In the final days of Alan Garcia’s rancid presidency, crimes against the Peruvian people are still being committed.
The department of Puno, bordering Bolivia in the country’s south-east, has now been added to a long list of locations where anti-mining protesters have been gunned down by security forces.
On June 25, six indigenous activists were reportedly killed and dozens more wounded when Peruvian police opened fire on a 4000-strong crowd occupying the Manco Capac airport in the city of Juliaca.
The latest round of bloodshed brings the number of documented killings in recent days to nine.
These events conform to a pattern that has defined Garcia’s second term in office that began in 2006.
The wide-scale protests against his rule, and anger at the repression, contributed to the victory of left-leaning nationalist candidate Ollanta Humala in the second round on Peru's presidential election on June 5.
The shootings of those who challenged the Garcia administration's neoliberal policies have generally happened in twos or threes.
At Bagua in 2009, the killing was on a larger scale, attracting greater international attention. Yet there have been many other extra-judicial executions all adding up to a disturbing picture of repression.
As a loyal United States ally and outspoken advocate of “free trade”, Garcia has been granted Washington’s approval throughout his term in office. He even met with US President Barack Obama last year for a cordial discussion in the White House.
In Peru, “development” means mining at the expense of local agriculturalists the hardy, resourceful people who support themselves at near subsistence level. They have been consistently undermined by the Lima-based governing class through two decades of “free market” policies.
Almost the entire Quechua and Aymara-speaking indigenous population of Puno is opposed to the environmentally-destructive mining and hydroelectric concessions that have been awarded to foreign companies.
The locals see little benefit from such schemes, whose profits are efficiently siphoned out of host areas to enrich international mining executives.
Peru’s burgeoning export earnings translate into a dramatically worse quality of life for those communities affected by mining. Their rivers have been contaminated by the toxic chemicals that are routinely used to separate and refine ores.
A major protest movement developed in May when Canadian mining company Bear Creek announced its intention of commencing operations at the Santa Ana silver mine in Puno.
Fully aware of the risks involved, tens of thousands of protesters set up road blockades and engaged in other forms of direct action.
It was only a matter of time before the Garcia adminstration responded with lethal violence.
Despite the loss of life, the protesters have achieved a victory of sorts. Faced with overwhelming and implacable popular opposition, the government has been left with no choice but to cancel the Santa Ana mine.
The decision produced a predictably seething reaction from Bear Creek and the international mining lobby.
Promising to “immediately and vigorously defend [our] rights at Santa Ana through all available avenues”, Bear Creek CEO Andrew Swarthout has threatened to pursue legal action under the terms of the Canada-Peru Free Trade Agreement.
Peru has entered into many so-called free trade deals over the past decade.
Exploiting their comparative advantage, wealthy developed nations such as the US and Canada ensure that the terms of free trade agreements with poorer countries such as Peru are one-sided all take and virtually no give.
It’s all suits, handshakes and toothy smiles at the signing of these instruments but their true nature is far more sinister.
Once signed, multinational extractive companies based in a powerful signatory country have more legal rights than the local population, whose ability to say no to projects that jeopardise their livelihood has been consigned to legal oblivion.
Like Spain and Greece, the grassroots protest movement in Puno and the rest of Peru represents another popular front against neoliberal aggression against society and the environment.
Unlike Spain and Greece, where media attention has so far prevented the state from spilling protester blood, the Peruvian security forces fire live ammunition at angry yet mostly peaceful crowds without attracting international condemnation.
Why the blackout? It’s not as if Peru is somehow inaccessible the country is a major tourist destination for millions of Western tourists annually.
When the victims are indigenous, however, their violent deaths are often not considered newsworthy just business as usual.
The case of Peru illustrates how oppressive control measures that would be considered unacceptable when dealing with “white” populations in the centres of power in the world (such as North America and Europe) are routinely used on the frontiers of empire.
With resource-rich Peru emerging as a major provider of metals such as gold, silver and copper, it is inevitable that similar confrontations will take place in future.
The looming question is how Humala, the incoming president who was elected on a platform of redistributing Peru's wealth but has sought to send positive signals to “the market”, will deal with dissent as mining capital launch further assaults in the name of “free trade” on the rural provinces.