Multibillion dollar project halted after protests by locals who say it will destroy their water supply.
Ollanta Humala, the president of Peru, has declared a 60-day state of emergency in a northern region torn by more than a week of protests against a highlands gold mine, the country’s biggest investment, by local residents who fear for their water supply.
|Multibillion dollar project halted after protests by locals who say it will destroy their water supply [Al Jazeera]|
The emergency, announced on Sunday, restricts civil liberties such as the right to assembly and allows arrests without warrants in four provinces of Cajamarca state that have been paralysed for 11 days by increasingly violent protests against the $4.8bn Conga gold and copper mining project.
US-based Newmont Mining Corp. is the project’s majority owner.
Dozens have been injured in clashes between police and protesters, some of whom have vandalised Conga property.
Humala said in a brief televised address on Sunday night that protest leaders had shown no interest “in reaching minimal agreements to permit a return of social peace” after a day of talks in Cajamarca with Salmon Lerner, the cabinet chief, and three other ministers.
Humala said that the government “has exhausted all paths to establish dialogue as a point of departure to resolve the conflict democratically” and blamed “the intransigence of a sector of local and regional leaders”.
He said that the emergency would take effect at midnight on Sunday.
Local elected officials in Cajamarca, including the state’s governor, have led protests against Conga, an extension of the nearby Yanacocha mine, for more than a month.
Newmont announced last week that it was suspending work at Conga until order could be restored.
Protesters fear that the mine will taint and diminish water supplies affecting thousands of residents. They have demanded a new study of the environmental impact of the mine, which was scheduled to begin production in 2015.
Government officials, however, expressed no intention of redoing Conga’s environmental impact study, which was approved by the Ministry of Mining in October 2010.
Those plans call for displacing four lakes more than two miles high and replacing them with reservoirs. Local residents say they fear that could affect an important aquifer.
Several weeks ago, the interior ministry asked prosecutors to file criminal charges against Gregorio Santos, the governor of Cajamarca, and four other local leaders who have led protests against Conga, said Julio Talledo, a senior ministry lawyer.
The charges include “hindering the functioning of public services” and carry prison terms of at least two years. It was not immediately clear whether prosecutors had acted on them.
Humala told Cajamarca during campaign swings before his June election that clean water was more important for him than gold. Many local inhabitants said they now feel betrayed by the president.
The president, a former radical leftist who moved toward the centre before being elected this year, agreed to a tax on windfall profits in the industry that the government says will yield about one billion dollars a year to help fund social programs.
Peru’s economy depends heavily on mining, which accounts for 61 per cent of its export income.