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Showdown in Peru: Indigenous Communities Kick Out Canadian Mining Company September 21, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Latin America, Peru.
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Written by Benjamin Dangl
Wednesday, 21 September 2011 11:56
 

Source: The Dominion

 

Earlier  this summer, an anti-mining Indigenous movement in Peru  successfully  ousted a Canadian mining company from their territory.  “In  spite of  government repression, if the people decide to bring the fight  to the  bitter end, it is possible to resist the pressure of mining and  oil  companies,” Peruvian activist and journalist Yasser Gómez told The Dominion.

The  David and Goliath scenario of this anti-mining uprising  highlights the  vast economic inequality that has beset Peru. The  country’s economy  has been booming for the past decade, with a seven per  cent growth  expected this year—one of the highest growth rates  internationally.  Sixty-five per cent of the country’s export income  comes from the  mining industry, and investors are expected to spend over  $40 billion  in the next 10 years on mining operations.

Yet  this growth has not benefited a large percentage of the  population.  The poverty rate in Peru is just over 31 per cent; in the  countrysde,  two in three people live under the poverty line. Today,  there are over  200 communities organized against mining across Peru.

On  June 5, left-leaning presidential candidate Ollanta Humala  defeated  right winger Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of ex-president and  human  rights violator Alberto Fujimori. Humala, who won resounding  support in  the poor countryside, promised to redistribute wealth by  increasing  taxes on the lucrative mining industry.

But another political force, from the grassroots, may end up being a powerful force of change under Humala.

In  May and June of this year, hundreds of local residents in Puno   organized road blockades, strikes and protests to demand that the   government rescind a concession to the Vancouver-based Bear Creek Mining   Corporation. Activists also called for an end to future mining   concessions in their area, due to the industry’s impact on the   environment.

According  to Bear Creek, at the time of the protests the  company had already  invested some $25 million in the mine. Company  Director Andrew  Swarthout said the mining would not impact on Lake  Titicaca (a massive  fresh water lake shared by Bolivia and Peru) and  would create  approximately 1,000 jobs. But local residents were not  convinced.

Walter  Aduviri is the president of the Front for the Defense of  Natural  Resources in Southern Puno, and a leading organizer in protests  against  Bear Creek and mining in general in the area.

“It  is as though we, the Aymaras, do not have any politicians or   representatives in the congress,” Aduviri told a reporter from the   Peruvian newspaper La Republica.   He critiqued outgoing president Alan García, who he says governed only   for those who have money. “We do not ask for money, we ask for respect   for our rights, our property and territory,” said Aduviri.

“The  president [Alan García] has sold off our territory without  consulting  us,” Paolo Castro, a farmer who joined the protests against  Bear Creek  told Al Jazeera.   Farmer Alejandro Tucuuhami agreed, telling the news outlet, “We know   that in European countries, for example, mining contaminates a lot, so   that’s why they want to send the mines to underdeveloped countries.”

Indigenous  campesinos on the Bolivian side of the border began road  blockades in  solidarity with the Peruvian activists. Overall, the  blockades put a  standstill to inter-country traffic, stopping hundreds  of trucks, local  passengers and tourists.

On  June 24, following seven weeks of strikes, protests, road  blockades  and bloody police repression of activists, then President  García broke  with Peruvian political tradition and heeded the demands of  the  protesters by cancelling the Bear Creek contract, and putting a   three-year hold on future mining deals for the region. In addition,   recently inaugurated Ollanta Humala has pledged to move forward on   legislation that will make community input necessary before mining   operations anywhere in the country can proceed.

Just  hours after García overturned Bear Creek’s concession, a  conflict  erupted at the airport in Juliaca, north of Puno. There,  activists  protesting other mining operations and a hydroelectric plant  occupied  the airport only to be attacked by police who shot and killed  five  protesters. Major English media outlets inaccurately reported that   García’s decision against Bear Creek was linked to the massacre at the   airport, when in fact the airport protest was linked to separate proposed mining and hydroelectric projects.

Jennifer Moore, the Latin America Program Coordinator of MiningWatch Canada, told The Dominion that García’s decision to annul the concession “is an important   indicator of the strength of local organizing that we have been seeing   for awhile in Peru.” Moore said García has been “extraordinarily bent on   handing out mining concessions without consulting with local   communities first.”

In  response to García’s decision, Bear Creek has applied for a   constitutional injunction against the Peruvian government. Swarthout   contends that the cancellation of the concession is unconstitutional and   in violation of foreign investment laws. Moore noted that it is   plausible that Bear Creek could use the Canada-Peru Free Trade   Agreement, signed in 2009, to challenge the loss of their concession.

The  wave of strikes and conflicts that have swept across Peru in  recent  months, along with the election of Humala, are likely to have a   long-standing impact on the regulation and taxation of the multinational   extractive industry in Peru. On August 23, at the time of this  writing,  the Peruvian congress signed into law a bill that requires  mining and  oil companies to consult with Indigenous communities before  constructing  extractive projects. Humala now has to sign the bill into  law for it go  into effect.

The  people’s victory in Puno against Bear Creek may set the stage for  a  new struggle in the country that will test the political will of   Humala, and challenge social movements to pressure from below.

Benjamin Dangl is the author of Dancing with Dynamite: Social Movements and States in Latin America and The Price of Fire: Resource Wars and Social Movements in Bolivia (AK Press). He edits TowardFreedom.com, a progressive perspective on world events, and UpsideDownWorld.org, a website on activism and politics in Latin America. Email Bendangl(at)gmail(dot)com.

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