Peru seeks arrest of anti-mining leader

By Naomi Mapstone in Lima

Peru’s Congress has called for the arrest of a regional president leading protests against a $4.8bn gold and copper mine for inciting rebellion.

In a short statement on Tuesday night, Congress said Gregorio Santos had committed "an incitement to the crime of rebellion" and asked prosecutor José Peláez Bardales to bring charges against him and restore order.

Mr Santos, in a speech on Tuesday before thousands of protesters opposing Newmont’s Conga project, called for a review of multinational investors’ contracts, constitutional change and further fines against Telefónica over taxes.

"What do we do when the president doesn’t keep his word?" Mr Santos asked.

"We throw him out!" the crowd responded.

"And when he doesn’t honour his commitments?"

"We throw him out!"

Conga, which would be the single biggest investment in Peru’s history, has been paralysed since November even after an 11-day blockade of the city of Cajamarca, where Mr Santos is regional president.

The Conga dispute has become the litmus test for president Ollanta Humala’s ability to deliver on his promise to champion investment as a means of improving social inclusion in a country where almost a third of the people still live in poverty.

Peru is the world’s second-biggest copper and silver producer and one of Latin America’s fastest growing economies, but many rural communities that supported Mr Humala’s candidacy feel left behind.

Anti-Conga protesters say the mine would compromise water supply; Newmont and partner Buenaventura deny this. An international consultants’ review of the mine recommended some changes to the plans, including increasing capacity to ensure water supply and establishing a social programmes fund.

Mr Santos, a supporter of Mr Humala during last year’s election campaign, said the then presidential candidate had promised them water over gold.

"He asked us if we wanted water or we wanted gold. And what did we respond? Water!"

The government has cracked down heavily on protests in Cajamarca and Cusco provinces since last week, after two people died and scores were injured in clashes near Xstrata’s Tintaya mine.

Mr Humala and Oscar Valdés, Peru’s prime minister, have accused protest leaders of being driven by "radical" political motives rather than specific issues related to the mines.

Mr Valdes, paraphrasing Peruvian historian Jorge Basadre, on Twitter branded the protest leaders "rotten, frozen and incendiary".

"These rotten people want this country to be a farm," Mr Valdes said.

The government has repeatedly attempted negotiations with Mr Santos and the Tintaya protesters without success. The country’s ombudsman says there are 171 active social conflicts, down from 200 when former president Alan Garcia left office last July.

Allegations of government heavy-handedness and police brutality have been raised this week after police were filmed firing on Tintaya protesters and security cameras caught riot police beating a cameraman in Cajamarca. Cusco remains under a state of emergency.

Oscar Mollohuanca, a local mayor who leads the Tintaya protests, has been sentenced to "preventive detention" for five months while he is investigated on charges of committing offences against public order.


Barrick Gold ousts CEO Aaron Regent

The Canadian Press

Posted: Jun 6, 2012 9:26 AM ET

Barrick Gold Corp. has abruptly replaced its chief executive and installed a former U.S. investment banker as co-chairman of its board of directors, saying they will help the company restore its lacklustre stock price.

Jamie Sokalsky, who was the Toronto-based company's chief financial officer, has replaced Aaron Regent as Barrick's chief executive and president — effective immediately.

At the board of directors, John Thornton — a former president of Goldman Sachs, the U.S. investment banking giant — will join Barrick founder Peter Munk as co-chairman.

Munk, 84, who is one of Canada's best-known businessman, issued a statement thanking Regent for his efforts but making it clear they weren't enough.

"We are fully committed to maximizing shareholder value, but have been disappointed with our share price performance," Munk said.

Barrick stock closed Tuesday at $43.70, down sharply from its 52-week high of $55.36. While the price of gold has declined from record highs, many analysts have said shares of gold companies including Barrick underperformed the metal.

Munk is often blunt in his public appraisals of Barrick's top executives and, characteristically, he told shareholders at the company's annual meeting last month that the company's shares price wasn't satisfactory.

"There are many reasons for it, but not to face up to it and not to talk about it would be the gravest mistake a board and management and people responsible for the welfare of this company could do," Munk said at the time.

Regent, who joins several other Barrick CEOs who have been abruptly replaced over the years, had been Barrick's top executive since January 2009. He had been previously co-chief executive of the Brookfield Infrastructure Group.

Munk said the board of directors has confidence in Sokolsky's experience and commitment.

Sokolsky joined Barrick in 1993 and has been the company's chief financial officer since 1999. Prior to joining the mining company, he had been an executive at Canadian food processing company George Weston Ltd. for 10 years.

Regarding Thornton's elevation to the role of co-chairman, Munk said "John's knowledge and experience of global business affairs are truly exceptional and we are all fortunate that he has agreed to take on this important role."

Besides his role at Barrick, Thornton is also chairman of The Brookings Institution — a U.S. think-tank — and holds degrees from Harvard College, Oxford University and the Yale School of Management.