Saturday, 14 November 2009

Peru: Developments at Rio Blanco

Blog readers and those interested in Peru news will recall that in January of this year, photographs emerged of torture inflicted on local people in 2005 by security forces at the mining camp of Majaz, now known as Rio Blanco. You can see a timeline here. The mining camp was at the time owned by Monterrico Metals and is now under the ownership of a Chinese company, Zijin Mining Group.

Peruvian prosecutors have been reluctant to follow up on the apparent perpetrators of these crimes; however, Monterrico Metals is facing legal action in Great Britain.

In the first few days of November, Rio Blanco made the news again when several people were killed there and the encampment set on fire by a group of around 15-20 people. Initial reports were of two dead, this later apparently rose to three. I didn't cover this at the time, but Otto did.

Most reports seem to assume that the attack was carried out by local people frustrated by years of having their wishes ignored and of the violence which has previously erupted at the site - except for the second Reuters report, which quotes someone, rather laughably, as saying that there is "no dispute" with the local community and points the finger at drug traffickers instead.

Two dead after attack on Peru project of Zijin (Reuters, 2.11.09)
Rio Blanco Copper mining camp attacked, two guards killed (Living in Peru, 2.11.09)
Monterrico Metals Peru Mine Attack Leaves Two Dead (Bloomberg, 2.11.09)
Peru mine killings work of drug trade: businessmen (Reuters, 3.11.09)

Human rights organisations are now concerned at state response to the latest attack. The National Human Rights Coordinator is claiming that two brothers from the local area, Filoteo and Gustavo Pusma Ibáñez, have been arbitrarily detained for the crime. Another pair of brothers, Hilario and Martín Rojas, have also been held - according to the CNDDHH, without proof of involvement. Moreover, the truck of the major of Carmen de la Frontera was attacked, allegedly by members of the group 'Integrando', which claims to be an 'NGO' and is in fact linked to the Rio Blanco mining company.

Apparently there is a heavy, and threatening, police presence in the area. The government is now also considering the possibility of establishing a military base nearby. Local groups are reacting with alarm to any suggestion of 'militarizing' the area, and understandably so. History teaches us that sending in the army to remote Peruvian communities tends not to end well. Any military presence would have to be handled very, very carefully indeed to avoid the risk of further escalation of tensions and human rights abuses against the local population, and I don't consider such sensitive treatment very likely.

Autoridades de Huancabamba emplazan al Gobierno formar comision investigadora sobre los sucesos ocurridos el 1 de noviembre en campamento de la minero Rio Blanco (CNDDHH)
Death at Dawn in a Peruvian mining camp (ENS)
Derechos y humanos: "La militarizacion del campamento minero Rio Blanco (CNDDHH)
Rechazan posible base militar (La Republica)

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