Protests In Cajamarca – We Are The 99%

The first day we arrived in Cajamarca, the Plaza de Armas (town center) was barricaded from vehicular traffic and heavily guarded by a league of police outfitted in riot gear.

The big danger? Just people protesting their right to have water that isn’t contaminated by cyanide, mercury, arsenic….you know, the fun stuff.

The government has announced a state-of-emergency to stop the Conga mining protesters. The new mine is an extension of the Yanacocha mining project, Latin America’s biggest gold mine, operated by U.S. based company, Newmont.

A Brief Background of Mining in Cajamarca

The sheer scale of the Yanacocha gold mine in Cajamarca, Peru, is enormous. It is the largest open pit gold mine in Latin America, and the second largest in the world, covering 535 square miles. The Minera Yanacocha company runs the mine, which is owned by Newmont Mining Corporation from Colorado, a Peruvian mining company, and the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC). Majority-owner Newmont refers to Yanacocha as its “crown jewel” and the mine generates a large portion of Newmont’s profits. But ever since its launch in 1993, the mine has also generated unprecedented environmental and social damage for the people of Peru.

The seedy start of it all….

The government granted the concession to Minera Yanacocha after accepting bribes from Newmont, and without properly consulting with, and obtaining consent from local communities, which are now deeply suffering. Yanacocha also began operations using massive open pits and leach pads in an environmentally sensitive area full of farms that rely on water coming from the mountains in the mine area. (FYI, the northern highlands of Peru are the biggest suppliers of livestock and dairy in Peru…they need clean water not only for their own survival but also to supply their domesticated animals that feed most of the country).

Locals complain that their water sources have become contaminated, their traditional medicinal plants have declined and that the influx of job seekers to the area has increased crime.  The mine, itself, and the failure to properly recognize the community’s right to consent to the mine have infringed on peoples’ rights to a sustainable livelihood and ability to determine their economic development.

To add insult to injury, the mine has become known for toxic contamination that it has caused. In June 2000, one of Minera Yanacocha’s contractors spilled 150 kilograms (335 pounds) of mercury from the mine along a 43-kilometer stretch of road through the towns of Choropampa, Magdalena and San Juan. More than 1,000 people maintain they were affected by the spill and many continue to report health effects.

More recently…..

During the administration of former right-wing president Alan García, the government gave the US company Newmont a concession to exploit an open-cast gold and copper mine in Conga, 150 km from Cajamarca, directly on top of the town’s principal watershed. The US$4.8 billion project was going to start production in early 2015.

For obvious reasons, the local population is very fearful that the project will affect water supplies. According to the Frente de Defensa Ambiental (Environmental Defence Front), FDA, an umbrella organization of protesting communities, the company has made inadequate provisions to prevent a disruption of water supplies and the possible contamination of lakes.

Why is water so important for the people of Cajamarca?

Again, the region is the biggest supplier of livestock and dairy products in Peru. Protesters believe that the contamination of the water will affect their production, and they say that neither the government nor the company has done enough to protect water supplies.

What do the company and the government say?

They argue that they have already taken precautions to prevent a water shortage and the contamination of water supplies. Newmont says that they will transpose the water of three lakes, situated 3,700 m above sea level, to reservoirs to be built by the company. And these reservoirs will supply the local population with its water needs. The company argues that it drew up its plans after consulting NGOs and representatives of the local communities.

What do the protesters says?

Protesters, however, are not convinced. They argue that the reservoirs are not an adequate replacement for the lakes, which are also used for other agricultural activities such as watering pasture for livestock.

The people of Peru are not stupid. They have been betrayed so many times that they know not to trust the false promises of the U.S. based Yanaconcha mining company or of their complicit Peruvian government.  They have too much at stake; their whole livelihood is contingent on the health of their environment.  No amount of monetary profit could ever value more than potable water or fertile land.

If only we were all as wise and brave as these people…

Why did president Humala declared a state of emergency in Cajamarca?

Although Newmont had suspended work in Conga, the FDA (i.e. the locals) demanded the total cancellation of the project. They gave the government the deadline of midnight on Monday 5th December to stop Conga all together and, despite attempts by government ministers to negotiate in situ during the weekend, this deadline expired without the cancellation of the project.  So the people continued protesting, and the government decided to crack down, claiming that they needed to protect the locals (i.e. the protesters) from themselves.

From Lima to the tiny villages in the Andean hillsides, the people of Peru stand in solidarity against the new Conga mining project…against the 1%.

“Only when the last tree has died,

the last river has been poisoned,

and the last fish has been caught,

will we realize that we cannot eat money.”

 

-Stevie Trujillo, reporting live from Cajamarca, Peru

 

 

Comments

  1. Thank you for sharing this. When I was in southern Peru in November, the people in Arequipa were also holding a huge demonstration against gold mining, for the same reasons – health, safety, water, and environmental degradation. The protest was in downtown Arequipa, and it went on ALL day – there were thousands of Indigenous people there, organized and orderly and vocal about the devastating harm being done to them and their communities. And, yes, it is an American mining company who has left broken promises and toxins everywhere in beautiful Arequipa. Its hard to hold my head up when visiting these countries, after seeing what our nation does to others. . .

  2. Thank you Stevie. There is so much to learn.

  3. Thanks for reportig this.

  4. The Spanish conquest continues in Latin America as it has for 500 years.

    There is a recent rather brilliant film called “Even the Rain” that deals with big business and water issues in Bolivia as the side story to a film production there. It seems to be a U.S. film but shot in Spanish.
    I give it two thumbs up.

    Good work Stevie

    • The irony is certainly not lost on me….the Spaniards captured the last Inca king in Cajamarca and then held him for ransom, filling their coffers with gold, only to hang him a year later anyway; today, the Newmont mining company is pretty much doing the same thing, extracting gold and screwing the people. The injustice kills me.

      Thank you for the movie recommendation. I’m always looking for good ones to watch. I’m going to download it right now.

      Merry Christmas to you and Lillian!

  5. Good job Stevie,
    Thanks for the enlightenment.
    We suck (Greedy, selfish U.S.) and I will not condone and or look the other way.The American pride is diminishing fast ,is this really how we treat people?

    • Stevie,
      Awesome reporting I feel a spirited sort of want to help feeling. Thanks for being one of my agents of awareness. Tree and yourself have touched my life and the lives of many.
      Thank you, Willy

      P.S. Tree, please resend the Joe Rogan “corruption clip if u can. Thanx

      • Hey Willy, I sent you an email a couple days ago. Did you not receive it? Could our emails be going into your spam filter?

  6. Stevie,
    Wonderful post. I hope that you and tree are having a merry solstice south of more borders that you are north of.
    I just want to offer a counter point for the sake of argument. I agree that this is horrible, as I am sure everyone who read this post on their computer, I pad, or phone does. All of these people should know that in their electronic devices is one of the largest industrial uses (and there for the largest demand generator) of gold. Anytime you think solar power is a good idea you are also thinking that gold mining is a good idea. Anytime you think that more rigid emission standards for vehicles are a good idea you are think that gold mining is a good idea. Anytime that that you get into a plane you are voting for good mining. Really anytime that you use plastic products there maybe a little gold in the process of making said product.
    I hate to be debbie downer but as I sit here feeling indignant About the injustices to the Peruvian people I just can’t help but feel a little hypocritical writing this post on my brand new I pad.
    This is a website with all the ways that you can cut gold out of your life. I’ll say though…. It would be like going back to the stone ages at least until we can synthesize a metal that has all of the same properties.
    http://www.gold.org/technology/uses/
    Love from America.
    Beckett

  7. Nice reporting Stevie!

    Happy Holidays to you and Tree.
    Cheers,
    John

  8. Walter Burkhardt says:

    Keep up the good fight!!

  9. Arlene Burns says:

    great pictures and reporting.. you go!!!

    merry and happy too.

    xx

  10. Down with the top one percent.

  11. They were protesting when I was there too. Big corporations just don’t listen. I’ll sign.

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