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Interview: Alberto Benavides on the Conga mine

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Alberto Benavides is the founder of the Buenaventura mining company, a partner in the Yanacocha mine and the Conga project. At 91 years old, he is one of the most-widely known members of Peru’s mining industry.

Does Conga have a social license?
Of course, people want development; there are just some who oppose it, who don’t want investment. The people who have been mobilized have been misled, and it appears that the money of the region has been used to do so. Conga will especiall help Celendín, which is very poor. Understandably, we are a form of outsider and the past has not been such a happy one, but we bring development.

Have you met with regional president Gregorio Santos?
He has not wished to receive us. We have tried to speak with Father Arana and Wilfredo Saavedra, but they have not given us the chance.

Why has Yanacocha not made its case publicly?
That is a criticism of Yanacocha, certainly. It must be said that I am one of those who has opposed it.

Why is that?
I don’t want them to say that I am good, I just want to be good. I believe in the results, you must show them. When they see the four artificial lakes with water…

First you will construct the artificial lakes, then later the mining?
Yes, of course. We’ve always said water first. The most deaf are those who don’t want to listen.

When would that be?
As soon as the government gives us the green light. They asked us to stop. I imagine they will give us the authorization, hopefully soon. That’s not the responsibility of Yanacocha. We can’t act against the government, we respect the principal of authority. The government is the authority, not Father Arana or Mr. Saavedra.

Do you consider yourself a defender of the environment?
Completely. I have built a tunnel one kilometer in length to place the tailings of a mine in a safe spot, rather than on the side of the mountain. Everyone called me crazy, but it was necessary.

One of the criticisms of Yanacocha is that Cajamarca has not benefited alongside the mine.
It hasn’t? I was in Cajamarca in 1971, and it was a ghost town. There wasn’t even one flight a week. Now there are six every day.

But did the poor benefit?
Of course. In 2001, Cajamaraca had 1,340 primary school teachers. In 2009, there were 2,068. At the secondary level, the growth was from 5,553 to 8,081. There are more schools, some built by us. The number of births performed in health centers has increased 200% thanks to mining. Yanacocha has worked loyally for Cajamarca.

Is there mistrust in the work of Yanacocha?
It’s mistrust caused by agitators. Yanacocha has not publicized the hospitals we built, the schools, the roads. We electrified Cajamarca, we constructed a line from Trujillo, 200 kilometers in length, and we gave it electricity. It’s just people who don’t want the development of the country and mining investment. It’s an ideological or political issue.

In your opinion, will Conga go forward?
Conga will happen, without question.

Peru’s most famous miner talks about the protests over the Conga mine.

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