Peruvians protest silver mining project, May-June 2011

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Timing
Time Period:  
7 May
2011
to
24 June
2011
Location and Goals
Country: 
Peru
Location City/State/Province: 
Puno, Puno Region
Goals: 
1. Cancel the land concession made by the Peruvian Government that permitted Bear Creek Mining Corporation to build a silver mine in the Puno Region.

2. Review and end the practice of conceding land to foreign mining companies.

 

The Puno Department is a high plateau region of southeastern Peru, nestled on the shores of Lake Titicaca and the Bolivian border. The people of this region are primarily indigenous Quechua and Aymara people who rely on a chiefly agricultural lifestyle based on quinoa, potatoes and alpacas. The region is also incredibly rich in mineral resources. Many land concessions have been made by the Peruvian government to international mining companies to extract these minerals. Between 2002 and 2010, the amount of concessions increased by 279% in the Puno department. In 2010 alone, 1656 concessions were made.

The Santa Ana project was one such concession. Santa Ana was a proposed silver mine to be located in the department, 140 kilometres south of the city of Puno itself. Bear Creek Mining Corporation, based in Vancouver, Canada proposed the project. Local people opposed the mine and sought to reverse the decision to concede the land to Bear Creek Mining Corporation.

The people of the village of Huacallani initiated resistance on 7 May 2011. Their village was closest to the proposed Santa Ana mining project site, and many were worried about the negative environmental impact of the mine on their land and their agricultural livelihood. Farmers and agricultural workers began a general strike to protest the mine construction. These strikes were, in part, led by the Natural Resources Defense Front of the Southern Zone of Puno and the National Conference of Peruvian Communities Affected by Mining, mostly made up of indigenous Aymara people. The Aymara people self-identify as strong nonviolent resisters. Their campaign slogan was simple, ‘agro si, mina, no’ or ‘agriculture yes, mining no’.

On 10 May 2011, the protesters established a roadblock on the highway that leads to the town of Desaguadero, an important border crossing of Bolivia and Peru. The Union of Aymara Communities and Conami, a union of Quechua indigenous people, supported the roadblock. The protesters used boulders to block the road for many kilometers and created checkpoints so vehicles could not pass, so that traffic was concentrated behind the blockades.

By 24 May 2011, approximately 25 000 protesters seized the city of Puno and brought it to a standstill. Puno, a city of 100 000, is part of an important transportation route between the Peruvian cities of Cusco and Juliaca, and the Bolivian capital, La Paz. Trade in the area, due to the highway roadblocks and the standstill in the city of Puno, was frozen. Across the region, thousands more joined in the strike that had been ongoing since 7 May. While still campaigning against the Santa Ana mine concession, the larger focus of the protesters now included demanding a review of all mining concessions made in the area and a moratorium on future land concessions to foreign mining companies. In Puno, strikers held marches, accompanied by posters and banners that outlined their demands. During some of these marches, a few instances of vandalism to government infrastructure were committed on the part of the campaigners. As well, Bolivian indigenous groups on the other side of the border organized sympathy strikes and marches in solidarity with the Peruvian protesters.

A presidential election was planned in Peru to replace outgoing President Alan Garcia on 5 June 2011. Two major candidates for the election were Keiko Fujimori, daughter of former dictator Alberto Fujimori, and Ollanta Humala, a left-wing nationalist. The people of the Puno region supported Humala overwhelmingly. However, they were disappointed that Humala was not openly opposing the mining projects. Near the end of May 2011, protesters and strikers, who had previously supported Humala, openly withdrew their support for him and threatened to boycott the 5 June elections. Humala soon adopted the cause of the protesters. Two weeks after publicly withdrawing their allegiance to Humala, protesters reversed their decision and voted overwhelmingly in the election in favour of Humala.

The general protest strike and roadblocks continued after the election. By mid-June, negotiations began between the demonstrators and outgoing President Alan Garcia . On 24 June 2011, the Peruvian government announced that Bear Creek Mining Corporation’s mining license would be revoked, citing that the mine was no longer in the ‘national interest’. Further, the government promised that they would not allow any new mining concessions in the region for 3 years. As well, the government established measures to ensure that local stakeholders would be taken into account in future negotiations. Protesters did not see these announcements as a change of heart of Garcia. Rather, they believed Garcia was trying to transfer the challenge to Humala, his successor. Nonetheless, they were pleased with Garcia’s promises. As a reaction to these announcements, farmers and workers returned to work, and protesters cleared the roadblocks.

After Garcia’s decision, Bear Creek decided to take the Peruvian government to court on the grounds that the decision was unconstitutional and violated the free trade agreement between Canada and Peru. As of December 2013, the case has had no final decision. Nonetheless, the fact that the court case has gained some legal traction worries many of the protesters in the Puno region. As well, the moratorium on foreign land concessions only lasts until 2014. Thus, the demand of the protesters to end all foreign mining land claims may soon be violated.

Research Notes
Sources: 
Baird, Vanessa. “Peruvians Rise Up Against the Mines.” The New Internationalist Magazine, Issue 446. 1 October 2011.

Briceno, Franklin. “Peru Cancels Mine After Police Kill 6 Protesters, Wound 30.” Huffington Post, 25 June 2011. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/06/25/peru-mine-protest-santa-ana-bear-creek_n_884587.html, accessed November 2013.

Carwil Without Borders. “Untangling Puno mining protest reports (or, why English-language wire reporters should read the local press).” Carwil without Borders, 25 June 2011. http://woborders.wordpress.com/2011/06/25/untangling-puno-mining-protest-reports-or-why-english-language-wire-reporters-should-read-the-local-press/, accessed November 2013.

Dangl, Benjamin. “Showdown in Peru.” Canada: The Dominion, News From the Grassroots, 12 September 2011. http://www.dominionpaper.ca/articles/4161, accessed November 2013.

“Santa Ana.” McGill Research Group Investigating Canadian Mining in Latin America. MICLA, 2013. http://micla.ca/conflicts/santa-ana/, accessed November 2013.

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Michael Barkman, 22/10/2013