Peru: state of emergency over Cuzco anti-mining protests

A state of emergency has been declared in Espinar province of Peru's Cuzco region after a confrontation with National Police on May 29 left two campesinos dead amid an indefinite paro (civil strike), called to protest pollution caused by the mining operations of Xstrata Tintaya, local subsidiary of the Anglo-Swiss company Xstrata PLC. After protesters blocked roads with tree-trunks, police opened fire, killing two. Authorities say several police were also hurt. The state of emergency declared by Prime Minister Oscar Valdés suspends civil liberties for at least 30 days.

Violence first broke out May 22, the third day of the strike, when a clash with the police left 11 campesinos hurt and eight detained. This first confrontation occurred in the community of Tintaya Marquiri, near Huancané Alto, Yauri disrict, when some 500 protesters attempted to occupy the mining camp. When police barred their way, the protesters fired rocks from waracas, traditional Quechua slingshots; police responded with tear gas and rubber bullets. "We looked for a reformulation of the frame agreement but the mining company has been intransigent because it is not concerned with solving the problems," said Sergio Huamaní, a leader of the Frente Único de los Intereses de Espinar. "Therefore, we are determined to close its operations."

A recent Health Ministry study of 500 local residents found blood contaminated with mercury, arsenic and cadmium. Xstrata also operates a second copper mine at nearby Antapaccay, and residents say the mines are contaminating the Salado and Cañipía rivers. Espinar's mayor, Óscar Mollohuanca, who was among the injured, called for the government to send a high-level commission to the province to hear grievances over health impacts and lack of investment in the poverty-stricken communities. Energy and Mines Minister Jorge Merino called for "dialogue" in the conflict, but also darkly warned that "people who act politically" are behind the protests. (BBC World Service, AP, May 29; Peruvian Times, May 26; Servindi, May 24; La Republica,