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25 Oct 2005

Jane Perlez & Lowell Bergman, with Marlena Telvick & Natasha Del Toro, New York Times

Tangled Strands in Fight Over Peru Gold Mine

"This is the Roman peace the company [Newmont Mining] has with the people: They put in an army and say we have peace," said Father Arana... [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... In the end, the world's No. 1 gold-mining company backed down... The forced retreat...underscored the environmental and social costs of [gold mining]... [Soon after Yanacocha began operating] the peasants began to complain [about water quality]... In June 2000, a truck contracted to carry canisters of mercury, a byproduct of mining, spilled 330 pounds of the poisonous metal over 25 miles of road... A World Bank report later said the mine delayed reporting the accident to the national authorities and initially played down its seriousness... [Newmont executive Lawrence Kurlander's environmental audit of Yanacocha] confirmed many of the villagers' specific complaints [including]....that lakes, streams and canals were being contaminated, at least one with cyanide... Mr. Kurlander says that as the mine expanded, "we eliminated many environmental safeguards that were in the...[original] plans." In all, he wrote to Newmont's new chief executive, Wayne Murdy, the findings were so serious that they could jeopardize the mine's continued operation and leave senior executives subject to "criminal prosecution and imprisonment."... [In a 2001] memo to Mr. Murdy about the [mercury] spill...Mr. Kurlander...[said] that despite public pledges, Newmont had failed to adhere to American environmental standards... [The] company...is contributing money for schools and clinics and building some small water treatment plants in the villages. In all, the company says it will spend nearly $20 million this year on social programs. Water remains a divisive issue:... The peasants continue to complain. But company and local officials say there have been no environmental accidents at Yanacocha in more than two years, and the mine says it manages its water to ensure there is enough for the community. [also refers to Buenaventura]