(AP) LIMA, Peru — Latin America’s biggest gold mine cut back production after Peruvian peasants who say they fear contamination of their water blockaded a road and sabotaged heavy equipment.
The Yanacocha mine’s owners called the four-day-old protests “illegal and violent” in a statement Tuesday. Among vehicles set ablaze were back hoes, dump trucks and a bulldozer.
The mayor of La Encanada, the affected district, told The Associated Press 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.
Mayor Jorge 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.