Peru: Demonization and criminalization of social movements

Source: Latin America Press

Peasants and defenders of the land suffer harassment by judicial authorities thanks to legal tools developed to favor economic power.

Since the beginning of the present century, social conflicts about mining and the environment in Peru have been a constant. Place and protagonists may change, but the story follows the same script even during the present government of President Ollanta Humala, who during his electoral campaign of 2011 promised to resolve these conflicts with dialogue and respect the will of the communities.

The cases of Conga in Cajamarca and Espinar in Cusco (2012) reveal that although presidents change, the reality of deaths and wounded persists. In the first case, the government intended to give approval to the Conga mining project of the Yanacocha mining company that was widely opposed by the people of Cajamarca. Protests continued and police brutally repressed them leaving five dead. In Espinar, the inhabitants of this Cusco province, led by then mayor Oscar Mollohuanca, took to the streets against the pollution produced by the Swiss mining company, Xtrata-Tintaya. There were also deaths by repression at this site.

The most recent conflict is happening in the province of Islay, in the southern province of Arequipa. Since Mar. 23, the population, mostly peasants, are on indefinite strike against the Tía María mining project of Southern Copper, financed by Mexican capital, because it will affect the rivers and the agriculture and livestock. Confrontations have resulted in three deaths (two civilians and one police officer), as well as hundreds of wounded. In spite of this, President Humala has opted, in a recent message to the nation, to permit the company to “decide” if the project continues or not. The company announced later its decision to suspend the project for sixty days causing more indignation among the protesters.

The lawyer and human rights activist, Wilfredo Artdito, told Latinamerica Press that this problem “has been getting more serious in the last 10 or 12 years in which measures have been taken to neutralize the opponents of the projects, treating them as delinquents, but also resulting in actions against them that can only be defined as crimes.”

At the end of March, Julio Morriberón Rosas, spokesman for Southern Copper, called the protesters “anti-mining terrorists.” The term has been repeated by the press, various opinion leaders and members of parties of the right in Congress, such as Juan Carlos Eguren, of the Popular Christian Party (PPC), which attempted to link the opposition to Shining Path, the terrorist group.

Also, a “discriminatory burden” in the police repression against the protesters must be added according to Ardito. “In Lima the demonstrators are beaten or wounded and no one has died until now; but in the interior of the country, acts of much greater violence that have resulted in deaths have been occurring, overwhelmingly in Andean or indigenous areas. This happens because in Lima repression is not as violent as in other parts of the country, he explained, adding that the media contributes to discrimination by branding indigenous people as manipulated and irresponsible which has led to peasants being perceived as stupid, stubborn, ignorant and violent.”

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