Peru Cracks Down Hard On Mine Protests, Offers Talks
Last update: 6/1/2012 3:48:08 PM
--Peru cracks down hard on violent anti-mine protests
--Government declares state of emergency, arrests local leaders
--Government also offers to hold talks with community leaders
By Robert Kozak
Of DOW JONES NEWSWIRES
LIMA (Dow Jones)--President Ollanta Humala's government has adopted a strategy of cracking down hard on violent protests against mining, while offering to negotiate to find solutions to activists' demands.
Mining opponents, in conjunction with some politicians in recent months, have enveloped Peru in a series of often-violent demonstrations against the mining sector.
This week, the government suspended civil liberties and called out the military to help quell protests against mining operations of Anglo-Swiss company Xstrata PLC (XTA.LN) in the Espinar province of southern Peru.
Protesters there, citing concerns about environmental contamination, proceeded to block roads, kidnap government officials and torch the building of a foundation aimed at improving social conditions. Two people were killed in the demonstrations.
Justice Minister Juan Jimenez, in a meeting with the foreign press on Friday, defended the state of emergency in Espinar, saying it has helped calm things down.
"Protests have to be peaceful and take place within the law. We are, however, entering into a period of very worrisome violence," Jimenez said.
"We have the feeling that behind the environmental or community concerns there are political demands being made by radical groups, who want to bring into question investments being made in Peru," he added.
Anti-mining opponents have recently halted investments in several planned mines, including at Southern Copper Corp.'s (SCCO, SCCO.VL) Tia Maria copper project and Newmont Mining Corp.'s (NEM) giant Minas Conga copper and gold project.
On Thursday, protests resumed against Minas Conga in the northern city of Cajamarca and continued on Friday. A demonstration in support of the mining also took place this week in Cajamarca.
Mining-sector analysts note that anti-mining activists in Espinar want Xstrata to shut down its Tintaya copper mine while asking the company to increase the payments it makes to social programs in the local community. These seem to be incompatible demands, analysts say.
Peru is one of the world's largest producers of precious and base metals, and has a number of large-scale projects on the drawing board. That includes Xstrata's planned Las Bambas base-metals mine in southern Peru.
Prime Minister Oscar Valdes on Friday defended the imposition of the state of emergency in Espinar, saying the government was responsible for ensuring peace and order.
"We need to turn the page and heal our wounds and sit down to talk, but setting aside extreme ideologies," Valdes said.
-By Robert Kozak, Dow Jones Newswires; 51-99-927-7269; firstname.lastname@example.org
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
June 01, 2012 15:48 ET (19:48 GMT)