Mon, Dec 12, 2011 - Page 7 News List

Interior minister replaces Peru Cabinet chief

AP, LIMA

Peruvian Cabinet chief Salomon Lerner resigned on Saturday after less than five months in the post and was replaced by the interior minister, who inherits an unresolved dispute over the country’s biggest mining investment.

The reason for Lerner’s resignation was not explained, but he was recently involved in failed attempts to negotiate an end to protests that stalled the US$4.8 billion Conga gold mining project, which has been plagued by increasingly violent protests.

His resignation letter, posted online by the newspaper La Republica, does not make direct reference to the conflict, but hints Lerner was unhappy with the government’s handling of it.

As Cabinet chief, Lerner wrote in the resignation letter: “Our direct mandate has been dialogue and the seeking of consensus to avoid confrontation between Peruvians.”

After just one day of talks that Lerner led with local officials who fear the Conga project could taint and diminish water supplies affecting thousands, Peruvian President Ollanta Humala last Monday called a state of emergency in four affected northern provinces for 60 days.

Lerner’s replacement, Peruvian Interior Minister Oscar Valdes, is a 62-year-old former army officer who quit the military as a lieutenant in 1991 and became a successful executive at various businesses in the southern coastal city of Tacna, most recently at a trucking company and a pasta producer. Humala, 49, was a student of Valdes in the 1980s at Peru’s military academy.

Humala, who canceled a trip to Argentina for Saturday’s inauguration of Argentine President Cristina Fernandez, met with Valdes for four hours on Saturday, but did not comment publicly.

“There is no crisis, only a readjustment in the Cabinet,” Valdes told reporters after the meeting.

He said the government would turn “neither to the left or the right,” but hew to its centrist approach.

A successful businessman of Jewish descent, Lerner was twice campaign manager for the center-left Humala.

The fate of the Conga project, whose principal owner is US-based Newmont Mining, is considered key to prospects for other mining investments in Peru, which gets 61 percent of export income from the sector.

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