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Are Peruvian Police and Press Conspiring to Criminalise the Tia María Protests?


The polemic photo taken by Julio Angulo to falsely condemn a demonstrator who was protesting against Tía María, extracted from Portal Perú and widely shared on the Internet.

The police force of any country should exist to protect citizens while its press should impart objective information, but unrest surrounding a strategic mining project in Peru has forced people to question whether either institution is fulfilling its role.

Protests at the $1.4 billion Tia Maria development in Islay province, Peru, have been ongoing since March, claiming the life of a protester and a policeman this week and another protester in April.

Farmers in the region believe Tia María will hurt water supplies and have blocked roads and held rallies in an attempt to kick the project — owned by the Southern Copper Corp company — out of their community. But the police and media, they say, are doing the company's bidding by trying to demonise them.

Correo Arequipa, a local daily newspaper, set off a storm in the Peruvian blogosphere with its coverage of the anti-mining protests towards the end of last month.

In one photo the daily ran on April 24, a protester was pictured being arrested clutching a small iron contraption in his hand. The caption to the photo referred to him as “a detainee who was wielding a sharp-pointed iron construction weapon” and added that the weapon “could be lethal for the unfortunate person on the end of a blow from the irritable protestor”.

Yet a few hours later the small local TV channel MollendinosTV-Islay TV disseminated a video titled “Complicity between Police and Press (CORREO) against Antonio the Farmer”, that showed the photo was not what it seemed.

The outlet's video clearly shows police approaching the protestor, later identified as Antonio Coasaca, with the iron contraption and forcing him to hold it as Correo Arequipa's photographer took a photo.

Once the video emerged, Correo Arequipa covered it and then erased the original image from their website.

Correo – yellow press, sellouts with a lack of ethics and where to start with the police.

The video of MollendinosTV-Islay TV gathered traction on social networks prompting a discussion about police and press ethics.

Of the more than one thousand comments on the video, user sums up the feeling of the great majority:

Qué vergüenza, policía y fotoperiodista haciendo porquería de su labor. Soy de Mollendo, sí me gustaría proyectos y progreso para mi ciudad natal, pero no de esa manera, con injusticias y engaños […]

What a shame, police and photojournalist doing rubbish in their mission. I am from Mollendo and yes I'd like progress and projects for my hometown, but not in this way, with injustice and deceits […]

Journalist and anthropologist Alberto Niquen thinks that “what happened in Mollendo is another demonstration that the criminalising of the protests is a state policy which has been increased”:

He reflected:

Te informan o te desinforman, o simplemente te mal informan. ¿Qué hacer cuando un fotógrafo y un redactor de un diario de tiraje nacional asumen como verdad lo que dice la Policía Nacional del Perú (PNP) y permiten la publicación de una noticia incriminadora? Es más, ¿qué pensar cuando lo hacen sabiendo que se está ‘sembrando’ algo que no es? Como no indignarse cuando descubres que una noticia es consecuencia de una ‘siembra’, de una ‘falacia’, de un plan de criminalización.

You are informed or misinformed, or just wrongly informed. What to do when a photographer and an editor of a national circulation newspaper assumes as true what the National Police of Peru (PNP) says and allows the publication of an incriminatory news piece? Even more, what to think when they do it consciously knowing an untruth has been ‘planted'? How not to be outraged when you find out that this news is a result of a ‘planting’, of a ‘fallacy’, of a plot to criminalise?

Political fallout from the scandal was swift. Peru's Ombudsman to the Minister of the Interior successfully pushed for Coasaca's release, while National Police Director, General Jorge Flores Goicochea, announced an extensive investigation into the official who was seen ‘planting’ the weapon on Antonio.

Under pressure, Correo Arequipa newspaper finally apologized to readers and reported an internal investigation to determine responsibility for the incident.

Journalist Gustavo Gorriti of IDL-Reporteros analysed the compromised nature of the ‘Dinoes’ (National Direction of Special Operations) police squads that get sent to deal with mining conflicts:

[…] tanto la Dirección como sus efectivos, trabajan buena parte de su tiempo como seguridad privada de las minas, ganan dinero por eso, el policía y sus jefes, y en muchos casos terminan dependiendo de él. De manera que cuando son movilizados frente a conflictos como el de Tía María, actúan como una inestable combinación de agentes del Estado y fuerza de choque de las mineras. […] ¿Queremos ley, progreso y una lucha eficaz contra el crimen? Empecemos por ser un Estado serio. Un Estado serio no tiene a la Dirección de Operaciones Especiales de su Policía trabajando como huachimanes de las minas, para luego reprimir a los que se oponen a ellas.

[…] [The Dinoes] as operatives, work a lot of their time as private security for the mines. They make money from this, the police and their bosses, and in many instances end up depending on it. In this way when there are mobilizations in conflicts such as that surrounding Tía María, they act as an unreliable combination of agents of the state and a strike force for the mining companies […] Don't we want law, progress and an efficient battle against crime? Start by being a serious state. A serious state does not have the Direction of the Police Special Operations working as private security for mines, who then repress those who oppose them in their role as police.

Increased public attention led to the identification of the photographer who shot the controversial image:

Who is Tía María's photographer? El Comercio [Peru's oldest newspaper, based in Lima] recognizes that Julio Angulo was working with them as a freelancer.

Julio Angulo was forced to face facts and  give his version of the story behind the image. According to him he was covering the protests and when he heard the policeman call him he approached and took pictures without really knowing what was happening:

I run because I heard his voice, come, look, I did not knew what he had in his hands, then I just looked everywhere, seeking to protect my integrity, without losing the photos […] It was all very confusing, I could have never realized that fact.

Angulo apologised to Coasaca and said he regretted how the photo was used. He added that he does not know how the Correo Arequipa newspaper published the photos considering that he was working for El Comercio at the time and he sent pictures taken on the day straight to them.

Juan Carlos Fangacio, a journalist, noted that Angulo's statement that “a photographer in this situation reacts taking photos, and it does not stop at anything else” points to the ethical dilemmas inherent to on-the-ground journalism where speed wins the day:

Lo que dice, da para la discusión. ¿Realmente un fotógrafo solo dispara su cámara en una situación como esa? ¿Las cuestiones éticas o editoriales vienen después? ¿O pueden evaluarse durante el calor del trabajo? Con esa línea tan delgada entre lo que es correcto e incorrecto, la única verdad yace en la conciencia de Angulo.

What he says provides enough of a basis for discussion. Does a photographer really only shoot with his camera in a situation like this? Do ethical and editorial issues come later? Or can they be evaluated in the heat of the work? With such a fine line between what is right and wrong, the only truth lies in Angulo's conscience.

He concludes:

Angulo ya ofreció disculpas y dio su versión (creerle o no es cuestión de cada uno). Lo cierto es que la cuerda siempre se rompe por el lado delgado. Y en ese caso, todavía hay muchos que deben explicaciones. Sobre todo los de arriba.

Angulo has offered apologies and gave his version (to believe him or not is a personal question). The truth is that the rope always breaks at the thinnest point. And if so, there are still many who must give explanations. Especially those at the top.

Southern Copper, whose ultimate beneficiary is Mexican billionaire German Larrea, says it plans to begin the project by 2017 despite the death of a protester and policeman in the latest round of clashes this week.

Peru remains one of the world's largest producers of many minerals, such as copper, gold, silver and zinc. But violent protests sparked by environmental fears on the part of activists and local residents have put a number of projects on hold.

This post is a version of the original post published in the Globalizado Blog.

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