Peru warned on repression of peasant protests

In an open letter Sept. 20, Human Rights Watch urged Peru’s President Ollanta Humala to take steps to prevent the unlawful killing of protesters, noting growing incidents of deadly force. Local media report that at least 19 have died in protests over mineral projects since Humala took office last year. On the same day HRW issued the letter, National Police killed a protester at Barrick Gold‘s Pierina mine in Áncash region. The confrontation came as residents from Mareniyoc and other local villages pushed their way onto the company’s property, prompting police guarding the entrance to open fire. Barrick temporarily suspend production at the mine following the clash, in which four campesinos were also injured.

The protesters were demanding the firm provide their villages with water, blaming the mine operations for the drying up of their traditional water sources. Mine official Gonzalo Quijandria said the company had offered residents water from a purification plant, but that the offer had been rejected. “The community does not want to use water that comes from the mine, even though it’s treated and certified,” he said. (Reuters, BBC News, Dow Jones, Sept. 20)

In Cajamarca region, to the north of Áncash, campesino communities are organizing to monitor activities at the site of the proposed Conga gold mine, skeptical of official claims that the project is suspended. In a Sept. 5 press conference, Manuel Ramos Campos, president of the local Defense Front in El Tambo community, Bambamarca province, announced that local ronderos (peasant self-defense patrol members) will maintain an ongoing vigilance over the Conga site, working in four-day shifts. He said the vigilance patrols will carefully monitor activities at Perol, Azul and Chica, the three mountain lakes slated to be destroyed by the project, ready to raise the alarm if any movement of machinery in their vicinity is detected. (RPP, Sept. 5)

Cajamarca regional president Gregorio Santos reiterated his position that the Conga project is unfeasible in an interview with the Lima daily La Republica Sept. 19—and also asserted his innocence in the face of a probe by judicial authorities into claims that his administration awarded multimillion-dollar concessions for infrastructure projects to a friend, local businessman Wilson Vallejos Díaz, in exchange for cash payouts. “I don’t have anything to do with those dark acts,” Santos said after being questioned by the Peruvian congress on the matter. The contract for a new hospital in Jaén province has been cancelled following the allegations. The Cajamarca regional council has also opened an investigation into the scandal, which was broken following an investigation by the national daily Perú21. (El Comercio, Oct. 3; Perú21, Sept. 25; Dow Jones, Sept. 20)

  1. Barrick’s bloody legacy in Peru

    It barely made headlines even in Peru last September when a campesino in Jangas, Áncash, was shot by National Police in a protest against the giant open-pit operations of Barrick Gold. Nine others were wounded in the clash outside the Mina Pierina complex. The death of Nemesio Poma Asnate, 55, a community leader from Marinayoc hamlet, only sparked further protests against the company—forcing Peru's cabinet to send a representative to enter into a dialogue with the protesters. Protests were called off when the government agreed to investigate both the violence and greivances over control of water. Campesinos say that the treatment plant Barrick operates is ineffective, and the water delivered to their communities is contaminated. (La Republica, Sept. 29; La Republica, Sept. 22; RPP, Huaraz Noticias, Sept. 21, 2012)

    When this reporter visited Jangas in May, the town's mayor, Diogenes Americo Alva Montes, told me that the district's lands are less productive since the mine opened in 1998, and that waters formerly used to irrigate fields are now used in the mine. The affected campesinos supposedly signed a convenio with the company surrendering their water rights, but now dispute its legitmacy. Other wells are meanwhile drying up.

    Alva Montes said that Peru's National Water Authority (ANA) determined last year that the treated water delivered back to the communities for human and agricultural use is contaminated with heavy metals.

    Ironically, a statue at the entrance to Jangas' municipal center bears an inscription reading "JANGAS: PRODUCTOR DE ORO VERDE" (Producer of Green Gold). It shows a campesino stooping under a huge load of alfalfa—the district's traditional crop.