MAC: Mines and Communities

17,000 Peruvians protest presence of Canadian mining company

Published by MAC on 2011-05-30
Source: AFP, WW4Report, LivinginPeru, AlJazeera, statement (2011-05-26)

Demonstrators paralyse Puno on Andean border with Bolivia.

Until late last week scant attention was paid in the mainstream media to one of the strongest protests against mining in Latin America during recent times.

For two weeks now, more than 17,000 (sic) protesters are reported to have blocked the Perú-Bolivia border at Desaguadero.

Last Friday, some of them were reported to have broken into government offices in the border town of Puno.

A Canadian company, Bear Creek Mining seems to be directly involved, but this mobilisation appears to be leveled against every single mining and oil concession on the lands of the Aymara people.

Comment by MAC editor, Jamie Kneen: Coincidentally, the Chair of Bear Creek's Board is one Catherine McLeod-Seltzer, also on the Board of Pacific Rim (PacRim).

In a 2010 interview, McLeod-Seltzer commented that Pacific Rim's experience in El Salvador, 'has tempered her adventurous spirit' - though it is not clear at this point exactly what lessons she has learned from it.

Pacific Rim has been accused of corruption and implicated in murder; it is currently suing the government of El Salvador under the US-Central America Free Trade Agreement for upholding its own environmental laws. See: El Salvador: Leader of resistance to Canadian mine receives Goldman Prize

Ms McLeod-Selzer  is also a long-standing director of the Prospectors and Developers Association, a director of Kinross Gold, and was named by The Northern Miner as 1999 “Mining Man of the Year”(sic) See "Rock star: Mining is in her blood" http://www.bivinteractive.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=3101:catherine-mcleod-seltzer-profile&catid=22:profiles&Itemid=39

ESPAÑOL

Peruvians protest presence of Canadian mining company

Strike blocking main roads strands 300 tourists near Bolivian border

Agence France-Presse (AFP)

26 May 2011

Some 300 foreign tourists were stranded Wednesday at Peru's Lake Titicaca bordering Bolivia, as thousands of residents hardened an anti-mining strike which has brought an Andean port city to a standstill.

Protest at Puno on Peruvian border
Protest at Puno on Peruvian border
Photo: Dante Piaggio, El Comercio

"The 300 tourists in our area, mainly Europeans and Japanese, are being held incommunicado, unable to move, unable to leave the port on Lake Titicaca as it has been taken" by protesters, said Carlos Canales, president of Peru's National Tourist Board.

The area's mainly ethnic Aymara inhabitants first blocked the main road linking southern Peru to Bolivia 16 days ago, in protest over the presence of Canadian mining company Bear Creek.

The company hopes to extract silver in the area, but locals fear the process will contaminate rivers and lakes.

Tourists had been steering clear of the land route, using the port of Puno to travel between Peru and Bolivia by boat across the world's highest commercially navigable lake, and a major attraction.

But protesters seized control of Puno on Tuesday, Canales told a news conference. The road from Puno to Juliaca, a city with an airport some 65 kilometres away, is also blocked, said regional tourism director Lourdes Abarca.

The strike has brought all border activity to a halt, with hundreds of trucks lining the roadside on either side of the frontier.

Tensions have flared in Puno, a city of some 120,000 which sits at an elevation of 3,800 metres.

Thousands of people poured in Tuesday from communities cut off by the strike and congregated in the main square, where many spent the night in the cold.

"People remained calm and slept in the square, with the women all huddled together in temperatures below freezing," Abarca said.

The strikes in Puno, 1,300 kilometres southeast of Lima, threaten to hamper its participation in the June 5 presidential election, protesters warned.

"If there is no solution, there will be no elections," protest leader Hermes Cauma told reporters.

"We are not afraid of the armed forces; we have come to defend our land and rivers, even with our lives."

The government is forming a high-level commission that will take 180 days to study conditions around Bear Creek's Santa Ana silver project.

Bear Creek chief executive Andrew Swarthout said in a statement Tuesday that he was "disappointed with the delay that the study will cause," but the firm stressed it will continue its plans for Santa Ana.

Mineral-rich Peru is the world's largest silver producer, the second largest zinc and copper producer, and the fifth largest gold producer.

Last month, Peru cancelled a vast copper mining project in the south after clashes left three dead and nearly 50 wounded.

In 2009 an effort to open a roadblock placed on a truck route by Amazonian indigenous people ended with the deaths of 34 people.


Demonstrators paralyse Peruvian border town

Property damaged by frustrated protesters after weeks of non-violent actions to stop a new foreign mine near Bolivia.

Al Jazeera

28 May 2011

Demonstrators attempting to stop a transnational mining company from extracting silver posits from Peru have intensified their tactics after three weeks of non-violent protests, damaging government and private property in the Andean border region near Bolivia.

For weeks, a group of about 10,000 protesters blockaded streets in the country's southeast in an effort to convince Peru's government to revoke the license already given to Bear Creek Mining Corp, a Canadian company planning to mine silver in the area.

Road blockades made from rocks blocked about 300km on both sides of the border road from Peru to Bolivia, and activists manned road blocks every few kilometres, to ensure nothing could get through.

Paolo Castro, a local farmer and protester, told Al Jazeera that she is upset because "the president has sold off our territory without consulting us".

"We know that in European countries, for example, mining contaminates a lot, so that's why they want to send the mines to underdeveloped countries," Alejandro Tucuuhami, another farmer, said.

Amid frustration with the protests' lack of success, some demonstrators began breaking into government buildings on Friday.

The tax office in Puno, a Peru border town, was raided and files and furniture pulled to the street and set ablaze, and several windows were smashed at private and public buildings, banks and cars.

No police

Police were absent from the scene, and according to a police officer who spoke on condition of anonymity, a retreat order came directly from Lima, Peru's capital.

Private and public businesses, from schools to food markets closed down to avoid protests, while activists set fire to a customs warehouse, which had held at least 20 cars. Firefighters were unwilling to extinguish the blaze without police to protect them.

Erland Melgar, vice president of Bolivia's trucking association, told reporters that due to the blockades, about 600 trucks, many carrying food exports to Peruvian ports, were stranded on the Bolivian side of the border and about 180 on the Peruvian side.

Oswaldo Torrez, a Bolivian congressperson told Al Jazeera, "what's worrying us is that some of the truck drivers are hunting fish and wild ducks".

The protesters are now threatening a boycott of the June 5 presidential run-off election.

Walter Aduviri, a protest leader, said that if mining and oil exploration are not halted in Puno there will be no voting in the region.

"I didn't make the decision, the people did,'' he said.

The vote boycott could hurt the election bid of former army officer Ollanta Humala, the leading leftist candidate who has had major support from Puno.

Humala says that if elected he would seek to make mining companies pay higher royalties and make natural gas cheaper for Peruvians.

The alternative, Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of imprisoned former president Alberto Fujimori, supports the status quo, which allowed the Bear Creek contract and has been favourable to mining investors.

Massive mining growth

Peru government officials said that it would be unconstitutional to meet the protesters' demand and cancel mineral concessions.

Bear Creek Mining Corp says that it already invested $25m in the contested mine, and hopes that it will begin production next year.

Protesters fear that the company will pollute the water in its effort to separate silver, and an environmental impact statement is under government review.

The company's director, Andrew Swarthout, said that the mine would have no impact on Lake Titicaca, South America's largest lake, and that the project would provide about 1,000 local jobs.

But protesters, mostly indigenous Aymaras who populate most of the Andes region, are not happy with the plans.

Companies have pledged more than $40bn in investments in Peru's mining sector in the coming decade. Peru is a top exporter of gold, silver and copper, and mining accounts for 68 per cent of its export revenues.

Bear Creek's Swarthout said, "There are many companies watching this situation. If we run into serious problems and are not able to complete our investment on this project or another couple of projects that we're looking at, other companies are going to take pause as well.''

Epifanio Baca, an economist at the Center for the Study and Promotion of Development, said the Puno unrest is the latest expression of growing discontent with a government that "has continued to grant mining concessions automatically, without any consideration for the opinions of local authorities or communities."

Last month, the government suspended the Tia Maria copper mining project in neighbouring Arequipa province after three protesters died in clashes with police.


Puno protests show need for policy change in awarding concessions - NGO - Peru

Business News Americas

27 May 2011

The ongoing protests in southern Peru's Puno region should provide an opportunity to reflect on the government's current policy for awarding mining concessions, the head of community rights and extractive industries at Lima-based NGO Cooperacción, Jose de Echave, told BNamericas.

"It should open up the question of how to improve the procedures, how to provide regions with more responsibility [in the process]," De Echave said.

Over 1Mha of territory in Puno is under mining concessions, which makes it one of the most heavily concessioned regions in the country, according to the mines and energy ministry (MEM).

"That is a central element [of the protests]," De Echave said, adding: "From 2002-10, the concessions have increased more or less 270%."

Protests began on May 9 and have mainly affected the region's southern provinces. The demonstrations began with road blockades, but escalated with protesters sacking government buildings, local media reported.

The demands of residents include the cancellation of Vancouver-based Bear Creek Mining's Santa Ana silver project in Chucuito province; the revocation of seven mining concessions in Huacullani and Kelluyo acquired by Bear Creek in 2007; and the definitive cancellation of all mining and oil concessions in the region.

President Alan García recently authorized the participation of the armed forces to prevent damage to key infrastructure in the region, and called for calm just days before the June 5 presidential election.

The government also set up a multi-sector committee that has 180 days to draw up a proposal addressing local residents' concerns.

García said recently that political motives are behind the protests. Local authorities have said that the demonstrations are being supported by Puno's opposition Raíces party, which controls the regional council. The party has been organizing the protests to put pressure on the administration of regional president Mauricio Rodríguez of the Aquí party.

While local politics play a role in the protests, it would be a mistake to think that it was the cause of the demonstrations, according to De Echave.

"I don't dismiss that it could be a factor but to think that it is the origin of the conflict, I think that is an error," he said. "The origin of the conflict is a situation of very quick growth of concessions that is perceived by the people as growth that has no mechanism of control or regulation."


Peru: one dead as strike paralyzes Puno

WW4 Report (Pachamama Radio)

28 April 2011

At least one is reported dead in Peru's southern region of Puno after the National Police fired on protesters April 26, the second day of a 48-hour civil strike or paro called by campesino groups to demand a halt to local mining and petroleum leases.

The deceased, identified as María Choque Limache, 61, died after inhaling tear gas as police broke up a protest at the village of Yohoroco, in Huacullani district of Chucuito province, according to Walter Aduviri Calisaya, president of the Puno Front for the Defense of Natural Resources. National Police commander Jaime Cordero Ayala denied this version of events, insisting she had not been at the protest and had died of natural causes. (Peru21, April 27)

Following a dialogue with the paro coordinating body, the Puno Southern Zone Defense Front, regional president Manuel Rodríguez called upon the national Ministry of Energy and Mines to suspend the local mineral and hydrocarbon concessions. Especially at issue is the planned Santa Ana silver mine in Huacullani district, under concession by Vancouver Bear Creek Mining of Canada, which protesters fear will pollute their lands and waters. The paro also demanded a halt to the planned Inambari hydro-electric complex in neighboring Madre de Dios region. (Invergroups, April 28; La Republica, Lima, Pachamama Radio, Puno, April 27; Biznews.pe, March 21)

Director of the campesino alliance National Agro Convention (CONVEAGRO), Efraín Gómez, pledged to launch a permanent protest vigil or plantón outside the Puno offices of the Regional Agrarian Directorate to press demands that the national Agriculture Ministry revoke the recent Supreme Decree 003, allowing the importation of transgenic seeds into Peru.


Bear Creek Reports on Peruvian Government Study on Mining Permit Processes within Two Southern Puno Provinces

Bear Creek Mining Press Release

24 May 2011

Vancouver, B.C. - Bear Creek Mining ("Bear Creek" or the "Company") announces that the Peruvian government has issued a decree setting up a 180 day Multi-Sectorial Commission comprised of ministers and elected local officials to study and propose appropriate action in respect to mining activities within the provinces of Yunguyo and Chucuito while the Peruvian government resolves certain protests occurring in the Puno region.

The government called for the study in response to two weeks of strikes in the region protesting mining, oil and gas, and hydroelectric activities.

The Company's Santa Ana project is located within the Chucuito province. This suspension does not affect the Company's mineral rights or the status of the Santa Ana Environmental and Social Impact Assessment ("ESIA") which was in process at the time of the announced study.

The Company expects to continue its permitting process with the Ministry of Energy and Mines ("MEM") and is currently preparing its responses to observations submitted by the MEM in the normal course of business. The Company will also continue its plans for the development of its Santa Ana project including its ongoing community relations and social support programs, and detailed engineering. The effect of the study will likely be to delay approval of the ESIA until late 2011 compared to the previously expected mid-2011.

Mr. Andrew Swarthout, Bear Creek CEO, stated "Bear Creek has received strong local community support on our Santa Ana project as demonstrated by the formal public hearing successfully completed in our local community at Santa Ana in February, 2011. We are confident of the ESIA's approval following this study but now expect that the commencement of construction will likely be delayed into mid-2012 with production startup anticipated to be occur in 2013 if the study runs the maximum term of 180 days.

Bear Creek is disappointed with the delay that the study will cause which is the result of the pre-election political situation in Peru but will assist the government in reducing the political tensions which have arisen from communities distant from and unaffected by the Santa Ana Project. We are confident that the protests will be successfully resolved allowing the return to the normal, well-established permitting and other procedures that we and all other mining companies in Peru operate under."

About Bear Creek:

Bear Creek is focused in Peru, a mineral-rich nation with a favorable investment climate. The Company has recently completed a Pre-Feasibility Study on its Corani Project and a Feasibility Study on its Santa Ana Project, which together estimate measured and indicated resources in excess of 500 million ounces of silver of which over 320 million ounces are in proven and probable reserves providing near-term production potential and excellent leverage to silver prices.

The Feasibility Study for Santa Ana defines a low-cost "pure silver" mine producing 5 million ounces annually in the first six years of an estimated 11-year mine life. The Pre-Feasibility Study for the flagship Corani Project estimates average annual production of 10 million ounces for the first six years of an estimated 27-year mine life, with low cash costs and fast payback of capital costs. Santa Ana is proceeding towards permitting and construction while Corani is undergoing a Feasibility Study.

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