REPORTING FROM LIMA, PERU, AND BOGOTA, COLOMBIA -- Faced with increasingly violent local opposition, the developers of the giant Conga gold and copper mine in northern Peru suspended the project late Tuesday night, saying they were bowing to a demand from the government of President Ollanta Humala.
Much of the northern district of Cajamarca has been paralyzed the last six days by general strikes called by Conga opponents that closed businesses and schools. Residents were concerned that the massive gold and copper mine could pollute the region’s water supply, a charge the mine’s operators, led by Colorado-based Newmont Mining, strenuously denied.
The situation became more violent Tuesday, as protesters burned an office at the site of the proposed mine and clashes between protesters and police in the area left 17 injured and two arrested. Thousands of demonstrators massed in the central square of Cajamarca, the region’s largest city.
As proposed, Conga would be a giant open pit gold mine similar to the Yanacocha mine 20 miles to the north, which is also operated by Newmont. But it would include a copper mine and smelter.
Newmont has proposed investing $4 billion in the new project, which could produce between 580,000 and 680,000 ounces of gold a year. The government had projected it would receive royalties and taxes totaling $800 million annually once the mine was fully operational after 2014, income the left-leaning Humala government was counting on to finance social and infrastructure projects.
The project was initially approved by former President Alan Garcia and given the stamp of approval by Humala, who took office in July. His support of the project was seen as his way of assuring foreign multinationals that his government would be investor-friendly.
As of late Tuesday, Humala had not commented on the Conga suspension.
The mine’s developers said in a statement: “We reiterate that we will make the utmost effort to abide by the demands of the government of President Ollanta Humala for responsible mining.”
-- Adriana Leon in Lima and Chris Kraul in Bogota
Photo: An Andean woman protests during a march against the proposed mine on Nov. 24, 2011. Opponents are concerned it would pollute the region's water supply. Credit: Enrique Castro-Mendivil/Reuters