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On Monday May 21, 2012, protests continued against a mine in the Espinar province in Peru near Cusco. Protestors claim the Tinaya copper mine, owned by Swiss company Xstrata, is contaminating the water supply of two rivers and dozens of animals have become sick. Additionally, workers claim the company is giving too low an amount of royalties to the local government.
The Catholic Church commissioned a test of the rivers in August and September of 2010 that showed high levels of arsenic, copper, mercury and other heavy metals in the soil and water. Local priest Luciano Ibba claimed, “the people are incensed for all that has happened. The situation is extremely volatile.”
Protestors have acted with violence, injuring at least 30 police officers. According to reports, protestors have thrown stones at the police, set fire to a pasture and destroyed government vehicles. The government claims that police were forced to discharge their weapons on protestors to protect their own lives. It has not been confirmed whether the two deaths of protestors resulted from the police opening fire or the violent nature of the protests.
During the state of emergency, freedom of assembly is suspended and police are given special powers for thirty days. This is the second state of emergency declared for anti-mining protests in the short 10-month presidency of Ollanta Humala. Humala, considered a protector of rural people and a defender of private investment, has recently been critiqued for being too quick to rely on authoritarian tactics to restore order.
At least 24 protestors have been arrested since the state of emergency was declared. One of the activists, Herbert Huaman, is the president of the Front for the Defense of Espinar and was arrested for encouraging more protests. Shortly before his arrest, Huaman said on television, “President Humala, you have been a social crusader, but now you have forgotten, brother, come and converse with us and resolve this problem yourself.”
Another individual who has been arrested is Oscar Mollohuanca, mayor of the Espinar Province. Mollohuanca originally went into hiding but was arrested May 30, 2012 for inciting violence and using public funds to pay for the protests. Mollohuanca claims the charges were “surely handed down because of pressure from above, because what we have here at play are big interests from, for example, mining companies.”
Similar violations of civil liberties were declared in the northern province of Cajamarca last December when civilians protested the building of a gold mine, the Conga mine, by the American-owned company Newmont Mining Co. The project was meant to be one of the biggest mining projects in Peru but locals were unsatisfied with the environmental repercussions. President Humala has suggested the company preserve two of the four lakes it was planning to destroy and create reservoirs for the local water supply. Now the project is on hold while the developers consider whether the added cost of following these suggestions is worth the mine.
However, not everyone is against the creation of these mines. Whereas the rural population of Peru is against these projects that threaten the environmental stability of their homes, most urban Peruvians support them. Just as protests were expected to resume in the Cajamarca region following the protests in Espinar, another protest began on May 29, 2012, in favor of the Conga mine. Many urban Peruvians are pro-development and are looking forward to the associated investments and economic gains from the project. Mining accounts for about 60% of Peru’s export income, but it has alienated the highland peasants due to the frequent contamination of water supply. Consequently, much of Peru has become polarized due to this issue.