Peru: Huge strike targets mining giant

May 31, 2015

Strike actions in the region of Puno. Photo: TeleSUR / Rael Mora.

A 48-hour strike regional strike in the south of Peru defied a state of emergency on Mary 27 and 28, continuing to protest against Southern Copper Corp's unpopular Tia Maria mine.

May 28 marked the 68th day of continued protests against the mining project in the province of Islay. Most businesses and schools were closed and roads were blocked in the region of Puno, especially in the city of Juliaca.

A strike participant in Puno, Adolfo Choque, said the action was “spontaneously convened”. “Here we don't have leaders,” he said, “but all the groups have emerged so that we go on strike this time.”

“In this manner [we] support all our brothers in the province of Islay that are defending their rights and their natural resources and whose products might be the source of food for the whole region of Puno.”

The northern region of Cajamarca has also joined the general strike. Dozens of protesters have been arrested and at least four lives have been claimed since the Tia Maria conflict began.

President Ollanta Humala responded by deploying the army to all of the regions in which the general strike has been called. The strike began four days after President Ollanta Humala declared a State of Emergency in Islay, which is meant to last for 60 days.

The emergency measures restrict citizens' rights to freedom of movement and assembly, and authorises police to enter people’s houses without a warrant. Anticipating the multi-regional strike, Humala ordered the army to be deployed to Arequipa, Cuzco, Puno, Moquegua and Cajamarca.

Several radio journalists have accused the police of persecuting them and have fled the area where the state of emergency is in force.

All schools in four regions – Arequipa, Cuzco, Puno and Moquegua –have been closed as a result of the strike. In the capital city of Arequipa region, peaceful marches also took place.

March participants Jesus Quito said: “We are experiencing a number of violations of human rights. They [officials] are entering houses, they are detaining the population, they are inflicting numerous atrocities.

“We call on the international community to speak up about what is happening in the Valley of Tambo.”

Meanwhile in the national capital Lima, the political party Dignity and Democracy held a press conference on May 27 to address the issues. The party brings together former ruling party officials who broke with Humala after he moved to the right.

Together with civil society groups, party representatives accused the government of making the situation worse. They demanded the mining project be suspended and the state of emergency be lifted. They also called for the resignation of the interior minister.

Dignity and Democracy Congressperson Claudia Coari said: “If [the project] is not suspended, there will be more problems as the government is sending the police and the army.

“In that case, there will be more blood and more death. Nobody wants that. That is why we are alerting the president of the dangers with anticipation in this statement and in the [press] conferences.”

Organisers of the protests are also considering expanding the strikes to other regions, as well as the possibility of continuing the strikes indefinitely.

Historian Antonio Zapata said the country has a long record of contradictions between agriculture and export-oriented mining. Peru has the largest mineral reserves in South America and, beginning in the 16th century, the country’s focus has primarily been on mining for export.

However, Peru also has a long tradition as an agricultural country and large numbers work in farming. The recent boom in the prices of minerals has intensified the extraction of copper, zinc, gold, and silver, leading to a rise in social conflicts.

The conflict between mining and agriculture, in particular, has caused countless clashes. Anger against the state and large corporations continues to mount and people feel as though their rights as citizens are being trampled.

Zapata said while there are important social movements active in Peru, they are not reflected in the country’s political institutions. He said that while the conflict now raging might subside after state intervention and repression, the issues would be far from resolved.

“It simply is like a pressure cooker in which you place the conflicts,” he said. “After a while other circumstances will make them explode again".

[Compiled from TeleSUR English.]

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