LIMA, Peru (AP) — Protesters in Peru lifted their road blockade of Latin America’s biggest gold mine late Tuesday in order to begin government-backed talks with the mine’s owners, the mayor of the affected district said.
Yanacocha’s owners had called the four-day-old protests “illegal and violent” and said they had cut back production after the access road was blocked and local peasants set ablaze back hoes, dump trucks and a bulldozer.
“We have suspended the blockade to open a dialogue on Thursday with directors of Yanacocha mine on a proposal made by the government,” La Encanada Mayor Jorge Vasquez told The Associated Press.
He said that if an agreement isn’t reached locals would remount the blockade.
Vasquez said the protesters fear an approved expansion of the gold mine, called La Conga, will contaminate aquifers essential to cattle farming that is the livelihood of its 27,000 residents.
Vasquez said the protesters, about 100 manning each of two road blockades, are demanding Yanacocha alter its plans to divert water from La Encanada marshland for use in gold ore processing.
“The La Conga project proposes to dry up four lakes and build two artificial ones in their sted, and that’s a danger,” he said, adding that protesters fear the recycled water would be contaminated.
Vasquez said he has asked Yanacocha representatives to redesign their environmental impact offsets to better benefit local peasants.
A spokeswoman for Colorado-based Newmont Mining Corp., the mine’s majority owner, said the peasants were demanding $73 million in contracts and investment for their community “even though they are not within the defined district that makes them eligible for investments.”
The spokeswoman, Diane Reberger, said from Denver that while processing of ore is continuing at Yanacocha “mining in the open pits is limited to ensure the safety of our employees.”
The protesters had initially blocked access to the mine for all vehicles but later turned turning back Yanacocha workers and vehicles, a local police official told The Associated Press, speaking anonymously because he was not authorized to talk to the media.
Yanachoca officials estimate the mine will produce an estimated 1.3 million ounces of gold this year.
Associated Press writer Frank Bajak contributed to this report.