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Peru to spend $1.6 billion on Cajamarca’s poor, Newmont could restart Conga in March

Cajamarca: hands off our water

The Wall Street Journal reports Peru on Friday announced a programme of social and infrastructure investments in its poor Cajamarca region aimed at winning over local protesters who have brought to halt Newmont Mining’s $4.8 billion Conga project over environmental concerns.

Protestors, led by Cajamarca’s Maoist governor Gregorio Santos, say Conga will destroy the environment by transforming four high Andean lakes into reservoirs for mining operations.

In December the government was forced to declare a state of emergency after boulders were used to block exits from the regional capital of more than 200,000 inhabitants, schools, hospitals and business were closed and dozens injured in clashes with police.

The Wall Street Journal reports Peru’s new Prime Minister, Oscar Valdés, who was elevated to the position after a cabinet shake-up prompted by the Conga crisis said late Thursday that he thought work on the project which was stopped in November could restart by March:

On Friday, René Cornejo Diaz, the housing minister, was sent to Cajamarca to tout the federal government’s program to invest 4.3 billion soles, about $1.6 billion, in infrastructure and expanded antipoverty programs in Cajamarca.

But Cajamarca leaders, including the governor, Gregorio Santos, didn’t seem likely to be swayed by government largess. “The position of the regional government is clear, Conga is not going ahead,” Máximo Léon, a top adviser to Mr. Santos, said in a telephone interview.

Conga has gold deposits worth about $15 billion at current prices and would be the biggest investment ever in Peru mining.

Conga has turned into a political nightmare for President Ollanta Humala who took office last year and who has on many occasions publicly backed the project. The bitter dispute is seen as a test case for scores of conflicts triggered by mining investments in the country.

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.