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Peru growth at risk from mining crisis over protests

  |   Dec. 9, 2011 at 1:53 PM
LIMA, Dec. 9 (UPI) -- Peru risks missing economic growth targets because of intensifying disputes that have pitted the government and mining industry against campaigners opposed to mining near water resources, financial analysts said.

The government declared a state of emergency after days of protests that forced the suspension of a $4.8 billion copper-gold Conga project in the northern Cajamarca state.

The gloomiest prognosis so far has come from BoA Merrill Lynch, which spelled out in a report how President Ollanta Humala's failure to resolve the stalemate over the Conga project would adversely affect Peru's national economic growth targets.

BofA Merrill Lynch said the protests threatened the security of mining investments, a key driver of growth in Peru.

"We estimate that a halt to new mining investments would shave off 2.9 percentage points from GDP growth during the next two years," BofA Merrill Lynch said.

Mining concessions have more than doubled in Peru in a decade of increasing inward investment but government policies haven't kept pace with the change or responded to opposition from community and environmental groups worried over environmental damage from exploration and mining.

Peru is one of the world's largest producers of gold, copper, silver and zinc but has seen its successive governments' ambitious plans contested by campaign groups. The number of ongoing disputes over mining operations reached 227, official reports said.

Anti-mining activists vowed to continue their protests against the Conga project until it's canceled. The copper and gold mine is being developed by Minera Yanacocha, which already runs a large gold mine in the region.

Yanacocha is 51.35 percent owned by Colorado company Newmont Mining Corp., while Compania de Minas Buenaventura SAA has a 43.65 percent stake and the International Finance Corp. owns the rest of the venture.

Anti-mining activists said if their demand wasn't met they'd also try to stop other mining projects in the region. The protesters say the mining operations threaten the area's water resources and contamination will put thousands of residents at risk.

Earlier this year, protests disrupted Southern Copper Corp.'s Tia Maria copper project and before that a Bear Creek Mining Corp. project in southern Peru following protests.

Before the suspension, Conga planned to begin production in 2015, with average output during the first five years of 580,000 ounces to 680,000 ounces of gold and 155 million to 235 million pounds of copper.

Humal's government badly wants the Conga project to go ahead and as part of its fight-back has suggested the protesters are mostly local agrarian residents and peasants who don't understand scientific explanations the mine poses no risks to underground water sources, lakes and rivers.

Officials accused the protesters' representatives of intransigence and unreasonable behavior.

As clashes between law enforcement officers and protesters continue, casualties have been reported and material damage is mounting.

Leaders of the protest said the planned mine project could devastate the region's ecology and nothing short of its cancellation would persuade them to end the protests.

Analysts said such a cancellation would be unprecedented and would open the way for claims against other potential water contamination points cited by environmentalists.

Cajamarca is one of the most heavily mined states in Peru. The country earns more than 60 percent of its total export income from mined products.

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