Reuters reports protestors abandoned roadblocks on Saturday after police were called in to secure access for basic goods to Cajamarca as government officials called weekend talks with regional leaders to try to resolve the conflict over Newmont Mining’s proposed Conga project in northern Peru.
Over the 10 days of protests, boulders were used to block exits from the regional capital, schools and business had closed and police used teargas against marchers forcing Newmont earlier this week to suspend construction of the $4.8 billion gold mine. Residents say Conga will destroy the environment by transforming four high Andean lakes into reservoirs for mining operations.
Reuters reports the blockades around the city had started to cause shortages of basic goods and quotes regional government spokesman Segundo Mata: "The main access routes have been cleared after police went in and opened up the roads. There's access for vehicles, the situation has got back to normal and vehicles carrying fuel, food and tourists are passing."
At least 200 communities nationwide in Peru have organized to stop mining or oil projects, usually over environmental concerns or to demand direct economic benefits in rural towns. MINING.com reported last week on the unrest and on the formation of the 'Front for the Defence of the Interests of Cajamarca'. Read more.
Conga has gold deposits worth about $15 billion at current prices and would be the biggest investment ever in Peru mining. It is a crucial test for newly installed president Ollanta Humala who has on many occasions publicly backed the project. Royalties and taxes to the government from Conga, which would also produce copper, could total $800 million per year and operation was scheduled to start in 2014.
In October, Newmont (NYSE:NEM) was forced to briefly shut down nearby Yanacocha, a joint venture with South American precious metals company Buenaventura over the Conga protests. Yanacocha represents almost 25% of Newmont’s total daily gold output and is the biggest gold mine in South America.
Nearly 500 years ago in Cajamarca the Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro captured the Inca emperor, Atahualpa, and as a ransom demanded a room full of gold and two rooms of silver. The Incas handed over the precious metals but Pizarro killed Atahualpa anyway. Reuters quoted Jorge Rimarachin, a lawmaker from Cajamarca, earlier: "Everybody in Cajamarca knows the history of Pizarro. It's very present in the minds of the people."