Peru: Cajamarca militarized on eve of regional strike

Troops have been mobilized to Peru’s northern Andean region of Cajamarca ahead of an announced resumption of the civil strike there in opposition to the Conga gold mining project. Especially militarized are the outlying provinces of Celendín and Hualgayoc, where the project is slated, with some 1,000 National Police agents and 500 army troops having occupied strategic positions in the town centers. While the Cajamarca regional government is strongly backing the protest call, the provincial governments seem to be cooperating with the security forces. In Celendín, provincial authorities have made a sports arena available to the troops as a staging ground, according to Milton Sánchez of the local civil coalition, the Celendina Inter-institutional Platform. An unused jail in Hualgayoc’s provincial capital Bambamarca has been similarly opened, according to Edy Benavides, leader of the Hualgayoc Defense Front. Both groups issued statements protesting the troop presence. Stressing the peaceful nature of the struggle, Benavides said, “We do not accept the militarization in our zone, because it has no justifiable reason.”

The protests are set to begin April 9, with a 24-hour paro macrorregional called for April 11. Organizers hope the paro (civil strike) will extend beyond Cajamarca’s borders, with participation from the surrounding regions in Peru’s Northern Macro-region. The decision for the strike was taken at a March 31 “National Assembly of the Peoples” in Celendín, hosted by the local rondas campesinas (peasant self-defense patrols) and attended by high-profile opposition figures such as populist lawmaker Jorge Rimarachin. The strike is set to coordinate with release of a new study on the Conga project by a European team of experts commissioned by the national government. (La Republica, Correo, Frente de Defensa Ambiental de Cajamarca, Caballero Verde, April 7; La Republica, Mi Mina Corrupta blog, March 30; Celendin Libre, March 29)

A Unitary Command of Struggle for Cajamarca has ben launched to coordinate the various popular organizations involved in the movement, and its initial statement also protested the militarization of the region. Unitary Command spokesman Ydelso Hernández said the movement is demanding the removal of elite National Police troops of the Special Operations Directorate (DINOES) from the Conga mine site and surrounding area. (La Republica, April 6; Caballero Verde, April 4)

The three-day National Assembly that opened in Cajamarca city and ended with the Celendín meeting issued a final statement calling for a Cajamarca region based on agriculture (agropecuaria) and “free of mine contamination.” The statement noted the 500-year history of “blood and fire” surrounding the exploitation of gold in the region. (FOBOMADE, March 29)

The situation has already come to violence. On March 26, a contingent of DINOES troops in seven trucks arrived at the caserío (hamlet) of Pampa Verde (Husamin district, Celendín province). When the local ronderos asked them for their identification, a fracas broke out; blows were exchanged and shots were fired by the troops. A statement from Pampa Verde authorities said four ronderos were injured, although none were hit by bullets. (Colectivo Nugkui, March 26)

The formation of the Unitary Command comes as open splits have emerged in the movement under the growing police and army pressure. During the National Assembly, Ydelso Hernández of the Cajamarca Defense Front accused Wilfredo Saavedra of the Environmental Defense Front of “extremism” and failing to consult with the base before taking decisions. (La Republica, March 31)

But the movement is rapidly spreading. Awajun indigenous communities on Cajamarca’s border with neighboring Amazonas region issued a statement calling upon the Cajamarca regional government to take a stand declaring the Águila Dorada mining project “unviable” on environmental grounds—a move already taken on the Conga mine. Awajun leaders charged that the Águila Dorada mine is slated for lands that protect the watershed of the Río Chirinos. (Gobierno Regional de Cajamarca, April 4)

As the National Assembly opened in Cajamarca, the Inter-American Human Rights Commission (CIDH) in Washington DC began considering arguments by representatives of the region’s indigenous organizations and rondas in their case against the Conga project. The complaint asserts that local communities were not consulted in the project, violating the international standard ILO 169. (CONACAMI, March 12)

An international meeting held in Lima March 14-5 brought together leaders of indigenous organizations from Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador and Colombia in preparation for the upcoming Rio+20 UN summit on sustainable development. The meeting’s statement accused all the governments of the Andean nations of being “openly neoliberal” and called for unity in the struggle to “defend Mother Earth” from extractive industries. The meeting, hosted by the Andean Coordinator of Indigenous Organizations (CAOI), was attended by leaders of Peru’s National Confederation of Communities Affected by Mining (CONACAMI), Bolivia’s National Council of Ayllus and Markas of Qullasuyu (CONAMAQ), the Kichwa Confederation of Ecuador (ECUARUNARI) and the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC). (El Ciudadano, Chile)

See our last posts on Peru and regional struggles over water and minerals.

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