A bird's-eye view on the Yanacocha operations (source: qu.wikipedia.org)
Located in the mountainous Cajamarca region in Northern Peru, Minas Conga is a large
scale gold and copper mining project, aiming at the extraction of approximately 1.085
million tons of mineral and waste rock from two open pits. During its 19-year life span, it is
expected to produce an estimated 11,6 million ounces of gold and 3 billion pounds of
copper, amounting to a value of 28,6 billion USD at early July 2012 prices. Production is
planned to take off between the end of 2014 and the beginning of 2015. With an investment
of 4.800 million USD, the project is projected to be Peru's largest ever mining investment.
Minas Conga is an expansion of Yanacocha, the largest gold mine of South America. Minera
Yanacocha S.R.L. (MYSRL), a subsidiary of Newmont Mining Corporation (Newmont), owns
51.35% of the Conga project. Compañía Minera Buenaventura (CMB) owns 43.65 and the
International Finance Corporation (IFC) owns the remaining 5%. The project is part of the
development of a larger mining district that contains different copper and gold deposits,
most of which belong to MYSRL.
Residents of local communities are opposed to the project on the grounds that it will destroy
multiple high Andean lakes and threatens their access to sufficient, safe and affordable
water, on which they depend for farming, livestock, and human consumption. Moreover,
they claim the right to determine their own regional development and argue their right to
free prior and informed consent has not been respected.
The first exploration activities in the Conga area date back to 1991. They led to the
discovery of the mineral deposits by then concession holder CEDIMIN (Compañía de
Exploraciones, Desarrollo e Inversiones Mineras). Further exploration took place between
1994 and 2000.
In 2001, CEDIMIN was acquired by CMB (Compañía Minera Buenaventura). The Conga
activities were integrated in the Yanacocha complex, under the administration of MYSRL.
Throughout the 2000s, MYSRL steadily progressed with property acquisition and the
elaboration of environmental studies.
In 2004 the company formally decided to go ahead with the development of the Conga
project. The Ministry of Energy and Mines (MEM) approved the Semi-detailed Environmental
Impact Study (sdEIS) for exploration in 2008 and in 2009 drilling activities were started.
MYSRL presented an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for review to the MEM in
February 2010. On 27 October 2010, a mere 8 months later, the MEM gave the green light.
Opposition against the project gathered momentum in November 2011, when a coalition of
local organizations announced an undetermined regional strike. The Peruvian government
answered with a state of emergency, suspending civil liberties and imposing martial law in
four provinces. Excessive police violence was used and several protesters were wounded, a
number of them seriously. Between November 2011 and July 2012, more than one hundred
farmers, community leaders and human rights defenders are reportedly under criminal
offence investigation for their alleged involvement in protests. Early July 2012, on the 34th
and 35th day of another regional strike, five protesters were shot to death by order forces in
the towns of Celendín and Bambamarca in the Cajamarca region. Again, state of emergency was declared for 30
days in three provinces and subsequently prolongued for another 30 days. On the company:
MYSRL has a 19 year history of mining operations in the Cajamarca region, with a long
record of social and environmental conflicts. These conflicts are strongly related to the mining
technology used. Being an open pit mine, MYSRL's operation require expansive areas of land. MYSRL
has developed into the biggest land owner of Cajamarca. Across more than 100 km2, the operations
have altered natural waterways and displaced millions of tons of earth. By 2000 the footprint of the
mine site was larger than the nearby city of Cajamarca.
Shortly after the start of the operations, conflicts rose due to the acquisition of land by MYSRL.
Between 1992 and 2000 the company acquired more than 11.000 hectares of land for approximately
5 million USD. These land grabs lead to the rapid dismantling of traditional land-use patterns and the
fragmentation and privatisation of land. Landholders were put under pressure to sell their land with
the threat of state-sanctioned expropriation. Many land users lost access to the resources their
livelihood was based upon, without receiving any compensation. As MYSRL acquired larger areas of
land, land values in the area increased dramatically (600% between 1992 and 1996). Landholders and
communities felt deceived about the low prices they had received and claimed additional
A second series of conflicts is related to the environmental and health impacts of the mine. The
removal of huge amounts of rock and the extraction process with cyanide led to complaints about
water contamination and reduced availability of water. In 2002 approximately 36.700 trout were
killed in the village of Granja Porcón after sediments of the mine slid into a trout farm. In 2005,
during expansion activities, MYSRL closed an irrigation channel that 240 households depended upon
for water. Several studies indicate that concentrations of cyanide, chrome, iron, and magnesium in
the drinking water of Cajamarca exceed normal levels.
MYSRL were responsible for one of the mayor environmental accidents in Peru's mining history: the
mercury spill in the community of Choropampa in 2000. A truck on its way from the mine to the
coast spilled 151 kg of mercury over a distance of 43 km along the road. More than 900 inhabitants
of the communities of Choropampa and San Juan were poisoned, resulting in kidney pains,
respiratory problems, skin disease and sight problems. At first, the company tried to keep the
accident silent and denied all responsibility. It was only after legal claims were presented by the
victims that MYSRL agreed to pay compensations in out-of-court settlements, however without
assuming full responsibility for the accident. For MYSRL the incident is closed, but the health
problems of the victims will continue for many years.
what must happen
In order to avoid irreparable damage to the fragile high Andean ecosystem and to
guarantee the access to sufficient, safe and affordable water, the people of Cajamarca, supported by local and regional authorities, is asking that the
Conga project be declared unviable by the Peruvian government.
Threat to local livelihoods Local communities rely on agriculture and livestock farming for their livelihoods. In terms of
employment, agriculture is the main economic activity in Cajamarca. 67 percent of the active
population is devoted to farming. The figure goes up to 80 percent in the districts where the
Conga project is located. It is small-scale agriculture largely for self-consumption, along with
livestock farming for marketing of dairy products. Mining, on the other hand, employs only 1,5 percent of the regional population. Due to the Conga project, hundreds of residents of
the project area are about to lose their livelihood.
Underestimation of area of impact MYSRL recognises only 32 communities in the area of influence of the project, amounting to
a population of approximately 7.350 inhabitants. However, the threat is not limited to the
project area. Minas Conga is located in the headwater area of five tributaries to the principal
rivers of the provinces of Cajamarca, Celendín and Bambamarca. Pollution from the Conga
mine into the region's waterways puts at risk the livelihoods and right to water of many
thousands more. If only the 210 settlements of the districts of Huasmín, Sorochuco and La
Encañada were included, the number of potentially affected persons would raise to more
Hampering agricultural development More than half of the territory of Cajamarca is under concession of mining companies. Local
communities want to increase farming in the region. However, if the Conga mine goes
forward, it could open up additional areas of Cajamarca to mining, and significantly change
the entire region from one primarily oriented to farming, to an industrialized mining region.
Failure to obtain community authorization The Conga project will directly affect campesino (peasant) communities and rondas campesinas, which are entitled to the rights of native peoples by
the Peruvian Constitution and ILO-convention
169 on native and tribal people. The people affected by the
Conga project have not been duly consulted. During the elaboration of the
EIA, one workshop was organized in the hamlet of Quengorio Alto and one in the Instituto
Superior Pedagógico Arístides Merino in the province of Celendín. Only one public
hearing has taken place, on the 31st of March 2010, in the hamlet of San Nicolás in the district of
La Encañada. Due to the restrictive definition of the impact zone, many potentially affected
communities have not been consulted at all.
Moreover, the project's own EIA mentions high opposition. It states that 62 % of the population of the Direct Impact Area (10 hamlets) disagrees with the project. Local leaders and authorities, as well as the majority of the population, assume the mining activity will cause significant negative impacts.
Water Much of the area of the Conga project is considered by Peruvian Law
to be "fragile ecosystems". According to the General Environmental Law (law No.
2861, "Ley General del Ambiente"), water
sources, high-altitude lakes and wetlands are fragile ecosystems. The Water Law (art. 75 of law No. 29338, "Ley de Recursos Hídricos") orders that lakes and water
sources have to be protected.
The Conga project is located at the headwaters of five major river
basins, Jadibamba, Chailhuagón, Chugurmayo, Alto Chirimayo and Toromacho, tributaries of the
principal rivers of the provinces Celendín, Cajamarca and Bambamarca. Unlike many metal mine sites the
area is not arid and isolated: it is a wet area covered with wetlands and lakes. Ground
water levels are generally shallow (often less than 2.0 m below the land surface) and the project area
contains more than six hundred springs, which are used by the locals. Four high-Andean lakes will
be destroyed. Lake Mala and Perol will be replaced by open pits, while Lake Azul and Chica will be
used as dumps for waste rock. 260 hectares of wetlands and 17.200 hectares of grassland will be
affected. Toxic mine waste will be piled up in the headwaters of the Río Jadibamba and Toromacho
MYSRL has offered
to triple the storage capacity for water by building artificial reservoirs as
a compensation for the destruction of the mountain lakes. However,
this measure doesn't cancel the severe impacts of the project on the surface drainage system and
water bodies in the area, nor does it prevent the
contamination risks and the ecosystem loss associated with large scale open
Biodiversity Minas Conga will affect a unique and fragile high-Andean ecosystem.
The project area contains 460 plant species, of which 34 are threatened and 46 are endemic for
Peru, 6 of them to Cajamarca. There are 225 vertebrates, including 4 types of amphibians and 3
types of reptiles. Of the 13 mammal species, one is endemic. Finally 9 endemic and 13 endangered
bird species have been registered.
Flawed environmental impact assessment
The environmental impact assessment (EIA) of the Conga
Project was approved by the MEM in October 2010, despite the absence of a
complete hydrogeology study. The Peruvian government has allowed MYSRL to delay
release of the official hydrogeology studies until 30 March 2013. The fact that
the ministry in charge of promoting mining investments also has the final word
about the EIA of mining projects is a serious problem. However, in response to
raising popular concern and protest, in November 2011 experts of the Ministry
of Environment reviewed the EIA. The Ministry of Environment concluded:
the project will significantly and irreversibly transform the headwater area and lead
to the disappearance of various ecosystems and to the fragmentation of the remaining ones, so that the processes, functions, interactions and environmental
services will be irreversibly affected;
the evaluation of the lakes, wetlands, and bogs does not take into account the
fragility of the ecosystem and lacks an integral, ecosystemic Hydrological Balance, as
well as an estimation of the environmental services offered by the high-Andean
the determination of the affected hamlets and settlements should take into account
each of the micro-basins integrally;
for being located in the catchment area of five rivers and ravines, the EIA should
include a detailed hydrological and hydro-geological analysis, which is lacking;
the environmental services offered by the affected ecosystems have not been
the replacement of lakes by reservoirs only compensated for the water supply
service, but not for other environmental services that will be lost.
Independent comments by international experts confirmed the position of the Ministry of
the Environment. According to the Spanish geologist Dr. Luis Javier Lambán Jiménez, the
hydrogeological analysis of the EIA is seriously flawed because it lacks the following crucial
information: (1) a single and complete inventory of all water points; (2) details about the
wells detected in the area (e.g. discharge); (3) a clear description of the main aquifers in the
area (number, lithology, character, functioning, recharge zones, discharge zone, main
underground water flows); (4) an evaluation of the contribution of underground water flows
to the affected lakes and wetlands; (5) an evaluation of the recharge of the aquifers; and (6)
the water balance of the system.
Dr. Robert Moran, a US expert with more than 40 years of applied hydrogeological and
geochemical experience at hundreds of mining and other industrial sites around the world,
reviewed all water-related aspects of the EIA. He concludes the EIA would not be acceptable
for permit approval in more developed countries. According to Dr. Moran, the EIA contains
no integrated hydrogeologic discussions regarding the extent and characteristics of the water-bearing zones and the overall surface water-ground water interactions, including those with
local and regional springs. He adds that surface waters, ground waters, and springs in the
Conga project area are all ultimately interconnected. Much of the project is underlain by
fractured and faulted, karstic and volcanic rocks, together with glacial sediments - all of
which transmit water. Satellite images and structural geologic studies indicate that many of
the local lakes are located on faults and fracture zones, some possibly related to collapsed
volcano structures (calderas). All such information indicates that ground and surface waters
are interconnected when stressed hydraulically over the long-term.
In response to the critics, the government contracted three other
international experts to review the hydrological aspects of the EIA, Dr. Ing. Rafael Fernández Rubio,
Dr. Ing. Luis López Garcia and Dr. José Martins Carvalho. On 17 April 2012, their report was made
public. They concluded that in order to compensate the loss of natural water, the capacity of the water
reservoirs to be built by the company should be increased, requiring additional investments.
However, they minimized the importance of aquifers and interconnections between different water
bodies, a key element in the critics' appraisals. These remarkable and importance differences
have not been cleared out.
The government's approval of
the Conga project has generated massive and on-going protest. In an attempt to
impose the project, the Peruvian government is continuously weakening the right
to protest and has repeatedly violated human rights.
Social protest against the Conga
project is answered by the government with criminalisation and repression. More
than 100 persons have been charged with criminal offences for their alleged
participation in the protest movement. Charges include: obstruction of public
transport, property damage, use of force, limitation of personal freedom,
violence against authorities,... Sentences range from less than 1 year to 20
years of prison. On the 4th of July, Marco Arana, an ex-priest and
environmental leader, was arrested and brutally beaten by a bunch of policemen
while he was sitting peacefully on a bench on the Central Square of Cajamarca.
He suffered a broken jaw, internal bleeding and head injuries.
Recent legislative changes
approved under former president Alan García and the current president Ollanta
Humala, allow police and army to use brutal force without having to fear legal
consequences. There are many examples of excessive police brutality. During a
convergence of 29 November 2011 in the area of the mountain lakes, DINOES, a
special unit of the Peruvian police trained for counter-terrorist actions,
opened fire on protesters. Marino Rodriguez lost an eye. Elmer Campos got
paralysed in his legs, possibly forever. A more recent example of provocation
and violence by state forces took place on 31 May 2012. During the first day of
a regional strike, police officers knocked over cooking pots with food for
protesters, mistreated a young woman and fired tear gas canisters at the crowd.
Four persons were injured, eight arrested and transferred to the main police
station. In June, two human rights lawyers were mistreated by police officers
when they were inside the Cajamarca police office in order to get in touch with
arrested protesters. On the 3th of July, during confrontations in the town of
Celendín, police officers or soldiers shot 3 protesters dead, one of them a
minor. The same day a 30 day state of emergency was declared. On the 4th of
July another protester was killed in the town of Bambamarca. One day later
another person died in the hospital as a consequence of his wounds.
In attempts to further weaken
communities' rights to protest and convene in public, on 5 December 2011 the
Humala administration declared a state of emergency in 4 provinces. The state
of emergency moved to suspend civil liberties, impose martial law, and further
militarize the region. Soldiers from all over Peru were sent to Cajamarca. End
May 2012 the government approved two decrees allowing the army to assist the
police without a state of emergency declaration. Moreover, private companies,
like MYSRL, often contract soldiers and police officers. They are legally
allowed to use their police-uniform and -weapon during their private missions.
As a consequence, the population has the impression the police is taking the
side of the company.
Aug 03, 2012, State of Emergency in Cajamarca prolonged
The Peruvian government decides to prolong the State of Emergency for 30 days, starting on Friday 3rd of August.
Jul 30, 2012, Project timeline
Early 2011: First protests against the Conga project
by inhabitants of the hamlet of Jerez, Huasmín district, Celendín province,
after they observed a reduction in the water of Jadibamba river. At that
moment, perforations around El Perol, the lake that feeds Jadibamba, had
started. Perforation works at Lake Conga also caused contamination of water
used by the hamlet of Agua Blanca. By means of compensation, the inhabitants of
Agua Blanca received water in tanks from the company.
3 November 2011: The ministers of Energy and Mines,
Agriculture and Environment visit the threatened mountain lakes. Ricardo
Giesecke, minister of Environment, declares his ministry will review the
Environmental Impact Assessment of the Conga project.
9-10 November 2011: Opponents of the Conga Project
block the roads between Cajamarca and Bambamarca and the access roads to
Cajamarca, while students occupy the National University of Cajamarca.
11 November 2011: Opponents of the Conga Project announce
a regional strike for the 24th of November.
23 November 2011: In an attempt to avoid the general
strike, Premier Salomon Lerner invites the authorities of Cajamarca to Lima to
discuss the Conga Project. The majors of
the affected communities, however, stay away. In
Cajamarca, Interior minister Oscar Valdés tries in vain to convince the
authorities to blow off the strike and come to Lima.
24 November 2011: Thousands of villagers gather in
Cajamarca on the first day of the indefinite regional strike. Regional
president Gregorio Santos, local majors and 1.500 villagers meet at Lake Perol.
They demand the resignation of the Minister of Energy and Mining, Carlos
Herrera, and the definitive cancelation of the Conga project. In the evening,
Minister of Environment Ricardo Giesecke hands over an 11 page report with the
comments of his ministry on the EIA of the Conga Project to Prime Minister
Salomón Lerner. The existence of this document is later denied by his successor
29 November 2011: After 6 days of regional strike and
on request of the government, Yanacocha announces the temporal suspension of
the Conga operations "in order to re-establish rest and social
peace". Due to the suspension, Newmont reportedly lost 2 million dollars
on a daily basis. Protesters repeat their demand for an official cancellation
of the project.
4 December 2011: Prime Minister Salomón Lerner travels
to Cajamarca to dialogue with regional authorities and civil society leaders.
After a day of fruitless talks, president Humala announces State of Emergency
in four provinces starting at midnight.
5 December 2011: The Regional Council of Cajamarca
approves unanimously a regional ordinance declaring the protection of
headwaters of regional interest and declaring the inviability of the Conga
Project. After its publication on 29th December, the central government asks
the Constitutional Court to declare it unconstitutional. On the 17th of April,
Constitutional Court declares unconstitutionality of the ordinance.
10 December 2011: Prime Minister Salomón Lerner and
most of the other ministers resign. Disputes over the handling of the
Conga-conflict and other issues are at the root of the decision. Lerner is
replaced by Oscar Valdés, former military. The Humala government moves to the
16 December 2011: After regional authorities have
agreed to meet Oscar Valdés on 19 December in Cajamarca, the State of Emergency
19 December 2011: Prime Minister Oscar Valdés travels
to Cajamarca in order to dialogue. However, regional president Gregorio Santos
refuses to sign the act, accusing Valdés of not listening and imposing his
27 December 2011: Working meeting between
representatives of the government and representatives of Cajamarca about the
international peer review of the EIA of the Conga project. Regional and local
governments refuse to come to Lima. Terms of reference of an international
review of the EIA of the Conga Project are decided without consultation of the
key actors involved.
2-3 January 2012: Another two days of peaceful protest
take place in Cajamarca. A national march for water is announced for the end of
1-10 February 2012: A national water march crosses the
country from the threatened mountain lakes in Cajamarca to the capital, Lima.
During the many stops along the road, in small villages and large towns,
manifestations take place, speeches are given and cultural events take place.
The group of marchers grows continuously along the road to culminate in a
massive manifestation in Lima. The water marchers ask for unviability of the
Conga project, constitutional recognition of the right to water, legal ban on
mining in headwater and glacier zones and on mining techniques using cyanide
and mercury, a moratorium and review of all existing mining concessions and
right to previous consultation for all citizens.
11 April 2012: Another two days regional strike takes
place in Cajamarca.
17 April: The international experts who reviewed
hydrological aspects of the Conga project for the Peruvian government, present
their conclusions (see under environmental issues). Constitutional Court
declares unconstitutionality of the regional ordinance declaring the protection
of headwaters of regional interest and unviability of the Conga Project.
21-29 May: Regional water march in Cajamarca. Social
and environmental leaders and activists travel to the 13th provinces of
Cajamarca in order to talk about the Conga project and gather support for the
undetermined regional strike.
31 May 2012: A new undetermined regional strike is
launched in Cajamarca. The town centers of Cajamarca and Celendín are inundated
by opponents of the Conga project. Classes are suspended, transport limited.
Attempts to block roads are prevented with tear gas by the police. In the
evening, police officers exceed their limits by knocking over cooking pots,
used by women who are preparing food for the many protesters who have come from
the countryside. Several persons are beaten and maltreated.
14 June 2012: 15th day of the strike, actions
intensify when more delegations from different parts of the region come to
Cajamarca to join the protest. All over the city people march and make clear
that they do not want the project to proceed. The police respond with brutal
violence, this way violating a fundamental right to demonstrate. Tear gas is
used excessively, people are beaten, journalists are harassed and their cameras
stolen. Over 10 people are injured (official numbers differ), 6 people
18 June 2012: On the 19th day of the regional strike
against the Conga mining project, a hunger strike is initiated. This dramatic
method of non-violent resistance shows the despair of some protesters.
21 June 2012: On the 22nd day of the regional strike
around 7pm people come together on one of the squares of Cajamarca, chanting
and eating. Police forces arrive in great numbers to end this demonstration,
using tear gas, hitting and arresting people. Press is threatened as they try
to get all this on tape.
3 July 2012: A manifestation in the provincial town of
Celendín turns into a confrontation between protesters and police when
protesters attempt to take the municipality. The army and police reinforcements
are flown in and disperse the crowd on the central square, using tear gas, rubber
bullets and life ammunition. 3 citizens
are killed, one of them a minor of 17 years old. A 4th person is in coma
from a bullet in the head and dies two days later. In the evening, the
government declares again a state of emergency in three provinces: Cajamarca,
Hualgayóc-Bambamarca and Celendín.
4 July: During the state of emergency, in Bambamarca,
another protester dies after being shot through the chest by the police.
Environmental leader Marco Arana, a former priest, is brutally arrested by riot
police while he was peacefully sitting on a bench on the Plaza de Armas of
Cajamarca. In the police office, he's beaten in the face and in the
6 July: The government appoints Miguel Cabrejos, the
Archbishop of the northern Peruvian city of Trujillo and the former president
of the Peruvian Episcopal Conference, to mediate in the conflict. Meanwhile,
Gregorio Santos, president of the Cajamarca region, invites another prominent
priest, Gaston Garatea, to work together with Cabrejos in the mediaton.
Jul 28, 2012, Anti-Conga blogger detained
Celendín-based blogger and journalist Jorge Chávez Ortiz is arrested while filming the citizen's reactions on the state of the union of president Humala. The police argues they Chávez is arrested for not carrying his ID, however, when his sister brings his ID to the police station he is still not liberated. An attorney has ordered his detention and translation to the city of Chiclayo. Finally, after 8 hours of detention, Chávez is liberated in Cajamarca.
Jul 23, 2012, Prime Minister Oscar Váldez steps down
Five days before the end of the first year of the Humala government, Prime minister Oscar Váldez steps down. He is replaced by former minister of Justice and Human Rights Juan Jiménez Mayor. The removal of Váldez is considered a direct consequence of his unability to appease social conflicts, Conga in particular. Jímenez states the Humala government doesn't want any more deads for social conflicts and said his cabinet will be characterized by dialogue.
Minera Yanacocha S.R.L. (MYSRL)
The Conga Project is owned by Minera Yanacocha S.R.L (MYSRL).
The owners of MYSRL are:
Compañía de Minas Buenaventura (CMB, Peru, 43,65%);
Newmont Mining Corporation (Newmont, USA, 51,35%);
and the International Finance Corporation (IFC, part of the World Bank Group, 5%)
Headquartered in Denver, Colorado, Newmont Mining is primarily a gold producer and is one of the world's largest gold companies.