control of water
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.
On the morning of Sept. 7, as workers arrived by bus at the giant Yanacocha mine in Peru's northern region of Cajamarca, agents of the National Police Criminal Investigation Directorate (DIRINCRI) arrived and arrested employee Jesús Elías Salcedo Becerra, 38, as suspected intellectual author of the Nov. 1, 2006 slaying of peasant ecologist Esmundo Becerra Cotrina, gunned down in a hail of 17 bullets while grazing his livestock at Yanacanchilla community, La Encañada district, Cajamarca province. National Police spokesman William Vásquez called the arrest a "preliminary detention," saying that an investigation is underway in cooperation with local offices of the Fiscalía, Peru's public prosecutor. Relatives of Becerra Cotrina arrived as Salcedo was being taken away, and fiercely beat him before being restrained by police and Yanacocha security.
A Brazilian federal judge on Aug. 23 ruled that permits for more than 120 proposed hydro-electric dams in the Upper Paraguay River Basin cannot be issued without first conducting environmental impact assessments, dealing a blow to a major thrust of development planned for the states of Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul. The ruling comes in response to a request from state and federal prosecutors in Mato Grosso do Sul, who petitioned the 1st Federal Court in Coxim for an injunction suspending construction of 126 new dams in the Pantanal, a vast region of wetlands in the basin. The ruling also impacts 20 already operating hydro plants, which will be able to continue running under their current licenses, but must submit to an impact study before seeking license renewals. Utilities must seek approval for the studies from the Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Natural Resources (IBAMA) as well as state authorities before the projects can move ahead.
After nearly 10 years of struggle, Mexican campesinos fighting to protect their lands from the planned La Parota hydro-dam on the Río Papagayo won a definitive victory with the Aug. 16 signing of the "Cacahuatepec Accords" by Guerrero's Gov. Ángel Aguirre Rivero and the Council of Ejidos and Communities in Opposition to La Parota Dam (CECOP). Under the agreement, Aguirre has committed the state not to approve La Parota dam if affected communities do not accept it, if they are not justly compensated, or it will impact the environment—effectively ending the project. Aguirre is also committed to seek an audience between CECOP and Mexican President Felipe Calderón to assure a commitment to the same principles from the federal government. La Parota dam would have flooded 17,000 hectares, impacting some 100,000 local residents.
The comunarios (communal peasants) of Marka La Joya, on the morning of Aug. 21 initiated an occupation of the installations of the Inti Raymi Mining Company at La Titina, outside the Altiplano city of Oruro, in protest of the pollution of local water sources with cyanide and other toxins. Traditional Aymara authorities of the ayllus (agricultural communities) of Jach'a Carangas, Jakisa, Sura and Uru, which together constitute Marka La Joya, charged that the government of President Evo Morales and the Plurinational Legislative Assembly are making laws that favor the mineral industry, without the involvement of indigenous communities impacted by mining projects. "We view with profound concern...that the government, through the corresponding ministries, has drawn up—without consultation—the projects of the Mining Laws, the Rights of Mother Earth, Water, Prior Consultation...without the participation of social sectors, and especially of the indigenous nations and original peoples," the statement read. (OCMAL, OIDEC, Aug. 21; La Opinón, Cochabamba, Aug. 20)
In an interview with Dow Jones last week, Richard O'Brien, CEO of Colorado-based Newmont Mining Corp. acknowledged that the conditions do not exist to move ahead with the $5 billion Conga gold and copper project in Cajamarca, Peru. O'Brien said there must be a "consistent environment that we would need for the successful conduct of both mining and all those things that go with mining, whether that is transporting people or equipment. Right now we don't see that environment in Conga. It will take a significant change to make that happen." (Fox Business News, Aug. 17) This week, a new 48-hour paro (civil strike) has been declared to oppose the Conga project in Cajamarca region, much of which remains under a state of emergency. To kick off the strike Aug. 22, hundreds of campesinos marched in the province of Bambamarca, in defiance of a ban on public protests. The marchers were mostly ronderos (members of the self-defense patrol) the outlying village of El Tambo, which is within the impact zone of the proposed mine. The campesinos held a gathering at Laguna Namococha, one of the highland lakes that would be degraded by the project. (La Republica, Aug. 22)
The campesino communities of Ayavaca and Huancabamba in Peru's northern Piura region held assemblies Aug. 16 and issued a statement pledging to resist recently announced plans by Chinese mining company Zijin to move ahead with the long-contested Río Blanco copper project. The communities cited the need to protect threatened watersheds, wetlands and cloud forests in the high Andean region, noting that they have been officially listed as "fragile ecosystems" under Peruvian law. The local jalca ecosystem, which exists only in Peru's northern Andean regions near the border with Ecuador, is richer in water than the more arid high plains known as punas elsewhere in the country. Read the statement: "Ayavaca and Huancabamba are today more alert than ever and ready to commit our lives for the defense of water for future generations." (Megaproyectos, Aug. 16; CONDESAN)