Protests mount against proposed gold mine in northern Peru

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REPORTING FROM LIMA, PERU, AND BOGOTA, COLOMBIA -- With protests mounting against a proposed gold mine in northern Peru, local officials Friday called on President Ollanta Humala to meet with the project’s opponents about its potential social and environmental effects.

Gregorio Santos, the president of the Cajamarca region, said Humala should meet with locals concerned that the proposed Conga mine threatens the area’s water supply and “could destroy the entire ecosystem.”


Last week, Santos told reporters he thought that Humala’s support for the mine showed he was under pressure from “transnational capitalism.”

On Thursday, an estimated 10,000 residents marched to protest the project, which would be operated by Colorado-based Newmont Mining. (The company also runs the Yanacocha open-pit gold mine 20 miles to the north.) Roads have been blockaded and some Cajamarca-area schools and businesses closed in protest.

Newmont Mining has proposed investing $4 billion in the new project, which could produce between 580,000 and 680,000 ounces of gold per year. Royalties and taxes to the government could total $800 million per year. Operation is scheduled to start in 2014. The Yanacocha mine, one of the world’s largest, produced 1.5 million ounces last year.

In addition to gold, the Conga project would also mine copper, producing between 155 million and 235 million pounds of the metal per year.

But opponents have charged that the project would destroy four lakes in the high Andes that may be connected to the aquifer that produces the region’s drinking water. Protests against mining have turned increasingly violent in recent days. In Yanachocha on Thursday, protesters reportedly entered the mine site and destroyed a warehouse.

President Humala said last week that the nation needs the project along with the profits and jobs it would generate. Revenue from Peru’s mining boom has been an important factor in the nation’s economic growth, which in recent years has been among the highest and most sustained in Latin America.

Humala’s support of the project has been seen by some analysts as part of an effort to calm the worries of foreign investors fearful he could take Peru down an anti-capitalist path similar to that of Venezuela under socialist President Hugo Chavez.

“Appealing to the wisdom and spirit of national dialogue, I believe this is the best way to build development,” Humala told a conference on poverty Thursday.


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-- Adriana Leon in Lima and Chris Kraul in Bogota