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Demonization and criminalization
Víctor Liza Jaramillo
5/22/2015
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Peasants and defenders of the land suffer harassment by judicial authorities thanks to legal tools developed to favor economic power.

Since the beginning of the present century, social conflicts about mining and the environment in Peru have been a constant. Place and protagonists may change, but the story follows the same script even during the present government of President Ollanta Humala, who during his electoral campaign of 2011 promised to resolve these conflicts with dialogue and respect the will of the communities.

The cases of Conga in Cajamarca and Espinar in Cusco (2012) reveal that although presidents change, the reality of deaths and wounded persists. In the first case, the government intended to give approval to the Conga mining project of the Yanacocha mining company that was widely opposed by the people of Cajamarca. Protests continued and police brutally repressed them leaving five dead. In Espinar, the inhabitants of this Cusco province, led by then mayor Oscar Mollohuanca, took to the streets against the pollution produced by the Swiss mining company, Xtrata-Tintaya. There were also deaths by repression at this site.

The most recent conflict is happening in the province of Islay, in the southern province of Arequipa. Since Mar. 23, the population, mostly peasants, are on indefinite strike against the Tía María mining project of Southern Copper, financed by Mexican capital, because it will affect the rivers and the agriculture and livestock. Confrontations have resulted in three deaths (two civilians and one police officer), as well as hundreds of wounded. In spite of this, President Humala has opted, in a recent message to the nation, to permit the company to “decide” if the project continues or not. The company announced later its decision to suspend the project for sixty days causing more indignation among the protesters.

The lawyer and human rights activist, Wilfredo Artdito, told Latinamerica Press that this problem “has been getting more serious in the last 10 or 12 years in which measures have been taken to neutralize the opponents of the projects, treating them as delinquents, but also resulting in actions against them that can only be defined as crimes.”

At the end of March, Julio Morriberón Rosas, spokesman for Southern Copper, called the protesters “anti-mining terrorists.” The term has been repeated by the press, various opinion leaders and members of parties of the right in Congress, such as Juan Carlos Eguren, of the Popular Christian Party (PPC), which attempted to link the opposition to Shining Path, the terrorist group.

Also, a “discriminatory burden” in the police repression against the protesters must be added according to Ardito. “In Lima the demonstrators are beaten or wounded and no one has died until now; but in the interior of the country, acts of much greater violence that have resulted in deaths have been occurring, overwhelmingly in Andean or indigenous areas. This happens because in Lima repression is not as violent as in other parts of the country, he explained, adding that the media contributes to discrimination by branding indigenous people as manipulated and irresponsible which has led to peasants being perceived as stupid, stubborn, ignorant and violent.”

Imposition of the bullet
Besides the discredit of social protests, influencing public opinion, the principal leaders of the opposition movements to the extractive projects are blamed for alleged acts of vandalism and denounced before judicial authorities. This is because Alan Garcia`s second government (2006-2011) promulgated a series of laws to criminalize protest. This is the imposition of the bullet.

In 2007 a majority in Congress approved Legislative Decree 982 that modifies Article 20 of the Penal Code declaring as unpunishable members of the Armed Forces and National Police who “during the carrying out of their duties and the use of their weapons in standard procedures” cause wounds or death to any person. In other words they have carte blanche to wound or kill.

The law also considers that extortion, understood as obtaining economic advantage by threat, includes “advantages of another kind,” in the words of Ardito, such as protests and road blocks, which distorts the term. Whoever engages in these actions is sanctioned with sentences between five and ten years in prison; if these actions are done by a group, as is normally the case, the sentence can be up to 25 years.

Another norm is Law 30151 that grants impunity to military and police personnel in cases of violation of human rights; and Legislative Decree 1095 that authorizes the Armed Forces to intervene in conflicts without the declaration of a state of emergency.

In the case of public officials, such as mayors or regional governors, who participate in protests, they are not only subject to prosecution but also barred from holding public office. In the case of Mollehuanca, Mayor of Espinar, he was arrested and imprisoned in a jail located 800 kilometers from Espinar. The District Attorney asked for a 10 year sentence for the former mayor.

Besides public officials, numerous leaders of social organizations are being charged and possibly facing prison. For example, there are 53 people accused of the wounding and death of the security officers during the “Baguazo,” a protest of Amazon communities in the northeastern city of Bagua on June 9, 2009 against a series of legislative decrees which permitted the parceling of indigenous land and nature reserves in the Amazon region into large concessions for mining, oil drilling and logging, where 23 police and 10 civilians were killed, commented Juan José Quispe, a lawyer from the Institute for Legal Defense (IDL). Quispe said that Santiago Manuin, leader of the Awajún community, is among them.

“Due to political pressure, people who had nothing to do with the acts of vandalism resulting from the eviction at the Curva del Diablo are taken on trial,” questioned Quispe. In addition, Quispe also questions that the Minister of Interior at the time, Mercedes Cabanillas, the police general in charge of the operation, Luis Muguruza and the former director of the Police, José Sánchez Farfán, only appear as witnesses in another legal proceeding.

Unconstitutional Decrees
In the case of recent protests in Islay, one of the leaders, Pepe Julio Gutiérrez, has been arrested for the alleged crime of bribery after two audios appeared in which presumably a lawyer for the Southern Copper, owner of the Tía María project, attempts to bribe him in exchange for stopping the protests. Quispe says that this arrest is strange because if this has been done with someone who presumably is negotiating to stop a protest against a private company, the lawyer should also be arrested.”

Gutiérrez was removed from his political party, the leftist Tierra y Libertad, because of his suspiciously felonious behavior.

Popular organizations are not remaining on the sidelines with their arms crossed. Ardito pointed out that campaigns to collect signatures are underway in order that these contentious decrees be declared unconstitutional, as well as denouncing them before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

Quispe added that the IDL as well as other human rights organizations have stated their concern regarding a decree solicited by the head of the President’s Cabinet, Pedro Caterino, in which the Congress would delegate powers to the Executive Branch for the use of force equally against organized crime and persons who protest.

“This decree should be modified because it does not differentiate between the types of force used, keeping in mind that firearms or grenades should not be used in controlling disturbances during social protests,” he declared.
In spite of these initiatives, the situation seems to be in favor of the government — and the extractive industries — thanks to these contentious rules and laws.
Latinamerica Press.


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Protests against mining project that will affect agriculture in the department of Arequipa. (Photo: Salvemos el Valle de Tambo)
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