Several hundred protesters marched 800 kilometers (500 miles) to Lima from the northern highland city of Cajamarca, the center of unrest over a contentious mining project, to demand that the government guarantee access to clean and safe water for the country’s citizens.
Marco Arana, former priest and head of the Land and Liberty Movement, and one of the organizers of the Feb. 1-10 march, said one of the demonstrators’ demands was for the government to amend the constitution to declare water a human right and ban mining in riverheads and near glaciers as well as the use of mercury and cyanide in these operations.
The two chemicals are used to extract minerals, particularly gold, from ore.
“The state should guarantee access to clean drinking water to all its citizens,” Arana told newspaper La República.
José de Echave, member of the nongovernmental environmental organization CooperAccion, said that the march helped bring the issue into public discussion and that it is “important for any sustainable development strategy.”
Gregorio Santos, president of the Cajamarca region, said that the march is bringing more visibility to risks in mining. Cajamarca is home to Minera Yanacocha, owned by US company Newmont Mining, Peru’s Buenaventura and the International Finance Corporation, and which operates one of the world’s largest gold mines.
The local population has been protesting the Conga, a massive, proposed gold-copper project, citing threats to local water resources, since the company plans using four lagoons that the populations depend on. The company proposed building the communities new lagoons, but the residents argued that these artificial water bodies wouldn’t have the irreplaceable ecosystem of the natural one.
The government had hastily approved the project’s environmental impact study, but a review of an evaluation made in November by the Ministry of Environment showed large omissions, such as an assessment of the potential impact on water resources. President Ollanta Humala defended the project, even though during his campaign he vowed to put water rights ahead of extractive industry.
The project has been stalled as a result of protests and dispute, and Humala’s first Cabinet resigned, which “will go down in history as the first mining conflict that in Peru and Latin America brought down an entire Cabinet and meant a shift in the government’s political orientation,” said de Echave.