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Thousands of Peruvians Still Protesting $5 Billion Conga Gold, Copper Mine

LIMA, Peru

Thousands of Peruvians farmers marched in protest on June 17 against US mining giant Newmont’s nearly $5 billion USD Conga project in Cajamarca department. The protesters fear they will lose their water sources to the mine’s operations, and so want the entire project shut down.

Gregory Santos, president of the regional government of Cajamarca and an avid supporter of the protesters, tweeted on June 17, “We won’t accept that the lakes in Conga become waste pits for toxic waste.”

The farmers marched this week to El Perol Lake, a major drinking water and irrigation supplier, which they say is threatened by the mine.

“We are more than 5,000 farmers marching to the lake to stop the Conga project from destroying it,” the AFP quoted Milton Sanchez, who heads a federation of local non-governmental groups, as saying.

The lake is scheduled to be drained to make way for mining ore, and the water is to be transferred to four reservoirs the mining company and its Peruvian partner, Buenaventura, are planning to build as replacements for the natural water systems.

The companies say the new reservoirs will better provide the locals with water because seasonal shortages will end and there will be a year-round supply. However, residents are concerned about the mining firms taking control of their water sources.

“Why would we want a reservoir controlled by the company when we already have lakes that naturally provide us water?” MercoPress quoted Angel Mendoza, a member of a peasant patrol group from the town of Pampa Verde, as saying.

Although previous protests have turned violent, the protests this week were largely peaceful and there have been no clashes with police. However, the government has greatly increased the local police presence in the area.

“We are not going to give in to police provocations,” Sanchez said. “What we are trying to do is defend and keep the lake, so that is why we will be camping at the site indefinitely.”

Energy and Mines Minister Jorge Merino was quoted by El Comercio as saying the project will proceed, although the company still needs a “social license.”

"The government will support private investment, but we can't impose a forced decision unless there is a majority in favor of the development," Merino said.