Tangled Strands in Fight Over Peru Gold Mine
By JANE PERLEZ AND LOWELL BERGMAN; MARLENA TELVICK AND NATASHA DEL TORO
CONTRIBUTED REPORTING FOR THIS ARTICLE.
The Rev. Marco Arana drove his beige pickup over the curves of a dirt road 13,000 feet high in
the Andes. Spread out below lay the Yanacocha gold mine, an American-run operation of
mammoth open pits and towering heaps of cyanide-laced ore. Ahead loomed the pristine green
of untouched hills.
Then, an unmistakable sign that this land, too, may soon be devoured: Policemen with black
masks and automatic rifles guarding workers exploring ground that the mine's owner, Newmont
Mining Corporation, has deemed the next best hope.
''This is the Roman peace the company has with the people: They put in an army and say we
have peace,'' said Father Arana as he surveyed the land where gold lies beneath the surface like
tiny beads on a string.
Yanacocha is Newmont's prize possession, the most productive gold mine in the world. But if
history holds one lesson, it is that where there is gold, there is conflict, and the more gold, the
Newmont, which has pulled more than 19 million ounces of gold from these gently sloping
Peruvian hills -- over $7 billion worth -- believes that they hold several million ounces more. But
where Newmont sees a new reserve of wealth -- to keep Yanacocha profitable and to stay ahead
of its competitors -- the local farmers and cattle grazers see sacred mountains, cradles of the
water that sustains their highland lives.
The armed guards are here because of what happened in the fall of 2004 at a nearby mountain
called Cerro Quilish. For two weeks, fearing that the company's plans to expand Yanacocha
would mean Quilish's desecration and destruction, thousands of local people laid siege to the
mine. Women and children were arrested, tear gas was thrown, the wounded hospitalized after
clashes with the police.
In the end, the world's No.1 gold-mining company backed down. Father Arana, who runs a local
group formed to challenge the mine, helped negotiate the terms of surrender. Newmont withdrew
its drilling equipment from Quilish -- and the promised reserves from its books. Now, in large
part because of the loss of Quilish, the company says production at Yanacocha may fall 35
percent or more in two years.
The forced retreat, a culmination of years of distrust between the peasants and the mine, was a
chastening blow for an industry in the midst of a boom. It underscored the environmental and
social costs of the technologies needed to extract the ever-more-valuable ore from modern mines.
And it showed how a rising global backlash against those costs was forcing mining companies to
negotiate what has come to be known as ''social license'' if that boom was to go on.