The president of Peru, Ollanta Humala, officially declared the country in a state of emergency this week after violent clashes broke out between protesters and police. This declaration officially strips the population of basic civil rights, such as freedom of assembly. It also allows for arrests without warrants. The province of Espinar, the site of a large copper mine, has been at the center of the tension between protesters and police.
The Tintaya copper mine is owned by a Swiss company, Xstrata, and locals are frustrated. They worry that the mine is contaminating water supplies, threatening the health of people and animals in the area. CBS News reports that a study conducted by the Roman Catholic Church in the last year showed high levels of copper and mercury in the water. The Swiss company denies any wrongdoing and maintains that the copper mine does not pollute the water sources.
The weekend proved to be one of the most violent since the indefinite strike was started by the mining workers. Two protesters were killed when police opened fire on the crowd. The government claims that as many as 46 police officers were injured in the melee that took place on Sunday and Monday, but no specifics were given as to why the police started firing at citizens in the first place, CBS News reports. Government reports attempt to victimize the police although none were killed in the confrontation. Demonstrators without guns were the ultimate victims over the weekend.
Protesters are reported to have taken a prosecutor hostage for a short time, who was later released. Reuters quotes one protesting woman who avowed that the police were mercilessly violent during the protest. She stated that they “have shamelessly kicked us and they have shamelessly beaten us with rocks.”
This is the second mining protest in the last year, which ended in President Humala declaring a state of emergency. The last uprising was against the pollution caused by a proposed Conga mining project in the Cajamarca state in December. Civil liberties were suspended for 60 days during those protests. The Conga gold mining project has now been suspended and activists are still planning more demonstrations in the coming week to stop further Conga developments.
President Humala and Prime Minister Oscar Valdes argue that the protesters in the Espinar region have taken a radical stance and are unwilling to negotiate. Protesters have demanded that the Swiss mining company bump up the amount they pay local authorities from three to 30 percent, CNN reports. They also demand more information about the pollution of water sources and local lands.
It looks unlikely that protesters’ demands will be heard under the current curtailment of civil liberties. Both Valdes and Humala argue that the state of emergency will make it easier for a dialogue to take place between local reformers and the government. With two deaths having already occurred and arrests without warrants now legal, the tense positioning of protesters and the government looks to continue for several more weeks.
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