Indigenous leaders face trial for deadly silver mine protest

7 July 2017
Author(s)
Matthew Ponsford
Language of the news reported
English

A Canadian firm lost its license for the mining project in southeastern Peru but indigenous leaders now face charges including 'aggravated extortion'

LONDON, July 6 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A group of indigenous leaders is due to go on trial in Peru on Thursday for participating in a protest against a silver mine in 2011 that resulted in two deaths and 14 injuries, activists said.

Ten protestors from the Aymara indigenous group face between 16 and 28 years in prison and fines of more than two million dollars, for their role clashes in the southeastern region of Puno, according to human rights charity Front Line Defenders.

In a rare victory for poor Peruvian towns locked in conflicts with mining and oil companies, the protest resulted in a repeal of the licence for the Santa Ana mining project, owned by Canadian company Bear Creek Mining Corporation.

Some 5,000 protesters, mostly Aymara Indians, descended on Puno for more than a month in May 2011 to demand concessions be revoked for all mining companies over concerns about potential environmental damage.

Six years later, the indigenous leaders face charges in Puno High Court relating to obstruction of public services, disturbing the peace and aggravated extortion.

Front Line Defenders (FLD) demanded that Peru drop charges it calls "obscene" and said the Andean nation is using its courts as a playground for demobilising popular resistance.

"The power and will of the Aymara community to protect its land is clear," Erin Kilbride, head of media at the organisation, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"After weeks of protests led by human rights defenders in 2011, the government repealed the license that authorised the mine. Yet, 18 community leaders were criminally charged, a tactic frequently used to limit the peaceful work of activists."

The Peruvian Justice Ministry could not immediately be reached for comment.

During a previous hearing on June 28, indictments were withdrawn against eight other leaders of the protests, according to Front Line Defenders.

Peru is rife with conflicts over water, land rights and pollution.

Protests in far-flung provinces have derailed billions in mining investments and left dozens dead in clashes with police in recent years.

President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, a former investment banker seeking to revive investments in the wake of the global commodities bust, promised as a candidate to ease opposition to mining projects by delivering the benefits of development to local people early on.

Kuczynski's government has struggled to keep a lid on a flurry of demands - from protests for better train services near the Incan ruins of Machu Picchu to anger from indigenous tribes over a dozen oil spills in the Amazon this year.

At least four people have died in clashes since Kuczynski took office, including a farmer shot dead near one of the country's biggest copper mines, Las Bambas, which triggered a broader protest that halted exports by operator MMG Ltd.