Peru: new confrontation at Conga mine site

National Police fired on protesters occupying the site of the Conga gold mining project in Peru's Cajamarca region on May 28, leaving one wounded in the leg and abdomen. Police, including elite troops from the Special Operations Divsion (DINOES), opened fire as some 1,500 campesinos were marching on El Perol laguna, to establish an encampement there. The Yanacocha mining company recently announced that it will begin pumping El Perol to divert the water into a reservoir and permit mining on the site—despite the fact that the project is officially suspended. A nearby reservoir dubbed Chaillhuagón has already been built, the company announced; the original laguna of that name is slated to become a pit-mine if the project moves ahead. The company says the new reservoirs will be made available for use by local residents, but Cajamarca's Unitary Struggle Command (CUL), which is coordinating the protests, pledges to resist any damage to the lagunas. (La Republica, Servindi, Servindi, CAOI, May 28; La Republica, May 23)

Days after the new shooting incident, Lima's La Republica, citing anonymous sources, reported that the Conga project is "indefinitely suspended," and that Yanacocha has laid off hundreds of workers who had been hired who had been hired to build it. The article came after local campesinos had responded to the shooting by holding a mass meeting in the central plaza of a nearby town, Celendín, pledging that they were ready to give their lives to halt the project. (La Republica, June 10; La Republica, June 6)

Amnesty International denounces repression
In its annual report on Peru, Amnesty International denounced the "arbitrary detention, excessive use of force, torture and other ill-treatment" by the security forces during protests against mining projects. In the report, detailing the state of human rights across the world in 2012, Amnesty also expressed concern about the lack of consultation with indigenous peoples on the development projects impacintg their lands. (Celendin Libre, May 28)

Attorney Mar Pérez of Peru's own National Human Rights Coordinator meanwhile protested that the official report into last July's deadly police and army repression of protests against the Conga mine contains serious ommissions. The report was prepared by the Chiclayo First Provincial Fiscalía, the local prosecutor's office, in the neighboring region of Lambayeque. Pérez protested that basic forensic tests had not been carried out on the firearms used in the violence, nor the autopsies of the dead reviewed. Of five army troops cited as having fired, only two were interviewed; they admitted firing, but said they only shot into the air. The report failed to identify any personnel as culpable in the deaths. If no charges are brought in the next three months, the remaining time slated for the investigation, the case will be closed. (La Republica, May 18)

Does "prior consultation" apply in the sierra?
Controversy has recently arisen concerning whether Peru's new Prior Consultation Law applies to the Quecha and other indigenous ethnicities in Peru's sierras, or only to the more isolated indigenous groups in the lowland rainforest. Gladys Vila, president of the National Organization of Indigenous Andean and Amazonian Women of Peru (ONAMIAP), charged: "it is evident that the government doesn't want to apply the Consultation Law in Quechua communities, because the majority of mineral concessions are in the Andean area." She especially named the Conga project, and the Cañaris project in Lambayeque.

The vice president of Peru's congressional Commission on Andean, Amazonian and Afro-Peruvian Peoples, Eduardo Nayap, said: "We insist that the law be applied, because Convention 169 is very clear, and Article 1 says that every people with ancestral roots, native tongue and their own customs deserves the application of prior consultation. The Andean communities sufficiently comply with these requisites, and there shouldn't even be discussion on whether they should be consulted."

Mines and Energy Minister Jorge Merino was ambiguous in addressing the charges, saying his agency will "strictly follow the law," but is waiting on the Culture Ministry to issue procedures on the law's application, "which we will without a doubt respect." (La Primera, May 8)

Iris Olivera of the Lima NGO Law, Environment, Natural Resources (DAR) called for public discussion and possible changes to the law to clarify the question before the government acts. "There is an extremely closed posture to exclude the Andean population, and it is necessary to arrive at a consensus rather than an executive proposal," she said. (La Primera, May 23)

The issue also touches on other development projects in Cajamarca. Ronderos, or members of the peasant self-defense patrol, in the region's Cortegana district denounced abuses by the company Energía SA,  subsidiary of the Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht, concerning the third and last community meeting held April 30 to inform local residents about the planned Chadín 2 hydro-electric project. The ronderos said the company packed the meeting with its supporters, who were bussed in and each paid 20 soles (about $7) to participate. (Celendin Libre, May 10)

Humala pledges to speed investment
President Ollanta Humala said May 24 that he will prioritize investments after the economy hit a "bump in the road" with unexpectedly slow growth in the first quarter of 2013. "We have decided to declare investments in the country to be of national interest," Humala told reporters. The president faced pressure from the international media in April after his administration said it was considering buying a stake in the Peruvian assets of Spanish energy firm Repsol. The government abandoned the plan in May. 

Peru's economy has been growing at one of the fastest clips in Latin America—6.3% last year. "What we are experiencing, particularly in the first semester of this year, is a bump in the road in the growth of economic productivity in large part because of external factors and a timidity in investing, especially in areas like mining," Humala said. "These are problems that always affect Peru." (Reuters, May 24)