Dams, Gold, and Dissidence

Date of publication: 
30 July 2013

In the first few days of July I was dismayed to hear that the Peruvian national police force in Celendín, Cajamarca heavily beat citizens, injuring 9 people (including a 5 year old girl) who were apparently peacefully voicing their critique of the controversial Chadin II hydroelectric project currently at the stage of assessing feasibility. An argument broke out when claims were made that small groups of people attending the public hearing in Celendín were manipulated to attend.

I was especially saddened to learn that environmentalist Nicanor Alvarado, a friend and colleague of mine from when we worked together on the Majaz case, was hit on the head and lost consciousness when he tried to shield a couple from being beaten by the police. Later, Alvarado denounced the company Odebrecht and the government for carrying out a false consultation process.

Public hearings were being held in Celendin and Chumuch districts to present the Environmental Impact Study of the hydroelectric project owned by AC Energy – Odebrecht. Both public hearings were not being conducted in a transparent or legitimate manner according to the local population, and a group of about 200 citizens protested outside the Municipal building in Celendín where the public hearing took place. People who tried to get close to the hearings to listen to the information being given by the company were faced with police barricades preventing their participation. In Chumuch a similar incident occurred when those against the project claimed the public hearing was illegitimate since the people attending were from other parts of the region.

The Chadin II project, with a potential of 600 MW and a total cost of US$819 million, is planned to be built by Brazilian giant Odebrecht and is one of twenty four planned hydroelectric projects along the Marañon River – one of the main rivers that forms the Amazon. Thousands of local residents stand to be displaced by the Chadin II project, which would flood some 3,000 hectares along the Marañon. Chadin II, like the other dozens of projects along the Marañon, is part of the government’s strategy to provide energy to the growing mining industry in the country. Peru may be on the verge of surpassing the successful Chilean copper mining industry in mineral exports because of its abundance of water – which Chile lacks – which is able to provide the energy and water sources that mining companies need.

Adjacent to Chadin II is the controversial Conga mining project owned by Denver-based Newmont Gold and its Peruvian partner, Buenaventura. Chadín II was conceived to speed the development of mining projects in Cajamarca, and is lined up to provide energy to the Conga project. Brutal police repression to protests against this project have already caused five deaths last year. The main concerns around Conga are in relation to water, where the company plans to construct an open pit mine in the paramos which provides the water to a number of lakes and rivers. However, the powerful company plans to move the lakes, mine the gold and build two reservoirs in exchange. Since Newmont´s existing mega gold mining project in Cajamarca, Yanacocha, was approved during the Fujimori dictatorship, the region has seen higher rates of extreme poverty contrary to discourses claiming mining brings development.

Just days before the violent incident in Celendín, locals commemorated the one-year anniversary of the deaths of the five Cajamarquinos who were shot by police forces during protests against the Conga mine project. Here in Lima, our ERI interns also commemorated the lives of the five campesinos by joining in a march in the center of the capital city.