Peru: Cajamarca protesters symbolically bury President Humala —despite threats

On his 50th birthday June 28, the day after presiding over a massive rally of his supporters in Lima’s Plaza San Martín, Peru’s President Ollanta Humala flew to Junín region to officiate over the unveiling of a water development project—where he offered comments on the conflict in northern Cajamarca region, now nearly one month into a civil strike to oppose the pending Conga gold mine project. He had words of admonition for Newmont Mining of Colorado that hopes to develop the project: “The mining companies sometimes do not understand the concept of social responsibility, and generate a lack of confidence.” But calling on Newmont’s local subsidiary Yanacocha to “comply with its commitments to win the confidence of the people,” he also called on “all the leaders” of the region to enter into a dialogue—without specifically mentioning Cajamarca’s regional president Gregorio Santos, a key figure of the movement against the mine. (La Republica, June 28; El Comercio, June 27) Protesters in Cajamarca meanwhile marked Humala’s birthday by holding a mock funeral for him—marching through the city with a cross and casket marked with his name. (Caballero Verde, June 27)

New charges against Cajamarca’s regional president?
Three weeks earlier, public prosecutors opened an inquiry against Santos on possible charges of calling for the overthrow of the government. The probe stems from an incident June 5, in which Santos rhetorically asked a rally in Cajamarca’s central plaza, “What happens when the president doesn’t keep his word?” The crowd responded: “The people remove him!” Santos followed up: “What happens when the president doesn’t honor his obligations?” The crowd again responded: “The people remove him!” Santos’ speech also invoked recent social movements that caused governments to fall in Ecuador and Bolivia.

Congressional president Daniel Abugattas of Humala’s ruling coalition charged that the incident amounted to a call for “rebellion.” Carolina Trivelli, minister for Social Development and Inclusion, added: “Santos’ discourse has become politicized, and has moved away from the environmental issues.” Ines Fernández Honores, a lawyer for Santos, said the inquiry is baseless. “This has no merits,” she told RPP radio. (Reuters, Peruvian Times, June 7) (Santos was already under investigation on charges of obstructing transport related to last year’s protests against the mining project.)

Humala did not directly address the controversy, but said that week that the Conga project could go ahead without threatening Cajamarca’s water. “We can and will make sure the company guarantees water supplies,” he said “This is my promise to Cajamarca. My government won’t permit the development of any mining project that exposes the local population to water shortages or to water that doesn’t meet quality standards for human consumption.”

Newmont’s head of South America operations, Carlos Santa Cruz, responded: “We have ratified our decision to implement the recommendations international auditors made to the environmental impact study for the Conga project. We share the government’s call for dialogue, for the vast majority of civil society in Peru.” (Reuters, June 23)

Water privatization struggle in Lima
The mega-project whose inauguration Humala oversaw at Yauli in Junín region on the 28th is the Trasvase Huascacocha-Rímac—one of many water diversion schemes moving ahead in Peru to supply coastal cities and agribusiness interests. In this project, a major dam at Huascacocha is to divert water from the Río Mantaro, a tributary of the Río Ene, which joins with the Urubamba to form the Ucayali, a major tributary of the Amazon. The water is diverted into the Río Rímac that flows through Lima. The project was built by the Brazilian firm OAS under contract to the Lima Potable Water and Sewage Service (SEDAPAL). Huamala announced plans to privatize SEDAPAL earlier this year, sparking repeated protest marches in Lima by the state company’s workers. (RPP, March 22; RPP, July 8, 2011; APN, April 20, 2011; Business News America, Jan. 19, 2009)

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

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