Thousands of Aymara indigenous protesters took over the city center of Puno in southeastern Peru May 26, and the city remains shut down. The main roads into the city are blocked by barricades erected by local campesinos demanding that the government revoke concessions recently granted to the Canadian Bear Creek mining company. Looters taking advantage of the unrest ransacked shops and offices as the police retreated, and numerous cars and government buildings were torched. Aymara from the Bolivian side of the border have joined in the roadblocks. With police confined to barracks, the city and environs are effectively in the hands of the protesters.
The Aymara activists say the mining operations will pollute their ancestral lands, and contaminate the waters of Lake Titicaca, decimating fish stocks. The protests come days ahead of presidential run-off elections, and indigenous leaders say they will try to stop the polls from going ahead in Puno if their demands have not been met. The protests began a month ago, when the Puno Southern Zone Defense Front demanded negotiations with the Lima government. The president of Puno region, Mauricio Rodríguez, has called for the Lima administration to respond to the Defense Front’s demand for direct talks. (AlJazeera, AP, El Comercio, Lima, May 28; BBC News, May 27; Peru21, April 25)