“Yanacocha’s buses and trucks that transport police are impeding free movement by community buses,” said antimining activist Marco Arana in a Twitter account in his name.
It was exactly a year ago when Eleuterio García Rojas was killed in front of the city hall of the small Andean town of Celendin. He was an innocent bystander caught between the angry crowd protesting against a proposed open-cast gold mine and the government security forces. He was one of three killed during the protest. The following day Peru’s president would declare a state of emergency in the region’s three provinces.
“The peasant squads used to be worried about petty crimes – a stolen cow and things like that – but now they are defending our land and water from multinational companies”
The last place on earth I expected to see a plastic water bottle trashing a pristine landscape was next to Maxima Acuna de Chaupe’s house far up in the remote highlands of the Peruvian Andes. Her family pulls drinking water from a small pond next to their house. The water is always cool and crystal clear.
The contractors building new barracks on the road near her house operate differently. They ride the latest Japanese pickup trucks and drink from plastic bottles they bring in from the nearby towns.
We came here to the alpine wetlands of the Peruvian Andes to meet Maxima Acuna de Chaupe who has lived next to the lagoon, Laguna Azul, with her family for the past 25 years. Her property became part of the proposed Conga mine and ever since she has been in a fierce fight with the ‘new owners’ who would do just about anything to drive her off this land. As she was away visiting officials in the city of Cajamarca to discuss the latest developments over the disputed land her son Daniel greeted us in front of their tiny adobe home.
In an effort to encourage mineral exploration the Peruvian government aims to exclude the Quechua-speaking communities from the so-called ‘prior consultation law’. If implemented the mining companies will no longer be required to negotiate agreements with the Quechua before building new mines around their lands.
The Yanacocha goldmine was named after the lake that had since been destroyed by the company after the operation started twenty years ago. Up to date the mine produced over $7 billion worth of gold for its Denver, Colorado based owners, destroyed over 250 square kilometers alpine wetland, poisoned over a thousand Peruvian people with mercury, and contaminated lakes and streams with cyanide and other acidic runoffs.
The “prior consultation law,” which [Peruvian President Ollanta] Humala touted during his 2011 campaign as a salve for widespread conflicts over natural resources, requires companies to negotiate agreements with indigenous communities before building new mines or oil wells around their lands.
“I think this is a big mistake and we will all pay at the end of the day. When these communities get angry they are going to attack the mines under their noses”
“A billboard that produces drinking water from air,” says the billboard up high. And it does what it says on the tin: so far, the billboard has produced over 9,000 litres of drinking water – 96 litres a day.
The internal system costs some US$1,200 (£790) to set up.