Peru’s northern region of Cajamarca was again the scene of protests and clashes between police and demonstrators, resulting in three people dead and twenty wounded. A few hours later, the Justice Minister, Juan Jimenez, decreed a state of emergency in the provinces of Celendín, Hualgayoc and Cajamarca. The demonstrations began more than eight months ago to prevent the ’Conga’ mining project by Yanacocha, a subsidiary of U.S. company Newmont.
In the city of Celendín, more than 2,500 people took to the streets and protested outside City Hall, accusing the mayor, Mauro Aertega, of favoring the project. The police intervened with tear gas to disperse the crowd who threw stones against public buildings and tried to force their way in the municipality. The Peruvian newspaper ‘El Comercio’, citing the statements by the Minister Jiménez, reports that the victims are civilians, but that three police officers were injured, two were accidentally hit by “gun shots fired by the demonstrators.”
The riots of yesterday are only the latest chapter in a story that has dragged on since the end of 2011 and had paralyzed the entire region when the detractors of the largest ever mining investment in Peru (with a value of about 4.8 billion dollars) had placed roadblocks. On that occasion the government had declared a state of emergency.
The project, which should be launched in 2014, involves the replacement of four natural lakes with artificial implants, prompting locals to fear for the future supply of water. Approved in 2010 by the government of President Alan Garcia, the project has also been approved by his successor, Ollanta Humala, whom, however, has asked that particular attention be paid to the environment. For Humala ‘Conga’ represents a vital investment to boost the national economy and create jobs while his opponent, the governor of the province of Cajamarca, Gregory Santos, considered to favor the fate of the miners, but not the poor peasants who do not will benefit from the expected growth.