State of Emergency Declared in Espinar

31 May 2012

On 29th May the Humala administration declared a state of emergency in Espinar, southern Peru, following violent clashes between police and demonstrators.

Protest organisers had hoped to highlight local concerns over the activities of Anglo-Swiss mining firm Xstrata, which is seeking to expand its operations in the region. In advance of the demonstrations an estimated 1,500 police were deployed to the region, ostensibly to maintain order during the protests.

Confrontations between police and locals occurred from the outset. On 24th May security forces used tear gas canisters to disperse crowds and fired shots into the air, while protestors threw stones at police units. A series of escalating clashes over the following days left approximately 100 people injured, including significant numbers of both police and civilians. On the eighth day of the protests, two locals were killed in the disturbances.

The Vicariate of Solidarity of the Prelature of Sicuani, a local NGO linked to the church, further reported that two of its staff and around 20 others were detained by state officials and held at a police station located on Xstrata-owned property during the disturbances. A number had suffered injuries. (All but one of the detainees have subsequently been released.)

The declaration of a state of emergency led to the suspension of some civil liberties, including the right to assembly, and put the army in charge of restoring public order. For now, this appears to have suppressed most protest activity in the area.

Nevertheless, residents in Espinar have continued to demand dialogue with Xstrata over its local operations. They are seeking an independent investigation into the source of alleged environmental contamination in the area before the firm opens a new US$1.47bn (£925m) copper mine at Antapaccay. They also want to renegotiate an agreement governing the company’s contribution to local development, which was initially drawn up by BHP Billiton - the previous owner of the Espinar concession - in 2003.

Representatives from Peru’s Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office asserted that protests could endanger efforts to foster negotiations between the two parties. However, social movements in the province countered that they had only resorted to such measures as other attempts to broker an agreement with the firm, including at a meeting in the UK last month, had not borne fruit.

Some officials in the central government, such as Fernando Ruiz-Caro of Cuzco’s Chamber of Commerce, have sought to dismiss the demonstrations as spurred by local officials seeking to advance their own careers. Such views were also echoed in comments by Mines and Energy Minister Jorge Merino. Others however, blamed Prime Minister Oscar Valdés, saying mediation attempts had been undermined by the use of authoritarian tactics. Three Cusco representatives from the ruling Gana Perú unsuccessfully called for Valdés’s resignation in light of the violence.

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