UPDATE 2: The Government of Peru announced today that Bear Creek’s proposed Santa Ana silver mine, 40 km from the shores of Lake Titicaca, will be postponed for 1 year. This serves as a promising development for the communities fighting the mine. However, the postponement falls far short of their demands for a complete cancellation of the mine.
UPDATE: Yesterday communities in and around Puno have agreed to a truce, lifting blockades, in order to allow Presidential voting in the region. Peruvians are heading to the polls this Sunday to vote in a run-off election between Keiko Fujimori and Ollanta Humala. The Puno region is seen as a Humala stronghold. The pause in the strike is set to expire Tuesday June 7th. Thereafter, according to leader of the protests Walter Aduviri, farmers associations from Cusco and Arequipa regions will be joining in the call for a permanent end to mining in the fragile region.
Reports of over 10,000 people taking to the streets of Puno chanting “Mina no, agro si”, as Indigenous communities block the Peru-Bolivia boarder, has caught the international media’s attention today. For weeks protests, led by Aymara communities, have grown in fierce opposition to a newly approved silver mine near Lake Titicaca. The mining company, Bear Creek of Canada, is poised to begin construction of a silver mine near the shores of Lake Titicaca within months. Local communities say the silver mine threatens their farms, their children, and their water. With Peru’s history of mining pollution the concerns are no doubt substantiated.
Lake Titicaca, the largest lake in South America, is a booming tourist region that has developed into a prime example of community-supported tourism. The region is a model for developing a sustainable economy rather than a temporary economy promised by oil and mining projects. Puno’s main industry is tourism. A silver mine in the backyard of this community, and on the shores of one of Peru’s natural wonders, is sure to be a blow to the region’s tourism economy. It sounds eerily familiar to a proposed uranium mine outside of the Grand Canyon, and paints a grim picture to mining companies inability to respect nature and communities alike.
Unfortunately, with the right allies respect for communities and a commitment to sustainability becomes far secondary to unchecked extraction of resources.
Bear Creek, eager to open the Santa Ana silver mine, has found a strong ally in the Garcia administration. President Garcia has supported the multinational corporation’s plans for the mine and continues to refuse to revoke the mining license recently granted regardless of communities opposition to the project.
However, we should be encouraged that due to the sustained protests the government is forming a high-level commission that will take up to 6 months to study conditions around Bear Creek’s Santa Ana silver project. It’s clear that Bear Creek has a friend in President Garica, and a simple study is a far cry to what these communities are asking for, but it is a start.
While Bear Creek stands firm that there has been dialog and consultation with communities, the fierce opposition to the mine illustrates the company’s refusal to adhere to the regions opposition and exposes their consultation as merely lip service. Unfortunately this is an all to common practice. Just last month Newmont Mining reneged on their commitment to not mine Cerro Quilish, a sacred mountain in northern Peru near their Yanococha mine, the largest gold mine in South America.
Like the communities near the Cerro Quilish mine, Aymara communities and many others from the Puno region show no signs of relenting. Commerce has come to a near shutdown in the major city of Puno. Protesters have blocked the main border crossing to Bolivia, and reports have the roads to the major airport blocked as well.
“We are not afraid of the armed forces; we have come to defend our land and rivers, even with our lives.”
Protest leader, Hermes Caum.
“Le pedimos al gobierno el cese y cancelaci n definitiva de todas las concesiones mineras y petroleras.”
Walter Aduviri, presidente del Frente de Defensa de la Regi n Sur.
Peru has seen its share of protests in the past few months around mine licensing from the Garcia administration. Most notable was the cancelation on a major copper mine outside of Arequipa. As the world’s largest silver supplier Peru is a highly valued country to most every multinational mining corporation. Peru is also the frontline of community resistance to irresponsible mining, and pushing for comprehensive and binding community consultation. These communities have become a relentless example of strength and justice, and are demanding the rule of FPIC become more then a mere side note to these mining companies.
It remains to be seen if the Garcia administration, or the incoming administration of Humala or Fujimori, will do the right thing. Yet what is very clear is that Peruvian communities are claiming their rights to land, water and a healthy environment.