Mining in Peru
Peru has a long mining history dating back to the pre-Inca era. In the first few centuries of colonization, substantial quantities of gold, silver and mercury were mined. In the early 17th century, the major silver mines were almost depleted.
In spite of Peru’s long-standing mining history, the sector has really boomed since the early 1990s. The reason, however, is not the discovery of new deposits. It is the combination of high prices for raw materials and new mining technologies allowing for the exploitation of previously inaccessible or economically unprofitable areas, together with institutional reforms of both the mining sector and the overall economy, that have made mining in Peru so appealing to investors.
The extractive sector started to play a decisive role in economic growth, supported until today by foreign investment and an export-oriented economy. Consecutive governments have since continued to enhance Peru’s profile as a país minero with a view to acquiring fresh capital for the national economy.
Today, Peru is still a mining superpower. Mining accounts for about 60 per cent of exports and is the country’s major source of foreign currency. Peru is the world’s second producer of silver and the sixth producer of gold, and is second only to Chile when it comes to the world’s copper reserves. The five major mining multinationals worldwide (Glencore, BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto, Vale and Anglo American) all operate in Peru.
In spite of the huge investments in the country, its mineral wealth does not have the hoped for effects. “A Peruvian is a beggar sitting on a mountain of gold” is a well-known saying. The soil abounds with resources and yet it does not benefit a large part of the population. The enormous expansion of extractive operations has a huge socio-cultural, economic and ecologic impact. At the end of 2014, over 25.7 million hectares of Peru’s territory were granted as mining concessions, corresponding with 20% of the country’s area! As early as 1999, about 55% of the 6000 peasant communities were somehow affected by mining activities.
Mining is now expanding into areas traditionally inhabited by indigenous peasant communities. It is threatening their traditional ways of life based on agriculture and stock breeding. Besides, there is a notable expansion of mining into areas with vulnerable ecosystems such as the highland paramos, which are crucial to the water supply of farming lands and the local population, as well as of lower towns and the dry coastal region.
In addition, the territories where mining concessions were granted often have a cultural and historic value for their inhabitants. Not surprisingly, mining expansion results in social conflicts and political debates concerning the relation between mining, human rights, environmental aspects and development. Despite the high number of social clashes the government fully supports the mining sector.
President Ollanta Humala continues the above mining policy in spite of promises made during his election campaign of a better regulation of the foreign (mining) companies. Indeed, in June 2014 a set of measures was approved that was to weaken environmental and social legal provisions and made a wide range of procedures for companies less stringent. With its main competitor Chile hot on its heels, Peru prefers to remain the mining sector’s best friend.
CATAPA’s Peruvian commitment focuses on two emblematic mining cases in the northern Andes, viz. Conga in Cajamarca and Rio Blanco in Piura. Through our partner organizations we support the local social groups and the population who are questioning the unlimited and badly regulated expansion of mining operations. The ecological and social costs of the extraction of ores and minerals are indeed mainly borne by the locals. They are faced with a variety of problems such as water pollution, expropriation of lands, social conflicts and criminal charges against social leaders and protests. By supporting our partner organizations and delegating South collaborators to Peru we try to enable the people to make their voice heard.
In 1992, the Yanacocha Mining Project near the town of Cajamarca was started by Minera Yanacocha S.R.L., a then joint-venture of the American Newmont Mining company, the Peruvian Compañia de Minas Buenaventura, the French state company Bureau de Recherches Géologiques et Minières and the International Finance Corporation. The Yanacocha gold mine, currently still operating and accounting for the production of over 736 tons of gold, made a relatively quiet start. The population hoped that the mine would bring economic prosperity to this impoverished region – as it had been repeatedly promised – kept the population relatively calm. At that time, Cajamarca was the fourth pourest department of Peru. Today (2008) it is the region with the highest extreme poverty rate in the country.
After the French state enterprise BRGM decided to merge with the Australian mining company Normandy Poseidon, which was a major competitor of Newmont Mining, the American mining multinational decided together with their Peruvian partner Buenaventura to oppose the sale. They sued BRGM and claimed they had a right to veto the sale.
After years of lobbying and a political tug-of-war between the parties, the Peruvian Supreme Court ruled in favour of Newmont and Buenaventura in June 2000. Both were awarded the BRGM share, representing USD 109.7 million. In 2000, it was dragged into the light that Montesinos, president Fujimori’s major advisor, had secretly video-recorded his talks with judges and consultants involved in the Yanacocha case. The large-scale corruption and fraud was thus revealed resulting in president Fujimori’s downfall. Mining in Peru is a state interest. The commercial dispute concerning the ownership of the Yanacocha gold mine clearly shows how intricately tangled the political and economic elites are and what the ensuing perverse effects are. At the national and international levels, this case severely damaged the Minera Yanacocha and the Peruvian policy makers’ reputation.
In Cajamarca, too, clash came after clash. The Cajamarca land conflicts were the result of the company’s deliberate expropriation strategy. Between 1992 and 2000, Yanacocha purchased over 11 000 hectares of land for approximately US $5 million. The company encouraged the dismantling of traditional patterns of land-tenure and the parcelization and privatization of lands. The new private owners were under pressure to sell their land, with state-sanctioned expropriation as a threat. Land tenants who were not owners, lost access to their grounds. No compensation was awarded. Between 1992 and 1996 land prices in the vicinity of the mine rose by 600%. A large number of owners and communities felt betrayed and protested in order to enforce additional compensation.
In 1994, there were several land disputes and reported pollution by Yanacocha; between 1997 and 1998 the first collisions happened as a result of the loss of irrigation canals and the drying up of mountain lakes, and 2000 was the year of the Choropampa disaster.
The environmental and health effects of pollution became apparent for example in the death of large numbers of trout in the region’s fish farms. In 2002, in the village of Granja Porcón, 36 700 trout were killed after mining sediments had leaked into the fish farm. Another sad ‘climax’ in Yanacocha’s history happened in 2000 when a truck contracted by Yanacocha Mines spilled 150 kilos of mercury along a 43-kilometer stretch of road through the towns of Choropampa and San Juan. Over 900 inhabitants were poisoned and suffered from kidney pains, respiration problems, skin rashes and vision impairment. At first, Yanacocha tried to play down the incident and denied all responsibility. The company was accused and at last paid damages through an alternative dispute resolution but without accepting full responsibility. To Yanacocha the incident was closed but the victims’ health problems will last for years to come.
Protest and dissatisfaction in Cajamarca were growing. In 2004, over 10 000 people from the region demonstrated against the expansion of the mine to Cerro Quilish, a mountain of extreme importance to the water supply of Cajamarca, with at least a temporary success, i.e. Yanacoha had to remove Quilish from its exploration plans.
In August 2006, protests broke out against the expansion of the Carachugo pit, where Yanacocha intended to build a new dam. The residents of Combayo feared the contamination of their water and complained of the limited social and economic benefits of the project. The protest led to clashes between the farmers and the police who were aided by private Yanacocha security officers. In the clash, leader Isidro Llanos was shot dead and several people were wounded. In November 2006, farmer and environmentalist Edmundo Becerra Corina was murdered by 15 bullets, a few days prior to his meeting with representatives of the Ministry of Energy and Mines. He had received a number of death threats before.
A recent report revealed that mining firm Yanacocha had evaded taxes for years on end. In his investigation ‘La Gran Minería: paga los impuestos que debería pagar? El caso Yanacocha‘ journalist Raúl Wiener revealed how since 2006 Yanacocha had increasingly inflated its accounting costs in order to dramatically reduce its taxable earnings. From further investigations it appeared that especially indirect costs, which can be less easily traced back to actual production costs, had risen sharply. Despite the high prices paid for gold and copper in recent years, the company’s profits systematically decreased. In 2013 Yanacocha even reported a loss. Thus the company succeeded in saving millions.
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Het grootste uitbreidingsplan van het mijnbouwbedrijf Yanacocha blijft tot op vandaag (2018) onuitgevoerd. Reeds in de jaren ‘90 begon het bedrijf al gronden op te kopen rond de hooglandmeren van Conga, die naam gaven aan het project. Pas vanaf 2010, wanneer het oorspronkelijke milieueffectenrapport wordt goedgekeurd. De lange geschiedenis van milieuvervuiling en mensenrechtenschendingen door het bedrijf vormt de voedingsbodem voor het sociaal conflict dat zich ontwikkelde rond het Conga project. In het najaar van 2011 groeide het lokale protest uit tot massaal verzet. De verschillende lokale anti-mijnbouwprotesten van rechtstreeks geaffecteerde gemeenschappen kwamen samen in een regionaal bewustzijn, waarbij ook de stadsbewoners zich betrokken voelen. Boerenorganisaties en andere sociale bewegingen, gesteund door de regionale overheid van Cajamarca en het brede middenveld in Peru, hebben hun vertrouwen in het mijnbouwbedrijf Yanacocha verloren. ‘Conga no va!’ vormt zonder twijfel het grootste protest in de geschiedenis van de streek waar bijna 500 jaar geleden conquistador Pizarro en Inca Atahualpa tegenover elkaar stonden.
De reactie van de regering was hardhandig. De noodtoestand werd meermaals afgekondigd en de streek werd gemilitariseerd. Dit resulteerde onder meer in 5 dodelijke slachtoffers in juli 2012 in de provincie Celendín. Datzelfde jaar werd een historische ‘Marcha del Agua’ gehouden op de hoofdstad, Lima, waar duizenden mensen samen kwamen voor het recht op water. Conga werd zo een nationaal symbooldossier voor de grootschalige mijnbouwproblematiek in het land en in gans Latijns-Amerika, en resoneert tot ver daarbuiten.
The opposition to the Conga protest is widely supported. Not only communities that might possibly be affected are taking to the streets, but also those beyond the ‘impact zone’ are voicing their opposition in large numbers. A small-scale IPSOS enquiry in 2012 revealed that only 15% of the respondents wish the project to be implemented whilst as many as 78% were against the exploitation of Conga. In rural areas the percentage swells to 83%. In other words, ‘the 5-billion dollar project’ hardly finds local support. Regional policymakers are in a similar frame of mind. Gregorio Santos, regional president of Cajamarca openly opposes the project and is therefore a thorn in the flesh of the central government in Lima. Thus, the Conga protest has become a national protest in Peru, a country with over 200 mining-related social conflicts.
Since investments in Conga are huge and the scale of the protest was immense, the opposition was and is felt by the central government to be highly problematic. From the first protests in the fall of 2011 up to today efforts have been made to suppress the protest in Cajamarca in a harsh and illegal way. Criminalization of social protest in Cajamarca took and is taking place in a variety of ways, and can therefore illustrate the various methods used by any government to subdue undesirable dissent.
When considering the criminalization of social protest, a distinction can be made between the role played by the state and the private company’s role.
Criminalization by the state can be orchestrated at various levels: by state security forces in the way they respond to social protest; by prosecutors and judges in the way existing laws are applied or interpreted and by legislators in the way new laws are created or adapted.
- Arbitrary use of existing legal framework to criminalize protesters. This includes charging social leaders or protesters with ‘public intimidation’, ‘incitement to violence’, ‘terrorism’, ‘kidnapping’… These terms are often defined so broadly in the penal code, that they are open to arbitrary interpretation by judges.
⇒ An example from Cajamarca: At the end of 2012, 15 lawsuits had been filed against a number of people by the state and/or Minera Yanacocha. As a result, more than 94 individuals were summoned for a wide range of offences: impeding public transport, damage to properties, coercion, restriction of personal freedom, violence (against the authorities)…
- Criminalisation in breach of legal framework. Often, a state will take measures which abuse human rights and in doing so it breaches its own legal framework. Examples are repression and use of violence, militarization of a region, arbitrary arrests without any immediate cause, threatening social leaders, defamation of key figures of the protest (often through media channels),…
⇒ An example from Cajamarca: Right from the start of the protests against Conga excessive brutality was used. During a convergence of protesters on 29 November 2011 in the area of the mountain lakes, DINOES, a special unit of the Peruvian police, opened fire on protesters. A number of people were seriously injured . Marino Rodriguez, a key figure in the protest, lost an eye. Elmer Campos got paralyzed in his legs and has been confined to a wheelchair up to today.
Early 2012, the protest movement gathered momentum and led to plenty of actions in the town of Cajamarca, which resulted in a regional strike in June 2012. City life was halted for 34 days. Residents of a number of surrounding municipalities came down to the city to express their dissatisfaction with Conga and the Peruvian government. The strike was harshly suppressed. The toll of this police brutality was numerous injured people and 5 deaths, one of them a minor.
The day after the fatal ‘incidents’ the state of emergency was declared. This strategy is frequently used by the Peruvian government and functions as a license to militarize the region. This way, numerous civil rights such as the right to freedom of assembly and association were abused and the right to peaceful protest was weakened. Video recordings of the protest actions clearly show excessive police brutality, which was confirmed by numerous witnesses. The police were said to have shot from a helicopter.
Smear campaigns and arbitrary arrests Often real smear campaigns are staged in order to delegitimize the social leaders of the protest.
⇒ An example from Cajamarca: the smear campaign against former priest and social leader Marco Arana grew to massive proportions. Marco Arana functioned as an intermediary for the local population and for social movements during the Cerro Quilish conflict in 2004 and is still the spokesman of the resistance in Cajamarca. Being the leading enemy of Yanacocha his life was repeatedly threatened and he suffered frequent attacks. A documentary on this smear campaign won international acclaim. ‘Operación Diablo’ is indeed an impressive account of the threats and defamation Marco Arana had to suffer. Watch the trailer here.
- Finally, a state will also adapt the legal framework to criminalize acts of social protest. One objective is to secure impunity for police and army personnel, another is to facilitate military intervention.
⇒ An example from Cajamarca: Already during Alejandro Toledo’s presidency a legal basis was provided to enable the Peruvian government to crush undesirable protest faster and more thoroughly. It was Toledo who, among other things, increased sanctions for the disruption of public services. Alan García, President from 2006 till 2011, moved on along similar lines. He thwarted the work of many NGOs and decreed a law guaranteeing impunity for armed and security forces.
A police officer, who ‘while fulfilling his duties and using his weapon correctly’ (fatally) injures a person, cannot be held responsible, the law says. Today’s president Ollanta Humala recently took this even further. The above law concerning the use of police violence during conflicts will soon be adapted and allow a police or military officer to use ‘arms other than those prescribed by their duties’. Besides, the law will no longer mention that police or military personnel will have to use their weapons in line with regulations.
Companies benefit from the criminalization of social protest. Indeed, their project can go ahead faster as resistance will not be tolerated. Often, companies themselves will undertake actions and so take part in the criminalization strategy. A distinction can be made between:
- Repeated accusations of opponents to their project;
- Engaging armed forces and dubious security firms to protect company property. These are often state or paramilitary forces. In Peru, private security firms are allowed to hire police officers (in their leisure time).
⇒ Example from Cajamarca: Máxima Acuña de Chaupe, a woman farmer living in the concession zone and who became the symbol of the opposition to Yanacocha and the Conga project, was repeatedly harassed by the company. In February, 2015 the Yanacocha security service, accompanied by DINOES, the special police unit, intruded on her property. Some 200 police were present. They fired their guns in the air, but physical violence did not happen. The foundations of a house the family are building there, were destroyed. After a 4-year lawsuit the Cajamarca Court decided, in December 2014, that Yanacocha’s claim to Tragadero Grande was unfounded. The land is property of the Chaupe family, who have for years been violently intimidated by the Yanacocha company, its private security personnel, the Peruvian police and the DINOES. The land concerned prevents Yanacocha to carry out its mega project Conga, which would lead to the destruction of headwaters in the highlands. In spite of the recent verdict, the company keeps accusing the Chaupe family of usurpation. In a press release Yanacocha claims that the family’s house is being built outside the family’s land and that they themselves are peacefully defending their own property
The copper corridor
Ten companies applied for the $2 billion Michiquillay copper project in Cajamarca, Northern Peru. Peru’s government says the project will need an investment of around $2 billion to develop. Only two pre-selected companies presented their economic proposal. Southern, controlled by Grupo Mexico SAB de CV, won with a proposal to transfer $400 million to the government and pay 3% royalties, beating out Compania Minera Milpo, which had offered $250 million in transfers and 1.875% royalties. Southern’s chief executive told Reuters that Michiquillay has arsenic impurities, requiring a “slightly higher” investment to clean up the area. And thus, Southern Copper Corp was declared the winner on February 20th 2018. The auction – Peru’s first in at least a decade – was delayed twice last year, in part due to political turmoil that has buffeted President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski.
Peru is the world’s second biggest copper producer behind Chile with annual output of 2.4m tons of the orange metal. Mineral resources at Michiquillay are estimated at 1.159 billion tons of copper with an average grade of 0.629% and a cut-off of 0.4% copper. Analysts say Michiquillay could add 0.5 percentage point to Peru’s annual economic growth in coming years. The area will exist of 4,050 acres between Sorocucho, Encañada and Sucre. And thus, miners will need to appease nearby villagers in the Cajamarca region, which is prone to conflicts over natural resources.
As a respons to that, half of Southern’s transfer payment (200 millon dollars!) will go to the Michiquillay Social Fund, a fund dedicated to the implementation of social and sustainable development projects in the area. The government has assured villagers that the project would not affect water supplies. As it is remembered, the first company to be awarded the Michiquillay copper project was Anglo American (exploitation for 5 years from 2008 onwards), the same company that also left more than 200 million dollars to the Michiquillay Social Fund, that is, this organization in total must manage more than 400 million dollars, which is 16 times more than the base price set by Proinversión (US $25 million). The Michiquillay Social Fund will be supervised by two representatives from Southern Peru, two representatives from the communities and one from the State.
Southern – Who are we dealing with?
Southern Copper Corporation Peru (SPCC) was founded in 1952. In 1999, Grupo México Asarco acquired 54.2% of the shares, with which the Mexican company was responsible for the mining activities of SPCC in Peru. Despite the new owners, the company has not changed the name because of strategy. At the beginning of the second quarter of 2005, SPCC merged with Minera México and its subsidiaries. So SPCC has been active in Peru for more than 60 years. Southern always worked in the South part of Peru., for instance in Toquepala en Cuajone, two open pit mines with copper, silver, molybdeen and gold, and also a metallurgic complex in Ilo. Next to that, it takes part in three mine explorations, such as Tía María.
Southern has a history of polluting the environment. When Southern was commissioned in the 1950s, it seriously polluted the coast as a result of its melting processes and the formation of residues. At least the Ilo valley was polluted due to the toxic emissions. From 1960 to 1996, 785 million tons of mining waste was dumped in the Tacneña Bay of 36 years of infection that they have not been able to reverse. In 1996 the company started the operations of the “Los Chancas” project, in the Tapairihua district, Aymaraes province, Apurímac. This project generates a series of effects in Quichque and neighboring communities. They built access roads that destroyed farmland and weakened soils that caused landslides during the rains that eventually buried the primary school, chapel and houses in the Quichque area. They installed water pumps in order to bring water to the drilling machines, which contaminated the water that irrigates the natural meadows. Although the company suggested to compensate the damage, it never happened. In 2011 they announced the project Tía María in the Islay-Arequipa province, which aims to process copper oxides. Unops (UN agency) made 138 observations when assessing the MEB of the project, which indicated, among other things, that there was no hydrogeological investigation (water and soil) despite the fact that they intended to work. Next to that, and even worse, five people were killed and dozens hurt in the protest.
In 2013, the Ministry of Environment and Ecology of the provincial municipality of Ilo discovered an index of pollution by sulfur dioxide (SO) in the Ilo smelter. The SO level reached 190 μg / m (micrograms per cubic meter) in the area where the Southern smelter is located (the maximum permissible limit is 80 μg / m3). In its defense, SPCC did not meet the 2008 standard, which set a maximum limit of 80 ug/m3, since that standard was not regulated. In 2014, the Environmental Assessment and Enforcement Agency (OEFA) sanctioned the SPCC’s business with 204 OFF for 16 incidents related to improper handling of solid waste, hazardous waste, and a large number of expelled gaseous particles, among others. In January 2015, the public prosecutor’s office for the prevention of crime and the environment asked for a two-year and six-month penalty for Óscar González Rocha, president of Southern Peru, and the payment of civil damages for a million dollars, for the alleged crime of pollution, have issued emissions exceeding the maximum permissible limits in the emission of arsenic particles and by dumping contaminated water into the sea. In January 2018, residents of Moquegua mobilized, denouncing that this company continues to pollute the Torata River with its operations – where the water discharges, noting that high concentrations of toxic metals have been detected, so they asked for an investigation of the done.
Also in other parts of the world this company cause a lot of contamination. Grupo México, the most important owner of Southern, has a strong record of contamination issues, such as the explosion in the coal mine at Pasta de Conchos, Coahuila, Mexico, which caused 65 miners to be buried, a fact that took place in 2006. Or the spillage of 40,000 cubic meters of acidified copper sulfate from the Buenavista mine in 2014, considered the most serious pollution event in the history of Mexico. Moreover, in 2015 Grupo México paid a fine of 23 million 565,938 Mexican pesos, due to more than 50 irregularities against the environmental regulatory framework.
So it is clear that the long history of conflicts in this company is found in different places, where similar patterns of behavior are rejected that show a bad relationship with local communities, which has led to deep distrust and a lot of social conflicts.
They could no longer deny their way of handling things and accepted it as ‘mistakes’. Carlos Aranda, technical manager of Southern, said: “When we did the work, we didn’t do it the right way the first time. Let’s be honest: the people thought we were very arrogant”. Because of the problems, some of their projects were suspended.
With all this background, this company was chosen for the Michiquillay-project. So we have all reasons to be concerned…
Both the governor of Cajamarca, Porfirio Medina Vásquez and the leader of the ‘rondas campesinas’, Ydelso Hernandez, agreed that “we are repeating the failed formulas that have not yielded results in the implementation of new mining projects, and the State wants to impose it on the mackerel, for this reason the people have the right to protest.”
There have been agreements between ProInversión and Jesus Diaz Casahuaman. Although a leader of the farming community Michiquillay, he is in favor of the mine.
On Wednesday March 7, 2018, the community members of Polloc, La Enacañada and Namora published a press release, in the name of Marcos Aguilar Ortiz, president of the sector Michiquillay, to announce that they have not been called together to participate in any bidding process of the Michiquillay mining project:
“We clarify that what President of the peasant community Jesus Diaz Casahuaman and other people who do not live in the community say that the Michiquillay mining project is socialized, is totally false.”
“We communicate to the public in general and to the media not to be surprised by the versions of Jesus Diaz Casahuaman since he has been declared persona non grata by our population and is involved in the irregularities of the Michiquillay Social Fund, which is included in the audit reports.”
Personal observation and information
We observe that the protest against Michiquillay is at the moment not that strong, in comparison with the protest against Conga in 2011-2012.. Environmentalists say that this is mainly because local people were kept quiet because they were offered jobs, money for studies, and water supplies. One project in a local community existed of the construction of water tanks with solar panels to create showers for the people.
People tell us that lands were bought from locals and depending on the location and the importance for the mining company, the price varied. This divides the local communities.
As, at the moment, locals are not yet feeling the negative ecological impact, and the minds are kept calm with money, no strong protest has developed. It is expected though, that protest will be stronger than the CONGA protest once the negative effects start to show…
The Shahuindo open pit mine is a relatively new mine, located in the valley of Condebamba in the Cajabamba province (south of Cajamarca). Condebamba is a magnificent green valley, full of avocado trees, corn fields, guinea pig farms and other fruit and vegetable fields. In 2013 the Canadian company Tahoe Perú Shahuindo began constructing the mine and in 2016 started the exploitation. The mine processes on average 36,000 tons per day. Each ton contains about 0.515 grams of gold and 7.10 grams of silver.
In January 28th 2018, an enormous leak appeared in one of the waste points of the mine. A chemical mixture flowed towards the valley, polluting the water and destroying whole fields. The odour was noticeable from afar and children and elderly people experienced health problems. The authorities arrived and registered the incidence, but no concrete solution followed. The responsible company washed its hands in innocence by describing it as “a natural phenomenon”. According to them the cause was the heavy rain during that wet season.
While the struggle against the Yanacocha mine raged firmly in 2012 and the protest focused mainly against the enlargement (see Conga), another mining company benefited by making a silent entry into the nearby valley. And the local population? They were set aside and must bear the consequences. The mine requires a lot of water, which creates a major shortage for the agricultural activities and households of the local communities. As a compensation, each house gets a water tank in front of the door, but that is just a plaster on the wound.
The mining company Tahoe wants to relocate the entire village of Chorobamba in order to create offices and a cafeteria for their staff. This means that the local population must leave their valuable fields and houses. Chorobamba, legally recognized since 1973 and a flourishing farming community for many years, did not want to give up. In response to this disobedience, the police took action. On December 15th 2017, the fields were destroyed: avocado trees, that have been flowering and growing for thirty years, felt into the ground in one day. Houses were destroyed, corn and guinea pigs stolen. On January 4th 2018, armed men re-entered the community. The result: five wounded, of which three in the hospital and one still in coma to this day.
The residents fear now that these threats will increase until the mine gets what it wants. Therefore they want to give a clear and powerful answer. Together they are strong! So on 15th of January 2018 the various farming communities of the valley were convened. The situation was extensively discussed throughout a whole day. Speeches, some quiet moments, others full of passion and anger, followed each other in quick succession. The speakers called on the people to unite, to take matters into their own hands and to demand their rights.
It still has to be seen what the protest is going to achieve this time. Is the project going to be shut down like Conga or is the mining going to continue relentlessly? Will the government handle it differently and listen to the local people this time? In the interest of economic growht, human rights are often trampled. Dismantling mining completely seems an illusion today. However, it would be a big step forward for mining companies and governments to not only take economic interests first, but also to embrace the local population and ecological justice.
Together with partner organization GRUFIDES, we will continue to follow up the case.
The Rio Blanco project is now in its exploration phase, which means that the exploitation phase has not started yet.
The Rio Blanco project is located in the North of Peru, on the border with Ecuador. It is located in the Piura region, on the banks of the Rio Blanco. The mining concession expands to parts of the province Huancabamba, in El Carmen de la Frontera district, and to the neighbouring province of Ayabaca, in its district and on the territory of the Yanta community.
The downstream provinces of Jaen and San Ignacio, in the department of Cajamarco, will also be affected.
This region at the border of Peru and Ecuador is characterised by a unique ecosystem and a great biodiversity. These ecosystems are very important for the local water supply, and small-scale farmers and animal husbandry in lower areas depend on it. The dry coastal areas in Piura also depend on this water, which is collected and filtered by the Páramos. The area also constitutes a catchment for several rivers.
The concession covers over 6,000 hectares. The mining company would like to build a large open-pit mine of 400 hectares in this area. It is, according to the company, one of the largest unexploited copper reserves in the world, but if Minera Majaz (the name of the Rio Blanco copper project) comes to birth, it will provide 220,000 tons of copper, and about 2,500 tons of molybdenum. The ore will be extracted from the rocks through froth flotation. The open-pit mine will probably be the beginning of a larger “mining district” in the region.
After strong protests but also human rights violations, 89.9% of the capital owned initially by Moterrico Metals came in the hands of the Chinese corporation Zijin Consortium. The company is one of China’s largest gold and copper mine contractors. Zijin owns or is involved in five overseas mining projects and more than thirty mines in China. The company is internationally criticised for its dubious methods concerning human rights and the environment. The local farming population has organised protests against the planned mine. CATAPA conducted in 2010, along with several local and social organisations in the region, the campaign “Mining in Paradise – no-go zones for mining” – with Rio Blanco as its central case.
What are the demands of the protest movement?
- The social organisations and communities of the four provinces affected by the project (Jaen, San Ignacio, Ayabaca, Huancabamba) demand the establishment of a no-go zone for mining, extended to the four provinces.
- They want the recognition and respect of the outcome of the referendum. This implies the company has to withdraw its planned mining project in the region. The Ministry of Energy and Mining must revoke the license of the Rio Blanco project, as well as other licenses that go against the will of the people.
- They demand intimidations and human rights violations committed by the company and security forces to be punished and the victims compensated.
- They demand that their own development model, based on eco-tourism and organic farming, be respected and supported. They demand that provincial governments pump their energy resources in the ecological and economic zoning (ZEE) and for a regional arranging process.
You can find here the campaign video on the case (2010).