This is the second article covering our trip to Cajamarca, and for me, the highlight of an excellent trip.
The Department (roughly equals a US state) of Cajamarca has but one big city one real newspaper (circulation: 10,000 copies, published daily, roughly 32 pages or so); Panorama Cajamarquino (The Cajamarca Panorama). For a few reasons, I thought I would like to have an interview with someone at their paper. Our hotel kindly called them up, and I soon got an email from Mr. Jaime Abanta Padilla, their editor, inviting me over Thursday morning. I brought along my camera, as any budding reporter would (remember my interview in Italy with the big gold buyer...), the walk was just 6 blocks or so from my hotel. Here is the entrance to their building:
Rather than fob me off with some junior reporter, Mr. Abante was kind enough to give me over two hours of his time. Here is a picture of him next to a publicity sign of theirs:
Also on the first floor was an old printing press they keep "just in case" I would guess. He told me it was about 40 years old, and that given a fair of maintenance and some spare parts that it would still work. Keeping machinery around "just in case" is perfectly valid in Peru and many other countries.
Here is one the two more modern presses that they use, the other has about the same capacity, they use both each day. They print each edition in the afternoon, and distribute it so readers can buy them early in the morning. The printing press is from Germany, but I do not know which company. He told me that they have locals who can do some maintenance, more complicated work is done by bringing in experts from Trujillo (a few hours away, and Peru´s second largest city). He told me that a machine like this (used) would run some $20,000.
We then went upstairs to talk. After the pleasantries ("How do you like Cajamarca?", "How many children do you have?", etc.) we got down to business. He told me that Cajamarca was not only the capital of the Department, but also a "regional capital" that served border areas of other Departments, their newspaper circulated throughout various parts interior parts of northern Peru.
The city has some 250,000 inhabitants, that has grown a LOT since about 1990 (50,000), most of the growth is due to the mining industry, Peru´s largest economic sector. The mining is done well away from the city. There has been a COST to all of this revenue and people moving there: a higher crime rate, but tourists are not molested.
The city itself and the surrounding area possess remarkable beauty (see my last article), and this brings in a lot of tourists too. He estimated that tourism brings in 10% - 15% of the money to Cajamarca. Tourism is DOWN somewhat due to social strife (see comments later below), but it is slowly coming back. Our hotel, for example, was not at all empty nor their restaurant...
We briefly covered a little bit of the city´s history, most of which is in my last article. But one important fact I did not know until he told me: the Spanish first found gold and silver in 1772 (while Peru was still a colony), and gold mining has been continuosly mined ever since, and has always been a very important part of their economy.
Because of my personal interest in gold (shared by many of you, dear readers), I asked lot of questions about that whole industry there. Almost all of this information came from him, Mr. Abante knows his turf... The biggest mine in the Department is the famous Yanacocha gold mine, it is the largest gold mine in South America. Yanacocha is a joint-venture project of Canada´s Newmont and Peru´s Buenaventura (by far Peru´s largest mining company). There is another large gold mine run by Canada´s Goldfields, but is not as big as Yanacocha.
But, the BIG news in the gold mining business in Cajamarca is the HUGE new discovery named "Conga". Conga´s gold lies underground, and unfortunately also lies under between 3 and 6 (depends on who is counting and how -- Mr. Abante said four) Andean lakes. Conga is such a large deposit that if developed it would be one of the very largest in the WORLD. The problem is that those lakes would be destroyed in the mining process, and there are many locals who depend on those lakes for water... And they have always lived there... When (not if, the deposit is so big that at some point it will get mined) they start serious work up there, the population would probably have to be moved... And, as far as I know, there is really no convenient vacant land for them to move to...
[Sidebar on mining in Peru in general. The laws are different there than in the USA. The national government owns ALL underground mineral resources. While private land owners (say an ecological minded rancher -- common in ecology-concious Cajamarca) can say "No" to miners coming on to his land, there are a variety of tricks and coercions the government and others can do to "convince" them, in the end, they all sign..., for peanuts. It is also important to understand that mining is still a dirty business, especially in Peru where the national government is fairly lax in enforcing "best practices" (as miners do in the USA). Yanacocha, for example, even while it is relatively "green" and responsable, did have an accident when a trucker wrecked his truck filled with poisonous mercury that spilled into a river with over 1000 affected to some degree...]
So, mining is a LITTLE BIT cleaner now than in the past, Mr. Abante told me, but not very much. There is still corruption and all... And the government needs the money (Cajamarca Department gets to keep about 30% of the money from mining)... So keeping in mind that mining is still dirty and pollutes a lot there in Peru, it is understandable that a LOT of locals are against Conga... Many (most?) are in favor of the project, however, as it would bring in a lot of money. $ Billions and $ billions... But, the lakes disappear, the really big problem is WATER. And reservoirs (dams, a proposed solution) bring their own problems and are not as good as lakes...
At this point the project has not been started, and there is a rough stand-off between rural locals (and their environmental allies) who would be affected and almost everyone else (who would make more money). The gold miners at Yanacocha, for example, are very well paid and treated well. And mines bring in all sorts of service-sector work (alas including crime like prostitution, etc.). Another problem is that radicals have infiltrated the local protest movements (hey, do you think all those really bad "Sendero Luminoso" guys just disappeared into the night?).
So the project has not been started. It is not clear when things will get moving, and a few of the protests wre violent enough (recall: Sendero Luminoso) that the government imposed a state of emergency three times due to rioting, and THAT is what hurt tourism as well.
Just based on what I "know" now, "Presidente Mix" would pay each affected citizen, say, $5000, and put each onto a decent patch of land as nearby as feasible. This will not happen though, because in general the rural poor are treated badly by TPTB (The Powers That Be)...
One other important mining project, apparently LESS controversial is the "HUGE-ISSIMO" (sorry, lo siento mucho...) copper deposit at Michiquillay (Quechua is a wonderful language by the way, I honestly mean that, it is so much more connected to the natural world than any other language I have looked into...). Michiquillay is so big that once in production, Peru would overcome Chile as the world´s largest producer of copper. Peru is now No. 2 in copper production (I think), Peru and Mexico are both essentially tied for No. 1 in silver, and Peru is about No. 5 in gold production.
The above commentary would lead one to think that Peru has very large mineral resources. Yes. The words Mr. Abante used were: "reservas INMENSAS". But, Chile has large reserves in their uninhabited deserts, almost all of Peru´s mineral resources are co-located with people...
Two last things about natural resources. I asked him about China, who is BIG in mining in Africa. He said yes, the Chinese are exploring there in Peru. And he expects LOTS of Chinese to be coming down to Peru, as tourists and owners (for better and worse...). I also asked him for an update on the oil and gas sector, which is "fairly important" in Peru. They HAVE indeed started exploiting their Camisea gas reserves) as explained in an earlier blog article: ) and they export some crude oil. He told me that the geology seemed favorable for finding more oil in their Amazonian Basin, but that Peru would never become "a Saudi Arabia", that even if they find big deposits (who knows?) that it would not be a game-changer...
We then went on to talk about other important parts of the regional economy: agriculture (and related), handicrafts and other artisanal work and new fish-farms (which are apparently working out well, the fish are not diseased or toxic and the money is there -- they raise trout in their fish-farms the way we do, in pools). Also, there are several infrastructure projects (especially roads and bridges, as well as some electric projects).
So, there it is. I now know more about Cajamarca than any other American I know, LOL! But, it was due to Mr. Abante being kind enough to give me HIS time and knowledge of his wonderful region. Below is a picture of the front page of Thursday´s edition (the day I met with him):
The edition on Wednesday headlined the death of Hugo Chavez (BIG NEWS in Latin America), even more so than above. Disclosure: neither Mr. Abante nor I shed a tear nor had moment of silence.
Jaime Abante! Muchas gracias de mi corazon y de mi alma! He is a gentleman and a scholar.
Jaime Abanto Padilla has a blog, he writes there daily (in Spanish), check it out if you are curious, I am adding his to my list of blogs to read!