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Peru: Blogs from Cajamarca Report on Conga Mine Conflict

The social protests [es] against the Conga mining project in Cajamarca continue despite the suspension of activities announced by the mining company. Residents of the rural area as well as other demonstrators are calling for the project to be cancelled once and for all [es]; at the time of writing this post, the regional strike continues [es] and it has been announced that a National March for Water [es] in Lima is likely.

The protest was sparked because this project could jeopardise around twenty of the lakes which form part of the local ecosystem and which provide water to nearby farms and villages. Some of these lakes would disappear permanently. The local population find this unacceptable, despite the fact that the environmental impact study (EIA) looked at constructing [es] reservoirs and lakes to replace them.

What's more, a report  from the Ministry of the Environment was made public [es] which raised serious objections to this impact study and that “roundly contradicted the Ministry of Energy and Mining, [...] which declared [...] that the EIA is ‘correct and has the go-ahead from the Environment Ministry'.”

One of the points which caused most annoyance amongst the local population was the following:

The report revealed that of the four lakes projected to disappear, only two, Perol and Mala, would have been emptied in order to extract gold. The other two, Azul and Chica, “will be emptied and used to dump waste”.  In other words, two of the lakes would be emptied in order to cover their beds with mine waste.

Meanwhile the national press has limited itself to showing videos-clips of the protests and reproducing statements made by civil servants and miners and the opinions of Lima-based political analysts, some of whom demonstrate a clearly pro-mining stance [es]. Outside of the immediate population of Cajamarca, little was seen or heard of the Cajamarcan town. However this is not due to a lack of sources.

Aerial view of el Perol lake, image by Ministerio del Ambiente on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Aerial view of el Perol lake, image by Ministerio del Ambiente on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Dj Radio 98.3 FM [es] is a radio station based in Celendin, another Cajamarcan town, which uses its blog to broadcast news, music and also publish headlines such as: “The People of Celendin use Social Networking to Voice their Opinion on the Regional Strike” [es].  Radio Coremarca [es] also broadcasts its programming via its website and publishes news items on Cajamarca like this recent post which discussed the announcement by the Cajamarcan Regional President to issue a Regional Order declaring the Conga Mining Project untenable [es].

Less well known still are the blogs written in Cajamarca. There aren't many which focus on this area but they keep readers informed. For example, in the blog “El Maletero” “Red Verde Cajamarca” [es] Andres A. Caballero publishes photos, press releases and his impressions on the development of the protests, like in this post [es]:

Al enterarse de un spot publicitario a favor de la minería por parte del Monseñor Bambarén, la comunidad católica especialmente la franciscana no tardó en responder con dos mensajes que le dejan fuera de piso a Bambarén, “El Agua es Vida, NO A CONGA”, “Defendamos a la hermana Madre Tierra”, con eso le dicen a Bambarén que es cierto que el agua es un don de Dios y nos la dio para cuidarla no para desaparecerla o contaminarla.

On hearing of Monsignor Bambarén's advert in favour of the mine, the Catholic community, especially the Fransicans, were not slow to respond with two messages distancing themselves from Bambarén, “Water is Life. NO TO CONGA”, “We defend our sister Mother Earth”, thereby telling Bambarén that water is surely a gift from God and is given to us to be cared for not contaminated or drained away.

Chungo y Batán [es] is another Cajamarcan blog, and it describes itself as “Magazine for the District of Sucre and Huauco”. Mostly it republishes current affairs articles from other sources, either other types of media or press releases from a variety of organisations, and also collaborations like this one [es] by Secundino Silva Urquia:

El conflicto por CONGA es aleccionador, porque en corto tiempo tomó dimensión nacional y mundial; pero con la balanza inclinada a favor de los que defienden el agua y la vida. En tal sentido, si las negociaciones en un conflicto se dan en función a intereses de las partes y no en función a sus posiciones. ¿Qué negociación puede haber entre un gobierno que dijo: “¡Conga va sí o sí!”, y un pueblo que mantiene su posición resumida en la consiga: “¡CONGA NO VA!”?

Aquí YANACOCHA SRL ha cometido y comete impunemente horrendos crímenes ecológicos: Liquidación lagunas (Yanacocha, Maquimaqui, Corazón, Pato, San José), muerte del río grande y muchos manantiales, desaparición de flora y fauna, envenenamiento masivo de pobladores (Derrame de mercurio en Choropampa), contaminación de suelo, aire y agua, proliferación de enfermedades gastrointestinales, etc. Cajamarca protesta por lo que le pasó, y con razón;

The CONGA conflict is exemplary because in a short time is has taken on national and global dimensions; but with the balance tilted in favour of those who are defending water and life.  In that regard, conflict negotiations are progressing in terms of the interested parties and not their standing.  What kind of negotiations could take place between a governement who says “Conga go-ahead, yes!” and a local population who maintain a position that could be summed up as “NO TO CONGA!”

Here the YANACOCHA company has commited, and continues with impunity to commit, the most apalling ecological crimes: clearance of lagunas (Yanachocha, maquimaqui, Corazon, Pato San Jose), killing off of the Rio Grande and may of it sources, destruction of flora and fauna, the widespread poisoning of local inhabitants (mercury spills in Choropampa), contamination of soil, water and air, the proliferation of gastrointestinal disease, etc. Cajamarca is protesting against what has gone on, and with good reason;

The blog Cajamarca Environmental Defense Front [es] focuses on environmental topics and keeps up to date information on the region, which is alternated with opinion posts such as the following by Mario Estrada Perez:

La amenaza que se cierne sobre las provincias de Hualgayoc -mi provincia-, Cajamarca y Celendín, de seguir adelante el proyecto minero de la empresa Yanacocha en la Conga, está llevando a la población, como siempre, a ubicarse en dos bandos irreconciliables: Los promina que en su mayoría son anónimos -¡cuándo no!-, y los antimina que actuamos con la cara al sol y sin avergonzarnos. Esto ha sido, es y seguirá siendo así por los siglos de los siglos. En otras palabras: Unos, los que se ubican del lado del capitalista, del poderoso y los otros, del lado de nuestros propios intereses, los intereses del pueblo llano. Unos, que pelean “por unos cuántos dólares más” a sabiendas de que la parte del león, lo lleva la Newmont y sus asociados y otros, los que defendemos el agua, el medio ambiente, es decir, ¡defendemos la Vida, la Naturaleza! Así están las cosas a grandes rasgos.

The threat hovering over the provinces of Hualgayoc – my province -, Cajamarca and Celendin, of going ahead with the Yanacocha mining project in Conga, has, as usual divided the population into two irreconcilable camps: Those who are in favour of mining, who, for the most part, remain anonymous – as usual! – and those opposed to mining who act unashamedly, with their heads held high. This is how it has always been and will continue to be for centuries to come. In other words: On one side are those who support capitalism and power and on the other those who support our interests, the interests of the common people. Some scramble “for a few more dollars” knowing full well that the lion's share will go to Newmont and its associates, and others protect the water and the environment, in other words, we protect Life and Nature! This is, broadly speaking, how things stand.

The blogs My Corrupt Mine [es] and Free Celendin [es] have very similar content, mostly photos and images taken from a range of sources, like this image [es] that has been circulating widely across the Internet in recent days.

El Moscón [es], is another blog using graphics to illustrate the developing successes in Cajamarca, written by the Cajamarcan commentator Jose Novoa. He reports [es] on the recent deployment of armed forces in the area:

Cuatro batallones del Ejército peruano se dirigieron del aeropuerto de Cajamarca al cuartel Zepita de Baños del Inca. [...] La actitud del Ejecutivo, al parecer, es solucionar el problema de Conga a punto de balas. Este blog captó en exclusivo el desplazamiento de los soldadados [sic] del Ejército. Se van al asalto no contra el enemigo, sino contra el pueblo Cajamarquino que lucha por sus aguas que pretende destruir una empresa minera llamada Yanacocha.

Four batallions of the Peruvian army travelled from Cajamarca airport to barracks at Zepita de Banos del Inca. [...] It seems that the position of the government is to resolve the Conga situation by force. This blog has exclusively revealed the deployment of soldiers. They are not going into battle against an enemy, rather against the Cajamarcan people who are fighting for their water sources and hope to bring down a mining company by the name of Yanacocha.

Radio Alfil [es] is another blog that provides ongoing reporting on the everyday events of the Cajamarcan protests. In one post they ask: Why not declare the El Perol laguna an ecological heritage site? [es]

A estas alturas, la laguna El Perol, ubicada dentro de la concesión minera del Proyecto minero Conga, de Yanacocha, se está convirtiendo en un icono de la resistencia social y ecológica en el Perú y el mundo, en buena cuenta por la solidaridad y la velocidad con que la información llega a todas partes.

¿Cuándo un cerro se convierte en un Apu, y cuándo una laguna se convierte en una Cocha? Cuando los habitantes que han convivido con esa naturaleza lo deciden. ¿Alguien se atrevería a secar o “trasvasar” el lago Titicaca o el río Amazonas? Claro que no. Quizá tengan serios problemas de contaminación y deforestación por actividades humanas, pero igual siguen siendo entidades intangibles, por su importancia para las sociedades que las rodean.

At this stage, the El Perol laguna, which is located within the Conga project mining concession, has become a symbol of social and ecological resistance in Peru and across the world, largely due to solidarity and the speed with which information has travelled to all areas.

When does a hill become an Apu [sacred mountain], and when does a laguna become a Cocha? When the local population, who have lived amongst this habitat, decide it does. Would anyone dare to drain or “transfer” Lake Titicaca or the Amazon? Of course not. While there may be serious problems relating to contamination and deforestation as a result of human activity, at the same time they remain intangible entities due to the importance they hold for the communities in the surrounding areas.

On Facebook there are a range of pages for and against Conga and mining in general. No to Conga [es] is a group with 10,857 members at present, while the Yes Conga, Go Ahead [es] profile has 74 friends; similarly the No to Goyo [es] page, refering to the Cajamarcan Regional President Gregorio Santos, has 69 ‘likes'. On the Foros Peru page, in amongst the various conversations on this subject, one of the most commented on is “Yanacocha suspends the Conga mining project (breaking news).”[es]

As mentioned at the top of this article the social protest did not take on any radical form but remains valid, calling for the whole project to be cancelled. [es]. In addition a group of congressmen and women from the ruling party have called [es] for the removal of all the remaining Yanacocha plant machinery from the area and the withdrawl of deployed forces.

Beyond this, it is undeniable that the cancellation of a project which would have brought an estimated investment of 4.8 billion US dollars to the Conga region could impact negatively [es], most notably in Cajamarca itself. Losses of around 11 million Peruvian soles [es] (around $4,072,026  USD) have already been reported in the transport sector and around 3 million [es] (around $1,110,552 USD) per day in the tourism sector. Nevertheless, the financal sector has responded [es] with caution; the US Embassy has also pointed out [es] that investors are not worried about the strike.

It is in this context that voices from the other end of the political spectrum are now being heard to call for a movement for the defense of democracy and governance [es] in order to put pressure on President Humala in the face of “leftwing radicalism”, although some say [es] the approaching Christmas holidays will allow the government a bit of breathing space.

Post orginally published in Juan Arellano's personal blog [es] on December 2, 2011.

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