Tainted gold: thousands join protest against Peru's largest ever mining project
A US-backed billion-dollar gold mine has attracted thousands of protestors in recent weeks. Many have the poor economic legacy of existing mines fresh in their minds, reports Gervase Pouldon in Cajamarca, Peru.
For Segundo Ortiz, a worker at the San Antonio Market in Cajamarca, a city in the north of Peru, the reasons for taking to the street in protest are clear: 'It's about protecting our water supply, nothing more.'
Ortiz feels that if his generation fails to act to stop the construction of the nearby Conga project, a $4.8 billion venture to mine for gold, he will be forced to answer to future generations. 'Just as we ask our parents and grandparents, when there was a war, did you fight? Our children will ask, when Conga was first proposed, did you protest or did you accept it?'
Ortiz was marching with over 1,500 Cajamarcans last week in the latest in a series of protests and strikes, partly organised by the regional government, which aim to put a halt to what would be in financial terms the largest mining project in Peru's history. The protestors say the project would threaten local water supplies whilst Conga's proponents claim this is untrue and that the scheme would bring development to Peru - and the wider region.
The majority shareholders of the Conga project are the Peruvian company Buenaventura and the US firm Newmont, the second largest gold mining company in the world. Both are no strangers to the region of Cajamarca; also owning the main stake in nearby Yanacocha gold mine. Yanacocha has at times suffered a strained relationship with some of the surrounding populace.
Image credit: REUTERS/Enrique Castro-Mendivil