In an ongoing campaign to remind the public that the police exist to serve foreign corporations, Peru’s interior ministry has announced the creation of special police forces to patrol mining zones.
While mining executives may sleep more peacefully at night with this news, Peru’s indigenous and farming communities are asking who will protect them from the environmental contamination and human rights abuses generated by the mining projects.
Since President Ollanta Humala came to power 18 months ago, 15 civilians have died during protests with Peruvian police forces, the majority in conflicts related to oil, mining and gas projects.
The most recent incident occurred on 23 January, when 400 Quecha-speaking farmers from San Juan de Cañaris in northern Peru were attacked by police. They used tear gas to disperse the peaceful crowd from the installations of Candente Copper, a Canadian company. Community leaders say the proposed mine would destroy their source of water and livelihood. Last year, Cañaris held a referendum in which 95 per cent voted against the mine.
Peruvian law requires the government to consult farming and indigenous communities before giving out concessions on their land, but human rights groups have criticized loopholes in the law. It is also important to note that it isn’t binding, meaning the government must consult the community, and is then free to go ahead and do what it wants.
Peru’s military and police forces have been accumulating dangerous new powers to use force against civilians in recent years, including the right to open fire on unarmed protesters. In January 2013, a new law enabled the military to remove bodies without the presence of public prosecutors during a state of emergency.
It doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to recognize the possibilities for abuse, cover-up and impunity under these new draconian laws.