New mining minister appointed in Peru amid deepening crisis

Jorge Humberto Merino, an engineer who worked for the Peruvian government agency that promotes foreign investment, was sworn in as the new mines and energy minister last night amid a mining crisis that has the country under state of emergency since Dec. 4.

President Ollanta Humala, a former army officer who took office in July, restructured his cabinet after weeks of protests against $4.8-billion gold and copper mine to be operated by Colorado-based Newmont Mining.

Beginning in October 2011, anti-mining activists expressed concerns about perceived impacts of the project on the local water supply.

Interviewed by local newspapers, Peru’s new mine minister denied that the government was in crisis after the sudden reorganization of the cabinet and the suspension of Conga gold mine development, the largest investment project in Peru. 

However, the pile of major projects that have come to a grinding halt in the past year over environmental or community concerns – many before Humala took over – is mounting, including Southern Copper’s $1bn Tia Maria copper project; Bear Creek of Canada’s Santa Ana silver project; Egasur of Brazil’s Inambari hydroelectric dam; and Odebrecht of Brazil’s Tambo 40  hydroelectric scheme.

Merino graduated from the National Engineering University (UNI) and also holds a Master in Business Administration from the University of Piura PADand a Master of Science from the Ohio State University.

Newmont Mining (NYSE:NEM) has proposed investing $4 billion in Conga, which could produce between 580,000 and 680,000 ounces of gold per year. Royalties and taxes to the government could total $800 million per year. Operation is scheduled to start in 2014. The Yanacocha mine, one of the world’s largest, produced 1.5 million ounces last year.

Photo courtesy of Peru’s Ministry of Mines and Energy

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