Fifty years ago, Peru’s San Lorenzo valley was a dry desert where almost nothing would grow. Today, thanks a successful World Bank/USAID irrigation and land distribution project, succulent lemons, papayas and mangos hang from the trees, and provide about 20,000 farmers with sustainable livelihoods. As the local people say, “Nobody here is rich, but there are no poor either.”
“The popular referendum is a civic lesson, not only for Tambogrande but for Peru, for the world, and for our nation’s congressmen.” Manuel Ortiz, leader of the Tambogrande Defense Front.
“The mining company and the Peruvian government irresponsibly claim that agriculture and mining can harmoniously coexist, but we know that isn’t so. The very nature of mining conflicts with the natural balance of the ecosystem. In order to get to the minerals, one must go under the subsoil, thereby destroying and disrupting everything that lies on the surface, including the forest, the river, the landscape, the wildlife, not to mention people’s homes, farms, livelihoods and heritage. The biodiversity of the area, ranging from the microorganisms to ourselves, will without a doubt be in great danger.” Ulises García, San Lorenzo Valley farmer and activist.
“Whose poverty levels do we wish to diminish - those of the mining businessmen or of the population?” Miguel Palacín Quispe, National Coordination of Communities Affected by Mining.
Fifty years ago, Peru’s San Lorenzo valley was a dry desert where almost nothing would grow. Today, thanks to a successful World Bank/USAID irrigation and land distribution project, succulent lemons, papayas and mangos hang from the trees, and provide about 20,000 farmers with sustainable livelihoods. As the local people say, “Nobody here is rich, but there are no poor either.”
All was well in this fertile paradise until mining companies discovered mineral riches under Tambogrande, a village nestled in the valley, in the 1980s. Since then, local farmers and families have been engaged in a struggle to prevent their homes and agricultural land from being ripped out from under their feet.
Manhattan Minerals planned US$315 million open-pit gold mine would displace about one-third of the population of Tambogrande. Downstream water would likely become contaminated with metals and dust, and heavy rains caused by the El Niño phenomenon could flood the toxic pit and spread chemicals throughout the valley. The economic fruits of the project for the community are not appetizing. “Mining in this country has hardly brought any benefits to local communities,” according to Astrid Cornejo of Labor/Friends of the Earth Peru. Villagers say that Manhattan has brought “sticks, fire, police and violence”, and resistance against the mine has been strong from the outset. In February 2001, a total strike and massive mobilization in Tambogrande called for the corporation to withdraw, and the company’s encampments were destroyed.
In June 2002, the people of Tambogrande held a community-initiated referendum to determine what kind of development - mining or farming - they want for their town. Thousands of residents arrived to cast their votes - by foot, bus, horse, donkey and boat. The results showed that an astounding 98.65 percent of the population was against the mine.
Although Manhattan Minerals had pledged that they would obtain the consent of the Tambogrande community before constructing the mine, they now claim that “the results of the opinion poll have no validity”and seem determined to move ahead with the project. Furthermore, they have plans to approach the World Bank for funding, which if granted would be an ironic twist to the Bank’s initial sustainability-promoting project.
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