Environmental abuses by Swiss mining giant Xstrata moved the grouping Front for Environmental Defense to halt copper mining production in the central Andean region of Cusco on 21 May. The civil strike calling for control of the water supply away from the polluting company escalated into violent clashes with local police on 29 May and the police shooting at protestors, killing two.
Activist leaders are now demanding justice for the police brutality and the release from jail of 24 arrested protestors. Right-wing Prime Minister Oscar Valdes has declared a 30 day state of emergency in the Espinar Province, part of the Cusco Region, thereby cutting off the right of assembly and free movement.
The Tintaya copper mine, owned by Xstrata is accused of numerous community level abuses, with local people now demanding an investigation into environmental damage, and a ten-fold increase of royalties from the mine to the local authority. Locals’ blood is contaminated with mercury, arsenic and cadmium from Xstrata’s contamination of the Salado and Cañipía rivers.
Police today arrested the mayor of Espinar, Oscar Mollohuanca for his role in leading the protests against Xstrata, with national riot police storming the local municipal building in a show of brutal force by national President Hullanta Humala. Humala is growing impatient with widespread protests throughout the country as Peruvians demand a semblance of justice as mineral resources are plundered without leaving a share of the wealth.
Cusco is a traditional stronghold of Humala, the protesters have accused him of abandoning his leftist roots and selling out to foreign investors.
Xstrata plans a US$1.5 billion expansion of the Tintaya operations at neighbouring Antapaccay mine in August and a separate US$4.2 billion Las Bambas project in southern Peru, to mine copper concentrate and gold, silver, and molybdenum by-products.