May 21, 2013
Pro, anti-mining protests show polarized Peru
Hundreds of Peruvians marched in support of the country's biggest-ever mining project, a day after the government implemented emergency powers to control an anti-mining protest in the South that turned deadly.
The rally in the northern region of Cajamarca in favor of Newmont Mining's $4.8 billion Conga project praised development, a contrast to demonstrations in Cusco against Xstrata's Tintaya mine that left at least two people dead.
The rallies are a reminder of the politically polarized issue of mining in Peru, where rich city-dwellers have profited from a decade-long commodities boom but 60 percent of rural Peruvians have been left behind in poverty.
"This is a march for peace, for jobs and development that the entire town is invited to participate in," Manuel Becerra Vilchez, a representative of the private Antonio Guillermo Urrelo University, told official news agency Andina.
The so-called Cajamarca Collective, led by pro-business locals like Vilchez, aims to rally support for Conga before other townspeople and local government officials opposed to the project resume demonstrations later this week.
Work has been stalled on Conga since environmental demonstrations started in November. Newmont is currently deciding whether to move forward with the mine after the government and independent auditors said it should take more environmental precautions that will increase costs.
President Ollanta Humala, who has vowed to resolve social conflicts that threaten $50 billion in pledged investments, has said Newmont should keep two of four lakes it planned to destroy intact and build larger reservoirs to increase water supplies.
The violence stemming from anti-mining protests in Cusco, however, threatens Humala's carefully crafted image as a peacemaker who defends private investment while also protecting the rural poor who largely voted for him.
At least 10 people have died in disputes over natural resources since Humala took office in July. Some 174 people died in similar protests during the five-year term of his predecessor Alan Garcia.
Protesters say Xstrata's Tintaya copper mine, which has not seen output affected by the demonstrations, has done little to help the poor province of Espinar and causes pollution. At least 50 people, 30 of them police, have been injured in clashes.
Xstrata has said its voluntary contributions to the province, equal to 3 percent of its pre-tax profits, are already very generous and has pleaded for dialogue.
Humala on Monday enacted emergency measures to suspend freedom of assembly in Espinar, enabling police to detain protest leader Herbert Huaman on Tuesday.
Critics say Humala, a former military officer who also used emergency force to restore order in Cajamarca in December, has become too quick to rely on authoritarian tactics to restore order, further polarizing rural communities.
"We aren't going to stop the protests, they should stop the emergency measures first," Huaman said on local 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," he said