Protests and Strikes in Cajamarca Halt Exploration at Yanacocha Gold Mine

30 September 2004

Yanacocha, the largest gold mine in Latin America, began scaling back its operations when protests and local strikes against expansion broke out in Cajamarca. There were violent clashes between local residents and police and security forces.

The Minera Yanacocha company runs the mine, and is owned jointly by US and Peruvian companies and the World Bank. The abundance of low grade ore found in this region is extracted using the cyanide heap leach method that uses large areas on the mountainside for this process. A statement from Buenaventura, a major shareholder, said "The only responsible and prudent decision is for [Yanacocha] to begin scaling back its operations, so that the company can increase its focus on safety and environmental protection".

Critics say that local communities in the vicinity of the mine were not consulted about plans to expand operations onto the Cerro Quilish mountainside. They demand that the concession to mine, given by the government, be annulled. The mine operates in an environmentally sensitive area full of farms that rely on water coming from the mining area. The communities are concerned that waste from the mine is polluting water supplies.

Marco Arana, a priest acting as a mediator in the conflict, said “the negotiations could not go any further because the Ministry of Energy and Mining has explained that it would be illegal to nullify the agreement”.

Mining accounts for 4.7% of GDP in Peru and as more mines open this ratio is set to increase rapidly. However, little of the benefits of mining are evident in areas where mines are located, much of the profit leaves Peru for the investing countries and the local environmental impacts often cause significant conflict between local people and mining companies.

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