Some 70,000 are displaced and at least 70 dead as Peru's heaviest rains in two decades have unleashed flash-floods and landslides across the country. The National Civil Defense Institute (INDECI) is stretched to limit, with several communities left isolated by washed-out roads and bridges. The north coast has been hit the hardest, with the worst impacts in Lambayeque region, where some 40,000 are displaced. But the situation is grim both up and down the coast from there. INDECI is coordinating with the Defense Ministry to establish an "air bridge," bringing aid by helicopter to the stricken coastal cities of Ácash region. At least 15 pueblos outside Chimbote are cut off after the bridge over the Río Lacramarca was wiped out by a huayco (mudslide). Residents are also trapped in Huarmey district, and the town's hospital was destroyed. In all, 20 of Peru's 25 administrative regions are impacted.
After a trial lasting more than a year, on Jan. 8 a Peruvian court sentenced former president Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000) to eight years in prison for embezzlement. The court found that between 1998 and 2000 Fujimori diverted some $43 million from the military to the National Intelligence Service (SIN) in order to pay tabloid dailies to follow the government's editorial line. The colorful tabloids—known in Peru as "diarios chicha" after a popular musical style—supported Fujimori's campaign for reelection in 2000 by characterizing his opponents as communists, homosexuals and spies; some of the papers were actually created by Fujimori's government for the purpose. The former president claimed in court on Dec. 29 that he didn't know about the diversion of the money. In addition to the prison sentence, Fujimori lost his right to hold public office for three years and was ordered to pay a fine of 3 million soles (about US$1 million). (RRP, Peru, Jan. 8; El País , Madrid, Jan. 8, from correspondent)
Gregorio Santos, regional president of Cajamarca in northern Peru, was ordered to turn himself in for "preventative" imprisonment by a local anti-corruption prosecutor on June 17. The prosecutor, Walter Delgado, said Santos is under investigation by Peru's Public Ministry for "illicit association" and bribery, although no details were provided. (La Republica, June 17) The left-wing Santos has been an outspoken opponent of the US-backed Conga mining project in Cajamarca. With Santos' support, the Conga site has for months been occupied by peasant protesters who oppose the mine project. A major mobilization was held at the site on June 5, to commemorate World Environment Day. (Celedín Libre, June 7)
A court in Trujillo, Peru, issued a ruling July 23 absolving former National Police colonel Elidio Espinoza and nine troops who served under him in the deaths of four suspected "delinquents" in the coastal city in 2007. Espinoza, who was accused of operating a "death squad" within the National Police, had been sentenced to life in prison by the Public Ministry, the branch of Judicial Power with authority over government officials, for the crimes of kidnapping, homicide, and abuse of authority. After the ruling was issued, Espinoza led his supporters in a public celebration in Trujillo's Plaza de Armas. (Peru21, RPP, July 23)
The tranquil fishing town of Huarmey on Peru's coast, in Áncash region north of Lima, burst into the headlines this week with the discovery by an archaeological team of a burial chamber in a ruined temple, which yielded 60 sets of human remains, including three queens of the ancient Wari culture, interred along with a trove of gold, silver and brilliantly-painted ceramics. The site, known to locals as El Castillo de Huarmey, has been dubbed the "Temple of the Dead" by the research team, led by Milosz Giersz of Poland's University of Warsaw and Krzysztof Makowski of the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru. The Wari (Huari) empire ruled the central Andes between 700 and 1000 CE, centuries before the rise of the Incas. (RPP, El Comercio, BBC News, June 28; Peru21, USA Today, June 27) But a close reading of the coverage in Peru's press reveals that the excavations were conducted in secret to keep the site from being looted by huaqueros—the Peruvian word for tomb-raiders who engage in an illegal traffic in pre-Columbian relics. Huaqueros had even dug pozos, or shafts into the structure; the archaeologists were apparently in a race with the tomb-raiders to find the riches-filled chamber. (El Comercio, June 28)
Vladimiro Huaroc, head of Peru's National Office of Dialogue and Sustainability (ONDS), weighed in on the controversy over the country's new Prior Consultation Law June 14, in comments published in the official newspaper El Peruano. "There are many sectors that want the government to execute these actions as soon as possible, and we do not understand the trouble," he wrote. Seeming to address assertions by President Ollanta Humala that the law should not apply in the country's sierras, Huaroc invoked Peru's responsibilities under ILO Convention 169 and stated, "Probably, there are sectors that are not adequately informed" about the government's responsibilities to indigenous communities. "Prior consultation means informing the population; the Executive must do everything possible so that communities know in detail the economic processes that will be realized."
In an open letter Sept. 20, Human Rights Watch urged Peru's President Ollanta Humala to take steps to prevent the unlawful killing of protesters, noting growing incidents of deadly force. Local media report that at least 19 have died in protests over mineral projects since Humala took office last year. On the same day HRW issued the letter, National Police killed a protester at Barrick Gold's Pierina mine in Áncash region. The confrontation came as residents from Mareniyoc and other local villages pushed their way onto the company's property, prompting police guarding the entrance to open fire. Barrick temporarily suspend production at the mine following the clash, in which four campesinos were also injured.
Despite recent statements indicating that the planned mega-scale Conga gold mine in Peru's northern Cajamarca region will be suspended, Yanacocha mining company has started work on a reservoir at Laguna Chaugallón near the proposed concession area, apparently in preparation for the project—sparking a new wave of protests from local campesinos. Wilfedo Saavedra, leader of the Cajamarca Defense Front, said that the regional paro (civil strike) to oppose the project would remobilize on Sept. 21, when comuneros (communal peasants) from Bambamarca province will blockade operations at the site. "We will return to protest because the Newmont company has received permission to complete the first part of the project, which consists of construction of the reservoirs," Saavedra said, referring to the US-based Newmont Mining Company which is the majority holder in Yanacocha.