LIMA A controversial $5 billion gold mine in northern Peru lacks the support of most people who would live near it, according to the first significant poll of local opinion about U.S-based Newmont Mining's Conga project.
The results from Ipsos, often regarded as the most respected polling firm in Peru, could further hobble the project, which is supported by the government but has been stalled by protests in the northern region of Cajamarca since last November.
Just 15 percent of 250 people polled in the province of Cajamarca favor the proposed mine, while 78 percent oppose it, a number that swells to 83 percent in rural areas, according to the Ipsos poll conducted between August 3 and 9.
"It's dead," Gregorio Santos, the left-wing president of the region of Cajamarca who has led rallies against the mine, said via twitter about the results. "I hope the prime minister addresses this."
The high-profile conflict has dominated President Ollanta Humala's first year in office, resulting in five deaths and two cabinet shuffles.
Locals fear the project, an expansion of the Yanacocha mine in Cajamarca, will cause contamination and ruin local water sources essential to their agricultural livelihoods. The company says reservoirs it would build will provide year-round water supplies in areas that currently suffer during the dry season.
The Conga mine would be one of the biggest investments in Peru's history. Mining makes up 60 percent of Peru's export earnings and has traditionally powered its economy, although towns near mines often are plagued by poverty.
The project has become a lightning rod for debates about whether mining can benefit local communities without damaging the environment, and whether national economic interests should trump local opposition to extractive activities.
Other polls have shown nationwide support for Conga. A separate Ipsos poll this month found that nationally, 45 percent of Peruvians support it, while 40 percent oppose it.
Some have advocated solving the dispute with a referendum in Cajamarca, which the government has rejected.
A two-day demonstration against Conga continued calmly in different parts of Cajamarca on Wednesday, including provinces covered by an ongoing ban on civil liberties.
Newmont, whose Chief Executive Richard O'Brien was in Peru last week, has said it will proceed with construction only if it has local and national support. Last month he said Conga "will occur only with local and national support ... Conga is still in our plans but moving ahead on a very measured basis."
(Reporting By Mitra Taj; Editing by Terry Wade and Andrew Hay)