The Washington Times
January 21, 2003
Peruvians pan proposal for mining
TAMBOGRANDE, Peru — Taking a break from running his parents'
restaurant, Javier Palacios strolls across the sleepy main square — the
spot that will become a huge mining pit if a Canadian company gets its
© 2003 News World Communications, Inc. All rights reserved.
Lime and mango orchards sprawl in the hazy lowlands below
the town. Mr. Palacios, 33, an engineer, nods toward them: "We've been
tied to agriculture for generations. We simply don't want the mine and
the change that it would bring."
The farming community has been steadfast in fighting to keep
the mineral treasure beneath its land where it is, and away from the mining
In the process, Tambogrande has become a case study in the
conflicts that can arise from globalization, one in which powerful financial
interests seeking profit collided with the will of a town determined to
maintain its way of life.
The tale includes an unsolved murder, riots and looting,
propaganda battles and a disputed referendum. The Roman Catholic Church
has weighed in with the mine's opponents, and the debate has even touched
ceviche, Peru's national seafood dish.
Manhattan Minerals, based in Vancouver, British Columbia,
began exploring the area in 1997 and now believes the soils contain 900,000
ounces of gold, 10 million ounces of silver, 1.5 billion pounds of copper
and 900 million pounds of zinc. At recent prices, that's worth $1.6 billion.
The publicly traded company, whose sole activity is in this
region, has already invested at least $50 million and must exercise its
option on the project by May. It says the mine would provide $200 million
in taxes and royalties for Peru's government, which would have a 25 percent
stake in the mine.
The company holds mining rights to 225,000 acres in four
"concession blocks," among them a 24,700-acre plot that includes Tambogrande.
The separate blocks added together would roughly equal the area of Dallas.
Developing one ore deposit would mean clearing away most
of the town center, and another would require diverting a river, according
to Mayor Alfredo Rengifo. Opponents say about half the town's 16,000 residents
would have to move.
But it's not the displacement that upsets Tambogrande as
much as the belief that the mine's waste would pollute ground and surface
water and destroy one of the most productive agricultural valleys in Peru.
There is also widespread suspicion that nearly all of the
mine's profits would end up abroad and with the national government in
Lima — Peru's capital more than 500 miles away — which historically
has neglected the provinces.
Big mines are nothing new in Peru, Latin America's leading
source of gold and the world's fifth-largest copper producer. Minerals
account for half of the country's exports, but the mines are usually in
sparsely populated areas high in the Andes Mountains rather than in farming
Manhattan Minerals executives in Peru and Canada did not
respond to several requests for interviews, but the company's Web site
(www.manhattan-min.com) says the mine's environmental and social impact
would be minimal. In statements, company officials have promised to use
cutting-edge technology and follow strict safeguards. They insist mining
and agriculture can coexist.
The company also says the mine's annual payroll, including
benefits, would be $6 million and equal the current income of all of Tambogrande.
The project would create up to 2,500 construction jobs, as well as 400
permanent jobs, during the mine's lifetime, the company says.
For many townspeople, however, these benefits would not compensate
for what the mine would leave behind.
"I've been to other mining communities, so they can't lie
to me," said Rodrigo Zapata, a town clerk. "We know it's going to pollute
the land and water. In 20 years, it will put an end to the life we've always
In a nonbinding referendum held by the municipality last
June — delayed several months after the national government pulled out
of sponsoring it — 98.6 percent of valid votes were against any kind
of mining in Tambogrande.
Peru's cash-strapped government, which desperately needs
to lure foreign investment, does not recognize the vote. Officials are
urging townspeople to consider the benefits of the mine in spurring economic
development and creating jobs in a region where most people live in poverty.
In February last year, marchers trashed and burned Manhattan
Minerals' offices in town and wrecked several model homes of the kind the
company promises to build for uprooted families.
After the riot, some newspaper columnists and TV journalists
in Lima suggested that Shining Path rebels were fomenting opposition to
the mine, a claim ridiculed by town officials and residents.
"We may be ignorant, but we realize that agriculture is better
for us than mining," said Sebastian Marquez, a town council member and
"Agriculture won the vote, and it must be respected. If not,
the government is making a big mistake, because blood will flow. This is
not terrorism or subversion — it is a town demanding that its voice be
A month after the riot, Godofredo Garcia, a farmer who had
helped lead opposition to the mine, was shot to death in his fields by
two hooded men. There have been no arrests.
The archbishop in Piura state, which includes Tambogrande,
later spoke out against the mine and urged peaceful demonstrations.
There was not much of anything in this part of Peru's arid
northern coastal plain until the World Bank helped finance a big irrigation
project in the 1950s, turning the San Lorenzo valley into a fertile oasis.
Today, motorcycle rickshaws and mule-drawn carts carry farmers
along dirt roads to fields of rice, marigold flowers and other produce.
According to one study, the valley produces 40 percent of
Peru's limes and mangos. The mangos are mostly exported to the United States
Last February, Tambogrande activists dressed up as limes
marched through downtown Lima warning that mine pollution would mean an
end to ceviche. The acidic juice from limes marinates the dish's raw fish
and provides its signature touch.