Peru: dialogue in Espinar mining conflict —but new violence in Cajamarca

A de-escalation is reported in the Espinar mining conflict in Cuzco, Peru, as a judge ordered the release of the province’s imprisoned mayor, Oscar Mollohuanca. In an unusual move, he had been ordered imprisoned in Ica region—which does not even border Cuzco—while awaiting trial on charges of abetting violent protesters against the Xstrata Tintaya copper mine. Although the charges have not been dropped, Mollohuanca upon his release June 14 immediately headed for Lima, where he said he will establish a dialogue with the administration of President Ollanta Humala. (La Primera, June 14; AP, June 12)

But on June 14, two weeks into a paro indefinido—a permanent civil strike against the Conga gold mine project—northern Cajamarca region saw more violence, as a thousands-strong protest march was attacked by National Police at Los Baños del Inca, a municipality outside Cajamarca city. Several marchers were injured, including women and children, and among those assaulted were the leaders at the head of the procession—Baños del Inca mayor Jesús Julca; regional vice-president César Aliaga Díaz; and Francisco Gutierrez, leader of the Baños del Inca Defense Front. A similar assault was reported from the high mountain municipality of Bambamarca. (Caballero Verde, June 14) That night, National Police attacked family members of those detained at protests during the day, who had lined up outside the Cajamarca offices of the Fiscalía, Peru’s attorney general. Journalists who attempted to film the attack were themselves beaten, and their cameras smashed. Also attacked was a representative from the Defensoría del Pueblo de Cajamarca, the regional human rights office. (GRUFIDES, June 14)

All told, 70 were injured and six hospitalized in protests around Cajamarca region. (Sin Patronas, June 14) Some of the detained have been “arbitrarily” transfered to the coastal city of Chiclayo in neighboring Lamayeque region. (Sin Patronas, June 15)

A new analysis by Reuters charges that Peru’s regional and provincial governments are sitting on billions of dollars in mining tax revenue earmarked for new roads, schools and water projects. Regional and local governments had 9.5 billion soles ($3.5 billion) from natural resources taxes collected over the last decade lying dormant in bank accounts as of December, according to a Reuters analysis of finance ministry data. Most of the receipts come from mining, with a fraction from energy or commercial fishing companies. Under a 2001 law, local governments receive a greater share of revenues from from mining taxes—officially called the “canon minero”—but are are required to spend the income on infrastructure projects. The measure was part of a broader decentralization push—but failing to comply with the law doesn’t carry penalties for local officials. “In the zones that receive the canon, people see a ton of money coming in and say ‘at the end of the day, this doesn’t do anything for me,'” said Carlos Casas, a former deputy finance minister. “This contributes to greater social unrest…the money is there, but what is missing are capable players in the regional and local governments.”

The Humala government has opened an investigation into the alleged use of public funds in anti-mining demonstrations by Gregorio Santos, Cajamarca’s regional president. Santos denies the allegations. The finance ministry finds he spent only 34% of the region’s canon on infrastructure last year. Santos told Peru’s Congress this week: “Contracts with miners and their contributions must be renegotiated We need to teach companies what real social responsibility and economic inclusion is—not like today’s irrational profiteering.”

Carlos Monge, regional coordinator of the NGO Revenue Watch, said local governments are getting better at spending money that has surged from a trickle to a flood over the past decade of Peru’s mining boom. “You have to understand… The municipality of San Marcos, in Áncash, when Antamina started paying, that municipality was spending 500,000 soles per year. The following year they received 210 million soles.” Áncash receives the most funds from the canon of any region, thanks to taxes paid by Antamina, BHP Billiton and Xstrata. It also has the greatest number of active social conflicts of any region—30.

Ancash’s president, Cesar Álvarez, is one of Peru’s most efficient spenders of the canon, Reuters finds, with 48% going for infrastructure—but he had hard word for provincial mayors in his region “There are mayors who build bullrings or cock fighting rings, but they are independent so I can’t do anything about it,” Álvarez said. (Reuters, June 14)

See our last posts on anti-mining struggles in Peru and elsewhere in the hemisphere.

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