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Peru: Miners, Moqueguanos win victory following violent government attacks

By Carlos Quiroz,

June 19, 2008 (updated June 26) -- The videos you are about to see are a bit shocking. For 18 months the people of the Moquegua region (southeastern Peru) and the mining workers from that region have been seeking for peaceful negotiations with the Peruvian government in Lima.

The Moqueguanos were trying to lobby against a bill sent by the Peruvian executive to Congress, which could mean a reduction in the royalties paid by foreign mining companies -- Southern Copper Corporation (USA/Mexico) in this case -- which are very important for the Moquegua region. But workers were ignored.

So it was clear for the more than 22,000 people of Moquegua -- they are not delinquents as the press in Lima has called them -- that their protest was necessary and legitimate. They began a hunger strike and blockade of a national highway, on June 11.

The violence we can see in these videos is the result of the negligence and arrogance of President Alan Garcia's administration and Peru's right-wing politicians. They have attacked workers who are fighting for their legitimate interests with tear gas.

Unarmed people attacked

These images are evidence of crimes committed by the Peruvian government. More than 30 people were wounded, including children and women.

The workers responded to the bombing by the police helicopters of Alan García. The criminals must be prosecuted. The protesters took 64 police officers hostages after these attacks.

Our right to protest

The Peruvian government has the obligation to listen to its citizens, but instead it has responded with excessive violence. Unfortunately this proves that only these kind of protests are the most appropriate way for all Peruvians to reclaim their rights because the central government in Lima will not listen otherwise. Peruvians must use fully their right to peaceful protest, free expression and full participation in their communities.

Instead of trying to find solutions, Jorge del Castillo, who is the president of the council of ministers, Luis Alva the minister of interior (police and internal security) and the Southern Copper Corporation directors, denounced the protesters and accused them of crimes, threatening to imprison their protest leaders.

The government bureaucrats talk comfortably in Lima, while they send 500 police -- who are as poor as the miners -- with orders to violently repress their own people. President Garcia should be in Moquegua talking with his citizens, but obviously he is not interested in doing so.

Miners strike

Peruvian miners that work for Southern Copper Corporation, started a 48-hour strike on June 19 calling for better wages and against the reduction of mining royalties. They also announced another strike for June 23. The Federation of Miners of Peru (FMP), which represents about 28,000 miners and 70 unions, has announced a nationwide strike for June 30 to demand that Congress pass a separate law to improve pensions, labour rights for subcontractors and a greater participation in the company's profits.

Who is the Peruvian government protecting?

The Southern Copper Corporation -- formerly known as Southern Peru Copper Corporation -- is a multinational mining company founded in 1952 and based in Phoenix, Arizona. It's a subsidiary of America Mining Corporation, with operations in Peru, Mexico and Chile. It produces and sells copper, molybdenum, zinc, silver, lead and gold. The company operates mines in Peru --Toquepala and Cuajone in the Peruvian Andes, southeast of Lima -- and also a smelter and refinery in the coastal city of Ilo. One of SCC's mines in Mexico was shut down by a strike since July last year. Its ownership is currently shared by investors from the US and Mexico mostly.

June 26, 2008 -- President Alan Garcia ordered an attack that included bombings and shootings, but it failed to defeat the civilians. During the attacks, 700 police officers under the commande of General Alberto Jordán, head of the Arequipa division of the Peruvian National Police (PNP), went after 20,000 people who had blocked streets and roads of this mining town located in a beautiful and peaceful valley.

Jordan had received clear orders from Lima: to sho-t people executiont-style. Instead, he put his gun down and ordered his troops to do the same. He was taken hostage quietly, among 63 other officers, by the Moqueguanos, but they were all freed when the Garcia administration agreed to negotiate.

A popular victory

After the courageous response of the Moqueguan people, and under a huge pressure from non-government organisations and human rights advocates, the Peruvian goverment had to accept a dialogue with the protesters. But President Alan Garcia, his prime minister, Jorge del Castillo, and his minister of the interior, Luis Alva , (in charge of the PNP) did not bother to travel to Moquegua. They requested that Moqueguan leaders travel to Lima.

Finally, after a 14-hour long session, both parties signed an eight-point agreement that met the goals set by the people of Moquegua. This was a condition in order to stop their protests.

The media in Peru were divided in their reactions to the agreement, with very few outlets informing Peruvians of the true reasons for the protests. But most TV stations and newspapers accused the rioters of being delinquents, thugs or terrorists. Manipulated pro-Garcia journalists and analysts asked for strong military and penal action to prevent more popular replicas of what they called the ``Moqueguazo'' revolts. They ignored the fact that aside from the mining workers there were children and women, who came from 17 small communities to defend their rights for better living conditions.

Afterwards, General Alberto Jordan has been ousted by President Garcia and blamed for the violent events, said that he didn't handle the revolts with strong hand. Jordan is now being investigated by the authorities. So far, not a single member of the Garcia administration has resigned or accepted any responsibility for the violent attacks against the human rights of Peruvian citizens. In fact, politicians, the right-wing media and ``well-to-do'' jurists are asking the government to take judiciary action against the community leaders who led the protests. The chairperson of the Attorneys' Bar of Lima (CAL) Walter Gutierrez has said that the civilians committed crimes ``against private property, kidnapping, extortion and resistance against the authorities''.

What is next?

The people of Moquegua are pleased to know that finally their region will get a fair share of funds from the extraction of their natural resources by foreign corporations backed by the government of Lima. But they are not resting in their laurels. Things are far from settling down.

Legal action against community leaders is being planned already by the Fiscalia -- Peru's justice department -- as a way to punish their ``insolence'' and rebellion against national authorities. Gladys Echaiz, Peru's national prosecutor, has said that "we will do our job backed by our constitution and laws''. Echaiz said that there is ``an organisation'' behind the riots and that civilians are already under investigation, based on oral testimony and videos recorded by the government to identity who was involved in these actions.

The people in Moquegua have declared that they will protest again if any of their leaders are detained or arrested, and they are serious about it, especially after the strong international support they have gained.

The neighbouring region of Tacna (on the border with Chile) has said it doesn't accept the agreement between Lima and Moquegua, since it has long benefited by the previous system of royalty distribution.

National strike

Meanwhile, a national strike in all Peru is planned for July 9 by labour unions, student and women's rights organisations, farmers' unions and leftist political parties. This strike is to protest neoliberal economic policies, the high cost of living, authoritarian and violent repression, poverty, injustice, the criminalisation of social protest, protection of the environment and natural resources, protection for farmers, for retired workers rights, against privatisation and for decentralisation policies.

This is an article posted by Inter Press Service:

    PERU: Rights groups warn of authoritarian tendencies
    By Ángel Páez

    LIMA, Jun 25 (IPS) - The government of Peruvian President Alan García has demonstrated an authoritarian bent in its intolerance of social protest or any form of criticism, and has sponsored draft laws that treat demonstrations as criminal activity, say human rights groups and academics.

    García, of the American Popular Revolutionary Alliance (APRA), has consistently favoured mining and oil companies despite growing protests from local communities and environmentalists, says a new report by the National Human Rights Coordinator (CNDH), which groups 67 local non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

    The government’s response to the popular discontent over its economic policies has been to clamp down on protests and reject dialogue, a strategy that has merely generated greater social conflict, says the report.

    Local authorities and residents in the southern town of Moquegua recently brought activity to a halt for 10 days with roadblocks in that normally peaceful part of the country because the government did not address their demand for equal distribution of the usage fees paid by mining companies.

    In Moquegua, where 25 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, one of the lowest levels in Peru, the government initially ordered the police to crack down on the strikers, who numbered around 20,000, but was forced in the end to negotiate an agreement.

    The Defensoría del Pueblo (ombudsman’s office) reported that only 33 percent of the social conflicts that broke out in the country in 2007 were resolved through dialogue, and that 85 percent of the protests took place in areas where a majority of the population lives in poverty. (Ten of Peru’s 24 regions, mainly in the country’s Andean highlands, have poverty rates ranging from 54 to 85 percent).

    The Defensoría said that 48 percent of the conflicts that occurred last year were over environmental issues and 27 percent were protests against local authorities.

    García "has responded with laws that criminalise social protest," said CNDH executive secretary Ronald Gamarra.

    The government has also "issued worrisome decrees that make the security forces the only mechanism to curb protest movements, while encouraging the passage of laws that treat popular demands and grievances as manifestations of organised crime. This is the reign of intolerance," said the activist.

    The CNDH report refers to incidents that occurred in 2007, but activists say the authoritarian tendency has gotten worse this year.

    "We know it is necessary to tackle delinquency and organised crime, but social protest is a completely different thing," said Gamarra. "It would seem that the neoliberal economic model can’t guarantee its own survival without repression."

    On Feb. 19, during a farm strike organised by the Junta de Usuarios del Distrito de Riego de Ayacucho (JUDRA - Ayacucho's Union of Irrigation Users), the police used firearms to break up a demonstration, and two peasant farmers were killed.

    Interior Minister Luis Alva Castro told Congress that the killers were "infiltrators" and that the police did not use their weapons.

    However, the Ayacucho district attorney accused a police officer, Carlos Rodríguez, of killing the two farmers, Emiliano García and Rubén Pariona, and the officer admitted that he fired his gun.

    Nevertheless, the García administration has stood by its version of events: that the two men were killed by "infiltrators."

    APRA Congresswoman Mercedes Cabanillas blamed the protest in Ayacucho, one of Peru’s poorest regions, on the "outdated left."

    Another influential APRA lawmaker, Aurelio Pastor Valdivieso, told IPS that the government has respected people’s rights, and denied that there is any tendency towards authoritarianism.

    "In Peru, absolutely all freedoms are not only respected but guaranteed. There is also a commitment on the part of the government and the governing party to respect and totally defend the exercise of basic rights," he said.

    "The problem is that there are people who mistake the government’s respect and tolerance for a kind of weakness and try to take advantage of that to incite protests, violence and even killings, like what happened in the recent farm strike in Ayacucho," he argued.

    Pastor Valdivieso said the state "has the absolute right to take steps to defend its citizens, for which it has police forces, laws and regulations. It is determined not to allow disorder, chaos and the sensation of misgovernment to prevail in Peru."

    Prime Minister Jorge del Castillo has also said the protests and demonstrations are the work of "pro-terrorists" and "NGOs financed from abroad that are opposed to the country’s development."

    The government insists on encouraging the passage of tougher laws. "The new legislation, contrary to what is stipulated in the constitution, makes it possible for many of the abuses that the police may commit in clamping down on social protests to go unpunished," says the CNDH report.

    At the same time, the government has promoted laws "that favour the extractive industries, like the issuing of (private) land titles in (indigenous) peasant communities and the government’s determined support of mining and oil companies in areas where the activity could hurt the health of the local population," the report adds.

    The CNDH says the new laws demonstrate the "intransigence" of the government’s policies, even when the social costs are high and the economic benefits are questionable. It also says the government has benefited the economic power groups "at the expense of local populations."

    Carlos Reyna, a sociologist at the Pontificia Catholic University who identifies with APRA, agreed that there have been a number of signs of a tendency towards authoritarianism on the part of the government.

    "Besides a string of measures and decrees restricting the political freedom and free speech of citizens, President García has an extremely aggressive, confrontational and polarising style when it comes to dealing with social protests and anti-government demonstrations," Reyna told IPS.

    "To that you have to add cases where the police have opened fire against demonstrators, causing deaths, and only subordinates were punished while no officials have been accused or identified by the executive branch or the ruling party majority in the legislature, which on the contrary has constantly ‘shielded’ the interior minister.

    "The legislature has even given the police permission to open fire on social protests. So, yes, there are definitely authoritarian tendencies," said Reyna.

    The chief of police in Moquegua, General Alberto Jordán, refused to lift a roadblock and was sacked after García called him a "coward" for not following his orders. Jordán said that if he had carried out the order, many people would have died.

    In a Jun. 18 report, the Defensoría del Pueblo mentioned 65 current and potential social conflicts, 10 of which it said were about to break out, and seven of which involved local villages opposed to the activities of mining companies.

    "There is a tense social climate. By generating the sensation that the state is not willing to compromise, the possibility of negotiated solutions is thrown into question," warns the CNDH. (END/2008)

In mid-June 2008, President Alan Garcia had a 30% of national approval, while in the southern regions of Peru a whopping 90% expressed opposition to his policies.

Why Peru?

In case you still wondering what is going on in Peru and why Peruvians are facing such violent attacks from their own government, these are some reasons.

Peru is a post-colonial country, controlled by a small group of corrupt, racist people based mostly in Lima, who are descendants of families who ruled this land since it was a Spanish colony. They are backed by corrupt politicians and business owners who have made extraordinary fortunes by controlling the lives of 28 million people and their natural resources.

While Lima and one or two other coastal cities grow, most of the rest of the regions in the Andean nation are kept impoverished and terribly underdeveloped. These regions are precisely where mostly Indigenous and African-descendant people live. In provinces like Moquegua, valuable natural resources are located.

These resources are extracted by foreign corporations and exported to rich developed countries, especially the US, China and Europe, which need the minerals for their manufacturing and armaments industries. In this inhumane and polluting business, only the foreign investors and their rich Peruvian partners benefit, while miners live under horrible conditions and entire Andean towns, rivers and lakes are destroyed.

The current Garcia administration is ruling in favour of the rich and powerful, increasing injustice and poverty among those who have been historically neglected. So when you read about how well the economy of Peru is doing, it means that the rich are doing good business and the huge majority still live in poverty. This is just the continuation of the same policies that make Peru such an unfair nation for centuries, and something needs to be done to correct that.

Obviously, Peruvians are aware of that.



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