Peru: Uprising Against Gold

Yanacocha open-pit mine
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At an altitude of 4,000 meters in the Peruvian Andes, more than 8,000 farmers have been guarding dozens of mountain lakes for nearly the past two weeks. The natural water reservoirs are acutely threatened by gold mining. The lakes are vital as water supplies for livestock and agriculture in the valley. The farmers are calling on the new Peruvian president to keep his campaign promise and speak out against the Conga gold and copper mining project. Sign our petition and help the people of Cajamarca defend their fundamental rights and water sources.

Call to action


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The population of the city of Cajamarca is supporting the protests of the highland farmers with demonstrations on the central square. Day after day, more than 20,000 people have been gathering at the historic Plaza de Armas in a peaceful demonstration with the slogan “Congo no va!” (no Conga!). Together with the political representatives of the region, they are demanding a guarantee of the inviolability of the mountain lakes. The city dwellers are also aware of the risks of mining. They have been coping for years with acute water shortages and pollution at the foot of the Yanacocha, the largest gold mine in Latin America. The same company now wants to realize the Conga project.

The environmental impact study for the Conga project produced by the company has been criticized by the Peruvian Ministry for the Environment. Deputy Environment Minister Jose de Echave resigned in protest over the Conga project. Open-pit gold and copper mining requires huge amounts of water and energy. Already in the initial phase of the project, four major natural lagoons are threatened with destruction. These vital Andean reservoirs feed rivers, canals and marshes well into the lowlands.

Further information and to translation of the letter

In its efforts to resist the mining industry, the population of Cajamarca was hoping for the support of Peru’s new president, Ollanta Humala. During his campaign, he promised to protect the water sources and thus ensure food security in Cajamarca, an important Peruvian agricultural region. The population, a majority of which voted for the President’s party, is now in a state of shock. Last weekend, Humala imposed a state of emergency in four provinces of Cajamarca and sent in the military to occupy the city. Several people were injured, at least one seriously, in violent clashes with special forces.

Please sign our petition to demand an end to the violence and support the people in striving for self-determined development in harmony with nature.


In its environmental impact study, Yanacocha stated its intention to build four artificial canals to reduce environmental damage: one to serve the mining operations, and three to supply the surrounding population centers. Given the number of affected communities, experts doubt that the company’s plans will be sufficient to ensure an adequate water supply. In Peru, more than 60 social conflicts have arisen from the adverse effects of mining on the population’s water supplies.

The new Conga project is located only a few kilometers from the main Yanacocha mine, which already covers an area of 251 square kilometers and is operated by a U.S.-Peruvian consortium. The main shareholder is the Newmont Mining Company in the United States; the World Bank also holds a five-percent stake. Cyanide is used to extract gold, silver and mercury in the open-pit mining operation. The leaching process requires vast amounts of water. Despite the mine operators’ continual assurances regarding the safety of the process, mass fish deaths have repeatedly affected the rivers and lakes of the region. Farmers complain that their cattle become sick and die due to water shortages and pollution.

Even the promise of economic development for the Cajamarca region remained unfulfilled. In 1993, at the start of Yanacocha’s mining activities, Cajamarca was the fourth poorest region in the country. 18 years later in 2011, it remains so.

In 2000, Yanacocha was responsible for one of the world’s largest mercury accidents. A company truck lost 152 kg of mercury on the road through the village of Choropampa. Rather than informing the population of the danger, the company called on villagers to collect and hand in the toxic metal. Over 2,000 people were exposed, and to date 20 have died of mercury poisoning. To this day, Yanacocha has not admitted any responsibility. In his research, the author of this article found that people are still suffering from the consequences of the accident ten years later. An award-winning documentary recounts the events.

Here are twelve questions and answers on gold mining.


Translation of the letter:

Re: Put a stop to the Conga mining project


Dear Mr. President,

For years, the people of Cajamarca have been resisting the expansion of the Yanacocha mine. Their most pressing concern has been the defense of water resources, especially the Andean lagoons and the natural water system that guarantee the livelihood of the region.

In recent days, you have declared a state of emergency in the provinces of Cajamarca, Celendín, Hualgayoc, and Contumazá. Numerous, heavily armed military and police units were deployed to the region. This action is in clear contradiction of the fundamental rights of the people, harassing the population and exacerbating the situation.

For this reason, I urge you to respect the fundamental rights of the people and ask you to return immediately to a peaceful resolution of the conflict, as envisaged by the population of the affected provinces.

Please protect the livelihoods of the Cajamarcan communities by saving the region’s natural water sources from contamination and/or destruction. To this end, a constitutional amendment that enshrines the availability of clean water as a human right and prohibits the privatization of water resources is essential.

In your election campaign, you spoke out for an acceptable compromise in the water-gold issue and argued in favor of the defense of natural water resources. You are aware that the population of Cajamarca rejects the logic of exploiting the environment for metals, the blighting of nature, and the ensuing destruction of the livelihoods of the people. It wants a different way of life that respects the needs of the community and is based on communication, solidarity and the protection of nature. I urge you to respect this way of life that the people of Cajamarca have chosen for themselves.

To realize the Conga gold and copper mining project, Yanacocha must destroy at least four natural lagoons that have a vital ecological function as sources for rivers that supply water to Cajamarca. The destruction of vital natural water reservoirs for a temporary mining operation that does not provide adequate benefits to the population is unacceptable.

In short, please refuse your permission to expand the Yanacocha mine and terminate the plans for the Conga project immediately.

Yours sincerely,


Presidente del Perú, Sr. Ollanta Humala

Presidente del Congreso de la República, Sr. Daniel Fernando
Abugattás Majluf
Ministro del Ambiente, Manuel Pulgar Vidal
Ministro de Energía y Minas, Jorge Merino Tafur
Viceministra de Minas, Sra. Susana Vilca Achata

Estimado presidente Humala:

Desde hace años, la comunidad cajamarquina se opone a la expansión de la mina Yanacocha y protege el agua, las lagunas y el sistema hídrico en su conjunto por ser su fuente principal de vida y sustento.

Los días pasados, usted ha decretado el estado de emergencia en las cuatro provincias Cajamarca, Celendín, Hualgayoc y Contumazá. Numeroso contingente militar y policial ha llegado a la región, restringiendo claramente los derechos fundamentales de los pobladores y sembrando la inquietud.

Por este motivo, exijo respeto a los derechos de las comunidades afectadas y le urjo a llevar el conflicto rápidamente a la salida pacífica que desean los pobladores.

Para ello,

Proteja la vida de las comunidades, lo que significa, que asegure su abastecimiento natural de agua. En este sentido, es pertinente recordarle la necesidad de la modificación constitucional para que el agua sea declarada como derecho humano libre de privatización.

Usted hizo campaña electoral haciendo uso de la disyuntiva entre el agua y el oro, y asegurando que intercedería en defensa del agua. Usted es consciente de que frente a la lógica perversa de apropiarse del territorio para explotar minerales, frente a la codicia de explotación de la naturaleza y de explotación de la naturaleza humana en Cajamarca se expresa otra lógica. Es la lógica que pugna por sostener otra forma de vivir, la lógica de la comunidad, de la articulación, de la solidaridad, de la mutualidad, la lógica de la Defensa de la Naturaleza que incluye a la vida humana. Y para esta lógica exijo desde aquí respeto.

Para explotar el nuevo yacimiento de oro y cobre Conga la minera Yanacocha tiene que vaciar al menos cuatro lagunas naturales que están en la cabecera de los ríos que proporcionan agua a Cajamarca. Esto es inaceptable bajo todo punto de vista.

En una palabra, no permita la expansión de la mina Yanacocha y cancele hoy mismo el proyecto minero la Conga.

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