Peru's government is seeking to restart talks with opponents of the $5 billion Minas Conga copper and gold mining project in the northern region of Cajamarca, Environment Minister Manuel Pulgar Vidal Nov. 14. Pulgar Vidal said in a TV interview that Catholic priests Miguel Cabrejos and Gastón Garatea will resturn to dialogue, and called upon Cajamarca's regional president Gregorio Santos, to participate. "He has to be there," Pulgar Vidal said when asked if Santos, a harsh opponent of the project, would join the talks. As Pulgar Vidal spoke, campesino mine opponents from Cajamarca and their local supporters were maintaining a plantón (open-ended protest vigil) in front of the Lima offices of Newmont Mining, the US company that is the major investor in the Conga project.
On Nov. 9, the Costa Rica-based Latin American Water Tribunal, an oversight body on environmental justice formed by jurists and specialists from across the hemisphere in 1998, issued a judgment calling on Peru to cancel the controversial Conga mining project in northern Cajamarca region, finding numerous irregularities in its approval. The ruling, issued in a public hearing in Buenos Aires, questioned the objectivity of Peru's Environment Ministry (MINAM) and Naitonal Water Authority (ANA) in the case; condemned the criminalization and repression of social movements in Cajamarca; and called upon Peru to uphold access to water as an internationally recognized human right. (Celendín Libre, GRUFIDES, Nov. 9)
In a sign of community divisions in Peru's northern region of Cajamarca, campesinos from the "influence zone" of the proposed Conga mineral project demonstrated in the regional capital Nov. 1, where they threatened to evict the "Guardians of the Lagunas"—campesinos who oppose the mine, and have established an encampment near the concession bloc to assure that the Yanacocha mining company does not begin work that would impact the zone's highland lakes. "We don't want violence, but they are ursurping our lands and we are reaching an agreement to expel them," said Felipe Palma López, leader of the ronda campesina (peasant self-defense patrol) in the community of Quengorio Alto. Demonstrators accused the Guardians of being "manipulated by politicians."
Local campesinos reported Oct. 26 that thousands of young trout were found dead in the Río Llaucano, in Peru's northern region of Cajamarca, and blame contamination from the ginat Yanacocha gold mine that sits atop the watersahed. The campesinos held a press conference in the town of Bambamarca to announce thier grave fears for the safety of the region's waters. The Llaucano is a tributary of the Marañon, one of the main rivers that drains into the Amazon. The fish were found washed up near the communities of Santa Rosa in Bambamarca province and La Paccha in Chota province. (Servindi, Oct. 26)
On Oct. 16 in Lima, a delegation from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) met with Ydelso Hernández, president of the Unitary Struggle Command in Peru's northern region of Cajamarca, who is seeking an order from the IACHR halting the controversial Conga mining project. Hernández said a group representing rondas campesinos (peasant self-defense patrols) in Cajamarca will travel to Washington DC at month's end to testify before the IACHR about rights violations associated with the project.
Campesinos in Cajamarca, Peru, continue to organize round-the-clock vigilance at the proposed site of Yanacocha company's Conga gold mine, in response to reports of construction work at the concession bloc despite official assurances that the project is suspended. Organized in rondas (self-defense patrols), the campesinos are monitoring activities at the high-altitude lakes that would have to be destroyed for the project to proceed. Idelso Hernández of the Cajamarca Unitary Struggle Front said Oct. 12, "Now there are 1,200 people mobilized to protect the lakes. The comuneros have decided to maintain a permanent presence in the zone to block any effort by Yanacocha to transfer workers or equipment there." Some 600 National Police troops have also been deployed to the site.
In an open letter Sept. 20, Human Rights Watch urged Peru's President Ollanta Humala to take steps to prevent the unlawful killing of protesters, noting growing incidents of deadly force. Local media report that at least 19 have died in protests over mineral projects since Humala took office last year. On the same day HRW issued the letter, National Police killed a protester at Barrick Gold's Pierina mine in Áncash region. The confrontation came as residents from Mareniyoc and other local villages pushed their way onto the company's property, prompting police guarding the entrance to open fire. Barrick temporarily suspend production at the mine following the clash, in which four campesinos were also injured.
Despite recent statements indicating that the planned mega-scale Conga gold mine in Peru's northern Cajamarca region will be suspended, Yanacocha mining company has started work on a reservoir at Laguna Chaugallón near the proposed concession area, apparently in preparation for the project—sparking a new wave of protests from local campesinos. Wilfedo Saavedra, leader of the Cajamarca Defense Front, said that the regional paro (civil strike) to oppose the project would remobilize on Sept. 21, when comuneros (communal peasants) from Bambamarca province will blockade operations at the site. "We will return to protest because the Newmont company has received permission to complete the first part of the project, which consists of construction of the reservoirs," Saavedra said, referring to the US-based Newmont Mining Company which is the majority holder in Yanacocha.