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Peruvians fight same company that takes Coromandel gold

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Yesterday a state of emergency was extended for yet another month following the deaths of four people during protests against the multi-billion dollar Conga gold project in Cajamarca, located in northern Peru.

The company responsible for the massive Conga gold project is Newmont Mining Company, the same company responsible for the Martha, Trio and Favona mines at Waihi. Once it begins, the $4.8 billion Conga Project, a joint venture between U.S.-based Newmont Mining Corporation and Peruvian company Mina Buenaventura, will become the second largest gold mine in the world. The open pit mine would affect between 3,000-16,000 hectares of fragile mountaintop wetlands including numerous lakes, rivers and marshes that supply the region’s drinking water.(1)

Anti-mining sentiment has been growing in the region ever since Newmont opened its Yanacocha gold mine just outside Cajamarca in 1993. The mine promised to increase employment and improve living standards for Cajamarcan residents, but little of that has transpired (2). Not surprisingly, Newmont Waihi Gold claims to have spent $299 million in the Waihi area from 2006 – 2010, yet the town schools are ranked decile 3 or below, and Waihi has the lowest decile ranking in the social deprivation index of any Coromandel region town.(3)

There has been very strong resistance to gold mining in the Coromandel for 30 years. Now, new exploration/prospecting permits have been granted over all of Southern Coromandel including behind Onemana, Opoutere and conservation land behind Whangamata. Permits have also been granted in the Kauaeranga Valley, the Firth of Thames and a very large area stretching from Kauotunu to almost Tairua. (4)

The Martha mine has a tailings dam that is estimated to have 40 million cubic metres of extremely toxic waste. This dam is roughly 300 times larger than the now-closed Tui mine tailings dam deemed the country’s most contaminated site. It is considered to be unstable and is leaching various minerals, including heavy metals into neighbouring waterways. It is costing some $17.5 million of taxpayer money to fix the dam so it doesn’t leak. The company went bankrupt in 1970 leaving a legacy that sits precariously above the town of Te Aroha at the base of the Coromandel peninsula. This is just a fraction of the problem posed by the Martha mine and further expansion of gold mining.

Not only do we get a great big pile of toxic sludge from Newmont’s Martha mine, but not a single dollar of royalties has ever been paid by Newmont on the Martha mine. And there are more Marthas to come.

The Peruvians are angry, and we should be too. This ought to have all of us rioting in the streets. Hundreds of people attacked government buildings in the town of Celendin over the Conga project.(5) Do we continue to politely protest against the utter destruction of our natural environment: waterways, forests, oceans, whole species?

Let us not wait until we have nothing left to lose to fight like we have nothing left to lose.

 

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1. Alice Bernard and Diego Cupolo. Peru: Cajamarca Protests Continue as Conga Gold Mine Awaits Green Light. UpsideDown World. 21 March 2012. http://upsidedownworld.org/main/peru-archives-76/3544-peru-cajamarca-protests-continue-as-conga-gold-mine-awaits-green-light

 

2.ibid

 

3. Coromandel Watchdog. Resources. http://watchdog.org.nz/about/fact-sheet-resources/

 

4. ibid.

 

5. ‘Peru: Three die in clashes over Conga gold mine project.’ BBC News. 4 July 2012. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-18700522

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