Thursday, July 5, 2012

Peru Declares State of Emergency After Deadly Mining Protests

Peru’s government has declared a state of emergency in three provinces in the northern Andes after four people died and 21 were injured in protests against the Conga mining project.

On Tuesday, some 2,000 people gathered in the town of Celendin in protest against the US Newmont Mining Co.’s plan to build the biggest mine ever seen in Peru. The gold and copper mine in the Cajamarca region will cost some $4.8 billion, and residents are concerned that it will damage their water supplies, cause pollution, and will not bring enough benefits to them. Local officials told the Associated Press that the clashes began when construction workers began kicking at the door of the town hall. Police fought them, firing tear gas, and were supported by soldiers.

A local health official said two of the dead had gunshot wounds to the head. Peru’s government said that protesters had fired shots, but did not say if security forces had, according to the AP.

A fourth civilian was killed Wednesday, and a leading anti-mine activist arrested using the provisions of the state of emergency and beaten up, reports the AP. The measures allow police to make arrests without a warrant, and suspend the right to assembly in the affected regions.

The government has blamed the protests on “bad apples” who it said were inciting violence.

The Conga mining project has been halted since protesters destroyed its installations in November. President Ollanta Humala gave the go-ahead to restart operations last week, after the company agreed to fulfil stricter mitigation measures, including building several reservoirs to make sure residents still had access to water, reports BusinessWeek.

This is the fourth time since he took office in July that Humala has imposed emergency measures, three of them in response to anti-mining protests. He is considered by many of those opposed to large-scale infrastructure projects across the country to have turned his back on campaign promises to solve the conflicts through mediation. His image has taken a turn to the right since he took office, with mining conflicts prompting a cabinet reshuffle late last year. While campaigning for the presidency, Humala told Cajamarca residents that he would prioritize their access to clean water over the mining project, reports the AP.

The president of Cajamarca region took to Twitter to accuse Humala of putting mining interests ahead of the Peruvian people, reports Reuters. "This is the government we have - everything for miners and bullets for the people," he said. “Humala, this is the cost of defending the savage neoliberal economic model and multinational miners. This is the cost of not keeping your word."

News Briefs

  • In Mexico, the votes in more than half the ballot boxes used in Sunday’s presidential elections are being recounted due to inconsistencies in the tallies, reports the AP. Second-place candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of the PRD party has demanded a full recount, claiming that Enrique Peña Nieto’s PRI party benefited from vote-buying, overspending, and biased media coverage. Videos have appeared on YouTube of people saying they got supermarket credit in exchange for voting for the PRI, reports the BBC. Peña Nieto told the BBC that they had been faked, and that his party acted within the law. Meanwhile student protesters, who held large demonstrations against the PRI before and after the elections, are planning to present proposals to the president-elect, including “an overhaul of Mexico’s much-criticized public education, respect for human rights and the replacement of media dominance by Televisa and TV Azteca,” reports the Washington Post.
  • Peña Nieto has promised to half the number of kidnappings and murders in Mexico during his six years in office, focusing on protecting citizens and on fighting smaller, local gangs rather than on making large-scale drug seizures, reports the Associated Press. This would represent a move away from the security policy of outgoing President Felipe Calderon, who has overseen a massive rise in murders during his head-on assault against the country’s biggest drug cartels, focusing on breaking up their operations, rather than on reducing violence.
  • Retired Colombian police General Mauricio Santoyo, who is accused of working with drug trafficking organizations, handed himself in to the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) on Tuesday, reports the Wall Street Journal. According to a US indictment made public last month, Santoyo made deals and handed intelligence to right-wing paramilitaries and to Medellin-based mafia the Oficina de Envigado between 2000 and 2008. He served as security chief to former President Alvaro Uribe from 2002-2006. The retired general voluntarily contacted the authorities to arrange his surrender, and plans to defend his innocence, according to his lawyers. The WSJ notes that, while Santoyo is the first Colombian general ever to be indicted by U.S. authorities, he is “the latest of several of Mr. Uribe's former associates and family members to be accused of having drug ties.” He is now in detention in the US, and being questioned by the DEA, according to Colombia Reports.
  • Cuban President Raul Castro has begun a four-day visit to China, where he is set to meet with leader Hu Jintao and sign new cooperation deals. According to EFE, Castro is visiting China to seek support for his economic reforms. He will get to know the new leadership, and discuss how to even out the trade imbalance, currently in China's favor. The Asian country is Cuba’s biggest trading partner after Venezuela, reports the BBC. It is Castro’s first visit to the country since he took over the presidency from his brother Fidel four years ago, and he will go afterwards to Vietnam. 
  • Paraguay’s new government has declared the Venezuelan ambassador unwelcome and withdrawn its ambassador from Caracas in protest against Venezuela’s actions following the impeachment of President Fernando Lugo. Chavez’s government allegedly tried to persuade Paraguay’s military to rise up in support of Lugo, reports the AP. Venezuela and several other countries in the region have described the ouster as a coup.
  • A doctor working in the presidential palace of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has been arrested on suspicion of leaking state secrets, reports the AP. Dr. Ana Maria Abreu is the sister-in-law of an activist known as a critic of the government, Rocio San Miguel, who told press that the arrest was retaliation against him. According to her lawyers, Abreu does not treat staff in the palace, reports the BBC. Chavez has suffered from cancer over the last year, and has refused to make details of the case public.
  • An op-ed in the NYT calls on the US government to offer financial compensation to Guatemalans who were harmed in 1940s experiments to test the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, carried out by the US, in which many were given infections without their consent. In June, a US court rejected a class-action suit brought by alleged victims and their heirs, and the NYT argues that the government should set up a voluntary compensation program.
  • A group of indigenous people in Para state, in Brazil’s Amazon, burned down a police station after a judge freed two people suspected of the murder of a member of their community. According to the state government, 50 Munduruku people attacked the station on Monday, and all four officers there fled, reports the AP.
  • A demonstration against a rise in university tuition fees in the Dominican Republic turned violent when police allegedly shot and wounded several student protesters, reports the AP.
  • Argentina’s government is set to announce a plan to force private banks to lend more, in order to spur growth and help boost investment, reports the WSJ.