Monday, June 11, 2012

Conga No Va

Here is a blog written by one of my friends who lives near me.  I decided to repost it so that you all might understand the serious situation occurring here.  For those of you who are unaware, there have been strikes taking place all over the department of Cajamarca over the mining operations here.  Here is Kelsey's post:

In November of 2011, we blogged about the intense striking that was happening in our area.  To give a quick recap, people were protesting the creation of a new mine in our department, the Conga Project.  We currently have the second largest gold mine in the world, Yanachocha, just south of where we live.  Like the Conga Project, Yanachocha is owned by an American mining company called Newmont.  Over the past couple decades, there have been issues of water contamination by Yanachocha, including a major mercury spill.  The people claim more contamination, but it is difficult to know what to believe, because so many things are being said without much scientific basis.  What we do know is that Peru’s standards for environmental protection from mines are much lower than that of the U.S., so U.S. companies that would never be allowed to use such unsafe practices in our own country are able to do so here. 

When the Conga Project was still in its initial construction stages, our entire department went on strike for 15 days in November.  All roads were shut down, so you couldn’t leave your town and no supplies could come in.  We were short on all fresh food, and only rice was left to buy in our town.  No schools, government offices, stores, health centers, or hospitals were open.  Anyone employed by the government (teachers, nurses, etc.) were paid for the day’s work if they went to the strike.  If they went to their post to teach or give medical services, they were not paid.  Electricity was shut off for a couple days, as were the cell phone towers.  Internet service was shut off for the duration of the strike.  At the “Lagoons (the natural source of many rivers in our area),” where the Conga Project is set to be built, there was some violence, which ended in tear gas, rubber bullets, and one person shot in the leg.   

The strike finally ended, because the national government called a state of emergency in the department.  The national police and military were sent in and no one was allowed to meet in groups of more than three people.  Sounds like Hogwarts under the supervision of Umbridge, right?  Since then, we’ve had a military occupation in Cajamarca city and Bambamarca. 

Now let’s get to the present.  The national government hired third-party researches to redo the Conga Project’s environmental impact study, and last month, the results came out.  The national government determined the project environmentally safe, but they required that the company agree to some additional safety measures. 

Since that announcement, the departmental government has threatened another strike, unless the national government changes their stance.  The department is not willing to negotiate, and will only be satisfied if the project is canceled.  Their slogan is “Conga No Va (Conga will not go).” 

The weeks have passed, and the national government still has not changed their decision, as the deadline set by the department gets closer.  If nothing changes, the department will strike again on May 31.  This strike is set for an indefinite amount of time, and schools and health services will be closed down again.  Most people expect it will last longer than the last one, but I hope not. 

Kelsey blogged this post on May 28th and the situation has gotten a bit worse as roads all over the department are blockaded and some of my friends have been stuck in their sites, unable to work because locals are denouncing them as spies for the mines.  I am currently safe and on my way to Lima for medical exams but I hear that our road home will be blocked and I might end up stuck outside of my site for a good chunk of my last few weeks in Peru.  All I can hope is that I can get in and out safely one last time in order to say goodbye to my friends and host family.

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