Via Upside Down World
Written by Lynda Sullivan
Thursday, 19 September 2013 13:05
The region of Cajamarca, in the northern highlands of Peru, is no stranger to foreign invaders exploiting their natural resources. In the year 1533 when the Spanish conqueror Francisco Pizarro captured Atahualpa – the last Inca, his people surrendered a room full of gold and two of silver in the hope of securing his release. Pizarro received the treasure, but executed the Inca regardless. Five hundred years later the invaders are back and demanding their gold and silver, and much more besides.
The financial crises that swept Latin America in the late 1980s-early 1990s left many economies in ruin. International financial institutions, led by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), fell over themselves to lend money to the flailing governments. Peru, under the leadership of the authoritarian Alberto Fujimori, eagerly accepted. As is the custom with IMF agreements, the money came with a stack of economic conditions–conditions which included deregulation, privatization, and opening domestic industries to transnational corporations.
In Cajamarca, one of the first corporations to arrive on the doorstep was the mega mining company Yanacocha – majority owned by US-based Newmont Mining Corporation and part owned by Peruvian Buenaventura (a company owned by one of the richest families in Peru), with 5 percent financing by the IFC of the World Bank. Yanacocha is actually a native Quechua word meaning ‘Black Lagoon’ – and was a lagoon until Yanacocha (the company) set its sights on it – now it’s an open pit so huge it can be seen from space.
Yanacocha’s replacement for this lagoon that gave water freely to the surrounding communities was an artificial reservoir, a tactic they repeated for other lagoons they would come to destroy. These reservoirs are now dry – serving no-one, and the mainly agricultural communities below now experience severe water shortage. What water does flow from descending rivers is contaminated; the source of the Rio Grande, one of the largest rivers feeding Cajamarca, is now three huge tubes spewing waste water from the mine. As a result of this contamination, local farmers have reported high levels of animal deformities and death; there are numerous instances of trout deaths in the tens of thousands because of the presence of heavy metals, arsenic, and high levels of acidity in the water.(1) The population in general have reported unusually high rates of cancer, skin diseases, and birth deformities.
In one small town called Choropampa, 1,200 inhabitants suffered the effects of mercury poisoning due to a mercury spill at the fault of Yanacocha in 2000.(2) The effects are still being felt to this day as mothers pass the heavy metal to their babies through their blood. Tests have also shown that many Yanacocha workers have dangerously high levels of mercury in their blood. However, once they are unable to work they are abandoned by the company.(3)
Yanacocha itself admits its appalling record, “We are not proud of the current state of our relationship with the people of Cajamarca.” This admission came after a ‘Listening Study’ commissioned by Yanacocha, and showed the dismal state of public opinion about the company who, the study states, “suffers from an inability to listen effectively to the community.”(4) However, the company continues to press ahead with wringing the earth dry despite an obvious lack of social license. Having extended into various satellites, and exhausting them, Yanacocha had planned to move swiftly into the neighbouring province of Celendin to execute a project that would dwarf all that it had done before – Minas Conga.