Conga: after the killings

THIS MATERIAL WAS ORIGINALLY INTENDED TO BE THE LAST PART OF THE FINAL “PERU” READING: ANTI-CONGA, BUT AS OF JULY 23, IT IS TO BE PUT INTO A SEPARATE AND FINAL READING: “AFTER.” AS OF JULY 23, THE IDEA IS THAT THE MATERIAL BELOW WOULD EITHER BE COMPLETELY REWRITTEN OR PERHAPS ENTIRELY OMITTED FROM THE FINAL VERSION OF “AFTER” (THE PICTURE I CURRENTLY HAVE OF THAT READING IS MADE UP OF A SERIES OF MORE OR LESS DISJOINTED REPORTS OF NEWSPAPER ARTICLES ETC — FROM ESL POINT OF VIEW A BUNCH OF SHORT, EXTRA, READINGS AND FROM A JOURNALISTIC POINT OF VIEW “NOTES” FOR A CONTINUATION OF THE STORY (NB DESPITE BEING DISJOINTED THE REPORTS WILL BE IN STRICT CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER.

In late August 2012, as reported in an article in mining.com, the Peruvian government announced that the Conga project had been indefinitely suspended. At the same time as this development was announced, however, it was also learned that work would continue on the reservoirs it had started to build earlier in the year. The company made a point of emphasizing that the project was only being suspended, not abandoned. It was clear though that the decision was in part at least, a response to the uprisings in early July. Those events were at least hinted at in the somewhat vague statement made by Richard O’Brien, the chief executive officer of Newmont. [killings, polls]

While we remain focused on the construction of the water reservoirs, the security and safety of our employees and contractors is our first priority

The connection between the suspension decision and the protest movement was suggested even more strongly by another piece of information included in the same article: an Ipsos poll taken at about the same time showed that 78% of the people in the region oppose the Conga project and only 15% are in favor.

Newmont’s decision seems to be an acknowledgment on their part that the seventy-eight percent who are against the Conga project had won at least a temporary victory. During the following year there were no more protesters died at the hands of the police or the army; and apart from the reservoir projects there was no more construction on the Conga site.

In any case in late May, 2013, nine months after the announcement of the indefinite suspension, the only work going on was building the reservoirs. In an article in La Republica, the environment ministrer, Pulgar Vidal, was quoted as saying that “not a single stone had been removed in relation to mining activity.” He also spoke, quite bluntly, about the purpose of the reservoirs from the government’s and Newmont’s point of view: “With the reservoirs the mine hopes to win the confidence of the people — and to be granted a &social license that they have not previously had.” The environment minister also stated somewhat ominously, that the completion of the two reservoirs would be the “ breaking point,” the point at which Newmont would make its final decision as to whether to continue mining area or leave for some other place in the world where it was more welcom.

It is not hard to guess what Marco Arana — or anyone else deeply involved in the anti-Conga movement — would think of these pronouncements. In all likelihood, they would see them as typically cynical and calculating. They would point out that the talk of a social “license” and the implicit threat to leave the country if they don’t get their way shows clearly that the company and the government have only a business interest in the people of the Cajamarca region — that they have no genuine affection or respect for the people of the region, for their history, their culture or their aspirations.

If a story that appeared on the “Celendín Libre” website on July 11, 2013 is accurate, there is more than meets the eye to Newmont’s announcement that the final decision as to whether or not to continue with the Conga project will be made when the second reservoir has been finished. According to the posting, it is not simply a matter of the company’s wanting to do everything possible to win the support of the local population before making the final decision: but rather a matter of their wanting to put it off until the municipal elections of 2014. If “their” candidiates win, then the leaders of local government will be committed to seeing that the Conga project goes ahead — and committed to keeping the protest movement under control. (227)

According to the posting, in order to make sure their candidates do win, the supporters of Conga have assembled a “media apparatus” which includes several local newspapers; and they have also set up twenty radio transmitters on a nearby hill which, they say, the mayor of Celendín. Mauro Arteaga García, a supporter of the Conga project, is supplying with electricity — the bill for which, according to “Celendín Libre,” he will pass on to the ordinary citizens of the city. (227)

The posting contains a plea for responsible behavior from citizens and political parties in the 2014 elections: the political parties must be at the service of the people and of their social organizations instead of the people submitting themselves to the interests of the parties as has traditionally been the case. The candidates of the “progressive” parties must set aside all personal interests and join together to develop a platform that reflects the widest possible consensus. The posting ends with a sharp criticism of the mayor of Celendín, Mauro Siles Argteaga Garcí and also — despite his long public record of opposing Conga — the president of the the Cajamarca region, Gregorio Santos. Gregorio Santos is accused of imposing Mauro Arteaga as the candidate of his party and Mauro Arteaga is accused of having promised, during his election campaign, to join the fight against Conga and then, as soon as he was elected having allied himself with the mine and having called in the Peruvian army and the national police, DINOES to suppress the protesters. (227)

The fear that opponents of Conga might be persuaded to change sides as a result of being bombarded by pro-mine propaganda during an election campaign is perhaps well founded. Certainly during the year that followed the massacre of July 2012, the protest movement did not maintain the impetus that it had had during the previous year. As a slide show on the “Celendín Libre” shows that a march in memory of the “martyrs of water” of July 3, 2013 was well organized and passionate, but the number of participants seems to have been quite small. (227 (“Celendín: Jornada de lucha por el 3 de julio en honor a los mártires del agua.”)

/And just over a month earlier, on May 31, 2013 only around a hundred people showed up in the central square of Cajamarca city to celebrate the anniversary of the strike that preceded the massacre and the declaration of the state of emergency. The organizer of the event, Wilfredo Saavedra, the President of the Front for the Defense of the Environment (El Frente de Defensa Ambiental). He had hoped to stage a massive demonstration in response attack a few days earlier on a march of campesinos toward the lagoon El Perol where the second of the two “reservoirs” is to be built. [See Reading 4, “Marco Arana”] A persistent rain was falling and there was a large meeting of students in another part of the plaza at the same time, but, even so, the low turnout must be seen as and indication that, despite all its successes in the past ten years, the movement has weakened. (221)

There are also recent signs of a lack of solidarity in the protest movement — ones that complement the criticisms, already mentioned, of Gregorio Santos for supporting Mauro Arreaga. According to an article that appeared in La Republica, on March 29, 2013, President Gregorio Santos and Wilfredo Saavedra are no longer allies in the fight against the Conga project. Apparently, for some time before this Wilfredo Saavedra had been criticizing Gregorio Santos, because, as he contended, Gregorio Santos has been trying to de-politicize the anti-Conga movement. He had been doing this, Wilfredo Saavedra said, by “using an old argument of the right” the need to avoid such subjects as: the struggle between social classes; and the danger of entrenched neo-liberal ideas; and the importance of bringing an end to a succession of governments that have been intent on selling out the country.

And within just over two months of Wilfredo Saavedra’s break with Gregorio Santos another prominent figure was breaking away from not just from Marco Arana and Gregorio Santos, but also from Wilfredo Saavedra. In an article in La Republica, June 2, 2013, Edy Benavides, President of the Front for the Defense of the Interests, Rights and Environment of the Province of Hualgayoc-Bambamarca (El Frente de Defensa de los Intereses, Derechos y Ambiental de la provincia de Hualgayoc-Bambamarca) issued a blanket criticism of the three most prominent figures of the protest movement, Gregorio Santos, Marco Arana, and Wilfredo Saavedra. He “reminded” them that recently the real struggle had been in rural areas where the damage was actually happening and not in the cities where various individuals and groups were competing with one another, trying to use the cause of the anti-Conga struggle as a way of furthering their own personal and group interests. (223)

As well as being outspokenly critical of prominent figures in the anti-Conga movement, Edy Benavides is clear and blunt in expressing his opinion of the reservoirs which Newmont is constructing in the hopes of shifting public opinion in its favor. He says, in the first place, that the reservoirs are unecessary: the natural lagoons are sufficient to provide enough water for the campesinos’ agriculture, as well as for their ranching, and their trout farms. And he adds that the case against the reservoirs is strengthened by the fact that that “there is already a very negative precedent” after the company constructed the San José reservoir, they discovered that it was impossible to fill it with water. Then, speaking more generally and, perhaps, more emotionally he says:

“We will never accept artificial reservoirs in exchange for our natural lagoons. And, in any case, to drain El Perol lagoon in order to extract a mineral is the worst environmental crime that could be committed in our region.”

Conga: after the killings
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