Peru's president swears in new cabinet chief amid mine crisis [updated]
Updated at 7:30 p.m., Dec. 11:
[REPORTING FROM LIMA, PERU AND BOGOTA, COLOMBIA -- His young presidency knee-deep in crisis over a disputed mining project, Peru's Ollanta Humala on Sunday swore in a new cabinet chief to replace a close associate as part of a leadership reshuffling that included the replacement of 10 of 19 ministers.
Oscar Valdes became cabinet chief, replacing Salomon Lerner, whose resignation was announced Saturday.]
Humala, a former army officer who took office in July, favors a $4.8-billion gold and copper mine in northern Peru opposed by residents of the Cajamarca region. He declared a 60-day state of emergency Dec. 4, suspending freedom of assembly and other constitutional rights, after two weeks of protests by opponents of the Conga mining project closed roads, schools and businesses.
“The president will make some adjustments according to his constitutional rights,” Valdes told reporters Saturday night, following news of Lerner's surprise resignation and media reports that other possible cabinet changes are planned. “There will be no reorganization; the road map remains in place.”
Lerner was a close associate of Humala and a fund-raiser for his successful presidential campaign. Valdes is a retired army lieutenant colonel. While Lerner was seen as conciliatory, Valdes’ image is more hard line. In an interview with El Comercio newspaper, Cajamarca regional President Gregorio Santos criticized Valdes as “accustomed to resolving problems with bullets.”
Observers expect Humala's cabinet to be more disciplined under Valdes. In the past, various ministers have clashed in their views of the Conga mining project.
But how the current standoff over the mine will be resolved remains an open question. Humala wants to send a message to foreign investors that he is not anti-capitalistic, while local protesters led by Santos say the mine’s environmental impact has been inadequately researched and could damage the water supply.
Colorado-based Newmont Mining, which will run the new mine as it has the nearby Yanacocha open pit gold mine, insists the project has been adequately studied and poses no threat to water or the environment. The project was approved by Humala's predecessor, President Alan Garcia.
--Adriana Leon in Lima, Chris Kraul in Bogota
Photo: Andean women call for the release of two leaders of protests against Newmont Mining's $4.8-billion Conga gold mine project outside the counterterrorism police station in Lima, Peru last week. Credit: Enrique Castro-Mendivil / Reuters