Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Peru Declares State of Emergency After Mining Conflict

Calm has reportedly returned to Peru’s southern Espinar province, after nine days of intense protests against a proposed mining project that left two people dead in clashes with police. At least another 25 people were reported arrested, including a leader of the anti-mining protesters.

The confrontations between police and protesters broke out Monday, reportedly leaving some 76 civilians and police injured. Police told EFE they were forced to begin firing into the crowd because they were being attacked by stones and other crude weapons. The scale of the conflict prompted the government to declare a 30-day state of emergency the following day, giving police the power to detain people without a warrant, while also suspending the freedom to assembly.

As the LA Times World Now blog observes, President Ollanta Humala may have exacerbated tensions when he described the protesters as “leftist radicals” over the weekend. The protesters argue that the $1.5 billion expansion of a copper mine project, handled by Swiss-based mining firm Xstrata, will pollute local rivers. Critics also say the project fails to do enough to bolster the local economy, and have demanded that Xstrata increase the amount of royalties paid to the government from 3 percent to 30, according to Americas Quarterly.

But Humala may have good reason to take a tough stance against the protesters. Another major mining project, the Conga gold mine in Cajamarca province, was basically derailed last year after fierce social unrest, which also drove the government to declare a temporary state of emergency.

News Briefs
  • The New York Times with an interesting feature on how the arrest of four formerly high-ranking military officers in Mexico may again shake US trust in Mexico’s military, a major recipient of aid under the Merida Initiative. The article describes an “awkward, tense” relationship between US law enforcement officials and the Mexican army, partly due to the common belief among some US officials that the military does not act on the intelligence tips that the US provides. Notably, in 2009, the US chose to go to the Mexican Navy with intelligence about the whereabouts of drug trafficker Arturo Beltran Leyva, which led to the successful raid which killed the crime lord. 
  • The AP profiles the Shining Path faction that has steadily grown in strength in the Apurimac and Ene river valley (known as the VRAE). The group has delivered a couple of embarrassing blows against Humala’s government this year, most notably the kidnapping of 36 construction workers last month, followed by the government’s botched rescue mission. The article sketches a brief biography of the Quispe Palomino brothers, leaders of the VRAE group, a second generation family of Shining Path combatants. The brothers have managed to rebuild the Shining Path’s strength thanks to their forced recruitment of young children and their profits from drug trafficking, taxing smugglers $3 for each kilogram of cocaine moved through their territory. 
  • Monday, Mexico’s four presidential candidates had a tense meeting with peace leader Javier Sicilia and other activists whose relatives were killed or disappeared during Mexico’s drug war. The BBC reports that Sicilia criticized all candidates, saving some of his harshest words for front-runner Enrique Peña Nieto, asking him "How many criminals have gone unpunished and are still in your party?" Animal Politico has a detailed summary of the panel, transcribing some of the activists’ most important questions and the candidates’ answers. Elsewhere, Reuters notes that according to the most recent opinion poll, Peña Nieto has suffered his biggest drop in support since the presidential campaigns officially began in March. The Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) candidate’s numbers slipped two percentage points compared to the last poll, and now stands at 35.6 percent. 
  • Another recent poll shows Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez with a slim lead over his rival Henrique Capriles, reports the Miami Herald. 50 percent of those surveyed said they would vote for Chavez, compared with 45 percent for Capriles. Notably, the poll found that Capriles would win by double digit margins if Chavez were forced to withdraw from the race, and name a successor -- be it his brother Adan or his longtime political ally National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello -- to run in his place. Capriles appeared to increase the pressure on the Chavez campaign when he presented a vague plan for tackling insecurity, reports El Nuevo Herald. While his proposals lacked details, the issue is among the more sensitive ones for the Chavez administration, and the perception of rising insecurity may arguably convince more voters to cast their ballots for Capriles this October. 
  • El Nuevo Herald on a student protest movement in Mexico that initially began as demonstrations against what students said was biased media coverage of the presidential elections. The protests gained momentum after 131 students appeared in a Youtube video, criticizing PRI candidate Peña Nieto for ducking out of a tough question-and-answer session at an elite Mexico City university. The protest movement is now calling itself, “I Am 132.”
  • The Honduras Attorney General’s Office announced they had presented charges against three suspects detained Sunday, accused of involvement in the kidnapping and death of radio journalist Alfredo Villatoro Rivera.
  • An opposition senator in Bolivia said he had taken refuge in the Brazilian Embassy because he feared reprisals for denouncing links between public officials and the drug trade, reports AFP. According to BBC Mundo, some 20 opposition senators have left Bolivia seeking refuge in other countries since President Evo Morales came to power in 2006. As the Wall Street Journal notes, Senator Roger Pinto’s request “highlights the challenges Brazil faces stepping into a role as regional leader, a spot once reserved for the U.S. Granting Mr. Pinto asylum would surely rankle Mr. Morales, who has threatened to nationalize Brazilian oil and gas assets in the past. At the same time, if Brazil denies Mr. Pinto's request, it could fuel critics who say Brazil is indifferent to human-rights issues.”
  • EFE reports that the Mexican army found some 1.5 million liters of stolen fuel in Veracruz state. Oil theft has grown dramatically in Mexico over the past few years, with some authorities saying that criminal group the Zetas has grown increasingly reliant on the practice. 
  • InSight Crime profiles Honduras’ new police commander, who has been described as a fierce fighter of corruption and has even gained praise from Honduras’ top human rights commission, even though he is dogged by allegations of extrajudicial killings. 
  • AFP on the discovery of a “narco-sub” capable of carrying up to 12 tons of cocaine off Colombia’s Pacific coast. Colomba has seized some 76 submarine-like vessels since 1993, according to the military, although few of those have been fully submersible. 
  • The Guardian reports on how the Dominican Republic’s booming organic banana trade is actually dependent on poorly treated and badly paid migrant labour; many workers are Haitian. 
  • The Christian Science Monitor Latin America blog with a post, originally published at the Devil’s Excrement, describing an evening of medicine, gas, and food shortages in Venezuela’s capital.

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