Peru: four dead, mayor arrested in Cuzco mining conflict

The conflict over the Xstrata Tintaya mine in Espinar province of Peru’s Cuzco region escalated May 30 as dozens National Police troops in full riot gear stormed the office of the mayor, Oscar Mollohuanca, in the midst of a community meeting he was convening there on the issue, and arrested him—presumably on charges of leading the recent angry protests at the mine site. The raid came without warning, and Mollohuanca had not been told there was a warrant for his arrest. He was initially taken to the police outpost at the mine site, but as a crowd gathered there demanding his release, he was transferred to Cuzco’s regional capital. “The detention of the mayor is a huge worry because it has ruined the dialogue process,” Veronika Mendoza, a legislator from the ruling Gana Perú coalition, said on Canal N television. Cuzco’s regional president, Jorge Acurio, also protested the arrest, charging that Prime Minister Oscar Valdés had betrayed his pledge to suspend further arrests and initiate a dialogue.

The night before his arrest, Mollohuanca had contested official accounts that two campesinos had been killed in the recent protests at Espinar, claiming that the number is actually four. He said that one body was taken by police into the mining camp, and that another detained protesters died while being transfered to the provincial capital for medical treatment—deaths not acknowledged in the official count released by the Interior Ministry. “I want these four deaths to be investigated,” Mollohuanca told RPP radio network, saying that one of the slain had been “assassinated by the police” when they “fired at point-blank range” into the crowd. (See video online at YouTube that seems to corroborate this account.)

Police that night held a press conference where they displayed Molotov cocktails and knives they said had been confiscated from a van of the Espinar serenazgo (municipal patrol), intended for use in the protests. Prime Minister Valdés said police had only used firearms in their own defense.

Also on May 30, one of the protest leaders who had been detained earlier, Herbert Huamán of the Espinar Defense Front, was freed. The Defense Front says the mine is polluting local water sources, while leaving the local populace impoverished. Regional resident Acurio called on Valdésto “open anew the doors of dialogue” in order to de-escalate the situation. (La Razón, La Republica, May 31; Reuters, May 30; La Primera, Perú21, May 29; RPP, May 28)

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

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