Peru: Mining protesters killed in crackdown

July 28, 2012
Peruvian farmers march against destructive mining, 2011.

Adopting a centre-left reforming image, Peruvian President Ollanta Humala was narrowly elected last year on the back of widespread discontent with destructive neoliberal development policies and a widening wealth gap.

His supporters were filled with the hope that real and substantive change was imminent. Other progressives welcomed the Humala victory more cautiously, arguing that it was at least the lesser of two evils. The alternative was ultra right-winger Keiko Fujimori.

Huge international pressure was immediately applied on the president-elect with a “radical” past. Humala was reminded in hectoring terms by Washington and the business press that Peru’s export economy was dependent on the mining sector. These forces insisted the pace of extractive operations should be hugely expanded.

Having already made a deal with these profit-hungry forces to become a more “respectable” and corporate media-friendly candidate, Humala obliged them further by appointing a cabinet whose economic posts were filled with veteran neoliberal ideologues and agents of corporate power.

At the same time, Humala continued to promise his electoral base that future development projects would be “sustainable” and only carried out with the consent of affected communities after an extensive process of negotiation and consultation.

The question that remained unresolved was whether communities would be able to simply say “no” to environmentally destructive mega-projects. In recent months, it has become dramatically apparent that “locking the gate” is not an option in Humala’s Peru, even when an overwhelming majority of residents are fundamentally opposed.

It is estimated by the Peruvian ombudsman that at least 195 citizens lost their lives at the hands of Peruvian security forces between 2006 and 2011.

The number is rising under Humala, who, while yet to reach the extremes of his predecessor Alan Garcia, has taken his first presidential steps into the river of blood which waters the Peruvian political cycle.

Late last year, US-based mining company Newmont suspended plans for its proposed copper and gold Conga mine in the northern Peruvian department of Cajamarca.

For a few months, it seemed there was a slim chance that sanity might prevail, but Newmont announced in late June it would press ahead with the controversial development.

As a consequence of its operation, Conga will convert precious sources of agricultural water into dumps for toxic mining by-products.

Having already established itself as one of the most destructive companies operating in Peru, Newmont’s new project will drive thousands more farmers off their land.

Responding to mass protests that have mobilised almost the entire population in some areas, the regional government of Cajamarca has unequivocally opposed the project from the start.

In response, the Humala administration has made a great show of extracting some environmental concessions from Newmont. Yet the Lima-based government remains committed to the US$4.8 billion project, which it claims will generate employment opportunities and increase tax revenue.

After a year in office, Humala has now lost patience with “intransigent” anti-mining protesters in Cajamarca. A tipping point has been reached and the historic tendency of the Peruvian state to resolve disputes with lethal force is now reasserting itself.

Humala’s hardline Prime Minister, Oscar Valdes, has ordered Peruvian security forces to employ more aggressive tactics when dealing with protesters. This led to an upsurge of violence in June and July.

In a series of events reminiscent of the Garcia years, five Cajamarceno protesters were killed. Dozens more were injured. One of the victims, 29-year-old Jose Antonia Sanchez Huaman, was shot in the mouth on July 3 in the courageously defiant Cajamarca pueblo of Celendin.

In Espinar, near Cusco, where another long-standing dispute between local residents and a global mining giant (Xstrata) has been running, two protesters were killed in clashes with police in late May. Rodicendo Manuelo Puma, from the agricultural community of Totora Alta, took a police bullet in the chest and died instantly.

Since Humala’s assumption of power, at least 12 protesters have been killed by security forces. The attitude of the Peruvian state towards indigenous anti-mining protesters has always been that their provincial “cholo” lives are worthless and expendable.

They can be arrested arbitrarily, savagely beaten in custody, even shot and killed on behalf of multinational corporations with almost total impunity.

It was only a matter of time before Humala declared a semi-permanent “state of emergency” and pulled the trigger on behalf of the market.

Humala, whose standing in the polls has been dipping, replaced Valdes with a new, more conciliatory cabinet boss Juan Jimenez on July 24. However, the fundamental problem remains unresolved. It will remain so for as long as the Peruvian political establishment remains beholden to neoliberal forces.

As regional president of Cajamarca Gregorio Santos has said: “Newmont and the World Bank are devoid of human feeling, these deaths do not matter at all to them.”

Humala’s latest cabinet shuffle is merely “putting patches on the problem”, Santos said.


You don't have all the facts. Where is the truth about the political parties that are instigating many of these riots to further their own agenda? Where is the truth about all the money the mining companies have paid to the communities, yet these " community leaders" have not and probably cannot pay the people; either due to their negligence and/or their lack of structure and/or their greed? Where is the truth about all the jobs being provided, the schools being built, roads, clinics, etc., by the companies? Where is the truth that most of the pollution is not coming from the mining companies, but actually from the local miners who do not know what they are doing? This has been documented! What about all the clean water reservoirs being built? Oh, and what about the international environmental reviews that have said ,esp., the Conga development meets international standards? It is so frustrating to read this stuff that you have bought in to that is not the truth. I would further say that by perpetuating these false reportings, that you are a huge part of the problem and bare some of the responsibility for the riots and deaths
I don't understand David, why you do not actually dig into the story a little bit and give some balanced reporting. It is one thing to promote your anti-mining views but at least you could put some truth behind what you report. It is a vocal minority down here in Peru that is against the Conga project, in Cajamarca and in Celendin you could walk down the street and find that there is a strong percentage of the population that support mining. Your comments like "Conga will convert precious sources of agricultural water into dumps for toxic mining by-products" are totally without merit. You have probably not even taken the time to find out that what is mined and how it is processed between Yanacocha where they are mining now and Conga the new project are totally different.

You need Green Left, and we need you!

Green Left is funded by contributions from readers and supporters. Help us reach our funding target.

Make a One-off Donation or choose from one of our Monthly Donation options.

Become a supporter to get the digital edition for $5 per month or the print edition for $10 per month. One-time payment options are available.

You can also call 1800 634 206 to make a donation or to become a supporter. Thank you.