Martial law in Peru: Mining In Peru

Published: September 30, 2015

Martial law in Peru: Mining In Peru, President Ollanta Humala yesterday declared a state of emergency in Peru, suspending civil liberties, deploying scores of police and authorizing military patrols in a restive highland region after four people were killed and scores were injured in protests at a Chinese-owned US$7.4-billion copper project.

Humala decreed the emergency — which was made public in the government’s official gazette, El Peruano — for a total of 30 days in the southern Andean regions of Cusco and Apurimac where the mine, Las Bambas, owned by a consortium led by China’s MMG Ltd (also known as China Minmetals Corp), is under construction.

The state of emergency, which applies to six provinces, is the second declared this year by the government after anti-mining protests, as unrest grows. Under the measure, members of the Army, Navy and Air Force have been authorized to maintain order and protect roads, bridges and public buildings.

The consitutional rights of citizens, including freedom of assembly and movement, have also been restricted.

Government officials said the violence broke out Monday when protesters encroached on the Las Bambas site and police opened fire.

Apurimac governor Wilber Venegas said yesterday that three people protesting the project died in clashes with police in the town of Challhuahuacho.

At least 23 individuals were reported to have been wounded in the violence and another 21 were arrested for their part in the violence, local police confirmed.

Health officials said most of the injuries were the result of gunshot wounds suffered by protesters. Doctor Erwin Luna, a health official from Cusco, said all four deaths were “from gunshot wounds.”

Police General Luis Pantoja told RPP radio that a police officer suffered a fractured skull.

Venegas called on the national government last night to send a high-level commission to the area, to listen to the demands of the protesters and find a solution to the tension. Humala, speaking to the media, said he regretted “the loss of life.”

Live bullets

Venegas and other local authorities said police fired live bullets at protesters during rallies that had been largely peaceful. Turnout for the protests has been substantial — an estimated 15,000 people have taken part in the rallies since they began on Friday.

Humala’s government has said that police resorted to lethal weapons to defend themselves from violent protesters who broke into installations at Las Bambas. Interior Minister Jose Luis Perez also defended the officers’ actions.

“Police used non-lethal weapons at the start, and then, to defend themselves, had to use lethal weapons,” he told Peruvian television, making a reference to the earlier use of tear gas against protesters.

Eyewitnesses however disputed the official version of events, saying the officers had opened fire as protesters attempted to enter the mine, not attack the police.

Those attending the rallies have called on MMG, who bought the project from Glencore Xstrata in 2014 for US$6 billion, to revise its environmental plan so that mineral concentrates would be piped out of town. Protesters also demanded the company hire more locals as construction work linked to the mine is dropping.

The copper mine is Peru’s largest and is set to begin commercial production in May or June 2016. Its backers say it will become one of the top three copper mines in the world.

Some 1,500 police and 150 military officers had been sent to the region ahead of protests that started Friday.

Growing unrest

Humala has declared several emergencies during his four years in office to calm protests against mining projects, including Newmont Mining Corp’s now suspended US$4.8-billion Conga project and Southern Copper Corp’s recently derailed US$1.4-billion Tia Maria mine. The latter drew attention back in May, when one protester and a policeman died in clashes.

Peru is the world’s third biggest copper producer and analysts expect the country to nearly double its output in coming years. But conflicts over mining in towns where farmers fear pollution threaten to hold up its production pipeline.

Las Bambas is expected to add some 200,000 tonnes of copper to global supply next year and 400,000 in 2017.

In a statement cited by the BBG, MMG said “Las Bambas has demonstrated through the years its vast capacity for working with communities in the area of influence,” and emphasized it was committed to dialogue with the protesters.

NGOs however slammed the reaction to the protests. Marina Navarro, the executive director of Amnesty International’s local branch in Peru, described the deaths as “unacceptable” in a statement to the press and called for an investigation.

“The price of social protest must not be the death of anyone,” she added.

She added that “in the last four years alone, there have been 40 people (who) died in circumstances in which the police used excessive force, and most of these deaths have not been investigated in an appropriate manner.”


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