A Leading Pioneer in Peruvian Mining Dies

Benavides, AlbertoAlberto Benavides de la Quintana, seen by many as the patriarch of the Peruvian mining industry, died after a brief illness on Wednesday afternoon, at the age of 93.

A graduate of the National Engineering University and Harvard, Don Alberto began his mining career working at the country’s then leading mining company, the U.S.-owned Cerro de Pasco Corporation.   He worked as the resident geologist in Cerro de Pasco —where he served as deputy mayor and later mayor— and then became the company’s exploration chief, based in Lima.  Shortly afterwards, in 1953, he bought the Julcani mine in Huancavelica with a loan from Cerro de Pasco, which he paid in half the stipulated time with minerals to the Oroya smelter.

It was then he founded the Sociedad Minera Buenaventura, selling shares to family and friends, which was the beginning of close to 60 years of exploration and of opening and acquiring new mines to become the current Compañía de Minas Buenaventura, quoted on the New York Stock Exchange and with a 49% interest in Yanacocha, the top gold mining complex in Latin America and the second gold producer in the world.

Don Alberto was famous for his “nose” for mining opportunities —he explored most of today’s key mines— but he was also a pragmatist and a diplomat, willing to find sensible solutions and win-win results in Peru’s often turbulent political climate.

Even during the first years of the Velasco military regime, he went ahead —then as president of the Cerro de Pasco Corporation — to contract architect Luis Ortiz de Zevallos to design a new mining town to move the La Oroya population away from the smelter.  But Cerro in New York was nervous about the anti-foreign investment climate, and in fact the company was nationalized in 1974.  Benavides, recalling the design in a centennial on Ortiz de Zevallos’ work, said the architectural model was trotted out years later by state-owned Centromin, but the project was never developed.

Ortiz de Zevallos was to work with Benavides on several other mining town projects, including the design of a new town for Julcani —Cocha Ccasa, 10 km away from the mine—  a model of planning that has become the capital of the district of Santiago de Cocha Ccasa.

“He has won a place in the country’s history for helping discover an immense wealth that Peru has and for having contributed to improving the living standards of many communities in the highlands,” said the president of the Confiep private business federation, Alfonso Garcia-Miró.

In recent years, however, increasing discontent in mining areas has meant that the Yanacocha company in Cajamarca, in which Newmont Mining has a controlling interest, has not fared well in community relations and the development of its Conga mine is blocked due to protests  against draining high-altitude lakes for the mine.

During his later years, Benavides served as director of a number of companies, including Minera Cerro Verde, Backus & Johnston, Telefonica del Peru, the Central Reserve Bank, Cofide, president of Minera El Brocal, and in 1992-1994 president of the Centromin privatization committee that returned the former Cerro de Pasco assets to private investors.

Benavides retired from the board of Buenaventura in 2011.  His son Roque is CEO of Buenaventura, and Raúl is vice-president head of Business Development.

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