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Peru: Conflict Between Espinar Community and Mining Company

A list of social conflicts about to explode in Peru country has just recently announced in the media. However, the socio-environmental conflict going on in the province of Espinar, Cusco region, between the community and the mining operation Xstrata Copper, which was not even on the list, is the one that made headlines this week. The Ombudsman's Office defines [es] this case in its recent report (pdf, pag. 40) as follows:

La Provincia de Espinar demanda a la empresa minera Xtrata Copper – Proyecto Tintaya Antapacay ampliar los aportes al desarrollo socioeconómico; cerrar o reubicar la presa de relaves de Huanipampa; y asumir compromisos ambientales ante posibles impactos susceptibles de generarse como consecuencia de sus actividades en la zona.

The province of Espinar demands that the mining company Xstrata Copper-Tintaya increase its contributions to socioeconomic development; closes or relocates the tailings dam at Huanipampa; and takes on commitments to environmental impacts likely to arise as a result of their activities in the area.

At the time of this writing, the conflict enters its eighth day of indefinite strike by the community, and the protests are escalating in both violence and repression. But this is not a new conflict. In the magazine Willanakuy Cusco's blog, there is a timeline [es] of the events that led to the current situation:

1. A partir del año 2000 la población de Espinar se moviliza exigiendo a la Empresa Minera (en ese entonces BHP Billiton) suscribir un acuerdo; para establecer reglas claras de convivencia con la actividad minera, debido a la existencia de denuncias por contaminación ambiental y violaciones a los derechos humanos; como resultado de varias movilizaciones sociales, finalmente el año 2003 se suscribe un acuerdo, que ahora se conoce como Convenio Marco. […]

5. En el año 2010, cobra mayor fuerza la necesidad de una revisión del Convenio Marco y se plantea claramente la fiscalización económica y un balance de los compromisos y actividades asumidos por Xstrata Tintaya dentro del Convenio Marco; […] En este mismo año 2010, continúan las denuncias sobre apariciones de nacimientos de animales deformados, acusando a la actividad minera de ser la causante.

1. Since the year 2000, the population of Espinar has mobilized, demanding that the mining company (at that time, BHP Billiton), sign an agreement to establish clear rules of coexistence with mining activity due to the existence of complaints of pollution and violations of human rights; as a result of several social movements, an agreement was finally signed in 2003, now known as the Framework Convention. […]

5. In the year 2010, the need for a revision of the Framework Convention is increasingly felt, and the questions of economic control and a balance of commitments and activities undertaken by Xstrata Tintaya within the Framework Convention are raised; […] Also in 2010, complaints of the births of deformed animals continue, accusing the mining activities of being the cause.

Among the most recent facts are:

8. El 28 de noviembre del 2011, la Municipalidad Provincial de Espinar, cursa una carta notarial a los representantes de Xstrata Tintaya; adjuntando la propuesta de Reformulación del Convenio Marco.

11. El 10 de febrero del 2012 […] se conoce en Espinar el estudio de riesgos a la salud por exposición a metales pesados en la provincia de Espinar, […] en este documento se advierte la necesidad de realizar monitoreos permanentes en la población, “…28 personas con valores superiores al lìmite de referencia con mercurio; 24 personas con valores de arsénico superiores al límite referencial y 10 personas con valores de cadmio por encima del valor referencial; las muestras de agua tienen concentraciones de arsénico y mercurio por encima de los estándares de calidad ambiental…”

8. On November 28, 2011, the Provincial Municipality of Espinar sends a notarized letter to the representatives of Xstrata Tintaya, attaching the proposed reformulation of the Framework Convention.

11. On February 10, 2012, […] Espinar finds out about a study about health risks from exposure to heavy metals in Espinar province, […] this document notes the need for permanent monitoring of the population, “…28 people with levels above the normal limit for mercury; 24 people with arsenic levels above accepted limits, and 10 people with cadmium values above accepted limits; water samples have concentrations of arsenic and mercury above environmental quality standards…

The current strike is the result of an agreement reached by the community on March 22, in view of the fact that after several meetings with the mining company, there has been no agreement reached on whether or not the Framework Convention will be reformulated. The strike started [es] on May 21 and on the 22 it was reported [es] that there wasn't much support for it. However, reports from the second day noted [es] two gunshot injuries when protesters tried to take over the water pump house near the mining company camp.

The third day saw a confrontation at the entrance of the town of Marquina, when police ejected townspeople who occupied the public street, resulting [es] in 11 injured citizens and some arrests, also requiring [es] the presence of the President of the Council of Ministers in the area. For his part, the Minister of Energy and Mines stated that Xstrata “has taken sufficient environmental and social responsibility” and added that “there are groups which may have other reasons to create conflicts.” The company reported in a statement that at all times they have promoted dialogue.

On the fourth day of the strike there was a march [es] to the Xstrata camp, which provoked new confrontations [es], this time resulting in seven injured [es], among them the mayor of Espinar. A government representative stated [es] they could not install a high-level commission because of the lack of safety.

The fifth day of the strike witnessed a complete shutdown of the city and road blockage but also an announcement [es] by the executive branch that a delegation had been sent to promote dialogue and establish a working agenda, and the the statements by President Humala that in Espinar “there are groups like Cajamarca, violent, trying to carry out an extremist agenda.”

The sixth day of the strike revealed that Espinar is losing [es] 200,000 soles (US $75,000) per day of the strike, and also that the talks between the community and the executives who had arrived the night before, had stalled [es]. And while the protesters asked [es] that the meetings of the Deputy Ministers be public, the ministers asked the protesters to stop the strike and not delay the talks.

The seventh day of the strike was relatively peaceful, although the city remained paralyzed [es] and there were pickets in several areas, while the mining camp was guarded by over 100 police officers. The Deputy Minister of Mines ruled out [es] closing the mine, y and also stressed [es] that the strike “was the same model” as Cajamarca.

For his part, the president of the National Mining Association said that Xstrata Copper is willing to talk, adding that there is “a concerted policy to reject private investment in the country, and this is an important project, because we are talking about an investment of more than 4 billion dollars.”

Prime Minister Óscar Valdes in a press conference about events in Espinar (Cusco). Image by Flickr user Presidencia Perú (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

The eighth day of the strike started with the Prime Minister declaring that the “protesters in Espinar just want to radicalize their protests.” He then confirmed the rumor that ten mining concession workers had been detained by the demonstrators yesterday, and set free today (Monday). Later, at midday confrontations [es] between protesters and police were reported in the hills near the Xstrata Tintaya mining camp, which ended with the tragic death of two protesters and at least six injured. [es]

Later in the afternoon it was learned that the regional prosecutor of Espinar had been kidnapped by people who also set fire to the car he was traveling in and that they had taken him barefoot to the town of Yauri (it was later reported [es] that he was safe). It was also reported that the Tintaya Foundation site in Espinar had been set on fire. The Minister of the Interior reported [es] that so far, 76 police officers have been injured in these confrontations. Given these acts of violence, the government decided, during the night, to declare a state of emergency for 30 days in the province of Espinar.

One of the reports coming out of Espinar that has most affected the local tweetosphere [es] is of a video where you can see a police sniper aiming at and shooting a cameraman, which records up to the moment the bullet hits (seg. 33) [Warning: graphic images]:

The mining operation Xstrata Tintaya has stated [es] it will not give in to the economic demands by the mayor of Espinar, however, will continue to opt for dialogue. It should be noted that the province of Espinar received [es] 300 million soles (US $111,000,000) from the 2011 budget, but the poverty level remains at 64.4%. So it is conceivable that the problem is not the resources but how they are used, and how they are administered. This is quite apart from the problems and environmental damage that the mining activities in the area may be causing, and which the community demonstrates in these videos. [es]

Original post [es] published in the personal blog of Juan Arellano.

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