Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Peruvian farmers battle international mining companies

Newmont Mining Corp (a US company out of Colorado) has been operating Latin America’s largest gold mine (the Yanacocha) in Peru since 1993. The mine is nearly exhausted & Newmont in a joint project with Peruvian mining company Buenaventura (a 43.65% stake) & the World Bank (a 5% stake) wants to develop the nearby Minas Conga, an open pit copper & gold project. Conga, a $5 billion project, is the biggest investment in Peru’s US $50 billion mining portfolio & the biggest foreign investment in Peru’s history.

Ever since Peru opened its economy to neoliberal predation in the early 1990s, its vast resources of copper, silver, gold, & several other minerals have drawn foreign mining firms, making mining up to 77% of its export income & a main source of government revenues. From 2007 to 2010, the biggest mining companies hauled in more than $31 billion (per Peru's Securities & Exchange Commission)--enriching foreign investors but not the Peruvian farmers displaced by mining.

Since its inception a few years ago, the Conga project has been obstructed & delayed by the massive opposition of local farmers & environmentalists since it runs through their land & lakes in Peru’s northern Andes. The project would drain four mountain lakes used for consumption & agriculture & replace them with reservoirs controlled by the mining consortium. Angel Mendoza, a leader of the peasant opposition, asks reasonably, “Why would we want a reservoir controlled by the company when we already have lakes that naturally provide us water?”

Not only is control of water resources at issue but there is serious environmental risk in the likely contamination of the groundwater. Underground leaks from other mines have already contaminated the network of Andean springs & wetlands that farmers depend on for their livelihood--not to mention have upset the fragile ecosystems of the region.

The mining consortium is promising the earth & the moon to overcome peasant resistance--including community projects in health & education. But mining devastation speaks louder than empty promises. As recently as last February, Peru’s National Water Authority rejected a permit for Newmont to extend its Yanacocha gold mine because it would pollute the Rio Grande river supplying water to 70% of the region’s residents. Newmont requested a permit to dump mining waste into the river but the water authority determined that Newmont & its partner Buenaventura were not complying with 17 of the 30 environmental directives issued by the authority.

The Peruvian government has relied on police force & outright deception, including a state of emergency involving arrests without warrants, suspension of freedom of assembly, a blatantly fraudulent process favoring the mining companies in assessing environmental impact studies, & demonizing the opposition as led by nefarious political forces (i.e., socialists) rather than by farmers.

Considerable international political & economic forces are marshaled against the farmers & environmentalists. Thus far, they have managed to delay & obstruct the project. Our fullest solidarity with this important opposition to environmental destruction & international land grabs. Here Peruvian campesinos protest by setting fire (June 17th) to an area surrounding a dam in the region of Cajamarca. Burn baby burn!

(Photo by Enrique Castro-Mendivil/Reuters)

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