. This is a conflict that will not end easily, unless the water sources are fully respected. Anti-mining leader Marco Arana, reminds us that conflicts for water are only going to worsen in the future.
The government of Ollanta Humala should consider banning permanently the Conga project or to condition its operations under a very strict set of rules, intended to protect the natural resources in such a way that stops destroying life in Cajamarca.