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Defense of Territory and the Criminalisation of Social Protest in Mining Contexts in Peru

Voices of resistance from the Peruvian 'mining corridor' illustrate how mining projects, and the repression and criminalisation of protest, are two sides of the same coin in Peru

In October 2019 in the city of Cuzco, Peru, the “International Gathering of Indigenous Communication” was held – an event closely allied with processes of resistance and the struggles of indigenous peoples across Latin America.

The event welcomed a variety of regional organizations and covered a broad range of topics, including the “Criminalisation of Defenders in the Struggles for Territory, Water, the Environment and the Commons.” In this forum, a range of testimonies were shared, including those from the Southern Peruvian Andes – the region with the most mining concessions in Peru- where there is a heavy presence of multinational corporations, socio-environmental conflicts, repression and criminalisation of social protest.

Three representatives of organizations from the Southern Peruvian Andes spoke about the struggles in their territories (located in the regions of Cusco, Puno and Arequipa), the criminalisation processes underway there, and the role of the media in the context of socio-environmental conflicts and mining-related struggles.

Elsa Merma Ccahua, a grassroots journalist (comunicadora popular) and part of the Association of Women Defenders of the K’ana Territory and Culture, spoke about her experience of struggle in relation to the Tintaya-Antapaccay mine, a multiple open-pit copper mining operation located in the Espinar province of Cuzco. It is almost four decades old and during that time it has caused several conflicts and been at the centre of complaints of environmental contamination, health impacts and displacement of local communities. The British-Swiss mining giant Glencore currently operates the mine.

“All mining companies bring pollution. There is destruction. Organisations get divided”, “As soon as the mining company realised (that we were on the radio), they started their false campaigns saying that the mining company brings development everywhere it goes. But this was not so, it was false”, “We kept reporting on the radio in our Quechua language, I am a Quechua-speaker.  We are from the K’ana Nation. So, we were all speaking out on the radio, especially the women”, “For me it has been difficult, at certain points I have considered giving up communications. Why? I have suffered a lot of persecution.”  – Elsa Merma Ccahua

José Bayardo Chata, a lawyer from DHUMA Human Rights and Environment in the Puno region, spoke about the socio-environmental conflict around the Santa Ana mining project, a silver deposit that the Canadian company Bear Creek intended to mine. The project was rejected in 2011 when the communities of Puno rose up against mining in a conflict that became known as the “Aymarazo”, which led to the trial of dozens of Aymara indigenous representatives and the conviction of community spokesperson, Walter Aduviri.

“On the part of the State, they began to persecute and criminalise those who had taken on the representation of the Aymara communities in the southern zone.”, “Communications media played a very important role here, given that the State Prosecutor and the Interior Ministry used press coverage and interviews, both from the written press and from television, to say that Walter Aduviri in his role as president of the Natural Resources Defence Front in the southern area of Puno was the one organising the protests, that he was the one responsible for the excesses there.” – José Bayardo Chata

Dilvia Galvez from the Pachamama Association, shared the experience of the organizations currently fighting against the Tía María copper mining project near the Tambo valley, in the Islay province of Arequipa. This project began exploration in 1994 and is currently owned by the Southern Peru Copper Corporation of the Mexico Group (Grupo México). According to the authorities, the project will begin operating in 2024.

“We want to say, brothers and sisters, that there is definitely no respect for human rights in the Tambo Valley.  So far, the Arequipa Ombudsperson’s Office has not made any declarations, nor have they even verbally expressed a clear position regarding how fundamental rights such as the right to life and to physical and psychological integrity have been violated in the Tambo Valley.” – Dilvia Galvez

These three experiences of resistance to mining projects in the Southern Andes in Peru that were shared at the event show us that mining, instead of bringing the development it promises, brings pollution, damage to health, socio-environmental conflicts, repression and persecution of those who raise their voices to demand their legitimate rights.

In Peru, the situation is particularly serious in the ‘mining corridor’ – an area of multiple mining operations and through which minerals are transported to the coast – where there is a constant state of emergency that prohibits protest and punishes any dissent. Furthermore, mining companies can make agreements with the police to hire their security “services”. The laws exempt the police from responsibility if they kill people in the context of a protest. The leaders who raise their voices face slander and legal charges with heavy sentences. Environmental laws are relaxed and the political and judicial system favors companies over the rights of the affected communities.

What the examples from Cusco, Arequipa, and Puno show us is that mining projects and repression and criminalisation of protest are two sides of the same coin in Peru. With the Covid19 pandemic, this situation has worsened because many governments in the region – including Peru – are choosing to deepen and expand mining and extractivism as a way out of the economic crisis, resulting in increased domination and repression in areas where mining already exists and in areas where new mining projects are to be established.

Defense of Territory and the Criminalisation of Social Protest in Mining Contexts in Peru
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