Critics of the mine say the government granted the concession to Minera Yanacocha after accepting bribes from Newmont, and without properly consulting with, and obtaining consent from local communities, which are now suffering.2 Yanacocha also began operations using massive open pits and leach pads in an environmentally sensitive area full of farms that rely on water coming from the mountains in the mine area.
Local organizations critical of the mine claim that the local water sources have become contaminated, their traditional medicinal plants have declined and that the influx of job seekers to the area has increased crime.3 Farmers have felt pressure to sell their lands to the mine. The mine and failure to properly recognize the community's right to consent to the mine have infringed on peoples' rights to a sustainable livelihood and ability to determine their economic development.
In addition, the mine has become known for toxic contamination that it has caused. In June 2000, one of Minera Yanacocha's contractors spilled 150 kilograms (335 pounds) of mercury from the mine along a 43-kilometer stretch of road through the towns of Choropampa, Magdalena and San Juan. More than 1,000 people maintain they were affected by the spill and many continue to report health effects.4 A group of 1,100 villagers filed a lawsuit against Newmont in the U.S. seeking compensation for damages caused by the spill. In 2005, after failed attempts to reach a settlement, the plaintiffs announced they would go ahead with their suit before a Denver District judge.5
When Newmont proposed expanding Yanacocha to Cerro Quilish, a mountain four miles from the mine that holds an estimated 3.7 million ounces of gold, community members were concerned because Cerro Quilish sits atop the watershed supplying an entire valley of farmers and the city of Cajamarca. 6 Cerro Quilish has been spiritually important to the area's citizens since the time of the Incas, and in 2000, the city of Cajamarca declared Cerro Quilish a protected area.7 In September 2004, residents of Cajamarca stepped up protests against the expansion. Thousands of people staged demonstrations and blocked access to the mine for 2 weeks. Protestors faced tear gas, police violence, and long nights, for asserting their right to free, prior, and informed consent and they refused to back down.8 Finally Newmont announced in November 2004 that it would halt its exploration activities on Cerro Quilish. In a statement printed in Peruvian newspapers, Newmont admitted that it had not always listened to the valid claims and concerns expressed by the Cajamarca community in the past.9