Salomón Lerner, President of the Council of Ministers, announced today that the government had accepted the resignation of Viceminister of Environment José de Echave, who left his position over differences on the handling of protests around the Conga mine project. Echave—an expert in environmental conflict management and the leader of environmental group CooperAccion—offered his resignation yesterday in noting that President Humala’s government “lacks an adequate strategy for dealing with social conflict.”
The viceminister leaves his post on the sixth day of strikes in the city of Cajamarca, which has seen blocked roads, food shortages, and cancelled flights.
Echave’s decision—which follows the removal of special presidential advisor Carlos Tapia, a left-wing activist who supported the protests against the mining project—comes in response to the government’s strategy toward the protests. The viceminister said publicly he disagrees with President Humala’s plans to create a special authority within the Council of Ministers in charge of studies on environmental impact and environmental audits. “I believe that won’t help build a strong environmental authority, even more in a country where environmental concerns are the main source of social conflict,” Echave added.
Local communities in Cajamarca raised attention to the environmental impacts of the Conga mine project a month ago. The Conga project—a $4.8 billion gold and copper mine in northern Peru that is part of the larger Yanacocha mine—is largely controlled by U.S.-based Newmont Mininc Corp. The protestors are concerned about plans to dry up four lakes in order to extract the gold under the water in a zone where economy depends on agriculture and livestock.
The project shows the challenges that Humala faces in trying to promote economic growth while maintaining social inclusion, with inclusion being the foundation of his campaign and a key component of his government.