South African gold miner Gold Fields, producing at the La Corona mine in Hualgayoc, faces an indefinite strike as of 6 February. Strike action has been threatened since December by the five principal social organisations in the province. The decision was taken after dialogue with ministers failed to reach a solution.

The dispute is over contamination of water by leakages. It was triggered on 16 December by a natural drainage system being contaminated by tailings from the mine. OEFA intervened in January requiring action.

The protest targets both the company and the government. At the company level, the issues concern immediate indemnification and the cleaning up of the affected area, the provision of a tank of clean water, and medical treatment for those affected by past contamination. As regards the government, the demand is for weekly monitoring, norms to protect the watersheds (cuencas) in the area, and the implementation of projects for sustainable development.

The protesting organisations requested President Vizcarra to come and attend to their demands. Perhaps unsurprisingly Vizcarra did not come, but Mining Minister Francisco Ismodes and Health Minister Zulema Tomas both attended a meeting last week in Bambamarca

Protest leaders decided that the two ministers had not brought enough by way of concrete solutions and, indeed, had failed to demonstrate any serious intention of standing alongside the affected population.

The ministers proposed to set up a working group of all three levels of government to review the work being undertaken to deal with the numerous environmental problems in the area, and promised follow-up treatment for the families affected.

The issue of old mine workings and their tailings is a very serious one in Hualgayoc, dating from long before the arrival of Gold Fields. There are reported to be more than 1,000 outstanding sources of water contamination in the surrounding area. Of these, only 500 involve plans for proper mine closure, and it is reported that such plans are themselves “uncertain”.